For the last couple of years the best TV picture quality has come courtesy of LG's OLED TVs. They've also been the most expensive.
Thanks to a combination of LG's aggressive price drops and high initial pricing by rivals like Samsung and now Sony, however, the relative price of OLED isn't sky-high anymore.
Sony's latest 2017 LCD-based TVs are now up for preorder. They start at $2,400 for the 55-inch size in the midrange X900E series, which is $100 more than LG's 55-inch B6 OLED TV from 2016, which we called the best-performing TV we've ever tested. In Sony's higher-end series, prices are even higher.
If you're wondering about Sony's own OLED-based TV, the A1E series, Sony has yet to announce its price or when it will be available. Based on the prices of its 2017 LCDs, however, I think the A1E's rumored price of $2,000 for a 55-incher is wildly optimistic.
So what does that mean for high-end TV shoppers in 2017? Just like Samsung with its similarly priced QLED televisions, Sony is claiming picture quality advantages over OLED technology, including superior light output and color. Based on my experience and previous reviews, however, I don't expect either QLED or Sony's new LCD TVs to beat OLED in overall picture quality. In other words, OLED remains the TV technology to beat, and high-end LCD TVs will have to be as good or better at the same price (or lower) to compete.
I'll know for sure when I can compare Sony's new LCD TVs and Samsung's QLEDs with LG's 2016 and 2017 OLED models in the lab. In the meantime I can compare their prices as far as I know.
Sony high-end 2017 LCD TVs vs. LG OLED TVs
|Size||Model year||Shipping date||Local dimming||Price|
Of course, all of those prices are basically starting bids, and as always I expect them to fall throughout the year. The 2016 Sony XBR-65X930D, for example, was introduced at $5,000 and fell all the way to $1,800 on February 4 according to price tracking site camelcamelcamel. That's a drop of 64 percent, and includes a massive cut of $1,500 very early in its lifespan. If the same thing happens with its 2017 successor, the XBR-65X930E may get as low as $1,500. I'll be surprised if LG's 2017 65-inch OLED TVs ever get that low.
The moral, as always with TV shopping, is to wait until at least the Black Friday time if you want the best price.
Sweet picture-quality specs and Google smarts
The 2016 X930D was one of the best-performing TV we tested in 2016, and the high-end Z9D (which I haven't tested yet) is widely thought to be one of the best LCD TVs ever made, so Sony's new 2017 models have a great picture-quality pedigree.
The main difference between the X900E series above and the two more expensive X930E sets is their local-dimming backlight scheme. The more-expensive X930E uses edge lighting while the X900E uses full-array. Despite the fact that full-array usually performs better in our tests, Sony says the edge-lit X930E is actually the superior performer with better contrast (light output and black levels), thanks to an improved version of the Slim Backlight Drive system we liked so much last year. Meanwhile the highest-end Sony LCD aside from the Z9D (which remains on sale throughout 2017) is the 75-inch X940E, which uses a full-array backlight and should be a superb performer.
Sony also claims superior video processing on the higher-end X930E/X940E sets; there the X1 Extreme chip supposedly "improves HD content to near 4K HDR quality." TVs with that processor, including the 2016 Z9D and the A1E OLED TV, will receive a firmware upgrade later this year to enable Dolby Vision HDR content.
Sony also introduced the lower-end X800E/X850E series, with the 43-inch XBR-43X800E ($1,000), 49-inch XBR-49X800E ($1,100), 55-inch XBR-55X800E ($1,900), 65-inch XBR-65X850E ($2,500), and 75-inch XBR-75X850E ($5,000). These sets lack local dimming but, like all of the the step-up models, do handlecontent and claim a wide color gamut.
Just like last year, Sony uses Google Android TV for its smart-TV system, and I liked it better than the ones used by Samsung and LG, mainly because of its superb app support and voice control. In addition, it enables control of stuff like Netflix and YouTube streaming using the Google Home speaker -- just like Chromecast.
Later this year Sony TVs will receive an update that integrates Google Assistant into the TV itself. Since there's no far-field mic built into the TV (a la Home or Nvidia Shield), you'll have to speak into the TV remote's microphone rather than into thin air, but otherwise the TV should do everything any Assistant-equipped device can, such as control compatible smart home devices. Sony also demonstrated TV-specific functions like refining search results using natural language.
Sony's 2017 TVs start shipping in March and I hope to have full reviews soon afterward.
Updated February 24 with official LG OLED TV pricing.