Sony XBR-X930D series review:

Thin, beautiful TV provides OLED alternative for hundreds less

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CNET Editors' Rating

1 user review

The Good The Sony XBR-X930D delivers spectacular overall picture quality, with extreme brightness, deep black levels and superb color. Its understated design includes a pencil-thin upper cabinet. Android TV's large app selection means you might not need to use an external streamer.

The Bad More expensive than some similarly performing TVs, and not as good of a picture as OLED.

The Bottom Line Sony's X930D TV should appeal to people who can't afford OLED yet still want a high performance, beautifully designed TV from a well known brand.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Value 7.0

Late 2016 update

When shoppers ask me for a high-end TV recommendation the first thing I tell them is, "Hands down, the best is LG's B6 OLED." Then I tell them it costs $2,000 for the 55-inch and $3,000 for the 65.

At that point they'll typically do one of two things: either walk away with a smile, soon to follow my advice (I can only assume), or inform me they don't want to spend that much and ask for a cheaper alternative.

The best less-expensive alternatives to OLED from a picture quality perspective are the Vizio P series and this TV right here, the Sony XBR-X930D.

The Vizio has slightly better image quality overall but the Sony's picture is outstanding too. Both earned a 9/10 in picture quality, the highest score I've given to a non-OLED TV this year. The Vizio has better contrast and uniformity thanks to its full-array local dimming backlight, while the Sony wins for
color and brightness, and represents the best example of an edge-lit local dimming backlight I've ever tested.

Its style and smart TV features also trounce the Vizio, and (all together now) "It's a Sony." It also delivers a much better picture than the closest non-curved competitor from Samsung, the KS8000. The Samsung is cheaper still, however, making it a worthy step-down non-Vizio alternative to the Sony. Are you having fun researching TVs yet?!?!

In the end many high-end TV shoppers consider brand cachet as highly as anything else. If you're one of them who doesn't want a Vizio, yet aren't yet willing to spring for a B6 OLED, then the X930D is the perfect consolation prize.

Editors' note, November 15, 2016: The rating, introduction, series information and headlines in this review (originally published June 2, 2016) have been updated. Due to changes in the competitive marketplace, including a series of price drops, the Value rating has been raised from a "6" to a "7," increasing the overall score from a 7.7 (3.5 stars) to an 8.1 (4 stars). The remainder of the review remains unchanged.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Sony XBR-65X930D, but this review also applies to the 55-inch Sony XBR-55X930D. The two sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Sony also sells the XBR-75X940D, a 75-inch model that's the company's only 2016 TV with full-array local dimming and a thicker chassis (it requires thicker wallet too). We didn't perform a full review of that model, but did spend some time in the lab with it, and are confident it's a similar or even better performer in many ways than the X930D.

Less expensive than either is the four-size XBR-X850D series, which we recently reviewed. They perform worse than the X930D or X940D. Here are more details on those models.

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Thin and sleek, with a great remote

Aside from an OLED, TVs don't get much thinner than this Sony. It measures just half an inch deep across the top half or so of cabinet, while the bottom half thickens to 1.38 inch. The slim profile is impressive when seen from the side, and makes for a flush wall mount, if you care about stuff like that.

Seen from the front the set looks suitably sleek and high-end, with a skinny, all-black frame that I prefer to the silver surrounds of some other screens. A tiny Sony logo above a small silver strip on the bottom is just about the only accent.

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I don't miss the touchpad remote Sony doesn't include anymore, because the new one is simply better. Instead of separate buttons, the entire face is rubberized with raised sections that correspond to buttons. They're pleasantly tactile, a feel reinforced by the rounded sides and Sony's typically excellent arrangement and differentiation. Downsides include the lack of backlighting, and a big Google Play shortcut key that pales in usefulness next to the Netflix key.

The new clicker also has a prominent voice search button up top that doesn't require you to aim at the TV to work. That's smart, because most people will hold the top of the remote up to their mouths to speak into the mic, screwing with that aim. Unlike most voice remotes, however, you have to aim Sony's to perform any other function, from power to volume to the Home button.

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Android TV brings more apps, including Amazon

When Sony ditched its home-brew Smart TV system a couple of years ago for Google's Android TV, it made a wise move. Google's interface isn't perfect, and it doesn't offer quite as many apps as a Roku TV, but it still has more important apps than systems from LG and Samsung.

Unlike Nvidia Shield, the foremost Android TV external device, Sony TVs have an Amazon Video app, which offers a substantial library of 4K and HDR content. So does the XBR-X930D's Netflix app. The TV also comes with Sony's own Ultra app -- the latter offering 4K and HDR movies by Sony Pictures on a purchase-only basis (typically $26-$30 each). There's a Vudu app (as of press time it hadn't been updated to support 4K or HDR), an UltraFlix app with some niche 4K content and, of course, 4K support on the YouTube app.

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Other apps abound, from HBO Now to Plex to PBS Kids to Sling TV to Watch ESPN to CBS All Access to MLB.TV to Spotify, and of course numerous lesser apps and games are available via the Google Play Store (don't get too excited, it's specific to Android TV, and much less extensive than the one on your phone). Speaking of phones, many more apps can be Cast to the Sony via its built-in Google Cast functionality, which works exactly like a Chromecast. And speaking of speaking, voice search works very well to find stuff.

The interface pushes results from Google and Sony's own movies and TV stores, as well as YouTube, and search deprioritizes Amazon and Netflix results. I also found the menus slow to load at times, particularly when "preparing recommendations," and the settings menus (also run by Android) failed to respond a few frustrating times. But all in all Android TV on the Sony is good enough that most people won't need to connect an external streamer like Roku. That's more than you can say of most smart TVs.

Features: Slimming local dimming

Key TV features

Display technology: LED LCD
LED backlight: Edge-lit with local dimming
Resolution: 4K
HDR-compatible: HDR10
Screen shape: Flat
Smart TV: Android TV
Remote: Standard with voice
3D-capable: Active

When Sony first introduced the X930D at Las Vegas' CES in January, and later at a press event in New York, the company talked up an improved edge-lit local dimming technology it was calling Slim Backlight Drive. Sony claims more light output, smaller, more precise dimming zones and reduced blooming (light spillover outside the zones) by virtue of two "light guides" combined with two rows of LEDs along each side of the TV. According to my tests, those claims have merit.

The set supports HDR (high dynamic range) content in HDR10 format only; it lacks the Dolby Vision HDR support found on Vizio's and LG's 2016 HDR TVs. It's still too early to determine whether one HDR format is "better" than the other, and I definitely don't consider lack of Dolby Vision a deal breaker on this TV; instead it's just one more factor to consider. Check out my article on the HDR format war for more.

Other image quality specifications are suitably high-end. The TV uses Sony's Triluminos wide color gamut technology for more realistic colors, and has its MotionFlow XR 960 processing and a 120Hz native panel. Unlike Samsung's 2016 TVs this Sony actually supports 3D material, although Sony doesn't include any of the necessary active 3D glasses in the box.

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Connectivity

  • 4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2
  • 1x component video input
  • 3x USB ports (2x version 2.0, 1x version 3.0)
  • Ethernet (LAN) port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Stereo audio output (minijack)
  • RF (antenna) input
  • Remote (RS-232) port

Sony's input selection is solid, including four state-of-the-art HDMI inputs (all are HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2) and plenty of other jacks. Custom installers will applaud the RS-232 port, although they might be annoyed at the huge external power supply.

Picture quality

The Sony X930D delivers a superb overall picture characterized by accurate color, prodigious light output and the deepest black levels I've seen yet on an edge-lit LED-based LCD. That said, in overall contrast and punch it still can't quite match the best LCD TVs I've tested with full-array local dimming backlights, let alone OLED TVs.

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