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Sony XBR-X850D series review: Android TV smarts and Sony style, but so-so picture quality

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Sony XBR-85X850D

(Part #: XBR-85X850D/US)
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The Good The Sony XBR-X850D offers cutting-edge 4K HDR features, accurate color and solid video processing. Its minimalist design looks understated yet futuristic. Android TV's large app selection means you might not need an external streamer.

The Bad Worse contrast and overall image quality than many competitors we've tested.

The Bottom Line The midpriced Sony XBR-X850D gets the features, style and smart parts right, but falls short where it really counts: picture performance.

6.5 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 6.0
  • Value 6.0

The name Sony is synonymous with high-performance televisions, but the X850D series isn't one of them. Compared to its peers from Vizio and Samsung in side-by-side comparisons, this relatively affordable bearer of the company's "XBR" moniker fell well short, with worse contrast and impact overall.

In my book contrast is the most important aspect of image quality, and image quality for the price is the most important factor in choosing a TV. If you judge it by other factors, however, the X850D brings a lot to the table. Its features include 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR); its sleek, minimal design goes with pretty much any decor; and its Android-based smart TV system is one of the best -- good enough that you probably won't need to connect an external streaming box.

If that stuff, along with the cachet of the Sony name, are enough for you, then the X850D could be a worthy choice. But in my book there are plenty of better choices, including the slightly more expensive Samsung UN65KS8000 and the cheaper Vizio M series, both of which beat this XBR's picture. If you want a TV that truly lives up to the Sony pedigree, you'll have to pay extra for a model like the X930D or something even more expensive.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Sony XBR-65X850D, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. The 55, 65- and 75-inch sizes have identical specs and, according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.

The exception is the 85-inch size which, according to Sony, uses a different panel type. The smaller sizes use IPS-based LCD panels, while the 85-inch uses a VA panel. I didn't test the 5-inch size directly, but in the past I have found that VA panels delivers superior contrast to IPS. For that reason I would expect the 85-inch size to have superior image quality to the smaller versions, but since I didn't test it, I can't say for sure.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: Thin and sleek

This is one sharp-looking television. Its thin frame is flat black and all sharp angles, classy understatement ruling the look. Seen from the side the TV is even more impressive, almost as razor-slim as the X930D -- the 65-inch size measures 1.73 inches deep at its thickest point and 7/16-inch at the thinnest.

Like other Sonys this year the edge is banded with a thin metallic strip, chrome in this case rather than the higher-end sets' gold, providing the only bright spot beyond the blue power LED under the logo.

The silver stand base angles up for an unusual and attractive alternative to the staid pedestal. I much prefer a single central stand to the splayed-leg designs on some other sets.

sony-xbr-x850d-series-04.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

I like the remote a lot, although it's more traditional than some competing clickers. 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 relatively hefty size, numerous buttons, 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 do have to aim it to perform any other function, from power to volume to the Home button. You also have to manually activate the mic button using the TV's setup menu, an annoying extra step that seems like classic Android (that is, needlessly complex).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Android TV brings on the apps

Sony's sets run Google's smart TV system, and it beats the home-brew solutions from Samsung and LG (if not Roku TV) in the most important area: app coverage.

Unlike external Android TV boxes such as the Nvidia Shield and Xiaomi Mi Box, Sony TVs have an Amazon Video app, complete with its substantial library of 4K and HDR content. So does the X850D'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.

Other apps abound, from PlayStation Vue to CNNGo to 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 using the remote works very well to find stuff.

03sony-xbr-65x930d.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

While it may lack Samsung's cool universal remote control feature or LG's motion remote control, Android TV on Sony is better than either of them overall thanks to its variety of apps, Along with Roku TV it's the one system that's so good, you probably won't need to connect an external streamer.

Key features

Display technology: LED LCD
LED backlight: Edge-lit
Resolution: 4K
HDR compatible: HDR10
Screen shape: Flat/Curved
Smart TV: Android TV
Remote: Standard
3D capable: No

The one feature that consistently improved LCD TV image quality the most, local dimming, is absent from the X850D. In theory such an absence leads to lighter black levels and less contrast, and in practice that's exactly what we found. The more expensive X930D, which has significantly better image quality than this TV, does have local dimming.

The set supports HDR (high dynamic range) content in HDR10 format only; it lacks the Dolby Vision HDR support found on Vizio 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 the X930D, the X850D does not support 3D.

Plenty of connectivity

  • 4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2
  • 1x component video input (another shared with component)
  • 1x composite video input
  • 3x USB ports
  • Ethernet (LAN) port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Stereo audio output (minijack)
  • RF (antenna) input
sony-xbr-x850d-series-02.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony's input selection is solid, including four state-of-the-art HDMI inputs (all are HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2) and a good selection of other jacks.

Picture quality

Given how well the Sony XBR-X930D performed, and Sony's claims of improvement over last year's XBR-X850C, I expected more from the X850D. I didn't get it.

The TV's image quality has some strengths, including accurate color and solid video processing, but it simply can't compete against other comparable sets from Samsung and Vizio. Its black levels and contrast are poor, washing out both standard and high dynamic range material, and its uneven uniformity causes noticeable bright spots across the screen.

As mentioned above, the 85-inch size in this series likely has better image quality, namely superior black levels and contrast, compared to the smaller sizes. I can't say for sure, however, because I didn't test that size directly.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

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