Sony Bravia KD65X9005B review: A great TV, but the bulky design will be off-putting for some
Despite continuing to haemorrhage cash from its TV business, Sony has actually managed to produce some great TVs this year, especially the W829 and W605 . If the Japanese giant is to crawl back into the black, however, it needs to sell lots of high-end TVs, like this one -- the humongous Ultra HD Sony KD-65X9005B, which has a massive £3,600 asking price to go with its huge screen.
This is a top of the range set with Ultra HD resolution, onboard HEVC decoder for 4K Netflix and a host of other goodies. Last year's similarly named 65X9005A produced stunning pictures, so can this set offer much in the way of improvement?
The KD-65X9005B sports Sony's new menu and smart TV system. This means pretty much all of the TV's features are accessible via the homescreen, which you can call up via a dedicated button on the remote. It's laid out as a series of pages with sections for smart apps, media playback and recommendations for what TV shows to watch via the Freeview HD tuner. There's also a few tabs at the top of the screen that provide access to the picture, sound, networking and tuner settings. Thankfully, you can also access most of these directly using the Options button on the remote.
The picture controls lack a full colour-management system, but Sony's picture presets, especially the Cinema 1 mode, are very accurate, so you won't need to do much in the way of tweaking to get the best out of this TV. If you do want to play around there are standard brightness, sharpness, colour and contrast controls, as well as lots of extra settings to give you relatively fine control over the X-Reality Pro picture processing engine.
The KD-65X9005B, like Sony's other 2014 TVs, offers two TV guides. The first is the standard Freeview guide, while the second is a Web-enabled guide that can pull in extra metadata on stuff like actors and directors. The latter isn't worth bothering with though, as it's very slow to open up and then takes time to populate fully.
It's much more sensible to rely on the speedier standard Freeview option. This has a nice, clean layout and is fairly fast to navigate around. It sadly lacks a video thumbnail window to show the programme you're currently tuned to -- a serious let down on a TV costing this much -- but it does at least keep the audio running so you can keep tabs on the show you were watching while you see what's coming up later.
Design and connections
"It looks like the type of TV a drug-dealer would own," my girlfriend said when she first clapped eyes on the KD-65X9005B. Hard to argue with that. Some people are going to love this set's monolithic design, but I'm not one of them.
The TV is massively wide, even by the standards of a 65-inch set. It's so wide the feet, when positioned on the outer slots, wouldn't sit on my extra-wide TV unit, which has accommodated lots of other 65-inch models. Thankfully Sony has added a second pair of slots that are closer to the centre of the TV so I was able to get it to sit on the unit. It still overhung the sides slightly though. The speaker housing is also very shiny and as a result created annoying reflections with the TV positioned near a window.
Sony is trying to make the wedge-like side profile a selling point, but to my eyes it just makes the TV look quite old fashioned, not something that's a plus on a high-end TV costing well over £3,000.
Around the back, hidden behind plastic clip-on covers, you'll find a plethora of ports. These include four HDMI ports, three USB V2.0 ports, Wi-Fi and Ethernet, a Scart socket and component inputs. Sony has also included a port replicator as part of the deal, which will come in handy for those who want to wall-mount the TV. It's a good idea, but as this has its own power supply, it's not quite as neat as Samsung's replicator that it ships with its Ultra HD TVs.
This also has dual Freeview HD and HD satellite tuners, so you can record one channel to an attached USB drive while watching a different channel. The satellite tuners aren't Freesat-compatible however, so aren't much use unless you want to use them to watch foreign channels. Otherwise channels are tuned in a jumbled order and the guide doesn't populate properly.
Sony's latest smart TV system featured on this set has, like the version on all the new 2014 models, a new layout with a page-like structure. There are separate pages that you use to access Sony's Video Unlimited on-demand movie streaming service, the set's digital media player and its line up of smart TV apps, for example. The new layout is better than last year's system, as it's quicker and easier to get to all the various different smart TV features.
The line up of apps, although good, still isn't on a par with Samsung's smart TV system. You do get apps for iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Demand 5, but it lacks the 4oD and ITV Player apps that are found on Samsung's models. Sony's smart TV isn't as fast or as smooth to use either, as every now and again it suffers from random pauses or stutters.
What Sony has added is a few frills around the edges including new Football and Discovery modes. Both of these features are accessed via dedicated buttons on the remote. The former select a picture and audio pre-set designed to show the beautiful game at its best, but fails somewhat due to its overly enthusiastic motion processing.
The latter calls up a thumbnail bar at the bottom of the screen suggesting content you might want to watch drawn from not just upcoming shows on live TV, but also on-demand services such as Sony's Video Unlimited offering and BBC iPlayer. I didn't find either of these features to be hugely useful though.
The massive speakers strapped to the sides of this TV may be a tad ugly to look at, but they sound truly beautiful. In fact this is the best sounding TV I've ever heard. They've plenty of bass reach to deliver low-end effects like thumps and blasts from explosions in action movies, but also excellent mid-range drive for crystal clear dialogue. The sound stage is nice and broad too, and there's a real depth and finesse to this set's sound that you just don't get on its rivals.
So the KD-65X9005B really is in a class of its own when it comes to audio, but the fact remains that you'll still get better sound from a decent surround-sound system and if you go this route, the speakers will be doing little except acting as expensive ornaments. Nevertheless, if you want great sound from a TV and don't want the hassle of the extra cabling associated with external audio systems, the X9005B is the best one on the market right now.
4K picture quality
Thankfully, unlike the older X9005A, this model now supports Netflix 4K so there's actually something to watch on this set provided your broadband connection is fast enough. The Netflix Ultra HD streams need around 16Mbps, so I had no problems running it via our Virgin Media 60Mbps broadband.
Nevertheless, the only show currently available in 4K is "House of Cards", although Netflix says that it'll be introducing Ultra HD streams of "Breaking Bad" in June and promises that more 4K content will follow.
The "House of Cards" streams look impressive on the X9005B, given the relatively low amount of bandwidth that they're using. If you're sitting close to the screen the detail is truly sumptuous, especially in brighter scenes. They offer extra sharpness while also seeming to improve contrast and the richness of colours.
Of course, the latter may be down to the improved HEVC codec, but without seeing 1080p streams encoded using HEVC there's no real way to tell.
In night-time shots you do sometimes see some around bright objects shown against the gloom, and generally these scenes don't look any better than the usual HD streams. Most of the time, however, the Ultra HD streams are significantly better than the 1080p streams and the X9005B certainly makes the most of the extra detail on offer. The internal White House shots look especially impressive, with the detailing on the wood work, for example, standing out much more than via the standard streams.
General picture quality
The X9005B's picture quality across both 4K and Full HD is truly excellent. Sony has managed to create a set that gets around many of the limitations that traditionally plague LED TVs. The foundation of this is the fact that the TV managed to deliver really good black levels while also avoiding the backlight clouding that affects most LED TVs. It's very difficult to spot any backlight issues on this TV, which is a major win for Sony and its hugely impressive LED Dynamic Control system, especially when used on the low setting.
There are some slight niggles if you look very, very closely, but they tend to be so localised to specific areas of the picture at a particular light level in a scene that they're really not at all intrusive even when you're watching the set in a very dimly lit room. This is also the main reason why this set is a big improvement over the X9005A. It managed its backlight well, but the X9005B just does a better job of it.
The deep, rich black levels combined with its ability to deliver very bright whites means this TV has excellent dynamic range and as a result delivers really contrasty images. This helps Blu-rays look fantastically engaging and cinematic, especially as its colour reproduction is so punchy too.
Sony has also improved its motion processing, allowing this model to deliver sharp moving images. The new version of the impulse mode, which pulses the backlight and inserts black fames into the video stream, works much better here than on the company's other TVs. It delivers full resolution motion on this model without the flicker that afflicts this mode on Sony's other TVs. It does dim the image, but not to a huge degree so it's much more usable, especially for sports such as footy or F1. Sony's other motion processing options avoid the cut in brightness levels, but offer up less lines of motion -- around 900 lines -- which still isn't bad, to be fair.
Overall, the only real downside with this TV is that viewing angles aren't all that wide, a common complaint on Sony's TVs. If you sit slightly off axis from the screen you start to see a little less consistency in the backlighting, while moving further off-axis makes colours start to wash out too. Also, standard definition sources, such as images from the Freeview tuner, can look rough and ready. You can improve things by playing around with the sharpness and noise reduction setting, but then that throws things out of whack for watching Full HD and Ultra HD content, so it's swings and roundabouts here.
3D picture quality
Sony has opted for active 3D on the model, rather than the passive 3D technology it used on last year's X9005A. It's a mistake in my opinion as one of the big benefits of last years 65-inch model was that the flicker free and comfortable passive glasses made watching 3D on that set an absolute delight.
This model comes with two pairs of active specs in the box, but they're quite chunky and feel pretty heavy too. This, combined with the slight flicker, makes them much less comfortable to use for 3D movie watching. The TV is able to easily ramp up its brightness level in 3D mode to overcome the dimming effect of the 3D glasses and motion in 3D was also smoothly handled. On the whole, however, this model is an average 3D performer in terms of picture quality. There's a bit more crosstalk that I would have liked in trickier scenes, such as the boys outstretched hand during the mechanical mouse scene of "Hugo".
I'm not overly sold on the chunky design, although it's sure to have its fans, and I would have preferred if Sony had used passive rather than active 3D on this model. Nevertheless, in the key areas of picture and sound quality the KD-65X9005B is hard to fault. Its pictures across both Ultra HD and Full HD look supremely sharp, have wonderful colour reproduction and superb levels of contrast, while those huge speakers flanking the display sound rich and meaty.
It's cheaper than its competitors too, as Samsung's UE65HU8500 currently costs around £400 more. Prices of 4K TVs are still falling rapidly though and there still isn't much native Ultra HD content available to watch, so it's debatable as to whether now is a good time to make the move to 4K. If you do want to make the switch though, the KD-65X9005B is a fine option.