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Sony XBR-X900B series review: Big-speaker 4K TV an A/V powerhouse

The speakers of Sony's XBR-X900B have come to kick butt and offer no apologies. They provide the sweetest sound we've heard from any TV, and combine with stellar picture quality to deliver the complete package. As long as you like the look of speakers, that is.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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25 min read

There's a reason no TV maker focuses on sound quality. For speakers to sound good, they need to be big, and they should face the listener. What sells in TV land is the "all-picture" look, with as little bezel as possible, leaving no room for hefty, forward-facing woofers and tweeters. Speakers are perceived as ugly and unnecessary, better kept hidden and facing down or to the rear than shown off.

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7.3

Sony XBR-X900B series

The Good

The Sony XBR-X900B series provides the best picture quality of any 4K TV we've tested so far, competing well against the better plasmas. It also pumped out best sound of any TV we've heard, bar none. Its prominent speakers and high-end finish makes a unique luxury TV statement. Its feature set is comprehensive, its connectivity forward-looking, and its optional subwoofer a cool, useful extra. With Sony's optional 4K video player, it can access significantly more 4K content than other brands of TV.

The Bad

Those speakers: you'll either love 'em or hate 'em. Most people won't love 'em. The X900B is also more expensive than most 65-inch 4K TVs. The high resolution doesn't provide a major boost in image quality, especially with non-4K content. The 3D image suffers from substantial crosstalk.

The Bottom Line

If you can stand its speakers, Sony's XBR-X900B will reward you with the best combination of audio and video quality you've ever seen (or heard).

At the high end, where TVs like Sony's XBR-X900B compete, there's the added fact that many people have a dedicated home-theater system, with big separate speakers and amplification that render moot (mute?) any audio built into the TV.

Frankly, the massive front-facing speakers of the X900B don't give a damn. They define this hulking TV, for better or for worse, as something beyond just another slim-bezel skinny set. Part of me wishes Sony offered the exact same TV without the speakers, or at least with the option to detach them, but the X900B offers no such compromise. To get its great picture and its class-leading sound quality, you'll have to swallow those cones.

If you're a big spender who can do that, the X900B is an awesome choice. Its picture is superb, its features well-thought-out, and its access to 4K content unrivaled compared to other brands. It also demands a serious chunk of change, and like all 4K sets we've tested doesn't offer a major jump in picture quality as a direct result of all those extra pixels. But if you're looking for a statement TV, it doesn't get any louder than this.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch XBR-65X900B, but this review also applies to the 55-inch screen size in the series. The 55- and 65-inch sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

A 79-inch version, model XBR-79X900B , will ship in July. It has similar specifications, but instead of the active 3D system used by the other two, it has passive 3D. This difference might also lead to some differences in 2D picture quality, but we can't say for sure. For that reason, the 79-inch version won't be included in this review.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

In case you didn't notice, them's some biiiig speakers for a TV. They face the listener like good speakers should, and are unlike pretty much all TV speakers these days -- which are typically invisible and face down or to the rear. Sony's speakers increase the width of the TV substantially, don't detach, and don't even have detachable covers. They just declare, "I'm here, deal with it. Now blast something out of me."

Sony XBR-65X900B product photos

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Personally, I'm not a fan of the speaker-dominated look, but I liked the X900B's other luxury touches. Most of the set is glossy black, and I especially appreciated that the screen blends seamlessly into the edges where the speakers are mounted. The built-in camera is well hidden in the upper-left corner (below), and unlike many other TV cameras, it doesn't pop out of the frame. Sony provides a little magnetic cover for the panopticon-averse.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Seen from the side the X900B exemplifies the "wedge" design found on 2014 high-end Sony sets. The bottom is wider than the top, angling the screen back slightly. It's noticeable but doesn't affect the picture and is a much less steep rake than that of the crazy Panasonic TC-65AX800U. The sides of the Sony comprise a big chunk of chrome, invisible from the front, that matches the flashy chrome legs of the stand.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

As with the wedge-shaped X850B , you can choose to place the legs to either the extreme sides or the middle. I used the middle position for photography and testing, mainly because we ran out of stands wide enough to accommodate the wide position, and the TVs that needed them (I'm looking at you, Panasonic and LG) weren't as flexible as the Sony.

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The X900B ships with two remotes: the same standard multibutton clicker I lauded in the X850B review, (which now seems too cheap for this TV; I'd at least like to see some backlighting), and a smaller version with just a couple of buttons and a touchpad. Navigation isn't made any easier by swiping around as opposed to pressing keys, but some button-phobic users might appreciate the simplicity. For everybody else the only real advantage is for frequent users of the TV's built-in browser, where the touchpad eases navigation significantly.

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Sarah Tew
Key TV features
Display technology:LCD
LED backlight:Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen shape: Flat
Resolution: 4K (UHD)
Smart TV: Yes
Remote: Standard & Touch Pad
Cable box control: Yes
IR blaster: External
3D technology: Active
3D glasses included: 2 pair
Screen finish: Glossy
Refresh rate: 120Hz
DLNA-compliant: Photo/Music/Video
USB media: Photo/Music/Video
Screen mirroring: Yes
Control via app Yes
Other: Optional subwoofer, available in black or white (SWF-BR100, $299), extra 3D glasses (TDG-BT400A, $50 list); optional 4K media players (see below); PlayStation Now streaming game compatibility

Features

Aside from its 4K resolution, which, like all 4K LED LCDs these days, amounts to 3,840x2,160 pixels, the X900A's most prominent picture-centric feature is local dimming on its edge-lit LED backlight. The step-down XBR-X850B series, Sony's least-expensive 4K TV for 2014, loses local dimming, while the crazy-expensive flagship XBR-X950B models feature full-array local dimming backlights.

Sony also touts the Triluminos color on this and its other 4K TVs. Unlike last year's Triluminos Sonys, however, the 2014 version of this feature no longer uses the Quantum Dot technology supplied by QD Vision, Inc. Sony says it now has an in-house version that uses the same branding, but beyond the marketing line of "more colors to produce a more-vibrant picture," Sony wouldn't tell us how the "new" Triluminos technology differs from standard white LED display tech.

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Keeping with the theme of fun names, Sony also touts its "4K X-Reality Pro picture engine," which is said to improve the necessary scaling from standard-def and high-def sources to the TV's 4K resolution, as well as "X-tended Dynamic Range" which, translated from Sony-speak, just means the TV has local dimming.

LIke nearly all current 4K TVs, the X900B uses a panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. Sony's specifications don't mention this number, instead going with "Motionflow XR 960," the kind of impressive-sounding albeit fake number common to many TV makers these days. In Sony's case, it incorporates a scanning backlight and optional black frame insertion.

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Beyond its picture, the X900B's main claim to fame is sound. Those honkin' three-way speakers to either side are augmented by the additional cabinet room of Sony's bottom-heavy wedge shape, improving bass response according to the company. It talks up the "magnetic fluid" speaker design, said to deliver more powerful sound with a smaller footprint. And if that's not powerful enough, you can throw in Sony's optional wireless sub ($300).

In this era of sparse 4K content, of which Sony offers more than anybody, for now the company is keeping it proprietary. For $700 today, you can grab an FMP-X1, the company's first-gen player, but due in part to its spotty reliability I'd definitely recommend waiting a few more weeks until its successor, the FMP-X10 , comes out ($700 list, $500 pre-order). Both offer access to more than 200 titles in 4K, including recent films like "American Hustle" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Notable TV series like "The Blacklist" and "Breaking Bad" are also on tap. Pricing for movies is typically $7.99 to rent for 24 hours or $29.99 to buy.

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The 55- and 65-inch X900Bs are also equipped with 3D compatibility that uses active-shutter technology -- a contrast to the passive 3D of the 79-inch version and of some 2013 Sony 4K sets. That's too bad, since passive 3D on a 4K TV is a killer combination. Sony includes two pair of active shutter glasses in the box.

If you're a gamer, you may appreciate the addition of PlayStation Now, a feature that allows you to play streaming games on the TV itself by simply pairing it with a PS3 controller. I didn't test this feature for this review; the Pilot begins June 30. It's available on all "W" and "X" series models for 2014.

Finally, yes, the X900B has a built-in camera and microphone which, at the moment, is used only for Skype. At least, that's what they tell us...

Smart TV: Sony has redesigned its interface for 2014 so it's less cluttered and sleeker than before. Its responsiveness was marginally speedier than on the X850B I tested earlier, but the interface still often took awhile to populate thumbnail art. The main aim of the new layout seems to be placing the company's own services front and center.

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Hitting the Home button brings up the Movies tab by default, where movie thumbnails from -- you guessed it -- Sony Video Unlimited take up the entire middle of the screen. Much more popular services like Amazon Instant, Netflix, and Hulu Plus are relegated to small icons along the bottom. Sony-owned Crackle gets a prominent spot, too. Other tabs from the Home menu, with the exception of Channel (which leads to "TV selections," described below) also point toward Sony services, namely Album goes to the Play Memories photo service, and Music to the Music Unlimited and Vevo services.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

When I connected Sony's 4K FMP-X1 video player the default first screen on the Home page changed to "4K Movies" (above), showing featured titles (as in four, count 'em, 4 Spider-Mans), "My 4K videos," which leads to a list of videos currently downloaded onto the player, and a link to "Video Unlimited 4K," where I was able to browse and purchase videos to rent, and to initiate new downloads. The array of content was frankly very impressive, especially compared to the 4K available on other TVs (which is zilch, aside from a few Netflix titles). Unfortunately, the box wasn't very reliable (see below).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Finding apps Sony decided not to surface can be tedious. The main "Apps" screen has a few "featured" apps, but beyond that you'll have to dive into "All apps," a firehose of 280 separate icons (give or take), from "Vimeo" to "Internet Browser," to "EarthCamTV," to "Captain Philips." They're arranged in three rows that just scroll endlessly, with no categories, search, or apparent logic to organize them beyond sporadic alphabetization. On the plus side, no major video apps go missing (aside from HBO Go, which remains exclusive to Samsung among TVs), and you can customize the My Apps screens with your actual (i.e., non-Sony) favorites, once you manage to find them.

A few extras of questionable usefulness include a Football button that's sure to confuse some red-blooded Americans, since it calls up videos and Sony's dedicated website...for soccer. You can also enable a picture mode said to optimize for football and soccer. Somewhat cooler is the Social View function that allows you to watch tweets stream by along the bottom of the screen, keyed to trending topics or a custom search. Unfortunately, despite the ability to link Social View to your Twitter account, there's no way to view your own feed. On the X900B you can also make Skype calls from within Social View; the idea being to "watch TV with friends while being connected to them through Skype."

I played with the Web browser, which seemed a step down from the offerings of Samsung and LG, with slower response times and difficult scrolling, even when I used the touchpad remote. Of course that's not a big deal in my book since TV browsers in general are much worse than tablet, phone, or PC browsers. Sony's is OK for occasional, emergency use, and that's about it.

Sony also offers a second screen app called TV Side View with remote control and a program guide. You can mirror a phone or tablet on the big screen via Miracast, or use a new Photo Share function to show photos from such a device on the Sony. The TV can also pair with compatible devices via NFC.

Cable and satellite box control: [Editors' note: I originally tested cable box control for the X850B review. Except where noted below, I did not re-test them for this review]

Samsung and LG's TVs have had the ability to control cable and satellite boxes using infrared blasters for a couple of years, but 2014 is the first time Sony has implemented the scheme via its own included blaster (below). The idea is to replace your box's interface and remote control with one built into the TV. As with those others, the Sony doesn't do as good a job as simply using your box's interface -- preferably with a good universal remote.

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One problem is that frequent DVR users are left in the cold. There's no dedicated "DVR" button on the remote, so to access recorded programs you have to -- you guessed it -- call up a "virtual remote." (There's a "DVR" option under the Home > TV screen, but it didn't work when I tried it.) Sony's version, found under the "Key Pad," is worse than those of its rivals, with an endless horizontal scroll to find the "button" you need. The physical remote's navigation (menu control) and transport (play, fast-forward, and so forth) controls worked, but only with an annoying half-second delay as the TV passed the commands along to the box. And for some reason, hitting forward and reverse skip (available on my Fios DVR and very frequently used) only caused a "feature not available" message.

For live programming, you get a grid-style guide that, again, was inferior to the one on my cable box, with inadequate navigation, pokey load times, and the annoying tendency to start at channel 001 (standard-def!) rather than the current or last-tuned channel. Beyond the guide, there's a "TV selections" menu -- essentially a bunch of thumbnails from what appear to be randomly selected channels -- and the Discover tab, said to learn your preferences and suggest shows to watch.

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Picture settings: Sony hasn't changed much from previous years, continuing to offer plenty of picture presets under its Scene Select menu. Diving deeper allows you to choose from six dejudder (smoothing) modes including an Impulse mode that engages black frame insertion, play with a two-point grayscale system, and pick from a few gamma settings. Unlike many TVs at this level, the W900B lacks a 10-point grayscale and color-management system.

The main change between the X900B and the step-down X850B in this category is an additional on/off toggle under the "Reality Creation" video processing section, entitled "Mastered in 4K." When engaged, Sony says it "Provides image quality suitable for Blu-ray Disc 'Mastered in 4K' releasing from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment." I did not test this feature.

Connectivity: The X900B gets four HDMI inputs to go with a combination composite/component-video input, three USB ports, and a headphone jack.

According to my DVDo 4K Test Pattern Generator, all of the HDMI inputs accepted 4K resolution at 24Hz and 30Hz, and HDMI 1, 2, and 3 all accepted it at 60 as well (HDMI 4 did not). I tried connecting a PC and those resolutions all worked as well, but 1080p and 720p at 120Hz did not at first blush. (I received an "unsupported signal" message when I tried setting it as a Custom Resolution via the nVidia software, but didn't try any of the other methods listed here.)

For what it's worth Sony's FMP-X1 4K video player will only connect to HDMI 1 or 2. HDMI 2 and 4 support MHL, while HDMI 1 is the only one with ARC.

In place of the old multipin RS-232 port for custom installations there is a "serial control" port that does the same thing. There's also an included "port replicator" box that lets you connect three HDMI, one USB, and the RF cable to it, then run a single umbilical to the TV itself, for a cleaner installation.

Picture quality

I've broken my testing down into separate sections, first dealing with only 4K sources and using a smaller comparison lineup. The second section involves a wider comparison group, with which I performed the same suite of high-definition tests I put every TV through. In both cases, the Sony was an outstanding performer.

4K sources testing

While the XBR-X900B did a superb with 4K, none of its picture quality advantages had to do with resolution. They stemmed primarily from its superior contrast and black levels, as well as from other picture quality advantages that apply regardless of whether the source is 4K or otherwise.

Methodology: Compared to last year there are a few more 4K sources publicly available, namely Netflix -- "House of Cards" Season 2 and now "Breaking Bad" -- and additional content for Sony owners who pony up for one of the aforementioned video players. I also had access to more test content for this test than last year, including a 4K signal generator (the DVDO AVLab TPG), two hard drives full of 4K demo content supplied by Sony and another TV maker who asked to remain nameless (these drives are used by dealers and unavailable for sale to the public), and a wide variety of individual files from various sources that I played from a PC. To send the 4K signal to each TV, I used an Atlona AT-HDDA-4 distribution amplifier.

In case you're wondering, I did test the XBR-X900B with one of Sony's 4K video players, the FMP-X1 (below). Unfortunately I couldn't get the player to work consistently enough to get any serious testing done -- too often the TV wouldn't "see" the player. Hopefully I'll get the chance to revisit Sony's 4K catalog when the second-generation FMP-X10 arrives later this summer.

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In the interest of time I did not perform a full 4K calibration on any of the TVs I compared for the 4K portion of this test. Instead, I simply chose the most accurate picture setting (determined during each TV's full 1080p calibration; see below) and adjusted basic settings, namely light output, contrast, and black level. For comparison purposes, I arranged all four 4K sets so they were as close to the same seating distance as I could make them: between 77 and 87 inches (roughly 6.5 to 7.5 feet, which is quite close for 65-inch TVs). To make this arrangement work, one TV (the LG in this case) had to be the odd man out, with a distance of about 115 inches.

4K TVs with 4K content: My first goal was to see if any of the TVs' rendition of the best 4K material I had on-hand looked substantially different. The answer is yes, but only because of differences that had nothing to do with 4K resolution. Instead, the major differences were in contrast (black level), color, uniformity, and picture quality areas detailed in the 1080p tests below.

Here's where I reassure you the 4K demo content looked exceedingly good. The demo boxes from both TV makers contained spectacular footage, some of it at 60fps, of breathtaking scenery, cityscapes, natural and man-made wonders, baroque interiors, a concert, golf and soccer, and of course tech demos extolling the virtues of said manufacturer. Details were sumptuous across the board, and the camera work and subject matter was designed to show off the extra resolution. Unfortunately, since I didn't have a 1080p version of the same material to compare, I couldn't tell how much that extra resolution made a difference.

Differences in detail from one TV to the next were nonexistent to my eye. Color was the biggest difference between the TVs, but since I didn't calibrate for 4K, I don't know which TVs were more "correct" or accurate. Differences in black level were similar to what I describe below in the 1080p section.

The same went for the demo files I tried, including a particularly nice piece of demo material: "The Ultra Definition showcase" from Florian Friedrich, available at UHDcontent.eu. Its shots of a beachside town, animals, and mountains were equal in quality to any of the manufacturer-supplied footage I saw.

4K vs. 1080p content from test files and Netflix: I didn't have access to the RED players I used last year to compare the same content at 4K and at 1080p resolution, but I did have some video files in both 4K and 1080p, as well as Netflix's feeds. For comparison purposes I swapped out the Samsung curved TV for a Panasonic TC-P65S64 to represent 1080p and kept the seating distances the same as described above.

The highest-quality nonproprietary source I had on-hand in both 1080p and 4K was some demo material of a piece of duck and lobster being served to an eager female diner. Beautifully detailed, if weird, I set it up to play simultaneously via two separate PCs on both the 4K TVs and the 1080p Panasonic S64. I could not see any major differences in detail. Yes, looking very closely at the gold embroidery of the tablecloth I detected the slightest bit of extra resolution and clarity on the 4K sets, and the legs of the lobster and the flesh of the duck appeared oh-so-subtly sharper. But those differences were anything but "major."

Moving back to a seating distance of about 8.5 feet, even those vanishingly small differences vanished. I looked at a couple of other pieces of footage I have in both resolutions (some courtesy of David Mackenzie and some purchased from Stockfootage.com), and the story was the same. The only area where I consistently noticed a marked improvement in detail was in small graphical elements, for example onscreen text that described the virtues of the cameras used to capture the footage.

I tried Netflix 4K as well, streaming a couple of episodes of "Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards." The latter looked most impressive, but both appeared slightly better-looking than the Super HD (1080p) stream. I compared the Sony at 4K to the other sets (including the S64) at Super HD from my PS3's Netflix app, and the slight increase in sharpness and detail was apparent in some areas, like faces and fine fabric textures. It was quite subtle, however, and I bet most viewers would have a tough time telling the difference, even at the theatrically close distance from which I was sitting.

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1080p sources testing

The majority of our testing was done with mere high-definition resolution sources, and the Sony was outstanding in just about every regard. Deep black levels; accurate, well-saturated color; and plenty of video processing options made it the best of the 4K sets I had on hand. Its 3D picture was its main weakness, but that's inconsequential in the scheme of things. And as you might expect from a TV with speakers like this, it sounded great.

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.

Black level: The X900B was one of the best performers in the stellar lineup I assembled for this review, beating every TV in this area aside from the HX950 and the ZT60 -- both of which are no longer available for sale. In some cases it actually surpassed the ZT60, in particular during extremely dark scenes.

In my favorite dark torture test from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" the X900B's letterbox bars remained darker than any of the others aside from the HX950's during the initial hilltop shot (46:00), providing inky contrast to the rest of the darkness.

The LG and Panasonic AX800U were worse (lighter), the Vizio M was in the middle, and the Samsung came closest, delivering a very respectably deep black itself -- albeit not nearly as deep as the X900B. This ranking order remained intact in other very dark scenes from the film, for example the bombardment at the start of Chapter 14.

In mixed albeit still mostly dark scenes, like the Room of Requirement (57:40 and 59:36), the ZT60 took its place as the best in the room, with superior pop and contrast, not only in the letterbox bars but also the depths of the shadows. Even the HX950 couldn't match it, although it and the X900B again came closest. The X900B also did a very good job maintaining the brightness of brighter objects against dark backgrounds, for example the face of Voldemort overlooking Hogwarts (46:20). That said, a few of the others, most notably the Samsung, did an even better job -- although the X900B's superior black levels still allowed it to outdo the Samsung in overall contrast.

Shadow detail on the X900B was also superb, outdoing the HX950 and especially the Samsung, which suffered from some crushing. Only the ZT60 maintained superior, more natural-looking shadows than the X900B. The M, meanwhile, held its own well but showed somewhat too-light details compared to the reference ZT.

Like all of the local dimming sets the Sony showed some blooming -- where the backlight illuminates dark areas adjacent to light ones -- but it was very well controlled. My Oppo Blu-ray player's pause icon in the upper right, for example, caused blooming in the nearby letterbox bar, but on the X900B it was relatively dim. The effect was brighter and more noticeable on the HX950 and the Samsung in particular, as well as the LG (especially when its backlight flashed).

That said, this test did reveal a limitation of the X900B's edge-lit dimming compared to the full-array HX950 and Vizio -- in the latter two cases, the lower letterbox bar remained dark and blooming-free, while on the X900B and the other edge-lit sets, it also showed stray illumination.

Color accuracy: As you can probably guess from the charts and Geek Box below, the Sony had no problems whatsoever in this area. Colors showed all of the accuracy in program material I expected from its superb measurements, from the depths of its shadows to brighter, more colorful scenes like young Snape's reverie (Chapter 19). Skin tones, the green grass, and the blue sky all appeared accurate. I turned to "Samsara" for even better colors and wasn't disappointed. From the brilliant golden temples and lush jungles of Chapter 3, to the resplendent primaries of the Buddha in Chapter 4, colors on the X900B were superb.

Compared to the other sets, it showed a slight advantage in some areas, particularly red, which on the sunlit monks' robes for example (8:39) appeared a bit more full and lush than on the Samsung and Vizio, albeit about the same as the ZT60 and HX950. In other words while colors looked accurate and almost perfectly saturated, they didn't seem head-and-shoulders above the best TVs I've tested.

Video processing: Sony has increased the number of smoothing/Soap Opera Effect modes this year, but unlike Samsung and some other TV makers, it still has yet to offer one that combines full motion resolution with proper 1080p/24 cadence. For viewers who demand the proper look of film with 1080p/24 sources, the MotionFlow settings of True Cinema and Off (between which I couldn't tell any difference) are the only ones that qualify on the X900B. They also the ones with the lowest motion resolution; just 300 lines.

The Impulse setting, said to incorporate both black frame insertion and blinking, looked the best in our motion resolution test, delivering the full 1,200 lines extremely cleanly. It truncated light output by a whopping 75 percent, but unlike Impulse on some previous Sony sets, the flicker it introduced was subtle to nonexistent to my eye.

Two other modes, Clear and Clear Plus, also hit the 1,200-line threshold but weren't quite as clean as Impulse on the test pattern. Neither dims the image as much as Impulse -- although neither gets as bright as the others. All three introduced a minor but still easily discernible amount of smoothing. Finally there's Standard and Smooth, which introduce significant and massive smoothing respectively, preserve maximum light output, and registered 600 lines of motion resolution.

Like the W850B, the X900B failed our 1080i de-interlacing test, despite setting CineMotion to Auto. Previous sets, like Sony's own W900A and R520A from last year, pass. Failure isn't a huge deal, but attentive watchers may notice some artifacts, for example moving lines or moire patterns, at times with film-based material delivered to the TV in 1080i, for example via a cable TV connection.

Using the highly-detailed mandala scenes from "Samsara" Chapter 4, I played around with the Reality creation settings. I ended up turning it off completely. The Resolution slider seemed to simply exaggerate details, hardening edges and bringing out the tufts in the robes and the strands in the monks' hair to a larger degree than the film captured, and adding weird dots to the sand of the mandala at extreme levels. Some viewers might like the effect, but I didn't. Noise filtering had no effect I could discern, which is a good thing because this Blu-ray is very low noise in the first place.

I didn't bother with Sony's "Mastered in 4K" setting, mainly because it applies only to a handful of Blu-ray titles.

4K upconversion: To test how well the Sony converted 1080p material to its 4K pixel array I wanted a lineup of same-size TVs viewed from the same theatrically close seating distance I used for 4K testing. I removed the smaller HX950 and ZT60 from the lineup and swapped in the 65-inch Panasonic TC-P65S64 to use as my 1080p reference. I also arranged them in the same theatrically close seating distance I used for 4K testing, described above.

I chose the best-looking Blu-ray I know, "Samsara," and stared hard at highly-detailed scenes to try to discern any difference in resolution, sharpness, perceived depth of field, and so on between the 4K Sony and the 1080p S64. If there was any, I didn't see it. The material from the monks' mandala to the destroyed buildings (Chapter 6) to the Baroque interiors (Chapter 7) looked equally detailed on all of the sets.

Switching to a lower-quality source, my Verizon Fios TV connection at 1080i, was the same story. I checked out an episode of "Mad Men" and a baseball game, and none of the 4K sets provided any increase in detail or resolution. As with the Blu-ray, none of them looked any less-detailed either.

I also asked a couple of CNET staffers to check out the same scenes from "Samsara," and while one agreed with me he couldn't see any difference, the other was able to pick out the 1080p S64 relatively quickly. When I asked him why, he said he noticed the very subtle presence of pixel structure in some flat fields, for example blue skies, and that tipped him off. He didn't pick out actual pixels from that distance, but did describe a vague sense of the picture elements nonetheless.

When we moved the couch back to about an 8.5 distance he said he didn't notice the difference as much, but at that point we agreed confirmation bias was too much of an issue to fully trust what he saw. In any case, he stressed that the difference he saw was minuscule, likely impossible to pick out when not looking at a side-by-side comparison using select parts of extremely high-quality material, and much less important than some other aspects of picture-quality differences he noticed, like black level and color.

Uniformity: While not quite as uniform in flat field test patterns across its screen as the Vizio or HX950, let alone the plasma, the Sony was still very good in this area. In flat fields there were very slight variations, typically slightly brighter along the lower and upper edges with a slightly darker middle (the opposite of the Samsung). None of these variations were visible in program material however, and my review sample was devoid of large uniformity issues. To be fair, so were the other sets with the exception of the LG.

The X900B maintained black-level fidelity from off-angle very well, beating every set aside from the X900B and the plasma in this area. The Samsung and Vizio in particular washed out more quickly. With bright material it showed no particular advantage.

Bright lighting: The glossy screen of the X900B showed brighter reflections than the the ZT60 or the HX960, but outdid the Samsung, LG and Vizio in this area. Yes, the matte Vizio scattered bright reflections better, but for most reflections, such as the white shirt of a viewer or a light wood coffee table, the X900B dimmed them better. The Sony also did a very good job maintaining black under the lights, matching the Samsung and HX950, and outdoing the others in this area, including the ZT60 by a nose.

Sound quality: [Evaluation by Ty Pendlebury] Unless you're looking at a television from Bang and Olufsen, most built-in speakers are woefully underpowered and good only for watching the news. The Sony XBR-65X900B is a different audio animal entirely, with better sound than any TV we've ever tested, and better even than one of Sony's own sound bar systems.

I tried the X900B with and without the company's optional wireless subwoofer, and found that for an $299 the extra money is definitely worth it, especially since you've already spent so much on the TV itself.

I started my tests with music and was very pleasantly surprised by the performance, even without the sub connected. For the first time since we started testing TV audio in 2013, Nick Cave was actually enjoyable to listen to on a television. With its dedicated tweeters, mdrange woofer, and transmission-line-style bass, the Sony is able to capture music in a way I haven't heard from a flat-screen before. The result was very even with no particular part of the spectrum poking out: relatively supple, deep bass, excellently nuanced vocals and plenty of sparkle where it's required.

Despite sounding a little thinner without the sub, the TV's sound blew the $499 Sony HT-CT770 soundbar away for music. The bass of that system's subwoofer sounded bloated and boomy, and the vocals sounded very constrained, lacking the wide stereo imaging of the TV.

Adding the Sony TV's optional subwoofer delivered a lot of low-end punch, and while it was initially too loud, I found that setting the crossover to 70Hz and limiting volume to -3 gave the most natural results for music (Settings>Sound>Wireless Subwoofer).

Unsurprisingly, Cinema mode in its default settings was more convincing with "Mission Impossible 3" resulting in clear dialogue, wide stereo effects, and booming explosions. Adding the subwoofer again provided extra oomph, and if you watch a lot of movies, this combination is well recommended.

If you buy this display, you can reasonably get away with not having to get an additional a sound system. Only if you're looking to spend well over $600 on an external system would you get better results than what the X900B/sub combination is capable of.

3D: The X900B's 3D performance wasn't as bad as I saw on the W850B, but it was still the worst in my lineup, and simply unacceptable for a TV of this level. Crosstalk was rampant. Watching "Hugo," the ghostly double image of crosstalk was more evident than any of the other sets, including the ZT60, in difficult areas like the statue looming over Hugo in the graveyard (14:56), the pillars below the clock (1:52) and its numbers as the ghostly outlines converge, and the sleeve of Méliès right before Hugo approaches to swipe the mouse. And yes, Hugo's hand in that scene also showed worse crosstalk than the others.

As expected, the LG was the best 3D performer in the group, with virtually no crosstalk and the added brightness of passive 3D. Among the active sets the Samsung was second-best, followed closely by the Panasonic AX800U -- all of which far outclasses the Sony X900B. Yes, the Sony's deep blacks and solid color were assets in 3D, and the glasses comfortable enough, but its crosstalk was a deal-breaker.

It's also worth mentioning again that the 79-inch version uses a passive 3D system, so I expect it to offer superb 3D picture quality.

Sony XBR-X900B

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.35Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.148Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.27Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.626Good
Avg. color error 1.908Good
Red error 1.352Good
Green error 2.537Good
Blue error 3.39Average
Cyan error 1.121Good
Magenta error 2.139Good
Yellow error 0.911Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
1080i De-interlacing (film) FailPoor
Motion resolution (max) 1200Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 40.9Average

Sony XBR-65X900B CNET review calibration report


How We Test TVs

sony-xbr-65x900b-product-photos01.jpg
7.3

Sony XBR-X900B series

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Value 5
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