X

Sony XBR-X930D series review: Thin, beautiful TV provides OLED alternative for hundreds less

Sony's best 65-inch TV for 2016 offers extremely good picture quality for much less money than an LG OLED, and is thin and attractive enough to be mistaken for one when seen from the side.

David_Katzmaier.jpg
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."

See full bio
11 min read

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.

03sony-xbr-65x930d.jpg
8.3

Sony XBR-X930D series

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.

Late 2016 update

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.

Sony XBR-65X930D (pictures)

See all photos

Update June 30, 2017: For 2017 we have updated weighting system we use to figure the overall ratings in TV reviews. As a result the rating of the 2016 Sony XBR-X930D series has been increased from 8.1 to 8.3. The review has not otherwise been changed.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Even so, the X930 deserves the same 9 in this category I awarded the Vizio P-Series and the Samsung JS9500 in 2015. It has better color than either one, better brightness than the Vizio, and combats blooming (where halos of stray light surround bright objects against dark backgrounds) better than the Samsung. Among the three I rank the Vizio highest, but it's very close and each has its merits.

In case you're wondering, I no longer test 3D performance.

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.

Dim lighting: The Sony was excellent in a dark room for an LED LCD (especially an edge-lit one), albeit not quite as impressive as the OLED TV or the Vizio. Its black levels were lighter (grayer) in very dark areas, and it showed a bit more blooming in mixed-brightness scenes. Watching "Deadpool," for example, in the aftermath of the fire in Chapter 17 the Sony's letterbox bars and shadows looked slightly brighter than those two. I also noticed slight blooming in Chapter 12, where the lights near the bars brightened a bit.

On the other hand the Sony's highlights were better than the Vizio's, so contrast and pop on the two were very close. Compared with the Samsung 9500, the Sony's black levels were a bit brighter in some areas but the Samsung's worse blooming made it less impressive overall. The LG UH8500 and Samsung KS8000 both showed much grayer blacks than the others.

Bright lighting: The Sony is a light output beast, falling short of only the Samsung JS9500 in overall brightness with standard window patterns, and beating it with full-screen (all-white) patterns. With the most color-accurate bright-room mode, Cinema Home, it was still plenty bright.

Unlike the other 2016 LCD sets from LG and Samsung, the Sony was equally (searingly) bright with standard and HDR content. And speaking of beasts, that peak number for the Samsung KS8000 in HDR is not a misprint (it did decrease over time, however; see that review for details).

Light output comparison

Light output in nits




TV Mode (SDR)10% window (SDR)Full screen (SDR)Mode (HDR)10% window (HDR)
Samsung UN65JS9500 Dynamic958411Movie884
Sony XBR-65X930D Vivid926492HDR Auto923
Samsung UN65KS8000 Dynamic618480Movie1346
LG 55UH8500 Vivid610403HDR Bright601
Vizio P65-C1 Vivid502572Calibrated Dark468
Sony XBR-65X930D Cinema Home451279HDR Auto923
LG 65EF9500 Vivid431146Cinema399

[Update June 27: Samsung KS8000 results updated after re-measurement]

The Sony's screen was middling at reducing reflections, falling short of all of the TVs in the lineup with the exception of the JS9500. It maintained contrast and black-level fidelity very well in a bright room however.

Color accuracy: Going by the numbers, the Sony was the most accurate TV in my lineup, delivering some of the best overall grayscale and color measurements I've ever seen. With program material it lived up to the test patterns, with vibrant, saturated colors that maintained accuracy even in dim areas like the bar scene in Chapter 7 of "Deadpool." Most of the TVs in my lineup looked very good, but side by side the Sony was just a touch better to my eye.

Video processing: I have no major complaints in this category. The balance between smoothing and motion resolution, controlled by MotionFlow, isn't as easy to achieve as on sets like the Samsung and LG. For film-based sources (including scripted TV and movies) I recommend using the True Cinema mode because it preserves the correct cadence of film without smoothing. The same goes for Off and the Custom mode if you select "Min" Smoothness.

Unfortunately all of those modes also achieve "Min" motion resolution (300 lines). The only way to improve it is to dial in a mode -- like Standard, Smooth, Clear or a Custom Smoothness setting of 3 or more -- that creates the Soap Opera Effect. The most effective, namely Clear and a Custom Clearness setting of 2 or 3, engage backlight scanning which dims the image. Unless you're really sensitive to blurring, it's best to stick with a less smooth mode like True Cinema.

I also checked out the CineMotion settings with a 1080i source and the default, High, looked best with film-based material; lower settings introduced too much judder. I did not spend much time evaluating the Reality Creation processing under the Clarity menu, because with high-quality sources like HDTV and Blu-ray, I prefer minimal or no "enhancements."

Input lag tests revealed 37ms in Game mode. That's not up to the world-beating Sony sets of a couple of years ago, but still very good.

Uniformity: The Sony was fine from off-angle, no better or worse than most of the other LCDs in the lineup, which all lost significant fidelity compared with the OLED. My review sample also showed a large slightly darker spot in the middle left of the screen with test patterns, but it wasn't visible in program material unless I looked for it with diligence and just the right material. It contributed a slight "dirty screen effect" during hockey, for example, but no worse overall than any of the other TVs.

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

HDR and 4K video: The Sony is an excellent HDR performer overall, demonstrating prodigious light output and accurate color.

As I saw with the Vizio P-Series, the look of HDR is very dependent on content, and in the case of Netflix's "Marco Polo," the improvement over standard dynamic range was subtle. I compared four streams at once: 4K/HDR on the Sony, the Vizio and the Samsung KS8000, and standard dynamic range on the LG OLED. The LG actually looked the best of the three thanks to its deep black levels and superior overall contrast, although in some outdoor scenes the Sony looked better, delivering the extra vibrancy I've come to expect from HDR shot outdoors.

Between the three LCDs, the Sony looked the best overall, with superior highlights to the Vizio and much better black levels and contrast than the Samsung. The other two also seemed to saturate colors, particularly skin tones, too much, while the Sony was more balanced.

Next up was watching 4K Blu-ray on the Samsung UBD-K8500. Unfortunately my test setup doesn't yet allow me to compare multiple TVs using the same source, so I made do with comparing standard Blu-ray and switching to multiple TVs. With "Mad Max: Fury Road" in 4K HDR, the Sony looked great, with that characteristic pop in highlights like the sun glinting off chrome, superior detail in bright areas like the clouds and, most importantly, wider, more impressive color (as long as I selected the Auto or BT.2020 color space; DCI didn't look nearly as good) especially in red areas like the flames from the roadsters and the insane storm.

HDR colors on the Samsung JS9500 looked redder by comparison, and the Vizio didn't have quite the same pop -- another testament to the Sony's superb light output. On the other hand the Vizio, the JS9500 and of course the LG OLED delivered deeper, more realistic black levels, which was even more apparent with HDR sources because they demand maximum backlight settings. With darker scenes in HDR, like Max's run through the warrens in Chapter 1, it was obvious that the Sony is an edge-lit display, and while it was excellent, it didn't quite match the overall contrast and punch of the full-array models or the OLED.

According to my measurements the Sony's HDR color was more accurate than the JS9500 or the LG OLED, and it covered a bit more of the DCI color space (about 91 percent). For more info check out my notes.

The Sony was also able to pass the full resolution of 4K from YouTube, and played through a suite of 4K test patterns from Florian Friedrich with no issues (as long as I left Reality Creation turned off).

Geek box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.005Good
Peak white luminance (100%) 270Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.36Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.827Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.674Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.712Good
Avg. color error 1.520Good
Red error 1.675Good
Green error 1.466Good
Blue error 1.522Good
Cyan error 1.523Good
Magenta error 1.436Good
Yellow error 1.495Good
Avg. saturations error 0.9863Good
Avg. luminance error 1.2Good
Avg. color checker error 1.3616Good
Percent gamut Wide (DCI/P3) 91.3Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 1080Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 37Good

How we test TVs

03sony-xbr-65x930d.jpg
8.3

Sony XBR-X930D series

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9Value 7
laptop
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping