Sony XBR-X900H TV review: Excellent picture meets game-friendly connectivity
The XBR-X900H is the best-performing midpriced Sony TV I've tested in years, with excellent contrast and brightness, accurate color and plenty of punch with HDR. Add to that a solid smart TV system, sleek styling and cutting-edge features and you've got a great television for anyone who values Sony's brand but doesn't want to pony up for one of its OLED TVs.
The key to this TV's image quality, as with all LCD-based sets that perform well in my side-by-side tests, is well implemented full-array local dimming. It improves black levels and contrast by illuminating different areas of the screen separately as needed. In some crucial ways, such as reducing stray illumination with HDR, the X900H beat the similarly equipped TCL 6-Series in those tests, but in other ways the TCL won out, with superior brightness and contrast overall. The Sony also costs more than the TCL, so it's not my top recommendation for people who want the best image quality for the money.
There are lots of good reasons to choose the Sony X900H instead, however. The first is superior connectivity: Unlike the TCL, it's compatible with the highest-quality 4K/120Hz video from the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, and unlike any TV at this price it also has a built-in Next Gen TV tuner for upcoming ATSC 3.0 broadcasts. The Sony is also available in a massive 85-inch size, something not offered by TCL or Hisense. And maybe Sony's brand cachet is important to you -- but you don't want to throw down even more for a FALD-equipped Samsung like the Q80T. If that or any of the other reasons above appeal to you, the X900H should be on your short list.
A couple of subtle touches separate the X900H from other big-screen, thin-frame TVs available today. There's a line of silver metallic finishing around the extreme edge on all four sides, matching the silver-colored stand legs. Those legs are thinner than usual but feel plenty solid, and I appreciated that they're metal and not plastic.
A look around the sides finds holes for Sony's unusual speaker array, and the bottom has bass ports. Both are invisible from the standard seating position but contribute to improved sound, according to Sony. I don't test audio quality for CNET TV reviews, but don't expect miracles here -- any decent soundbar will likely outperform the X900H's built-in audio by a mile.
The remote is old-school Sony: way too many buttons, most of which you'll never use. I prefer the sleeker, simpler clickers of Samsung and Roku, as well as the motion-infused wands of LG.
Android TV: No Google TV yet, but still solid
Google recently debuted a new smart TV system called Google TV, but currently it's only available in the new Chromecast. Sony says its 2021 TVs will launch with Google TV and that it will share details on current and older models (like the X900H) soon. Meanwhile the current version, called Android TV, still performs well. Apps launched quickly, I zipped around thumbnails and navigation screens with ease, and response times in general were on par with Roku, Samsung and LG TVs.
Only Roku has as many apps as Android TV, and it lacks the voice power of Google Assistant. Roku's search is better, however. LG has Assistant, as well as Alexa, but its app selection falls short. The X900H's array of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos apps is solid too: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Vudu and Fandango Now support both, Google Play Movies supports Vision (but not Atmos) and Tidal supports Atmos.
Android TV's menus are perfectly usable, if not quite as evolved as Google TV. The home page is clean and simple, with favorite apps grouped at the top for easy access in a customizable bar and clear routes to get more apps, search and more. New for 2020, you can customize the input menu, and the TV settings menus have clear explanations of the effects of different adjustments, complete with illustrations.
I did experience some problems. There's quite a few annoying pop-ups and notifications on the home page. You can't customize the top section or what appears in each row, so a screen mostly full of clutter you don't care about is inevitable. Wi-Fi was also unstable on my review sample. A couple of times I was greeted with a pop-up alert saying Wi-Fi was disconnected. The only way I could turn it back on was to unplug the TV and plug it back in. I asked Sony about the issue and a spokesperson told me it plans to issue a software update to deal with the issue -- no word yet on timing.
Assistant on TVs works well. Commands are transcribed on-screen, along with suggestions for follow-up commands. The X900H lacks the far-field mic found on last year's version, which is a bummer, but talking into the remote worked fine. I was able to launch apps, perform searches, mute and change volume, tell it to "play cat videos on YouTube," get the weather, set timers and so on.
It wasn't without typical Google Assistant wonkiness however. Once I asked, "What's the latest news?" and an account login page appeared, and when I clicked through a YouTube channel failed to load, complete with a "Something went wrong" popup, a blank screen and a spinning progress indicator.
You can link the Sony TV with Google Nest Home or Amazon Alexa speakers for hands-free action. The X900H lets you use your phone to cast apps via its built-in Google Cast functionality, which works just like a Chromecast, and also supports Apple's AirPlay 2 and HomeKit compatibility. AirPlay 2 lets the TV function as a display for TV shows, movies, music, photos and web pages with an iPhone, iPad or Mac as the controller. Unlike many other TVs, however, this Sony lacks the full Apple TV app.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR compatible||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
|Smart TV||Android TV|
The best picture-enhancing extra on the X900H is full-array local dimming. Unlike Vizio, Hisense or TCL, Sony doesn't disclose the number of dimming zones on its TVs, and while more zones generally equate to better performance, that's not always the case.
Other picture-centric extras include a native 120Hz refresh rate, a notable improvement on paper over the fake 120Hz refresh rates (they're actually 60Hz native) found on some TVs. The X-Motion Clarity mode that debuted in 2018 is also on board. It boosts motion resolution by applying black frame insertion only where it's needed on the screen, which is said to eliminate the flicker and dimness evinced by similar modes in past sets. See the picture quality section for more.
- 4x HDMI inputs
- 3x USB ports
- Composite video input
- Ethernet (LAN) port
- Optical digital audio output
- 1x headphone/subwoofer audio output
- 1x RF (antenna) input
- RS-232 port (minijack)
The X900H has some of the most capable inputs of any 4K TV. It supports numerous HDMI 2.1 features, namely enhanced audio return channel (aka eARC), automatic low latency mode (ALLM, or auto game mode) and variable refresh rate. Its HDMI inputs can accept 4K resolution at 120 frames per second -- a feature that sets it apart from many 2020 TVs like the TCL 6-Series, especially for gamers who want to take advantage of high frame rates from an Xbox Series X or Sony PlayStation 5. A firmware update coming soon will enable variable refresh rate as well.
It's also the only non-8K TV to feature a built-in ATSC 3.0 over-the-air tuner, which allows the X900H to receive NextGen TV broadcasts. Those are still only available in a tiny number of markets so I didn't get the chance to check out this feature, but it's nice to know that once the broadcasts become more widespread, Sony X900H owners won't have to connect an external tuner box to watch.
Unlike many of Samsung's sets, the Sony actually has an analog video input, albeit composite-only, and I also appreciate having a headphone jack.
Picture quality comparisons
The Sony X900H is an excellent performer overall, with a pleasing, balanced image that still manages to deliver plenty of pop and contrast. It can't quite match the black levels and light output of some LCDs I've tested -- most recently from TCL and Hisense -- but still comes pretty close. Meanwhile other areas of image quality, namely color accuracy and shadow detail, were superior to those TVs.
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: Dark movie scenes played in a dark room are the most challenging kind of content for LCD-based TVs and while the Sony looked excellent in my side-by-side tests, it wasn't quite as good as the TCL 6-Series or the Hisense at maintaining that crucial darkness. Letterbox bars in mid-dark scenes, such as the general's speech in the bunker at the beginning of 1917, provided one example. The other two TVs were both able to preserve a blacker color of "black" in the bars and other dark areas, like the soldiers' silhouettes, which made them look a bit more realistic than the X900H. The difference was minor overall, however, and even less noticeable in other scenes with brighter lighting.
On the other hand, the Sony preserved details in shadows most consistently among the three TVs, for example in the super dark scene with the soldier waking up (1:06:38), and also controlled blooming and stray illumination very well. Again, the differences with SDR were relatively minor and all three TVs looked excellent.
Bright lighting: The X900H can get exceedingly bright, although it didn't measure quite as bright as some other sets I've tested recently.
Light output in nits
|TV||Brightest (SDR)||Accurate color (SDR)||Brightest (HDR)||Accurate color (HDR)|
|Vizio PX65-G1 (2019)||1,990||1,120||2,908||2,106|
|Vizio M658-G1 (2019)||633||400||608||531|
The "accurate" numbers above were measured with the Sony's Xtended Dynamic Range setting in the High setting in the Custom picture mode, which is a great choice for bright rooms where you still want an accurate image. As usual, the brightest setting, Vivid, is incredibly inaccurate.
Compared to the others, the Sony's screen finish was visibly superior at preserving contrast and black levels in a bright room, but it did a somewhat worse job of dimming bright reflections. Overall I preferred the Sony's bright-room image to that of the others in most scenes.
Color accuracy: Despite its lack of quantum dots I've come to expect excellent color from Sony and the X900H is no exception. Its Custom and Cinema modes were very similar prior to calibration although both skewed slightly blue; afterward they were nearly perfect. Watching program material bright scenes, like the fields, woods and uniforms in Chapter 8 of 1917, looked the most pleasing and natural of the three TVs, outdoing the apparent saturation of the TCL in my comparison.
Video processing: The X900H had no issues delivering proper 1080p/24 cadence with its Motionflow controls in the Off position, which is probably the best for film purists. Meanwhile the Auto setting introduced the buttery smoothness of the soap opera effect. Then there's the Custom setting, which has adjustable Smoothness and Clearness.
A Smoothness setting above 1 introduces significant SOE, while 0 turns it off. I actually didn't mind the slight smoothing that the 1 setting introduces (some purists might), but its effect on motion resolution was really slight, so I'd probably stick with 0. The Clearness setting ramps up black frame insertion to improve motion resolution, but it doesn't have any effect (aside from dimming the image) unless you've got Smoothness at 2 or higher. In other words there's no way to get the best of both worlds -- high motion resolution and no SOE -- with one setting.
The X900H measured the best (lowest) input lag of any Sony TV yet, at around 15 milliseconds in Game mode for both 1080p and 4K HDR -- an improvement of 4ms compared to last year's X950G. In the Custom mode, meanwhile, I measured 91ms with both resolutions.
Uniformity: The X900H sample I tested was very good in this category, with few visible variations across the screen in static or moving test patterns or program material, such as a hockey match. Compared to the TCL and the Hisense, the Sony lost black level fidelity and contrast from off-angle more severely as I moved away from the sweet spot in the center of the screen. On the other hand, it preserved color better than the other two.
HDR and 4K video: The X900H is a suburb HDR performer overall. I started my comparison with my reference video, the montage from the Spears and Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark, and the Sony held its own nicely compared to the TCL and the Hisense, although it couldn't quite match either one for contrast. Its biggest challenge, as expected, came during the difficult bright-on-black sections, for example the honey dripper at 2:50. Both of the others delivered deeper black levels that gave the image more pop and contrast, as well as showing less blooming and stray illumination.
In brighter, more natural shots like the snowy mountains and the hot springs, the Sony narrowed the gap, although brightness in highlights and in larger bright areas like clouds and snow lagged the TCL slightly and the Hisense even more. Color accuracy was excellent, a bit better than the TCL and significantly better than the Hisense, with a balanced yet vibrant look to the flowers and insects. The Sony also preserved detail in very bright areas better than the Hisense.
Turning back to 1917 in 4K HDR, the Sony again competed well and in some scenes looked the most balanced and pleasing of the three. The general's bunker scene (6:55) was one example: the TCL 635 showed darker black levels but worse blooming and stray illumination, and while the Hisense was brighter in highlights its color looked the least realistic and it also showed blooming. Again the Sony preserved shadow detail the best among the three as well.
In brighter scenes the Sony again trailed the other two at delivering that trademark HDR blast of light, for example in the skies above the soldiers as they walk quickly through the trenches. The TCL and the Sony were relatively close, however, and tough to differentiate without measuring their bright areas directly, while the Hisense was visibly brighter than both. On the other hand, as I saw with the 4K Benchmark, colors on both the TCL and Sony looked more accurate and natural than on the Hisense.
4K HDR gaming: For this test I played The Last of Us Part 2 on a PS4 Pro in the TVs' various Game modes: Game mode on the Sony and Gaming HDR (aka THX-certified Game Mode) for the 635 (I didn't include the Hisense in this test).
When you're crawling around a dark building hunting zombies, shadow detail is more important than black level and contrast, because it allows you to peer into dark recesses to spot enemies. By that measure the Sony was better than the 635, delivering every ounce of detail in the darkest shadows while the 635 was a bit more shrouded. That said, the TCL won for black levels, contrast and punch in the same (default) game settings. With many games, including The Last of Us Part 2, you can adjust gamma and shadow detail to taste (and you should).
Moving out into the day-lit Seattle streets, the 635 again looked best overall thanks to superior contrast, which as usual helped colors pop. The Sony still looked great, however, and differences would be tough to discern outside of a side-by-side comparison.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.010||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||841||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.15||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||1.07||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||0.99||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||1.19||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||1.80||Good|
|Avg. saturation sweeps error||1.55||Good|
|Avg. color error||2.37||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||400||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||15.50||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.006||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||989||Average|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||92.59||Average|
|ColorMatch HDR error||3.57||Average|
|Avg. color checker error||4.99||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||15.23||Good|