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Sony XBR-X900E series review: Midpriced TV blessed with a high-end look, feel and picture

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Picture quality

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CNET

The X900E is an excellent performer, especially with HDR (high dynamic range) material, but in my side-by-side tests it didn't significantly outperform the Vizio M series or TCL P series. All three score an "8" on my 2017 image quality scale, falling short of only the OLED TVs I've tested, which cost a lot more.

The combination of local dimming and high light output on the Sony result in great pop and contrast in both bright and dark rooms. Video processing was better than the M or the TCL P series, but not as good as some other competing sets, while color was exceedingly accurate.

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 delivered deep black levels and solid contrast in my dim room, but the Vizios and the TCL got a bit deeper with most content, for superior punch and impact. In Chapter 3 of the "Atomic Blonde" Blu-ray, for example (13:37), where the Percival (James McAvoy) makes his way through Berlin at night, the Sony's letterbox bars, the shadows between the buildings and the depths of the escape tunnel all appeared a shade darker and more realistic on those other sets compared to the Sony. The X900E's details in shadows were very good, but not significantly better than the others, and a bit lighter overall because of slightly higher gamma.

In a few exceedingly dark scenes however, such as parts of Voldemort's attack on Hogwarts from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" (45:55), the X900E actually showed deeper black levels than the Vizio M, although it still didn't reach the depths of the Vizio P or the TCL. The blacks of the Sony's letterbox bars and other deep areas also showed more variation according to the scene than they did on the Vizio M. Overall, I preferred the M's dark-room performance over the Sony's with the majority.

Blooming, or stray light output that can plague some local dimming sets, wasn't an issue on the Sony. Even in difficult scenes with bright areas adjacent to the letterbox bars, like the interrogation sequences in Chapter 6, or the moving "Oppo" logo of my disc player's screensaver, it didn't have an issue with blooming.

Bright lighting: The Sony fell just a bit short of the Samsung in terms of sheer light output with both HDR and SDR material, making it an excellent performer for very bright rooms, or if you just crave a bright picture.

Light output in nits

TV Mode (SDR) 10% window (SDR) Full screen (SDR) Mode (HDR) 10% window (HDR)
Samsung UN65MU9000 Dynamic 1,410 509 Dynamic 1,435
Samsung QN65Q7F Dynamic 923 588 Dynamic 1,781
Sony XBR-65X900E Vivid 908 524 Vivid 902
Vizio P65-E1 Vivid 459 575 Vivid 498
TCL 55P607 Vivid/dimming off 438 431 Brighter/Dark HDR 448
LG OLED55C7P Vivid 433 145 Vivid 715
Vizio M65-E0 Vivid 288 339 Vivid 880

The brightest mode, Vivid, had terrible color, but Cinema Home is much more accurate and almost as bright, so I'd recommend that mode instead for bright rooms. The Sony's screen didn't preserve black levels quite as well as the Samsungs, or reduce reflections as well as the Vizios, but it still handled ambient light well.

Color accuracy: Prior to calibration my review sample was quite blueish, even in its most accurate Cinema Pro mode, but a few tweaks allowed me to dial it in to near perfection. Afterward colors looked great, with plenty of saturation to show off the garish neon and blue palette of "Atomic Blonde." Meanwhile, skin tones remained pleasingly neutral. As usual, however, the Sony didn't show a major color advantage over any of the others.

Video processing: The X900E didn't fare quite as well as the Samsung or the Vizio P in this category, but did surpass the Vizio M and TCL P series. It had no issues delivering proper 1080p/24 cadence in its TruCinema MotionFlow setting, which is the (proper) default in the Cinema Pro picture mode, but can't deliver the TV's full motion resolution (minimal blurring) without introducing some smoothness, or soap opera effect.

The mode with the best motion resolution (900 lines) is Clear, but that introduced minor flicker and dimmed the image significantly, a result of black frame insertion. I tried tinkering with the Custom MotionFlow setting, but its adjustments were quite coarse, and as soon as a setting registered 600 lines of resolution at a Smoothness of 2 or higher, it looked too smooth and lost proper 1080p/24 cadence. Sticklers for blurring (I'm not one) will note that the Samsung and Vizio P series beat the Sony with a score of 1,200 lines of motion resolution, and also note that the Vizio M and TCL P series fell short.

Sony touts its extra video processing, especially for lower-quality sources, but as usual I didn't find the effects all that impressive. Its Reality Creation settings added artificial-looking sharpness to my Fios TV feed, and while some viewers might like the effect, I didn't. The Sony's processing couldn't help the poor look of the YouTube videos I watched either. As usual, cruddy source material will look bad bad no matter how good the TV's processing is.

One setting I did appreciate was Sony's "Smooth Gradation," which reduced some of the abrupt transitions in contours of color, for example in the purple "Atomic Blonde" title logo.

Sony also has a mode called Xtended Dynamic Range that applies signal processing to make standard  images look more like HDR. It was clearly visible in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," for example, when the fireworks explode over Hogwarts (47:00) -- bouncing between the High and Off XRD settings, the lights looked enhanced and brighter.  I didn't like the effect since it screwed up gamma and otherwise make the image look less like the producer's' intention, but some viewers might.

Uniformity: As I'd expect from a TV with full-array dimming the X900E maintained a very uniform image across the screen, beating out the Samsung and TCL, with no overt brighter areas, banding or spotting. In a few full-raster test patterns, the middle did appear slightly brighter than the edges, but the difference was invisible in program material. From off-angle it lost black level and color fidelity about as quickly as the others.

HDR and 4K video: Watching the "Atomic Blonde" 4K Blu-ray with HDR10, the X900E was the best in my lineup by a very small margin. The Vizio M was nearly as good, however, and while the Vizio P and TCL were slightly behind, they still looked great.

The Sony and Vizio M delivered brighter highlights in many scenes, compared to the others, improving their HDR pop. When Lorraine (Charlize Theron) gets debriefed in Chapter 2, for example, the bright reflections were a bit brighter on those two sets than the others, lending a bit more pop.

As I saw with non-HDR, in most scenes the Sony did evince lighter (worse) black levels than on any of the others aside from the Samsung, which robbed the image of some impact and HDR-ness. But its black levels were still very good, and overall contrast was still great. Shadow detail was slightly better on the Sony than the others as well, and its overall HDR image, despite the slightly lighter blacks, was the most pleasing, in part due to superior color.

It's tough to judge color without an HDR reference, but to my eye the Sony managed the best in the lineup, showing a bit more balance than the others while maintaining a brilliant, wide color gamut. And for what it's worth, it also did very well in my HDR color measurements (see the Geek Box below).

During the bar scene in Chapter 8, for example, the skin tones of Lorraine looked appropriately natural at first, then brilliant reddish pink under the garish lighting. The Vizio M was closest, while the TCL was a bit too saturated and the Vizio P less brilliant. The Samsung's color also looked very good in this scene, but in others it appeared duller and less saturated. And the Vizio M, for its part, evinced an unnatural bluish tint in the opening scenes. As usual the differences would be tough to spot outside of a side-by-side comparison, and all of the sets in my lineup handled HDR color well -- much better than the 2016 Vizo M, for example.

Of course, different films have different characteristics, especially in HDR. As part of the M series review, I compared "Jason Bourne" in Dolby Vision from the Apple TV 4K (on the Vizios and TCL) to the HDR10 4K Blu-ray. It didn't make a huge difference, nor were the images identical to what I saw with HDR10. The Sony still looked best overall, and the M-Series still looked great, but the P-Series sets (both TCL and Vizio) looked better than before.

I also watched "Wonder Woman" with the same comparison lineup in the MU9000 review, playing the Dolby Vision version on the Vizios and TCL, and the results were similar. The Sony looked the best overall despite not playing the Dolby Vision version, while the Samsung again lagged the pack. Once again, the TV seems to have a larger effect on what you see than the HDR format. 

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0103 Good
Peak white luminance (100%) 923 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.28 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.505 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.577 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.363 Good
Avg. color error 1.093 Good
Red error 1.496 Good
Green error 1.035 Good
Blue error 0.874 Good
Cyan error 0.999 Good
Magenta error 1.106 Good
Yellow error 1.048 Good
Avg. saturations error 0.7 Good
Avg. luminance error 1.58 Good
Avg. color checker error 0.98 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 900 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 31.77 Good



HDR default

Black luminance 0.000 Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 902 Poor
Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976) 94 Good
Avg. saturations error 3.5 Average
Avg. color checker error 3.7 Average

Sony XBR-65X900E CNET review calibration results by David Katzmaier on Scribd

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