Sony TVs go flatter, 4K and Android-powered at CES 2015

Sony introduced 10 new 4K resolution TVs at CES 2015, including the thinnest LCD TV on the market, and announced it was ditching its homebrew Smart TV software for Google's Android TV.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
5 min read

At 0.2-inch deep, Sony's XBR-X900C is the thinnest LCD TV yet. Sarah Tew/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- While Samsung and LG were trying to outdo each other with the curviest and flexiest showstopper SUHD and OLED TVs, Sony introduced a full line of 4K televisions that promises, as usual, to compete with those two for the best picture quality of of the year.

None of Sony's TVs are curved, and rather than tout a fancy homegrown Smart TV system like Web OS 2.0 or Tizen, Sony elected to go with Google's Android TV this year to power its Smart sets.

The company introduced four series of 4K resolution TVs, comprising a total of 10 models from 43 up to 75 inches in size. Conversely it mentioned only one series of 1080p resolution TVs at the show. That 4:1 ratio of 4K TV series to 1080p TV series puts Sony further along the transition to 4K than any other TV maker.

Watch this: Sony's new 4K set is its slimmest LED TV to date

New for this year is the 4K X1 processor found on all of its 2015 4K models. According to the press release, it "enhances color, contrast and clarity while improving the streaming quality of images that 4K content providers supply. Combined with the advanced 4K X-Reality PRO upscaling Algorithm technology, these televisions will analyze and upscale 4K resolution, providing the best image quality, regardless of the image source."

And while Samsung , LG and others tout quantum dots and nanocrystals, a Sony rep pointed out that its TVs were actually the first to market quantum dots way back in 2013 with models like the KDL-55W900A . As for the Truluminous technology found on the better 2014 sets, as well as nearly every 4K 2015 Sony TV? "We developed our own nano-crystal technology, which we have been using for the last two years that offers the same benefits as Quantum Dots." So there.

The top corner of a 55-inch X900C is thinner than Sony's smartphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

The flattest 4K TV: XBR-X900C

Sony calls the X900C the world's thinnest LCD television, but we're tempted to call it the anti-curve. Parts of the TV's cabinet, namely the top half of the set, measure just 0.2-inch thick. The fact that the bottom half is a bit thicker, to accommodate internal components and inputs, spoils the effect only a little.

The set's styling is further enhanced by an extremely thin bezel, for a total effect that's almost all picture. In person, this is one of the nicest-looking TVs I saw at CES.

On the other hand, the X900C lacks the local dimming we liked so much on the X900B from last year, so it likely won't offer as impressive a picture.

The X900C comes in 55- and 65-inch sizes. There's also a 75-inch version, model XBR-X910C, that's a bit thicker.

The 75-inch X940C has full-array local dimming. David Katzmaier/CNET

More Sony TVs: Big speakers, local dimming, nanocrystals

XBR-75X940C: This 75-incher's prominent front-facing speakers make it even bigger. They look similar to the monster speakers of the X900B, which helped make it the best-sounding TV we've ever tested. Like much of Sony's new home AV gear, the X940C is compatible with high-resolution audio files.

And remember that local dimming we mentioned earlier? It's available in the X940C from a full-array backlight, just like on the XBR-X950B from 2014. Yes, this will be one expensive TV.

Those are some big speakers for a TV. David Katzmaier/CNET

XBR-65X930C: This 65-inch TV looks like the spiritual successor to the X900B, with its huge speakers and edge-lit local dimming backlight. Aside from the backlight configuration it seems very similar to its big brother, down to high-res audio compatibility.

XBR-X850C series: Available in 75-, 65- and 55-inch sizes, the X850C is Sony's mainstream line of 2015 4K TVs. It loses the local dimming of the step-up models and doesn't have an ultrathin cabinet or honkin' speakers, but it does keep the nano-crystal color enhancements of Triluminos.

The XBR-X850C Sarah Tew/CNET

XBR-X830C series: Sony's least-expensive 4K TV series, the X830C is also the smallest at 43 and 49 inches. You definitely won't see much benefit to 4K resolution at this size, unless maybe you sit close enough to use one as a big computer monitor. These also lack Triluminous.

KDL-W850C series: The lone 1080p series Sony introduced at CES 2015, the W850 comes in four sizes at 75, 65, 55 and 50-inches. It looks pretty basic, albeit as sleek as we expect from a Sony. Its main extra, something also shared by all higher-end Sony TVs, is Android TV.

Sony's website is live now with all of the information on the new TVs, if you're curious for more details. They're all slated to ship to the US in the spring, and pricing was not announced.

Android TV is the Smart TV system used on Sony's 2015 televisions. David Katzmaier/CNET

Android TV: Sony gets with the Goog

All of the Sony TVs announced at CES 2015 feature a Smart TV system powered by Android TV. We got some hands-on time with an early version at Sony's booth, and in most ways it's identical to what we saw on the Google Nexus Player .

The main interface for the TV will be Android TV, which seamlessly integrates things like input selection -- it gets its own row on the interface -- and settings (I wanted to see the settings menu, but it wasn't available yet). Prominent in the upper left is the voice search icon, and the touchpad remote, similar to the clickers found on the higher-end 2014 sets, incorporates a microphone.

A few Sony-specific apps were evident too, chiefly gateways to the movies, TV and music sections of the company's SEN (Sony Entertainment Network). The games section showed the same array of games offered on the Nexus player, and a Sony rep told me PS4 controller could be compatible with the games. Of course the TVs also work with Sony's PlayStation Now service, which recently announced a subscription plan.

The interface isn't very different from that of the Google Nexus Player. David Katzmaier/CNET

Sony's rep also assured me that by the time the TVs launch in spring, they'd have access to many of the most important apps currently missing from Android TV, such as Amazon Instant streaming and HBO Go. That addresses one of our major complaints with the service: lack of apps. Of course, the TVs will also work with any Google Cast compatible apps, allowing your phone or tablet to control the app on the TV.

All told, Android TV looks like a much better system than Sony's previous homebrew Smart TV suite, and we're looking forward to reviewing it along with Sony's new TVs this year.