Sony's best 2016 LED LCD TVs focus on picture quality, cost as much as OLED

The first premium LED LCD TV pricing of the year starts at $2,500 for 55 inches and goes up to 10 grand, but Sony claims a lot of picture enhancements for all that cash.

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
3 min read
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Sony says it's paring down its TV offerings to concentrate on the high-end 4K market, and its expensive 2016 lineup is further proof.

The storied Japanese TV maker is first among major names in announcing 2016 prices for its TVs, all of which use LED LCD technology. And many cost as much or more than comparable OLED-based models from LG, which deliver the best picture quality we've ever tested.

LG's cheapest flat 65-inch OLED, the 65EF9500, currently sells for $5,000 -- the same as Sony's best new 65-inch LED LCD set. Sony's cheapest new 55-inch TV costs more than the superb 55EG9100 OLED, while its best 55-incher costs more than the 55EF9500 OLED. Sony's reps did say the company would sell other, cheaper TVs in 2016, but I wasn't given any additional details.

Sony's 2016 TVs get high price tags to go with high dynamic range (pictures)

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In their favor, Sony's new high-end sets do boast some intriguing technology on paper. We got an initial look at the TVs at CES 2016, namely the XBR-X930D with the company's new Slim Backlight Drive, and later in February experienced a more in-depth demonstration set up by Sony in a private suite in Manhattan.

Here's the full lineup. All are available for pre-sale now and ship in March.

Sony's 2016 high-end TVs

Model SizePriceKey feature
XBR-55X850D 55 inches$2,499HDR compatible
XBR-65X850D 65 inches$3,499HDR compatible
XBR-75X850D 75 inches$4,999HDR compatible
XBR-85X850D 85 inches$9,999HDR compatible
XBR-55X930D 55 inches$3,299Slim backlight drive
XBR-65X930D 65 inches$4,999Slim backlight drive
XBR-75X940D 75 inches$7,999Full-array local dimming

The X850D series, available in sizes up to a whopping 85 inches, is the least-expensive model introduced. Like the step-up models it will handle video sources in HDR (high dynamic range) and offer Sony's Triluminous wide color gamut technology for more realistic colors. The promise is to improve upon mere 4K resolution with better contrast and color, and Sony even says the new sets up-convert non-HDR sources to near-HDR quality.

On the other hand the X850D doesn't have the local dimming backlight we like so much, a technology that's especially important for delivering the brighter highlights of HDR. Sony does say it has improved image quality compared to the 2015 XBR-X850C, however, which didn't fare well in our comparisons.

Sony XBR-X930D (pictures)

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The step-up X930D employs what Sony is calling an improvement on the standard edge-lit LED local dimming backlight. The so-called Slim Backlight drive is said to allow improved 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.

In Sony's controlled demos it indeed looked impressive, although I'll wait to render full judgement until I can test it myself. The panel is also extremely slim, albeit not as slim as OLED, but Sony says it can hang even more flush on the wall.

Finally there's the XBR-75X940D, the flagship model with full-array local dimming. Its predecessor, the XBR-75X940C, was a superb performer in our tests, giving 2016's best LED LCD, the Samsung UNJS9500, a run for its money in our comparisons. The new version lacks the 2015 model's crazy-huge speakers, but Sony says its picture is even better.

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Sony's most extensive comparison in the hotel suite pitted the X940D against LG's EF9500 OLED and a JS9500, with Sony's relatively small, 30-inch, $30,000 OLED studio monitor as a reference (see above). Clips in HDR included selections from Sony Pictures as well as nighttime shots of Vegas and Carnival in Rio. The big Sony definitely looked impressive, although again, I don't trust any demo set up by a manufacturer to say more than that. And of course, the LG and Samsung were 2015 models compared to the 2016 Sony.

We look forward to testing Sony's new 2016 TVs soon.