Review: Sony 65″ X900F 4K HDR TV

Sony X900F Top Choice 2018

Sony’s X900F offers premium picture performance at mainstream TV prices. It is an update to the well-regarded X900E series that features a number of improvements like the inclusion of the X1 Extreme processor. This is a 4K HDR smart TV, meaning it’s ready to play the latest content, and it runs on the Android TV platform.

This review is of the 65″ XBR-65X900F ($2198 on Amazon). There are five sizes in the series, ranging from 49″ to 85″, meaning there’s a X900F to fit most rooms and use cases. All the X900F models use a FALD (full array local dimming) LCD design and are true HDR TV’s not merely “HDR compatible” like some TVs that accept an HDR signal but can’t do much with it due to limitations in brightness and color rendering.

Sony has a solid reputation for building great TVs, and the X900F aims to deliver a compelling viewing experience without breaking the bank. Its predecessor, the X900E, is considered a great TV with a high price/performance ratio, let’s see if the X900F is a worthy follow-up.

Features and Specifications

This 65″ 4K TV is HDR compatible. It currently plays HDR10 and HLG (hybrid log gamma) formats with support for Dolby Vision coming soon by firmware. X900F series TVs use a direct-LED FALD array and a VA (vertically aligned) LCD panel. This allows for high native contrast as long as you don’t sit too far off to the side.

The FALD backlight makes the 65″ X900F a bit thicker than similar-size egdelit LCD TVs, or OLEDs. The TV’s chassis measures 57″ x 32.75″ x 2.75″. However Sony cleverly hides the thickness that by tapering each edge so that it appears to be a much thinner TV thanks to an (proximately) 0.375″ deep bezel.

Sony’s X900F looks modern and has a fit and finish that stands up to close inspection. When equipped with feet and resting on a stand (as opposed to hanging on a wall) you’ll notice that the TV screen tilts back ever so slightly. While a bit unusual, it works out great if you have a short TV stand. Plus, it is not an issue if your TV is a bit higher up, it’s barely there. My guess is that the tilt helps with TV’s stability.

If you intend to use this TV on a stand, there is just over 2.5″ of space for a soundbar to fit underneath and 38″ of space between the TV’s two feet when the rear of the soundbar is parallel with the screen. Also, the TV’s feet protrude by 5″, for anyone looking to put an ultra-wide soundbar in front of it… of course Sony’s soundbars fit.

You get four HDMI inputs on the X900F, all of which support 4K with HDR and HDCP 2.2 (which is needed to stream copy-protected UHD).

The defining feature of the X900F is the inclusion of Sony’s X1 Extreme processor that has the horsepower to handle advanced image processing tasks. The benefits include the use of a dual-database system to improve detail rendition, and precision color mapping that allows the TV to translate a single, simple color calibration into accurate results in all modes and with all content. Sony notes meticulous calibration of each input and mode may yield additional improvement, but the idea is a quick adjustment gets you most of the way there—very cool.

You’ll find the X900F can handle HDR10 and HLG HDR video formats with ease. However, support for Dolby Vision is not yet enabled, that’s coming in a future firmware update.

A native contrast ratio around 5000:1 (using an ANSI grid) combines with DCI/P3 gamut coverage of around 93 or 94% to give this TV’s panel a nice head start. FALD adds a bit more contrast, but does not double it like with some TVs that have more zones. However, the X900F adds Sony’s X1 Extreme processor to the mix and consequently things look great when all is said and done. Because it’s a beefy processor, it applies high-quality algorithms to help make content look its best, including top-notch upscaling that draws on dual databases and “precision color mapping.”

If you want a full rundown of the X900F’s features, your best bet is to check out Sony’s website by clicking here.

Unpacking and Setup

No complaints here, the 65″ X900F is easy to unpack and easy to assemble.  If your to place the TV on a stand, the legs are 46″ apart so check the width first. Because the legs are angled out, there’s only enough room for a (roughly) a 40″-wide soundbar unless you place it in front of the legs. Also, there’s only 2.5″ underneath the TV for a soundbar to fit, so you’ll need a slim one if you go that route

Sony’s included remote control is a classic, old-school design, but I’d suggest that’s in a good way. It’s a big, black, button-filled candy-bar remote that feels good in the hand.

I’m not going to delve into the pluses and minuses of Android TV here, the smart functionality of the X900F is there and works. Because it’s Google, it taps into a huge ecosystem of apps, so in that respect it’s robust. If Android TV is your thing, then you are all set and otherwise, you’ll  likely opt to use your preferred platform anyhow (be it PlayStation, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield, etc.) and will proceed accordingly. Regardless, you can’t accuse the Sony of skimping on the remote—there’s a dedicated button for Google Play, Netflix, and Google Assistant.

Connection and setup was a cinch since I have a Google account. I entered a six-digit pin on my laptop and was on my way, as easy as it gets IMO. The first thing I did was ask the TV where to find a good nearby Chinese restaurant and it came up with Buddakan, which is the correct answer. So, Google in your TV is OK by me. Plus the remote has a number pad and conventional playback controls; it’s also classic Sony.

In terms of assembly, the legs attach easily with only four bolts and I was able to handle this TV on my own although you probably should ask a friend to help, it is a two-person job. The left leg has a channel for cable management of interconnects and the right leg hides the power cord, for a clean look. I did not hang the X900F, but it is compatible with the VESA standard, which encompasses most TV stands and mounts.

I had no issues with the TV recognizing sources and used it in conjunction with a Sony PlayStation PS4 Pro, an Oppo UDP-203 universal disc Player, an Apple TV 4K as well as a PC equipped with a Gigabyte GTX1080 graphics card.

Performance

This TV’s overall performance puts it in the Goldilocks sweet spot for price versus performance. It presents gorgeous imagery and is a reminder that what you see on a TV is a combination of many picture quality factors, not merely which TV has the highest peak nits, deepest blacks, or most expansive color volume coverage. It’s analogous to a great dish, the ingredients should add up to a sum greater than the parts, and that’s what I see in the X900F.

For this review I ran the TV in Custom mode, with and without a basic 2-point grayscale calibration. I used various image processing functions without fear and generally tried to relax and treat the TV like an informed enthusiast as opposed to a pro calibrator with OCD. Not to say this is not a TV for folks who like it accurate, you can definitely tweak this TV to do what you want and it will deliver tremendous picture quality, at least (or especially) when viewed head-on or at least from a favorable angle (anywhere on a couch is fine, way off to the side of the room, not so much.)

Sony’s FALD implementation is an example of good design triumphing over raw specs. Its peaks are not as bright as what some pricier TVs offer, but since LCD panels are transmissive with native contrast ratios that are but a fraction of OLED, there’s a tradeoff between how bright you can get and avoiding halos.

What’s key here is much HDR content is graded for 1000-nit displays, and the content graded at 4000 nits is graded in Dolby Vision featuring dynamic metadata that includes built-in scene-by scene (or even frame-by-frame) compensation for TV’s that don’t get that bright (currently none hit 4000 nits, aside from the Dolby Pulsar monitor used to master Dolby Vision titles). What that means is Sony’s Bravia X900F will show most HDR10 content exactly the way it’s meant to be seen, or at least with proper compensation. I’ve seen what Dolby Vision can do and I’m sure it’ll look great on this TV once it’s activated by firmware.

Let’s face it, unless you are a movie critic or gamer with a $10,000 rig, most of what you watch is not going to be hyper-saturated, picture-perfect 4K UHD HDR. With the X1 Extreme, broadcast TV, streaming sports, HD Netflix, and other less-than-perfect material genuinely looked good.

Gamers will be happy to know this TV has a low input lag in 4K game mode, with times (measured at the center of the screen) of around 24 milliseconds. It even provides a blazing-fast 1080p 120 Hz mode that has a latency that’s half the other modes at around 13 milliseconds. So if you are a PC gamers who needs to compete on twitch facts instead of tour the scenery, the X900F has you covered. As I have discovered, in competitive races where finishes are measured in thousandths of a second, a super low latency rig is absolutely a competitive advantage and this TV is about as lag-free at 120 Hz as any monitor I have used.

Of course today’s games are 4K HDR spectacles, and the Sony delivers on that front as well. Here’s a shocker: If you connect a PS4 Pro to the X900F you get an amazing gaming experience that blazes your retinas when need be, but also handles shadows and subtle gradations well—like in the re-mastered Shadow of the Colossus.

Sony’s satin finish anti-glare coating is very good at suppressing reflections. It’s not the very best money can buy, but then this TV is not the most expensive TV you can buy. As the saying goes, “perfection is the enemy of good enough” and the coating Sony has chosen does more than most prevent you from starring in the show you are watching. Meanwhile, since the X900F can get extremely bright if pushed, even in SDR mode, it’s also able to overcome reflections with sheer output. In other words, you’ll be fine in a sunny room, and because it has FALD and can shut off the letterbox bars for widescreen movies, it also looks good at night.

Interestingly, Sony suggests the light sensor on this TV is accurate enough to be used as a proper compensation for ambient light levels. This is unusual, in practice I have found that most TV light sensors are too rough in action, with a tendency to go too far one way or the other. But the Sony was indeed consistent, and with X-tended Dynamic Range active and enhancing highlight peaking for SDR material, the result was a pleasing yet subjectively accurate image that was appropriate to room lighting. It’s possibly the first TV I’ve used where I’d even consider using that feature—especially in a living room or family room where the lighting is going to vary a lot, even during a show.

Motion rendering is a big deal because LCDs and OLEDs have been a notable step backward compared to the last few generations of plasmas. But with the X900F Sony offers up a TV that handles motion well. Part of the reason is the backlight is always blinking on this TV. The crisp motion was noticeable in games and sports as well as test patterns on blurbusters.com. The days when LCDs were a juddery, blurry mess have ended, this TV looks as good with action as it does with landscapes.

SDR imagery looked “textbook” good, especially viewed head-on. That’s not uncommon for contemporary premium TV’s, the good ones will ace HD Blu-ray playback. As for HDR, this TV looks very good as well, although not quite as good as a high zone count FALD, quantum dot-LCD HDR TV.

OK, now let’s talk about the great bugaboo of modern TVs: Viewing angles. Remember plasma? Those had “perfect” off-axis viewing and we have not seen that since, not even from OLED. This is a VA LCD (that stands for vertically aligned, which describes how the LCD crystals are arranged in the panel. Anyhow, VA LCDs offer high contrast for a transmissive display, as compared to their IPS (in-plane shifting) LCD brethren.

The price to be paid for using VA LCD is that image quality decreases when you view it from the side—more so than with IPS or OLED. The good news is that you have to be a fair bit off to the side before the TV’s contrast degradation reaches what IPS panels deliver when viewed head-on. Of course the flip-side is that this TV will never achieve five-figure contrast levels of an OLED.

Screen uniformity was good but not perfect, with corners getting a little dark (you see this on FALD TVs). You don;t see it with real content but folks who enjoy looking at full-screen gray test patterns and discussing them in forum threads will have something to discuss. And because of the use of FALD, sometimes you’ll see clouding or blooming but that’s just the price of admission to HDR land and this TV is very good at suppressing these pesky artifacts. Just don’t think you’ll never see blooming when watching HDR because you won’t find a FALD LCD that can promise you that.

Anyhow, the contrast that this TV does offer Is plenty for most content and most common uses. And while I reviewed a 65″ X900F, arguably the 85″ that sells for $5298 on Amazon is one of the all-time great deals on a TV. Combine this level of picture quality with that much real estate and you’ve got a home theater monster—don’t forget, projectors can’t really do HDR at all, you need a high-nit display to even begin doing the format justice!

In a departure from my usual gaming and movie watching, I also used this TV for video and photo production. Thanks to the accurate color and gamma, I knew I had captured the look of the light at this Italian Market festival in Philly. This video was shot with the excellent Sony a6500 ($1246 on Amazon), which I bought just a couple weeks ago but reminds me that no other company has as complete an ecosystem for both creating content and consuming it.

When it comes to sound if all you need is “TV sound” then its down-firing speakers get loud enough. But it’s fair to say a soundbar will blow away the built-in audio and a dedicated system is what you really want to complement the picture quality this TV produces. This TV’s picture quality is too good to rely on its built-in speakers.

Calibration

As a pro photographer, I long ago learned to recognize truly neutral gray—most people picture something a bit too bluish. Furthermore, many TVs deviate from neutral depending on the luminance level. But this TV showed neutral gray at all luminance levels, even before calibration, which is great news for color geeks.

So, true to Sony’s promise, the X900F had good color accuracy right out of the box and enough picture modes to satisfy most tastes. Technically, it’s hitting an average delta-E of 1.9. And even more exciting was the precision color mapping that allowed it to effectively achieve reference-level color accuracy in any mode (HDR or SDR) after a super simple and fast calibration of Custom mode. I saw the average delta-E drop to 0.8, with a maximum under 2.0, which is real reference-quality stuff.

Sony’s got some good color science going on and if you can get the TV tweaked my a nominally skilled calibrator, the result is close to what you’d get if you hired a pricey pro for the whole day. And that’s not just grayscale tracking… CMS, luminance sweeps, saturation sweeps and even the tricky “ColorChecker” yielded great results after a simple 2-point adjustment that took me five minutes. Indeed, looking at ColorChecker results that average a deltaE of 1.1 with a maximum of 2.0, that’s a real Wow! Check out the chart:

If you told me this was the result of a lengthy pro calibration, I’d believe it! It took me five minutes.

Sure, you can push color accuracy further if you go at each input individually and deep dive into the calibration controls, but in the end most viewers want something simpler. Here, as long as you have an accurate meter, the software hand-holds you through the process of getting a better grayscale balance along with highly linear gamma tracking. If you buy the X900F, you don’t need to have it calibrated, but it helps. On the other hand there’s no need to splurge on “the works” when a basic 2-point adjustment will do, and that’s money Sony is basically putting in your pocket (at least if you are an AV enthusiast).

Ultimately, the ambient light sensor was something I turned off because in my calibration charts I could see it negatively impacting that accuracy of the gamma curve. But in reality it’s not the sort of thing people will notice, so my recommendation is to decide on using it depending on circumstance.

If nothing else, you can just take this TV, set the picture mode to Custom, turn on the ambient light sensor, activate X-tended Dynamic Range, and call it a day. You’ll be looking at a top-notch picture that will make you proud you bought a Sony. And if you want better image quality, it does not take much to get it to behave like a reference-quality display, at least in terms of color accuracy and gamma.

Conclusion

Sony’s long enjoyed a reputation for making excellent TVs and this 65″ Bravia X900F proves the company knows exactly what it takes to put together a winner. It’s got good looks, it delivers 1000-nit HDR, it’s great for gaming, movies look terrific, Dolby Vision is on the way and you can talk to it… yet you get a “proper” remote control as well. For most folks, this is all the TV they are going to need for years to come, so the main question will be exactly what size to get.

Now, if you’ve shopped for a TV lately you’ve probably seen that you can get a 65″ HDR 4K FALD TV for less than this Sony. But taken as a whole, the Sony comes across as a cut above that competition. And while it’s also true, you can spend more and get a TV that performs better (from Sony, of course!), the reality is most people really and truly do not need a TV that performs better than this. It’s like the sporty sedan that does the trick for a family—it’s absolutely preferable to an actual sports car except when it comes to showing it off to your buddies when you first buy it. Just like you don’t drive 150 mph all the time, you will not be watching 4000-nit scenes all the time either.

Sometimes technology trickles down from the top. In this case, the X1 Extreme processor is more like a river than a creek, bringing with it a steady stream of excellent image quality. For delivering a TV that’s the “complete package” when it comes to features, looks and performance—and crucially doing so at a desirable price point—Sony’s X900F clearly earns an AVS Forum Top Choice! selection for 2018.