Review: Sony 65X950H 4K LED-LCD TV Makes Top Performance Affordable
Sony 65-inch 65X950H Bravia 4K Ultra HDTV was designed to bring the next-level performance from its vaunted Master Series televisions into mid-range price levels and after a thorough review we can confidently say — mission accomplished .
The Sony Bravia XBR 65X950H is a 4K full-array LED-LCD TV seated just below the Master Series line in the company’s 2020 product assortment. The series this year offers a nice wide viewing angle in more screen sizes while offering premium-calber color and brightness performance from high dynamic range (HDR) and standard dynamic range (SDR) content, alike.
The X950H series models pack a slew of picture and sound optimization features, including IMAX Enhanced Certification, to present special IMAX Enhanced content in the home conforming to close to the same stringent quality standards established by IMAX and DTS for professional IMAX theaters. The certification ensures a display’s ability to reproduce the IMAX Cinematic experience for 4K/HDR video along with support for advanced (DTS:X) surround sound (via a forthcoming firmware update) in the home. Due to IMAX’s demanding baseline qualifying criteria for a product to carry the certification, it ensures the set will deliver superior picture and sound performance playing non-IMAX Enhanced content, as well.
Our tests verified that after calibration, the 65X950H conforms with the Ultra HD Alliance’s criteria for a “premium” level 4K television, including covering better than 90% of the UHDA-P3 wide color gamut and better than 1,000 nits of peak HDR brightness.
In this series, Sony offers models in the 49- ($998 UPP), 55- ($1,198 UPP) , 65- ($1,698 UPP), 75- ($2,249.99 UPP) and 85-inch ($3,998 UPP) screen sizes. (Prices and availability are subject to change at any moment. Check the links for the latest information). Smaller versions will have fewer LED local dimming zones than larger models and may omit such features as X-Wide Angle technology, Acoustic Multi Audio and X-Balanced Speakers found in the larger versions of the same model class.
This year, Sony’s excellent X-Wide Angle viewing technology was expanded to the 55- and 65-inch models after being offered in just the 75- and 85-inch screen sizes last year. We can report it works very well at presenting rich, well-saturated colors, wide contrast and brightness uniformity across a much broader viewing range to the left and right of center screen. This makes the set well suited for wall mounting as well as table top placement.
Sony includes in the model class its high-performance X1 Ultimate picture processor, which drives the company’s best-in-class 4K X-Reality Pro upscaling technology, as well as Object-based Super Resolution detail enhancement and HDR Remaster technology that boosts color and contrast for often striking SDR images. Sony also offers one of the best picture noise reduction systems in the business and couples this with Sony’s latest Triluminos Display package of color enhancement technologies to present an acceptably wide gamut of natural-looking colors.
To generate a nice wide contrast performance, the LCD-based set uses full-array direct-lit LED backlight technology with local dimming to produce a bright picture with nice contrast and black level performance for a mid-range 4K LED television. Blacks are generally inky and deep, but not to the degree of Sony’s OLED series sets — like the award-winning A9G or more affordable A8H models. But it does produce fine shadow detail well in most situations and eye-squinting bright specular highlights in HDR10 and Dolby Vision content.
This year Sony expands its Ambient Optimization technology in the X950G series. Beyond the built-in room light level sensor used to measure the room light and adjust optimal picture brightness, Sony now adds a similar system for balancing sound output to the room acoustics.
For calibration experts, Sony continues to offer AutoCal for CalMan from Portrait Displays. This helps to simplify and speed up picture calibration to present the best balance of color, gamma and brightness for the room lighting conditions, when using optional Portrait Displays Calman software, a test pattern generator and a compatible light meter. (This can get quite pricey, so for most a professional calibration is recommended).
Sony adds to the X950H series Netflix Calibrated Mode, which debuted in the Sony Master Series. This works through the Android TV OS in the set to produce picture quality settings to match the look of Netflix’s mastering monitors to ensure the image holds to the filmmaker’s vision and intent when viewing content through the Netflix app.
Sony also offers a Netflix Calibrated mode setting that when activated detects when Netflix is running from the built-in app in the television and treats that content like one of Sony’s own calibrated modes. When activated from the settings menu, Netflix Mode will be persistent, turning on automatically when ever a Netflix program is being streamed through the set’s Android TV platform.
Filmmaker Mode Missing In Name Only
Sony has chosen not to support the new Filmmaker Mode developed by content creators in association with the Ultra HD Alliance, but that’s only because it says its Custom Pro 1 (day) and Custom Pro 2 (night) Picture Modes are baseline reference modes that already deliver the same or very similar results to Filmmaker Mode. When in the Custom Pro 1 and 2 settings, Motion Clearness/Smoothness are set to 1 (minimum) and most of the set’s processing systems are turned off. All of this came about before Filmmaker Maker was established because, as Sony Electronics representatives like to talk about, the division has long maintained a tight working relationship with Sony Pictures in tweaking its televisions to capture the “lens-to-living room” vision, ensuring the artistic intent of the filmmaker. As an aside, the “Cinema” picture mode captures much of the same intent as the Custom Pro reference modes.
For high dynamic range (HDR), Sony continues to support a range of profile options including the HDR10 base line profile, Dolby Vision dynamic-meta data-based HDR, and hybrid log gamma (HLG). The latter is a non-metadata based HDR profile optimized for live on-the-fly HDR broadcasts now and in the future.
Surprisingly, Sony Electronics did not work as closely with its PlayStation division for the X950H series as it did on the forthcoming X900H series due out later in the year. This model class lacks most of the advanced gaming features supported in the new HDMI 2.1 spec. In fact, these sets don’t offer HDMI 2.1 ports at all, but do carry the new enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) feature that was part of the interface’s new feature package. Similarly, the X950H models omit built-in NextGenTV ATSC 3.0 tuning, which Sony is only putting in the step-down X900H series this year. That means that if you want to watch new over-the-air broadcast channels as they go live this year and next, you’ll need to get some form of ATSC 3.0 external tuner when they become available.
The X950H series features a nice looking contemporary design with a thin brushed-metallic gun-metal gray bezel trim surrounding the screen. The supplied base consists of a pair of blade-like chrome feet or claws that enable positioning at either the very edge of the screen or more inward on the frame to better fit on some tabletops or credenzas. Mounted at the edge of the screen, the stand is designed to align with the look of the metallic bezel trim around the LCD panel. This year’s design does not include a full blown cable management system, but clips are supplied to attach cords to the blade-style panel feet.
Sony’s smart TV features this year are powered by the Android 9.0 Pie OS. This year the OS is embedded in the SOC to eliminate some delay for snappier response (60% faster Netflix use, for example). The system provides full customization over the onscreen menu settings for quicker and friendlier access to favorite settings, apps, and more.
For voice control, the company continues to deliver one of the best implementations of Android TV and Google Assistant (which is turned off by default for anyone with privacy concerns). The platform offers an expanded platform of streaming apps, including the new HBO Max app, that are easy to find and browse. In addition to onboard Google Assistant, the X950H supports “works with Amazon Alexa” through an Alexa App to take voice control input through the TV for use with Alexa-compatible smart home devices. Also offered is support for Apple AirPlay 2 along with Apple HomeKit smart home device connectivity and interoperability.
The OS also provides built-in control for compatible connected set-top boxes or DVRs.
Connections are positioned on the left rear of the display facing out from the side of the screen. Sony equips the X950H models with 4 HDMI 2.0b inputs with HDCP 2.3 (no full bandwidth 2.1 capability or advanced gaming features here), but it does offer the new enhanced audio return channel (eARC) HDMI 2.1 feature on the HDMI 3 input. In addition to being backward compatible with ARC, eARC will enable sending larger picture and sound data signals (like advanced 3D audio surround formats) back and forth between the TV and a connected soundbar/AVR while also providing more accurate lip-sync and interoperability between eARC certified devices, among other features.
Other connections include 1 composite video (3.5mm A/V minijack using an adapter cable) and an RF input for an antenna and unencrypted cable signals. The RF reception is for ATSC 1.0 signals only (ATSC 3.0 reception will require an external tuner when available). Also included is a Toslink optical digital audio output, supporting pass-through of Dolby Digital/DTS multichannel or 2-channel audio from connected sources; a stereo minijack output for corded headphones or analog sound components; an Ethernet port for faster broadband connectivity; and 2 USB inputs (one v2.0, one v3.0) for external storage and playback sources. This is a fairly rich package of connectivity options, but sadly without some of the latest HDMI 2.1 gaming features it is not as future-ready as some other televisions in the market.
SDR and HDR Analysis
The X950H Series TVs use full-array LED back lighting with local dimming (FALD). On the 65-inch test sample, we counted approximately 70 LED dimming zones using the FALD pattern on the Spears & Munsil HDR Benchmark disc. Sony’s local dimming system continues to be excellent and maintains consistent levels of darkness without distracting pulses of brightness across the screen in images like star fields in deep space scenes, but Sony continues to have issues with blooming or haloing around bright objects on dark backgrounds. This can produce moments of flash-lighting artifacts occasionally leaking into letter-boxed on-screen border frames, particular on HDR material. Moving star field pattern in the Spears & Munsil Benchmark Disc didn’t present clouds of blooming around clusters of stars as we’ve seen with some other LED-LCD TVs and didn’t seem to crush out any individual stars in the blackness.
We were impressed at how well the X950H handled dark shadow detail, as demonstrated in the opening moments of the night scene from chapter 12/29 of the SD Blu-ray Disc of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows part 2, where Voldemort’s army of dark wizards amasses on a hill top. The swirling anomalous black cloud that sometimes appears on televisions in the background at the top of the frame is gone, replaced by a faint swirling white mist that we believe to be true to the director’s intent. In the scene we can see more fine shadow detail than some lesser displays can bring out.
Sony’s backlight system does a nice job of presenting bright highlights in both HDR and even SDR images. After calibration, we were pleased with how the set handled bright highlights from regular Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) content using Sony’s object-based HDR Remaster technology. This is intended to improve color and contrast of SDR content and gives images a more dynamic and real-life HDR quality without significant clipping of detail or the color exaggeration generated by some other faux HDR systems.
As mentioned, the Sony 65X950H handles black level quite well for a LED-LCD display. We measured black at 0.04 nits, which is below the 0.05 nit threshold established for LCD TVs in the UHDA’s Premium UHD TV specification.
The 65X950H also did an overall nice job presenting Dolby Vision Dynamic Metadata HDR. We could see nuances in brightness intensity between different specular highlights in a scene or even the same frame, with nice detail and color in peaks, as revealed in various onscreen background lights in The Rave scene from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Mission Impossible: Fallout. However, we did see some clearly unintended anomalous pulsing from light to light as the camera follows Tom Cruise walking down a corridor into a washroom.
Peak HDR10 luminance was measured at 1302 nits using a 10% white window pattern with the television in “Vivid” picture mode and the brightness setting at “max.” This is enough to qualify the television as an Ultra HD Premium display by UHDA specifications of 1000 nits or above. However, after calibration with the television set to Custom Pro 1 and color temperature set to Expert 1 (for day time viewing) and brightness at “10” (more realistic real world viewing), we measured peak luminance at 982 nits. This is close enough to the 1,000 premium threshold, but is not among the brightest 4K LED-LCD TVs on the market, like the Sony Master Series 4K Z9F or Samsung’s Q90R (4K) 2019 models.
Nevertheless, we found the set handled HDR specular highlights quite well, preserving color nuances in peak highlights, such as of the sun’s reflection from the water in the ocean horizon sequence at the start of the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc of Blue Planet II. This holds both color and detail in rippling waves inside the bright highlight points. The set also presented nice blacks (or deep shades of gray) while preserving dark shadow detail in both SDR and HDR content.
The yellow-orange color was realistically presented in campfire flames from the Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Revenant, and not white and washed out as it sometimes appears in lesser FALD or edge-lit LED LCD TVs.
The Sony 65X950H delivers a wide range of colors in HDR mode. We measured the UHDA-P3 color gamut at 93.7%, which surpasses the 90% UHDA Premium television threshold. Similarly, the set was relatively accurate in presenting standard dynamic range (SDR) BT.709 gamut coverage out of the box, and an average Delta E 2000 error reading of 1.2 after calibration, which is below the perceptible level of 3.
Wide Angle Viewing, Screen Glare, Uniformity
This year’s 55- and 65-inch X950H models feature Sony’s new X-Wide Angle technology, which we found does a nice job of holding on to visible contrast and color saturation when viewed from the left or right sides of center screen. This is similar in some respects to wide screen enhancement in premium Samsung 8K and 4K TVs, and better than IPS-based LCD TV panels that tend to impact overall screen contrast. The Sony 65X950H had slightly more noticeable screen glare than Samsung QLED TVs of the past couple of years when viewing dark images with some degree of ambient lighting on in the room. But we didn’t find it to be a problem for most situations.
Similarly, the Sony 65X950H review sample had a nice clean screen for an LCD display. We didn’t find any distracting jail bar patterns or distracting vignetting (other than some darkened screen corners on gray screens) to distract the eye when viewing real-world content in pans or live sports. This was the case viewing patterns of 100% full-screen white, 100% gray and 100% black. Similarly, we didn’t see any issues with shifts of color when viewing bright white full-screen patterns off right or left center axis.
Motion Handling and Processing
These models include a native 120 Hz refresh rate LCD panel and generally do a good job at reducing motion artifacts from film-based movie content without having to turn on Sony’s customizable Motionflow smoothing systems. Sony uses a system for motion smoothing in its televisions called X-Motion Clarity that leverages the set’s full array local dimming system and X-tended Dynamic Range Pro systems to dim zones behind moving objects while boosting the brightness behind static portions of the screen to create motion clarity without blinking (darkening) of the picture using black frame insertion techniques or overly sharpening images through frame interpolation that produces the Soap Opera Effect (SOE).
Placing the television in CineMotion (3:2 pulldown) “Auto” optimizes motion resolution for 24p (film-based) content and cleans up some of these motion issues without inducing SOE. We recommend leaving Motionflow off for film-based movie watching to preserve the artistic intent, and activating it when video-based source content, like sports events, is played.
The new object-based Super Resolution system does a nice job at enhancing image detail. Textures in clothing and skin on the characters in Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 take on a realistic 3D quality. The 4K X-Reality PRO system is also very good at upscaling 1080p images to near-4K clarity, while presenting SD DVD movies without introducing additional artifacts or added elements that weren’t present in the original image. The black-and-white images of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night were as clear as I remember them from the original run at the box office. Grayscale was nicely represented with only slight instances of detail crushing. The system does a nice job of minimizing mosquito noise in movies, while preserving the wanted film grain of the original celluloid medium. Upscaled on-screen title overlays were clear and free of block noise.
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The on-board sound in the X950H series has been improved this year with the inclusion of an Acoustic Multi Audio Speaker system with new oval-shaped X-Balanced Speakers and support for Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound. Sony has redesigned the TV cabinet for deeper bass and improved mid-range with a pair of redesigned down-firing speakers and a pair of re-positioned side-firing tweeters that are moved out closer to the edge of the screen frame. The down-firing speakers and tweeters are bi-amped (10 watts x 2 plus 5 watts x 2) to produce improved brightness and detail while helping to better position sound to appear to move across the screen (on the 55-, 65-, and 75-inch models). To optimize frequency response, Sony has developed an auto acoustic calibration feature that adjusts sound levels to ambient room noise collected through the mic built into the TV remote control. The result is nice clean presentation of dialog and a wider sound stage, particularly from Music and Dolby Atmos modes.
In a television speaker package, Dolby Atmos decoding contributes enhanced dynamics of object-based audio surround regardless of the speaker number or layout configuration.
Additionally, the X950H series supports the new eARC HDMI 2.1 feature offering greater bandwidth for advance surround sound formats (like Dolby Atmos) and lossless codecs (Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X) and better interoperability between connected eARC-equipped products. The televisions support DTS formats, and output them through the eARC connection.
Unfortunately, the limitations of the cabinet depth and speaker size still produces some degree of boxiness in the overall tone and low-frequency sound effects lack the punch of a full audio system or good quality soundbar. For those with room limitations, or budget considerations the television’s onboard sound will be more than sufficient, but we expect many who opt for a television of this quality and price will look to add on a more immersive home theater package.
As mentioned earlier, Sony opted not to support new HDMI 2.1 gaming features like Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) or High Frame Rates (HFR) for forthcoming 4K/120fps gaming in this series, and responsiveness is somewhat slower than competitive sets like LG’s 2020 4K OLEDs. We measured input lag of 21.3 ms for 1080/60 and 4K content. We expect the Sony X900H series coming soon will be better a better performer for game play. But for those gamers who aren’t as obsessed with milliseconds, the X950H’s Game Mode does a nice job presenting video game graphics and colors while preserving fine shadow detail.
Despite the limitations inherent in LCD technologies for deep black presentation, the 2020 Sony Bravia 65X950H is an excellent premium-level 4K Ultra HD television capable of presenting a wide range of content at a high standard of picture quality and at a reasonable price. Being a relatively bright LED-LCD TV, the set is well suited to viewing in rooms with some degree of ambient light. The screen offers a wide viewing angle for placement in larger sized rooms and wall-mounted applications. The screen can get bright enough to handle the latest HDR content sources, although those who prefer pictures with deeper blacks might want to consider one of Sony’s self-emissive 4K OLED TVs, like the A9G or A8H. For an all-around solid performing television, we found the Bravia 65X950H handles both movies and live sports very well. It’s also good for some video gamers, although more advanced competitors and PC gamers might want to wait for the Sony X900H series to bring a higher level of responsiveness for a greater competitive edge.
This is one of the best 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TVs of 2020 and an HD Guru recommended buy.
We therefore award the Sony 65-inch 65X950H five out of five hearts.
The Sony 65X950H sample used for this review was a company loan.
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By Greg Tarr
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