It’s been almost a year since Sony first unveiled its flagship Z Series 4K UHD TVs and we finally got the opportunity to put a 65-inch XBR-65Z9D model through its paces. We’re pleased to report, it was worth the wait.

The is a fantastic-looking 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TV, which compares favorably to both very good OLED TVs and top-performing LED LCD TVs at the same time.

We say this because when playing HDR content, the Z9D produced one of the brightest pictures we have ever measured — 1,899 nits (in Cinema Pro mode measuring in a 10 percent D65 white window) – and one of the deepest black levels we’ve measured in an LCD TV. As for wide color gamut performance, the set was a little short of the Samsung 65Q9 and the LG W7, at 92.3 percent of Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) P3, but still good enough to put it beyond the 90 percent threshold needed to qualify for the Ultra HD Alliance’s “Ultra HD Premium” performance criteria.

Read more of our review of Sony’s flagship 65-inch after the jump:

Where It Fits

For a flat panel TV, the Z9D line is one of the priciest in the market. However, prices have come down somewhat in the last 10 months, enabling the 65-inch model to match up cost wise with many better featured OLED TVs. The series includes three screen sizes: 65-inches, and 100-inches. The was first introduced at a $6,999 suggested retail. It can now be found for under a street price. The XBR-75Z9D is now available for $8,998 and the XBR-100Z9D can be had for a whopping $59,998. For comparison, the recently introduced Sony 65-inch OLED TV is available for about the same price with a $5,498 street price. LG’s flagship 65-inch OLED 65W7 is available for $7,997.

What It’s Got

Like many of Sony’s best 4K/HDR TVs in recent years, the Sony XBR-65Z9D uses the company’s X1 Extreme processor. This year, the processor has been improved to upscale all incoming signals to simulated 14-bit color, on top of the set’s native 10-bit color rendering. This does an excellent job at reducing or eliminating color banding issues that are still quite common in many other 4K TVs, with 10-bit panels or otherwise.

It also includes 4K X-Reality Pro upconversion technology, Sony’s Master Backlight Drive, a full-array LED backlit panel with more than 600 dimming zones for excellent local dimming control, X-tended Dynamic Range Pro and Triluminos technologies. The combination of these systems presents some of the best color, brightness, contrast and black level handling of any TV in the market.

The uses a 10-bit VA-type LCD panel with a 120 Hz native refresh rate.

For smart TV functionality, the Z9D series continues to use the Android TV OS (it is being upgraded to Nougat) and includes a large assortment of streaming service apps in addition to supporting Google (Chrome) Cast to easily relay content from mobile devices to the big screen. Sony’s Z9D series is also one of the last in the industry to continue to support active shutter 3D, and ships with two pairs of glasses in the package.

Brightness and Black Level

Much has changed since the first Z9D models were unveiled last July. For instance, in January the company introduced its first large-format 4K Ultra HD OLED TVs for the consumer market, demoing pictures at International CES 2017 that looked as close to perfect black as we could imagine without a light meter.

As we mentioned, the XBR-Z9D was one of the brightest consumer televisions we’ve tested, but it also stands among the blackest LCD TVs we’ve measured. The Z9D black levels are greatly enhanced by a 600-zone-plus full-array LED back light system with very good local dimming. The TV’s black level measured a very dark 0.0183 nits in a dim room using a black target surrounded by concentric circles of gray, with each circle getting lighter from the center out. We also measured zero nits in a center black target with 10 percent white windows in each of the four corners of the screen to trick the back lights into staying lit.

Opening the white window target up to 25 percent, the brightness dropped down to 1,555.5 nits, then down to 1,018.1 nits at 50 percent and 753.9 at 100 percent. These are also some of the brightest levels we’ve seen in a consumer television.

It’s hard to imagine that the Bravia A1E OLED models will get much darker – we hope to be able to tell you soon — and this quality carries through into real day-to-day images from random sources like DirecTV SD and HD channels, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and Ultra HD Blu-ray material. Blacks are deep and rich with a good amount of visible shadow detail. Even streaming content looks rich and black. Sony’s superb local dimming system did an excellent job at keeping stray light from bleeding into neighboring zones and letter-box boarders at the top and bottom of widescreen movie content were always rich and black, despite the brightness level in adjacent areas of the picture.

HDR

The Z9D was introduced late last year, prior to Sony’s announcement that it was adding Dolby Vision, YouTube HDR and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR for on-the-fly live broadcast content to select 2017 lines, like the A1E OLED TVs. However, Sony made provisions for the Z9D models bringing support for those enhancements to the line through firmware updates. Just after we received the review sample, an one such update brought the series support for HLG via content shipped over HDMI and USB inputs, along with a new Picture-in-Picture (PIP) feature allowing the viewer to watch live TV content inset into a streamed OTT program on screen. Unfortunately, there isn’t any content available yet with HLG in the United States

The handles the basic HDR10 format extremely well. As mentioned, the set was measured at 1899.8 nits of brightness in Cinema Pro picture mode with color temperature setting of “Expert 2.” We found the Cinema Pro picture mode and Expert 2 to be the best settings for HDR without generating noticeable yellow haloing effects against solid dark backgrounds. In Expert 2, we found colors to be warm without being overly yellow. Specular highlight effects were brilliantly bright with natural looking yellows and oranges in the campfires and candle-lit sequences of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Revenant.

Calibration

Out-of the- box settings for DCI-P3 color gamut/HDR

Out-of the- box settings for Rec. 709/SDR

ISF chart in CalMan from SpectraCal

 

Sony offers dual white balance adjustments including both 2- and 10-points. But it doesn’t offer a color management system to fine-tune color targets.

Out of the box settings were very close to targets for SDR/Rec. 709 and to P3 wide color gamut in HDR mode. Where the set fell short of reaching the full P3 color space in HDR was in the area of green and green/cyan, but this was hard to discern with the unaided eye.

In calibrating for Rec. 709/SDR (high definition) viewing, we found lowering the “brightness/back light” control down to 13, with contrast at 90 and gamma at zero worked best. This in tandem with settings of “Cinema Pro” picture mode and “Expert 2” color temperature worked best in our dim room testing environment.

Post-calibration gamma in Rec. 709/SDR

ISF chart in CalMan from SpectraCal

The Shortcomings

So is this better than an OLED TV? There were a few issues that kept us from going quite that far. The Z9D does have some issues with haloing around bright objects on dark backgrounds. Also, as could be expected, off-axis viewing is not to the level of the excellent LG 2017 flagship 65W7 OLED TV, or, we have to assume, one of models.

The haloing was the most concerning issue. This is a condition where a ring of faint light surrounds objects on dark colored backgrounds. The condition appeared to be most noticeable when we switched the set into Custom picture mode with the Expert 1 color temperature setting. Faint yellow halos appeared around objects in the frame and in hot spots like reflected light in facial highlights in HDR and standard dynamic range (SDR) content. The condition disappeared when we switched the set into Expert 2 color temperature mode. We found this setting to offer a warm, slightly yellow glow with natural-looking flesh tones and colors.

Off-axis viewing is an issue with this set, as it is with most LCD TVs using VA panels. Contrast and colors begin to fade appreciably with each successive step away from dead center. A noticeable drop off in quality can be seen at about 65 degrees.

The also had more issues with motion handling than we detected in our brief demos of the Sony’s X930E series, which might be something to consider if the TV will be used to watch a lot of sports. However, the black levels and HDR brightness highlights of this TV make it one of the best flat-panel sets available for movie content.

Upconversion

Despite its few weak points, the XBR-65ZD9 was exceptional in almost every other area. Sony’s upconversion of sub-4K content, including 480p DVDs, ranked among the best we’ve tested, with typical DVD artifacts like background noise and color blocking kept to a minimum. In fact, this is a fabulous 4K TV for anyone who watches a lot of content from old DVD collections blown up on a big screen without having to suffer badly muted colors, blurry faces and excessive edge distortion.

Our low-noise torture test using the opening ocean cave sequences in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End showed one of the cleanest presentations of this material we’ve seen. Moving background noise that can be quite distracting in low-lit sequences on lesser sets, was hardly noticeable, while desirable film-grain that gives pictures their movie-like feel remained intact.

Similarly, upconverted Full HD 1080p Blu-ray material appeared very close in appearance to 4K Ultra HD content with standard dynamic range (SDR).

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The Design

Although it offers an OLED-like picture, the XBR-Z9D lacks that technology’s ultra-thin panel characteristics. Hence, the TV’s cosmetic design doesn’t exactly break any new ground. The look is nonetheless attractive, however. Sony uses a thin black bezel trim, measuring about half an inch around the top and sides of the TV. The base adds about another quarter inch of depth and carries the familiar silver Sony badge in middle, highlighted by a tiny white LED when the TV is on.  The edges of the bezel are accented with a brushed gold trim, and measure an inch deep. In tabletop use, Sony supplies a brushed-black pedestal stand in the bottom center of the screen, giving the TV a secure and stable foundation to prevent accidental tipping.

The base leaves 3.5 inches of clearance between the tabletop surface and the bottom of the screen bezel, sufficient for placement of most thin-form sound bars. Due to the use of full-array LED back lighting, the is thicker than most edge-lit LED LCD TVs. It measures 3.13 inches deep. Sony uses a rounded black cabinet backing with a grid-like textured finished for a pleasing 360-degree look. Sony also offers several cover panels to enable concealing recessed areas used for connection inputs.

Sony has designed the set with cable management in mind so that cords and wires can be easily snaked behind the cover plates and run down the central pedestal base without creating a jumbled mess. For wall mounting, the TV is equipped with the necessary VESA mounting holes to accommodate brackets rated to carry the set’s 70.5-pound weight.

Remote

The XBR-65Z9D uses an identical remote to that supplied with the and TV series. The remote measures 8 inches long by 2 inches wide. It includes numerical buttons to dial in channel numbers and a pair of quick-access buttons for Google Play and Netflix.

The center positioned circular direction pad accesses most of the TV’s menus, settings and picture/sound controls. We found the direction pad frustrating to use, as we often confused selection buttons for the arrow buttons right under them. A mic is placed at the top of the remote to input voice commands into the Android OS.

Smart TV

Sony’s implementation of the Android TV OS is the best example of an Android TV we’ve seen. Unlike many other Android-based smart TVs, Sony makes sure that all of the major streaming apps are supported in the TV – including Amazon Instant Video and VUDU (with Ultra Violet), which are difficult to find and/or access on some other brands of smart TVs.

Android TV models also include support for Google Cast, and we found casting programming from services supported within the Google Cast app on a smartphone or tablet to be effective and trouble-free. Sony also offers a host of other apps for its own services, including online gaming, and the PlayStation Vue live streaming service. The system monitors viewing activities to present programming suggestions on the scrolling top ribbon of program icons.

We found both programs and apps easy to find, and interactivity to be inconsistently responsive and lagging at different times of use.

Inputs

Z9D back panel inputs without cover panels

The connection panel is recessed into the back of the TV, and includes four HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. Only HDMI inputs 2 and 3 support the full 18 Gbps speeds needed for 4K/60p resolution with 4:4:4 chroma subsampling at high bit depths. HDMI 1 and 4 will handle up to 10.2-Gbps, which is sufficient to pass up to 4K/24p.

Other inputs include an RF jack, one shared component/composite input with stereo audio, one composite video input, one optical digital audio output, and one headphone/mini-jack. Three USB ports are offered to playback media from thumb drives and NAS devices. Built-in Bluetooth 4.1 connects the TV with wireless peripherals including headphones, speakers and gaming controllers. An Ethernet port for wired network connections is supplied along with 802.11ac Wi-Fi reception for wireless home networks. For custom integrators, Sony adds an RS-232 port supplying an IP control interface.

Motion Handling

The uses a VA LCD panel with a 120 Hz native refresh rate. However, Sony’s motion handling circuitry does present motion blurring and some judder under certain conditions. We noticed blurring in fast-paced images and judder in pans of upconverted 720p and 1080i content from DirecTV although upconverted Full HD 1080p Blu-ray and 24p DVD material was generally very good.

Even with Sony’s “Motionflow” circuitry set to the highest settings for “True Cinema” and “CineMotion” engaged, some degree of judder was still evident in satellite TV-fed content. Turning CineMotion to high with Motionflow in “Custom” also adds soap opera effect.

Lag

As should be expected from Sony, the XBR-65Z9D is a very good television for playing console-based video games. We tested an input lag of 40 milliseconds using 1080p/60 Hz content with the TV set to “game mode.” Force feeding the set a 4K/60 Hz test signal revealed an excellent 24.6 ms HDR gaming speed.

Uniformity

Uniformity on a black screen is excellent with no apparent variations across the screen. Using a gray screen, faint darkness is visible along the sides and corners of the screen, and a slight area of brightness appears below the center screen. We didn’t perceive any pronounced dirty-screen look or color shifting from left or right angles. Nothing was seen coming through in real world images with camera pans.

3D Handling

As mentioned, the is one of the last remaining TVs offering 3D capability. This set is supplied with a pair of active-shutter-type 3D glasses that present very good depth with minimal flickering and cross talk. Any fans of 3D video should consider ponying up the extra cash to get this feature while it’s still available. The Sony A1E OLED models that just arrived do not support it.

Conclusion

The 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TV is one of the best overall 4K LED LCD TVs we’ve tested. Both from a peak brightness and strong black level standpoint, this television sets new benchmarks for other LED LCD TVs to match. The Z9D models compete well against most of the best TVs available in 2017, although some of the weaknesses inherent in LCD technology keep it from beating the best of this year’s 4K OLED TVs from LG, and presumably even Sony’s own A1E OLED line. The good news is that the price on the 65-inch Z9D model has come down to a range where it matches Sony’s comparable OLED models, so those who desire the brightest peak HDR highlights they can get will find that capability here. But those who crave really deep black levels, and wide viewing angles might want to check out an LG E7, G7 or W7 model or Sony’s Bravia 65A1E of 77A1E. That said, at these prices we would feel a lot better if the haloing problem in certain settings and the motion handling were better, and we still have to give big props to OLED TVs for superior off-axis viewing. But if your main concern is getting a 4K television that makes the benefits of HDR (and these TVs will handle most of the formats that we know of) really pop, it’s tough to do better than a Z9D.

 

We therefore award the 4.75 out of 5 stars.

 

The Sony XBR-65Z9D used for this review was a company loan.

 

By Greg Tarr

 

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