Review: Sony XBR-X950B Series 4K Ultra HD TV
The 65-inch Sony XBR-X950B series 4K Ultra HD TV ($5,998 unilateral pricing policy) delivers unmatched brightness, superb picture contrast, and admirably accurate color with a little fine-tuning. The X950B earns the company’s ‘flagship’ moniker on performance alone, and this TV sets the bar for image quality comparisons with the best displays of 2015.
Read more about the Sony XBR-X950B after the break:
Size, style, and setup
The Sony XBR-65X950B shares its iconic wedge shaped profile with the X900B but eliminates the latter’s fixed front-firing speakers in favor of the space saving down-firing variety. The sides of the X950B are rounded for an attractive finished look, and the flattened top and bottom edges of the TV’s frame are covered with brushed metal trim that adds appealing contrast to the otherwise dark-colored chassis without becoming an obvious distraction when viewed from the front. An inconspicuous hump centered along the bottom edge of the TV’s frame is home to a subtle power indicator light and it provides effective IR reception for remote controls.
The TV’s dark matte-finished feet can be relocated from the outside edges closer to center for placement on surfaces that aren’t as wide as the set itself. The unique profile of the X950B doesn’t negate wall mounting and included spacers ensure adequate clearance with standard mounting hardware. Also, this is a rather hefty TV that tipped the scales at 97lbs with its stand attached.
A USB camera centered along the TV’s top edge can be flipped back out of sight when not in use, and the extra-paranoid will be pleased that it can be unplugged altogether. The HD camera’s resolution was convenient to have for use with the TV’s Skype app, but close inspection of its imagery on this spacious 4K screen revealed the sensor’s limitations.
The X950B’s LCD panel features 3840×2160 pixel resolution. What sets the Sony X950B apart from its siblings and most other LCDs is its full-array LED backlight system with local dimming. Most manufacturers stick to edge-lit LED backlighting systems to save costs, but the X950B’s direct lighting system with maximum settings delivered an eye-melting peak brightness of 271 foot-lamberts with a 5% window or smaller besting every TV I’ve tested before. Compared to the otherwise excellent edge-lit X900B, the X950B delivered more than 2.5-times the light output. With a full-frame white pattern, the X950B’s peak light output dimmed a bit to a still bright 109 foot-lamberts – likely due to the TV’s power management function.
Although Sony wouldn’t reveal how many independent zones of dimming the X950 features, the granularity of its dimming control and its ability to produce intensely bright highlights made for impressively contrasted viewing as we’ll discuss in more detail later.
One benefit of the Sony X950B’s relatively thick profile is that it leaves room for decent sized down-firing stereo speakers. The 2.1-channel configuration is comprised of a 40mm tweeter and a 50mm x 100mm driver for each of the stereo channels along with an 80mm subwoofer to enhance bass response. Although lacking the oomph of the X900B’s front-firing magnetic fluid speaker design, the X950B delivered ample distortion-free volume for a mid-to-large sized room. Dialog from TV shows and movies was clean and clear, and an assortment of music tracks that I sampled were bested only by dedicated audio systems with larger drivers and subs.
Input options and networking
The selection of input options on the rear of the X950B should prove sufficient for any home theater setup. The TV’s four HDMI ports include two that are MHL-enabled and one that is ARC-enabled (audio return channel) to transport internal audio sources (TV tuner, apps, and connected devices) to a compatible amplifier. Except for HDMI 4, all of the TV’s HDMI ports were compatible with the screen’s native resolution at up to 60Hz with 4:2:0 chroma subsampling as verified by the DVDO AVLab TPG. HDMI 4 did accept a 4K 30Hz signal, and HDMI ports 1 and 2 were HDCP 2.2 enabled for use with copy protected 4K source devices.
Not counting the USB port for the digital camera, there are three more ports available for connecting external storage or providing power up to 800mA. Networking options for the X950B include Ethernet and a/b/g/n WiFi with 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio support.
The X950B include two remote controls. One is a baton-style design with an uncrowded layout of clearly labeled buttons. The other is a compact touch pad dubbed the “One-Flick Remote” that offered good navigation performance and quick access to content discovery and social features – the latter integrating Skype and Twitter into the TV viewing experience. Compared to LG and Samsung’s compact premium remote offerings that feature precise cursor control similar to that of using a Nintendo Wiimote, the Sony touch pad remote felt a bit slower and less ergonomic but functional nonetheless.
The X950B is currently one of the few ways to enjoy Sony’s new PlayStation Now cloud gaming service. Pair a DualShock controller (not included) with the TV, log in, and enjoy a selection of rental-only titles anytime. PlayStation Now links to the PlayStation Network for high score comparisons with friends and archiving earned trophies. I sampled the side-scrolling music rhythm game Retro/Grade and found the controls were completely lag free but an occasional visual hitch may have been due to connection issues with the online gaming service. Overall, having PlayStation Now built into the TV proved easy to use and enjoyable.
For PlayStation gamers who enjoy split screen two player action, the X950B series supports SimulView with supported titles that delivers a unique full screen 2D view to each player when wearing the included 3D glasses.
I was pleased with the sensitivity of X950B’s over-the-air (OTA) tuner that captured my local stations with ease and stability using a quality indoor antenna. The TV’s channel guide provided an expansive view with a grid style layout displaying seven channels at once with six hours of scheduled program information. A press of the remote’s display button provided a useful overlay of current channel details including a brief program synopsis, broadcast format, aspect ratio, and audio format.
Apps and multimedia playback
The X950B features a large library of apps that includes popular 4K streaming options like Amazon Instant Video and Netflix. Sony’s Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited streaming services are prominently featured as are related services like Crackle and Vevo. The TV’s USB/home network media player supported all of h.264 and MKV files I threw at it including some that featured 4K at 60Hz video content.
Picture setup options
The X950B features a staggering number of video controls to tweak. Purists can ignore the majority of the TV’s ten picture presets (aka Scene Select) and go straight to Cinema and its Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 picture mode sub-options that are factory optimized for a 2.4 and 2.2 gamma setup respectively – the former better optimized for dark room viewing. I would have preferred that picture overscan controls not be placed in a separate menu accessible only from the TV’s home screen, but these controls proved effective at eliminating this video scourge for all HD formats including programs received via the OTA tuner.
Calibration and color
Even with its myriad of picture settings, the X950B’s main picture calibration controls consist of only a 2-point white balance control and no color management setup. However, Sony’s best televisions receive a very good factory calibration as the measured results of SpectraCal’s ColorChecker tool showed an average error (Delta E 2000) of 2.31 with the Cinema preset that reduced to an excellent 1.12 after calibration. Errors under 3.0 in motion video are considered unnoticeable for people with regular eyesight. The only other TV I’ve seen recently with a comparable color error level was Sony’s superb X900B television (0.99).
Color gamut measurements revealed the X950B native color space can easily exceed the saturation levels used for HD video production and match well with the expanded DCI-P3 color specification used in commercial cinema.
The classic 1080i HQV benchmark Blu-ray test discs revealed that the X950B lagged behind its competition as it left jaggies along angled edges in the moving bar and violin strings tests – likely a sign of weak per-pixel edge processing. The benchmark’s film resolution loss test indicated that the TV performed motion-adaptive processing that effectively eliminated flicker and related loss of detail in the selection of interlaced movies that were examined.
The X950B’s “Reality Creation” menu settings contains a “Resolution” option that appeared to do a better job than simply cranking up the sharpness control, but I advise leaving the “Detail Enhancer” option in the TV’s advanced menu off as it degraded resolution test patterns.
The X950B’s video noise reduction features also proved effective at reducing compression artifacts in broadcast television sources without softening picture quality. Considering that this 4K TV generates 8 virtual pixels for every video pixel in a 720p program, I was especially impressed with the quality of its scaling of sub-4K video sources.
Sony provides a variety of motion resolution enhancement options with the X950B that can deliver perfect clarity with 1080-line video benchmarks. Except when enabling the TV’s Impulse backlight mode that significantly reduces overall light output, the X950B was unable to enhance video motion clarity without without also adding some degree of undesirable smoothing to cinema (24 frames per second) video content.
Viewing angles and uniformity
Off-axis viewing with the X950B was similar to other VA-type LCD panels in that color saturation appears to wash out slightly starting at about 20-degrees but the picture remains quite watchable out to extreme viewing angles.
Uniformity exams showed no signs of obvious banding in scenes containing lots of flat bright lighting like panning sky shots or some sporting events. Dark uniformity was particularly impressive as the TV’s local dimming system reduced the glow of black bars in letterboxed movies to nearly invisible levels, and I detected no signs of cloudy hot spots or light leakage around the edges and corners of the display.
The calibrated picture of X950B delivered superb color quality as was evidenced in the viewing of reference-grade Blu-ray titles like Samsara and its depiction of various locations from around the world including lush tropical jungles, grass-covered landscapes, and detailed yellow hues of an active sulfur mine. A scene of dark blue hues of a star-filled evening sky highlighting the TV’s powerful backlight system that gave the stars added sparkle.
Loading up the Blu-ray version of The Dark Knight revealed the X950B’s ability to accurately render a variety of skin tones and complexions without exaggeration or distortion. And again, the TV’s backlight system proved effective at making the movie’s many bright and shadowed fine details appreciable under a variety of room lighting conditions.
The many 4K UHD video exams I enjoyed watching on the X950B included Elysium. This letterboxed movie’s outer space scenes involving the orbiting station were a terrific showcase of the TV’s full-array local dimming technology that maintained inky dark black levels while rendering well contrasted and very detailed elements.
I’ve not seen another 2014 TV deliver the picture performance of the Sony XBR-65X950B 4K Ultra HD TV. Its outstanding peak brightness, superb black levels, and impressive color output with a bit of fine-tuning will make any videophile smile. It’s also a full-featured smart TV that provides popular 4K streaming options, good multimedia file support, and the best built-in gaming experience currently available. There will be few 2015 televisions capable of matching the X950B’s performance and recent price reductions have made it an even more appealing premium option.
Disclosure: The Sony XBR-65X950B review sample is a manufacturer’s loan
By Robert Heron
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