Review: Sony’s Flagship 8K 75Z9J Dazzles With Brightness And Color
Sony’s 2021 XR-75Z9J series 8K TV series is among a handful of premium models available this year capable of presenting full 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels) images that are bright enough to generate peak specular highlights that bring out 3D qualities of images in a way that looks real.
Before we go further, we have one big caveat: the state of native 8K content availability remains very small to non-existent, so the ability of an 8K TV to display full native 8K content is and will be highly limited for some time. But this isn’t the only reason for purchasing an 8K TV today. The state of the market is such that today most of the best features and picture performance attributes offered by the leading brands happen to be available in their 8K models — at least as this pertains to peak brightness. The aspiration of almost everyone associated with producing content or display products today is to achieve the brightest pictures possible. The target thresholds advocated by Dolby and others is 4000 nits, looking forward to a seemingly impossible 10,000 nits in the future.
Unfortunately, it’s rare today to find a television that can surpass 2,000 nits (in LED-LCD models) and 1,000 nits (in OLED-based) sets. This set actually surpasses 2,500 nits. The brighter the picture, the greater the sense of realism from HDR color, detail and contrast. For this reason, most of the 8K models available now are based on LED-LCD technology. The two LG OLED 8K models are virtually unbeatable for displaying pure black but the technology can’t touch the best LED-LCD TVs for brightness, and if they could, we’d be worried about the risk of image retention at these levels.
For our review of the Sony BRAVIA XR-75Z9J keep this in mind: Anyone looking at an 8K TV in 2021 should be looking primarily at getting the very best, very big-screen television (75 inches and up) to watch today’s substantial supply of 4K UHD source material. This goes for movies, live sports and advanced video gaming. Unfortunately, you are going to have to wait a while before truly compelling native 8K content becomes a factor, and even when it arrives in volume, keep in mind that the detail improvements of the higher resolution will be subtle, especially at screen sizes smaller than 75-inches, unless you are viewing right up close.
Also consider that 8K is likely to be most available and compelling from new 8K video games just starting to come to market now. The Sony 75Z9J is a competitive gaming display for most of the titles available now, but its support of the best and fastest HDMI 2.1 inputs is somewhat limited compared to other 8K displays on the market, at least until all of the firmware updates are delivered. That said, the set will offer two full-bandwidth 48 Gbps 4K/120Hz “Ultra High-Speed” ports with Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and generic Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), upon forthcoming firmware update. But somewhat confusingly, only the “HDMI 4” port supports 8K input at 60Hz (but only up to a maximum 40Gbps throughput).
As you would expect, getting a television with all the best features is going to cost more, and in the case of the Sony XR-75Z9J, it will be quite a bit more than some of closest competition. Is it worth the price difference? — that will depend on how important having the biggest and best picture quality is to you and your budget. In short we’ll say, we loved watching the upscaled 4K UHD movies and programs this set produces. This TV has one of the best packages of upscaling and motion handling available today in a 4K or 8K flat-panel display, which is especially important on screens this size.
If you’ve got the available cash, we think you’ll be very happy with this set, at least for a few years to come.
Note that when trying to stream from the smattering of 8K samples available on YouTube (coming soon from Netflix and others), we were only able to get resolution levels to stream at a max displayed rate of 3840 x 2160/60p (4K UHD), with clips encoded in the new AV1 compression scheme. However, we downloaded sample 8K video shots in mp4 to a USB drive and observed the set played back very sharp, bright and colorful video images showing detailed texture and depth from both dog fur and a carpet of mowed lawn. Individual green/brown blades of grass seemed to standout nicely on the screen viewing this material.
For the purposes of this review, we tested the 75-inch model (BRAVIA XR-75Z9J), which at the time of posting was selling for $6,498. For comparison, the 75-inch premium 4K UHD LED-LCD BRAVIA XR-75X95J was $2,948. That’s quite a jump, especially considering the X95J series is an excellent television with a very similar feature package. For comparison, Samsung’s best 8K UHD flagship set, the 75-inch 8K 75QN900A, offers both new miniLED backlighting and quantum dot color enhancement technology for $4,497.99.
You also have the option of LG’s 88-inch 8K OLED TV for a staggering $24,499, LG’s 77-inch 8K 77XP OLED 77, $18,999.99 or its considerably more affordable LG 75QNED99 series 8K mini-LED-LCD TV with hybrid Nano Crystal/quantum dot technology that runs $3,446.99.
Both TCL and Hisense also recently introduced new 8K offerings at significantly lower prices, but it’s hard to match Sony’s degree of video processing competency and overall expertise in capturing the creative intent in product performance.
Clearly, this isn’t the best value TV, so should you even consider an 8K TV? We say, for most people probably not, but this is one the best featured TVs you are likely to find today. And, if you have the resources and want the best features, outstanding picture quality and some degree of obsolescence resistance, this might be the set for you.
Consider that for the money, the Z9J series will give you Sony’s best feature package including: 8K resolution, HDR10/Dolby Vision/HLG high dynamic range, the latest ATSC 3.0 NextGenTV over-the-air tuner, a package of HDMI 2.1 inputs with many of the latest advanced gaming features, Sony’s top Contrast Booster 15 HDR processing, X-Wide Angle and X-Anti-Reflection technology, and Sony’s latest XR Cognitive Processor with XR Color, XR Contrast and XR Clarity processing for advanced picture and sound performance.
These models ship with a 3-way multi-position stand, and include: Ambient Light Optimization, Acoustic Auto Calibration, Light & Color Sensor, HDMI 2.1 inputs with 4K/120Hz high frame rate, eARC/ARC and (through firmware updates) advanced ALLM and VRR gaming support. It also features extensive voice control and Apple AirPlay/HomeKit compatibility.
As smart TVs go this is an excellent streamer. Sony’s sets include the new Google TV interface that rides atop the Android TV 10 system, offering enhanced content search features, voice control and a more appealing graphical layout. Setup, using a smart phone is a breeze, and we found inter-device operability to be pretty responsive for most equipment. Your mileage may vary, depending on the brands and specific components in the chain. AVRs are typically more difficult than other devices.
For the Z9J review, we picked the 75-inch model, because this is the smallest size available and that’s about as small as you’ll want to go to get a discernible difference from the increased pixel resolution when viewing at typical seating distances. When it comes to 8K, the larger the screen, the better the experience. Sony also offers an 85-inch BRAVIA XR-85Z9J, which will run you $8,948, and we expect the picture benefits to be about the same or comparable.
Like all of the best Sony TVs this year, the Z9J series incorporates Sony’s new Cognitive Processor XR, which employs artificial intelligence to present images and sound in a way intended to induce a sensation of excitement in the viewer, at least, that’s how Sony explains it.
The Cognitive XR processing has been optimized for the television’s full-array LED LCD backlight system with local dimming (we counted about 400 LED dimming zones in the 75-inch unit). Together these deliver subtle improvements in pictures and sound from what we remember in the last Sony flagship 8K line. Sony doesn’t use mini-LED backlighting this year, as LG, Samsung and TCL have done in some of their premium TV lines. But even with normal sized LEDs, the contrast performance is excellent in this series.
In addition to the AI technology, the Cognitive Intelligence system is said to better analyze both incoming pictures and sound in a manner that aligns more naturally with human acuity. In general, when used with special X-enhanced content from Sony, the experience is supposed to present better brightness highlights, color reproduction, shadow detail, and contrast highlights for a more impactful and purportedly exciting experience in your brain.
The 75-inch 75Z9J is a substantially sized screen weighing in at 130 pounds. The border trim has a rigid metal feel, and the backing panel is nice looking textured matte-black plastic. Unboxing and assembling the supplied tabletop feet or mounting it to a wall with an optional bracket will require at least two people, unless you are feeling particularly strong — and brave.
The LCD panel measures approximately 3-inches deep, and black bezel trim is quite thin, at less than a quarter inch wide, making for a nice thin-frame black border around the bright visible picture area. The screen width measures 66 inches from edge to edge, and base to top edge height is 38 inches.
Because the set is so long, Sony designed the stand to be placed in three positions, which will help to accommodate some more narrow credenzas or AV furniture, allowing the screen to over hang some on the left and right sides.
With one option of attaching at each end of the set, the screen can be placed flush against the placement surface.
Alternatively, the feet can be attached in a more narrow position near the center of the screen spaced 2-feet apart and 2-inches between the mounting surface and the bezel chin. This will be a little short for use with some soundbars without blocking a small portion of the bottom of the picture, if you plan on adding one. Fortunately, on-board sound is pretty good with this model.
For soundbar lovers, Sony also gives you the option of a more angled position for the mounting feet, but this, too, will require the widest feet separation and a equally long table or credenza surface.
Alternatively, the screen can be mounted to a wall surface with an optional wall bracket.
Sony supplies its classic elongated remote, with a textured metallic silver top button plate and textured plastic two-piece side-and-back case covers that conceals the batteries. The remote has a nice feeling of heft indicating a solid and durable build. The remote is well balanced when the center arrow button dial is positioned in the palm. Most of the buttons are accessible by the thumb for one-handed operation. Locating the Google TV mic button is pretty easy, allowing users to simply speak commands for many purposes.
(Updated and Clarified): The Sony 75Z9J includes a nice selection of A/V ports for maximum flexibility with external sources. This includes 3 HDMI 2.1 ports but the singular “8K” 2.1 port (HDMI 4) only has up to 40Gbps of bandwidth and does not support Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) gaming features. Only inputs marked HDMI 2 and 3, which will output High Frame Rate at up to 48Gbps bandwidth, will support the VRR and ALLM features upon delivery in a forthcoming firmware update.
For audio, Sony includes a rear-placed digital optical output and a side-mounted 3.5mm headphone jack. Unusually, Sony also adds a two-wire speaker terminal to use the on-board sound system as a center channel in a multi-channel home theater speaker set up.
Other ports include a coaxial port for cable and over-the-air antenna connections (remember this TV includes NextGenTV over the air tuning so antennas are important again). In addition, the set provides a 3.5mm RS-232C system control port, and an Ethernet port for hard-wired networking. Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac and low-latency Bluetooth.
Unfortunately, we were not able to test any streamed native 8K resolution on this set, as the 8K AV1 (and VP9-2) clips streamed through the YouTube app registered at a max 3840×2160 60 fps rate according to YouTube’s “stats for nerds” meter. We were able to verify that the set is streaming the AV1 and VP9 codecs, in addition to HEVC, for 4K content. Presumably this will be updated to deliver full 8K streams at some point in the future, but if the inability to watch native 8K content on YouTube is a deal breaker, we advise buyer beware, for now. However, the available natively shot 8K content, even scaled down to 4K, is spectacularly well detailed, colorful and bright on the screen, and without a side-by-side comparison, it’s unlikely most viewers will notice the difference.
As an example, we streamed the “Realistic 8K HDR 60FPS Demo” clip on YouTube, which displayed as 3840×2160, with PQ and BT2020 color (container). Sony has long been among the top masters at developing video processing chips and upscalers, and its XR Processor to our eyes is the company’s best effort to date.
What we can tell you about 8K is that, native 8K content is slowly ramping up and the sheer processing power and ability of this model stands at the top of 2021 class of LED-LCD TVs. Few 4K TVs will be able to match this set for specular highlights and color realism. It’s best not to think of it as buying an 8K TV but rather buying one of the brightest, sharpest, and possibly the best overall flat-panel LED-LCD televisions available in 2021.
It doesn’t quite match Sony’s or LG’s top OLED displays for black level performance, but it gets close, while getting ever nearer to the aspirational 4000 nit peak brightness goal advocated by Dolby and others. This is important for presenting the 3D-like realism that 8K resolution promises.
Apologies to Sony, but we can’t speak to how the new XR Processing affected us emotionally. We were, however, darned impressed with what we saw in real-world HDR contrast delivery. Our demos used both native 4K and natively shot and down scaled 8K content streamed from YouTube. Pictures in general were excellent, especially when HDR was present. Overall image quality for both SDR and HDR was excellent and brightness and black level reproduction was to us exceptionally well presented and natural. Compared to Samsung’s 2021 QN900A series 8K set, dark shadow detail and haloing were slightly better on the Samsung, but overall screen brightness across the X9J’s full screen appeared somewhat brighter, for both HDR and SDR content.
Sony X-Wide-Angle technology does a reasonably nice job of presenting a wide contrast ratio from a range of horizontal and vertical viewing distances, meaning that it should be a great set to mount on a wall, and to showcase in the center of a wide open viewing space. However, we did notice that blooming became more noticeable viewing off-axis.
For HDR, Sony continues to support HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG profiles — we found black to be presented at satisfying inky levels approaching OLED, although at very low levels some details are crushed into the background. We found that when viewing darker programs the set is best viewed in a totally dark room to help make faint elements more visible, although this makes the set’s minimal issues with blooming/haloing more noticeable. Viewing the moving starfield patterns from the Spears & Munsil UHD Benchmark Test Pattern UHD Blu-ary Disc, for example, we found the opening sequences to take a while before the first stars became visible. This is an area where OLED televisions have a significant advantage. However, as the patterns brightened we were pleased to see the set handles blooming/haloing artifacts well for an LCD set. Sony also manages to control flashlighting of bright elements without significant bleeding into bordering letterbox bars.
As mentioned, the 8K Z9J builds in the new Contrast Booster 15 high dynamic range enhancement system. This is the highest level Sony offers in 2021, with lesser Sony 4K LED-LCD TV series stepping down to Contrast Booster 10 and 5. The numbering system doesn’t represent any actual level of performance, it is used merely to provide some form of improvement reference consumers can use to gauge the degree of impact between model series. We can tell you, HDR specular highlights are very bright within peak brightness highlights that are down right eye squinting at times.
For HDR peak brightness, we measured the Sony BRAVIA 75Z9J in a 10% D65 white window pattern at between 2,700 to 2,500 Nits (which is exceptional). The brightness varies, however, with measured window size and a 100% full-screen size drops significantly in overall peak brightness from the smaller window test patterns (see chart above). This is probably a good thing for your eyes considering how bright localized specular highlight details can get. Keep in mind, the threshold for a UHDA premium 4K LED LCD TV is 1,000 nits, meaning this more than doubles the grade of most 4K LED-LCD TVs. Black was close to immeasurable, almost to OLED TV levels. Being an LCD TV, there is still a faint amount of haloing (blooming) around bright white objects against black backgrounds, but for the most part this is very well contained and not distracting. This set’s dark contrast performance is getting closer to OLED levels all the time, and this isn’t even mini-LED back lighting.
The Z9J handles colors very well. The D65 color temperature was both bright and pleasantly warm with flesh tones taking on a natural yellow orange glow. Sony doesn’t use quantum dot color enhancement, but its Triluminos picture processing generates a wide DCI-P3 gamut (over 91% coverage), none the less. After calibration, the both SDR and HDR colors can be dialed in beautifully for a natural look that we assume (and are usually told) most content creators are striving to get in their productions. Sony’s sister company is one of Hollywood’s biggest content creators, so it’s generally a given that this is central in the product planning.
After calibration, the Sony BRAVIA XR-75Z9J measured at very accurate BT.709 (SDR) and UHDA/DCI-P3 HDR color gamut, and outperformed the minimum spec requirements for a “Premium 4K UHD TV” as established by the Ultra HD Alliance.
Flat out, Sony is one of the best manufacturers at developing televisions that can be easily and accurately calibrated. The set will support Portrait Display’s Calman Auto Calibration system to help speed up the process. For those who don’t expect to fiddle much with the picture settings, this television ships out of the box at very accurate color levels and if you have the equipment and software, the set can be calibrated nicely to the ambient room lighting conditions in under an hour.
The sample we tested had very nice uniformity with little very dirty screen effect on a 100% gray test pattern and was very consistent across the screen on a solid black screen.
As mentioned, all of the BRAVIA XR TVs this year support advanced gaming features, including some HDMI 2.1 feature compatibility, with up to 4K/120fps high refresh rates, generic Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). One HDMI port also supports eARC/ARC for connectivity with the latest soundbars and AVRs. We measured input lag of a 1080/60p input source at 19.3 ms in Game Mode.
Sony has also updated the smart TV platform this year, offering the new Google TV OS supporting a more robust and easy user interface that rides on top of the Android TV 10 OS. Google TV has been described as offering movie and TV show recommendations right up front, instead of focusing on a more app-centric approach. Specific models this year offer hands-free voice search capability to simplify the task of finding titles and making search entries.
XR Processing Ecosystem
Interestingly, the aforementioned BRAVIA XR Processor has been developed in association with the Sony Pictures team to power a new 4K/HDR streaming platform, called XR Core. This will present specially enhanced movies and shows in 4K and HDR with Ultra HD Blu-ray quality at 80 Mbps bitrates and “lossless quality” using new PureStream technology. The new streaming platform also sends to BRAVIA XR sets special content mastered for the IMAX Enhanced System with DTS HD surround sound presented as closely as possible to the way the content creators want it played in super widescreen IMAX theaters. The service now carries the best of Sony Pictures’ newest releases along with the studio’s “all-time classics,” and is ramping up some 100 IMAX Enhanced titles with IMAX remastered pictures and sound.
Sony said the Cognitive Intelligence XR processor leverages “an improved cross analysis, multi-element process that happens at the input level to have a better understanding of what is happening on the screen and we then pass that through the technologies developed over the past several decades, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, while taking into consideration the human perception focal point. We then ensure everything is presented as fast and accurately as possible.”
When using this optimized content, the XR Processor leverages an improved visible texture library that better distinguishes between elements like fur and stone in the same frame, to enhance the sense of realism.
In addition to better picture processing, the Cognitive Intelligence Processor XR is used for better audio reproduction in Sony’s “Sound From Pictures” technologies this year.
Like many of Sony’s 2021 TV models, the Z9J series builds in support for Dolby Atmos object-oriented surround sound.
On-board audio is supported by a combination of front, side and down-firing speakers. Sony further enhances sound output this year with the addition of Cognitive Audio processing to present a more impactful experience from the speaker configuration. The system is also able to enhance the sound of less robust sound tracks, like two-channel stereo, for example, for a more immersive experience.
On-board sound for this model encompasses seven driver/actuators including: four tweeters, two midrange units, and a single subwoofer. These aren’t like regular speaker cones. Sony has taken a cue from its OLED TVs to develop a system that vibrates different areas of the display glass to generate sound frequencies. This produces a surround sound effect that in certain content seems to follow on-screen objects and characters as they move around the frame.
In short, it’s an elaborate system that produces very impressive sonic results from on-board TV speakers, but when you’re talking about a television costing this much, you’ll still be better served by a full multi-channel speaker setup or high-quality Dolby Atmos soundbar affording separate rear channels and subwoofer.
We consider the Sony BRAVIA XR-75Z9J to be an aspirational television for most people, and at the very least, it is worth getting to an A/V store to see one up close. We realize not many will be prepared to shell out nearly $6,500 at the time this was posted, but for anyone desiring the best in what the state-of-the-art has to offer, this might be what you’re after. We caution shoppers not to go into this looking for the difference this set will make in resolution sharpness and detail, but rather for the realism the set can produce from the right material in color, brightness and contrast between dark shadows and brilliant whites and yellows. For most gaming this set is much more than capable, but for movies and television programs this is one of the best televisions you’ll find for either dark or somewhat well-lit environments.
We therefore award the Sony BRAVIA 75Z9J five out of five hearts.
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By Greg Tarr
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