Sony Electronics President Mike Fasulo with a new Z9D 4K Ultra HDTV.

Sony Electronics Wednesday put Samsung and LG on notice that there is a new technology contender for the top-performing 4K Ultra HDTV crown.

The company formally unveiled its new Z9D Series TVs, which are said to incorporate an LED LCD backlighting technology that equates to full-array with local dimming on steroids.

The new TVs will be hitting floors of specialty A/V dealers and key consumer electronics chains later this summer. The 65-inch and 75-inch models are available for pre-order now on Amazon. The sets will incorporate two key new advances that produce 4K Ultra HD pictures with both deep black levels and bright peak luminance levels at the same time, supporting premium high dynamic range (HDR), a wide color gamut and up to 60 Hz frame rates.

The latest advancements include a Sony 4K HDR processor called X1 Extreme that adds a 40 percent performance boost over the company’s previous X1 chip, and will add brightness to select areas of the screen by taking energy from darker sections and reassigning it to areas where it is needed in the picture.

The other key new advancement is called Backlight Master Drive, which was briefly previewed at CES last January. Controlled by the X1 Extreme processor, its primary benefit is the ability to adjust dimming and brightness discretely to each LED positioned across the back plane of the LCD screen, producing more accurate black levels with greater visible detail and color in highlighted areas than other previous full- array backlighting approaches, Sony said.

The Z9D models will include a 65-inch ($6,999 suggested retail), a 75-inch ($9,999) and a 100-inch model (pricing to be announced closer to the delivery time). The sets are being positioned against Samsung’s KS9800 series ($4,497.99 for a 65-inch) full array LED 4K Ultra HDTVs and LG’s G6 Signature Series of high-design and high-performance 4K Ultra HD OLED displays (ringing in at almost $8,000 for a 65 inch model).

Read more on Sony’s Z9D 4K Ultra HDTV with HDR series after the jump:

Sony Electronics President Mike Fasulo said the TVs will support the HDR-10 format, but will not be equipped to receive and decode the Dolby Vision HDR format, which is accepted in LG TVs (along with HDR-10) and some Vizio models (currently handling Dolby Vision only).

To deliver streaming content, the TVs will include the Android smart TV streaming platform found in other 2015 and 2016 Sony models with support for Google Play to deliver 4K Ultra HD and HD content from the most popular over-the-top streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon and Sony’s own 4K Ultra HD service.

Regarding the Backlight Master Drive technology, Sony said the Z9D models offer some of the most precise black level and brightness detail of any consumer display technology yet introduced by controlling brightness at the individual LED level, instead of controlling only brightness and dimming of groups of LEDs in various zones at one time.

The Master Drive also provides a backlight blinking system system to improve motion blurring.

This presents both OLED-like deep black levels with the detail and color of brighter LED TVs, but without the washed-out overall image typical in some of those approaches. Sony said the TVs will stand toe to toe with competitive LED LCD TVs on peak luminance levels to deliver a premium HDR/wide color gamut experience.

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Sony said the Backlight Master Drive features a dense LED structure (it wouldn’t disclose the exact number of LEDs) with a super accurate lighting algorithm, discrete lighting control, and a unique optical design with a calibrated beam LED, capable of presenting a superior dynamic range performance with bright spectral and specular highlights.

The calibrated beam LED design is said to gather the emitted LED lights in a spot and focus the drive area more narrowly to display higher contrast. It also reduces light diffusion and the flaring common in some full-array LED TV products.

Among a number of benefits provided by the X1 Extreme processor is Super Bit Mapping 4K HDR 14-bit processing that delivers smoother gradations of color from 8- and 10-bit sources without the color banding, this appears as false contouring lines that typically ring around different shades of color surrounding bright objects in a picture like the sun on the horizon.

However, Sony would not disclose if the LCD panels used in the TVs are true 10-bit panels, or if it is eliminating banding artifacts only through processing. Neither, would the company list the peak luminance level of the TVs except to assure that they are among the brightest on the market. When the Backlight Master Drive was disclosed in January, peak luminance levels of up to 4,000 nits were mentioned, but Sony would not use that as an official measurement, neither would it disclose the window sizes it uses to measure peak luminance.

Sony has repeatedly refused to issue spec numbers for a number of performance criteria in an effort to get consumers into stores to see a demonstration of the picture quality for themselves.

Fasulo reiterated at the unveiling event that: “We don’t want to get into a numbers game.”

The company gave members of the press attending its event at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA a side-by-side demonstration of a Z9D model next to an LG G6 OLED TV and a Samsung KS9800 4K Ultra HD LED TV set. The Sony model appeared to show more saturated colors in bright elements, like deeper yellows in overhead lighting, and greater contrast and color in buildings shot through a window than either of the other models.

Sony said the TVs also produce greater color accuracy than other TVs in this class.

However, we can’t be sure that each model’s settings were evenly  positioned.  Sony said all three were put in out-of-the-box “Standard” mode settings, “with eco-mode turned off.” The Samsung model, in particular, lacked much of the black level depth that was clearly evident in our recent review of the UN65KS9800 a few days before, so we will withhold judgment until we’ve had a chance to run our own analysis.

Still, the new Z9D models appeared to offer both very bright HDR images with deep blacks that showed fine shadow detail very well in the controlled demo material.

Among the design highlights of the TVs are an easel-like floor stand and a table-top stand for the 100-inch model, a 360-degree flat-screen design that from the back keeps all the cables completely concealed, and a new user interface featuring a Content Bar that includes enhanced navigation along with voice search.

The Content Bar includes a genre filtering function, enabling viewers to select programs of desired genres, including sports, music, news etc., available from several channels.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of the Sony press event.

By Greg Tarr


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