Sony’s 2020 TV Product Strategy Explained
At the recent CES 2020 Sony gave us a run through of some of its top performing television series for the year ahead.
Rob Brennan, Sony’s North American product technology manager, provided an overview of Sony’s television product positioning strategy for 2020 and an explanation of some of the new features and benefits that will be available to Sony Electronics fans. This includes expanding the top end of the lineup, while bringing down a step some key technology features available in last year’s Master Series products to deliver Sony’s coveted picture performance into more models and price points.
As ever, Brennan said the overriding motivation for developing this year’s television lineup was to preserve the creative intent of the content creator and convey emotion of the story to the audience.
“By expanding the line we are hoping to do a couple of things: One we want to not only grow Sony’s overall market share, we want to grow the adoption rate of more premium technology overall. We want to get customers to understand the benefit of these technologies,” Bennan said. “This could be the year that a customer purchases their first Full Array with Local Dimming television, and it might be an entry Full Array model, but then they see the benefit this brings, and maybe for their next TV they will understand that `as I step up in the line I am significantly improving performance.’ “
Brennan said “Sony’s three main focuses for this year were to expand some of the picture quality technologies like 8K and X-Wide Angle by adding them to additional models and series. In terms of sound quality, we wanted to make improvements to our sound-from-screen technologies for both OLED and LCD and to improve the user experience from this. In smart TV, some of the changes this year come from an upgrade to the Android TV (Pie) OS and some of it is coming from changes Sony engineers have made specifically to the interface.”
The top of the lineup for 2020 looks like this: The Master Series Z9G 8K LED-LCD TV is going to continue in screen sizes of 98 and 85-inches and that remains at the top of the stack. Added to that this year is the Z8H Series, bringing Sony two 8K model series.
Brennan said the Z8H series is very similar to the Z9G Series in terms of picture performance. “They both have the same processor — the X1 Ultimate — as well as X-Wide Angle, and a new version of Acoustic Multi Audio, but with the general idea of generating a Sound From Screen experience. The major difference between the two is in the LED backlight systems used. The Z9G has Backlight Master Drive and the Z8H has Precision Full Array Local Dimming backlight,” said Brennan.
Backlight Master Drive uses independently controlled LEDs. Each individual LED is independently dimmable for the best black level performance with minimal blooming and flashing. It is not zone based. The Z8H uses zone-based Full Array LED local dimming (Sony does not disclose the number of zones).
Similar to the Z9G continuation, the Master Series A9G 4K OLED TV series is also continuing into 2020. In addition to this Sony introduced the A8H series 4K Ultra HD OLED TV series, which replaces the A8G from last year. However, the A8H series now adds the top-performing X1 Ultimate Processor.
“So, our top two 8K LCD model series and our top two 4K OLED TV series all include the X1 Ultimate Processor,” Brennan said.
Brennan explained that the differences between the two OLED series are that the carried-over A9G models are part of Sony’s Master Series and the A8H are not. Master Series models have top picture quality performance and a top level feature package that represents the best of what Sony can do.
“This extends to the audio, where we use the Acoustic Surface Audio Plus technology,” Brennan explained further. “But in terms of comparisons of picture quality between the series, they are very, very similar. That’s great for consumers who would rather have a step-down model without sacrificing the picture available in that Master Series product.”
Also in 2020, the X950H will replace the X950G model from 2019. This will bring a couple of design changes including an improvement made to Sony’s X-Wide Angle and an expansion in the number of models that will feature the X-Wide Angle technology.
Then, the X900H, for the U.S., this year replaces the X850G.
“In the X950G series last year we had X-Wide Angle in the the 85- and 75-inch models only,” said Brennan. “In the X950H series this year it will be available in the 85-, 75-, 65- and 55-inch screen size models. The only model that won’t support the X-Wide Angle technology is the 49-inch model.”
Changes were also made to the audio including the addition of a second amplifier, making it a bi-amped solution, and the Piezo Electric sound positioning tweeters have been made to be independently powered and controlled. They are also larger and farther out to the edge of the television for a wider sound stage. Additionally, the size and shape of the speakers were changed to be what Sony calls “X Balanced.” This produces much better midrange response and punchier bass, according to Brennan .
The X900H is a U.S. model bringing Full Array Local Dimming and X-Motion Clarity that delivers “excellent performance per dollar,” Brennan said.
“What makes [the X900H] really special is the X850G was an edge-lit LED television, which is now replaced by a model with a Full Array LED with local dimming back light system,” said Brennan. “So, we are pushing this feature down into a lower price bracket.”
8K More In Depth
Sony’s Z8H Series is very similar to the Z9G Series but one of the differences between the two this year is in the remote. Brennan said the Z8H series remote has a built in accelerometer, so when it is picked up, it will turn on a back light so the user can see the controls in a dim room.
“The TV design is what we call Immersive Edge,’ ” he said. “This reduces the size of the bezel giving the eye much more area to focus on the image itself while reducing the visual noise created by the bezel and the stand, which we call the `Noiseless Stand.’ The stand is a dual position (or two way) stand. This means the feet can be moved from an outer to an inner position under the screen, which could be useful if you have a wide screen and a narrow table. The same thing is available on the X950H series.”
The new implementation of Acoustic Multi Audio in the Z9H uses an actuator that mounts inside the side frame of the screen and directly vibrates the aluminum bracket it is attached to, serving as tweeter.
“The benefit of this is to elevate the vocal imaging so that it’s in line with the visuals while creating a very wide sound stage by having those tweeters out at the edges,” said Brennan. “The television also has dual subwoofers and front ported speakers out of the bottom for a total of six speakers.”
For the first time, the Z8H, A8H and X950 series models all allow for an Accoustic Auto Calibration using a built-in mic in the remote control.
Brennan said that “in the case of TVs placed in odd-shaped rooms that give off weird reflections, the mic can be used to calibrate that out. This is the first time we’ve implemented this type of technology in a television.”
Other Changes In OLEDs
In addition to the A8H adding the X1 Ultimate processor, the series keeps some of the popular technologies that were in last year’s A8G Series, including Pixel Contrast Booster, X-Motion Clarity and the Accoustic Surface Audio with some improvements to the latter. The soundbar positioning design on the stand remains so that the foot can be lowered or lifted to fit a soundbar.
The Acoustic Surface Audio this year moves from dual woofers to dual subwoofers. This improves the punchiness of the bass and further separates the mid-range to allow more of the vocals, especially the male vocals, to come from the acuators rather than to be occasionally pushed down to the woofers. The result is much clearer vocals across the frequency range along with punchier sound at the bottom.
By Greg Tarr
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