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Sony XBR-65X950B

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Product Description

The Sony XBR65X950B features 4K Ultra HD resolution and a Full Array Local Dimming LED backlight that, while adding to the expense, continues to be the enthusiast's choice because it improves contrast far beyond what most other LED LCDs are capable of. Over the last several years, FALD displays have proven to be standout performers, as evidenced by the following memorable but discontinued displays:
Samsung UN55B8500, the first to catch my attention with outstanding colors and contrast hampered by mediocre grayscale tracking
LG 55LHX, probably my favorite 1080P LED LCD
Sharp Elite, with it's outstanding contrast let down by inconsistent color tracking
Sony HX929, an all around excellent performer


Sony deserves respect for continuing this technology in the face of nearly suffocating demand for thinner and mass market priced displays. The friends you invite over to help mount the X950 to your wall might complain about the bulk and wonder why you didn't choose one of those wafer thin, featherweight sets they eyed at Costco, but you'll know the truth: the picture quality you crave necessitates that extra "throwback" bulk.

I had the opportunity to evaluate the 65" X950 at Cleveland Plasma/Cleveland AV along with two other 4K LED LCDs and an example of mature but nearly extinct technology, a Panasonic plasma. Setting up the X950 was easy, with a FW update a part of the setup process.

Sony appears to have created a well designed and thorough Smart TV environment, without making it take over the TV. There is a Netflix button on the remote, which brings up the Netflix profile choices. A small video camera is located at the upper center of the screen.

The sound quality of the X950's built in speakers was satisfactory though unremarkable with default sound settings. Tonal balance favored the upper midrange, though some mid to upper bass was audible. The midrange sounded somewhat colored and unnatural with music, though not to the point of reducing vocal clarity, which I felt was above average.

The X950's screen is like a light sponge, soaking up ambient light and retaining a decent amount of contrast in normal room lighting despite the presence of obvious reflections. In addition, the X950's image can be made very bright, which will help prevent the bland look that can overcome many displays in brighter environments. Care should be taken to position the X950 where sharp reflections will be minimized, but otherwise the X950 is very adaptable to every imaginable living room or media room environment.

As with most LCD displays, the X950 is very sensitive to viewing angle, with colors becoming pale and the picture washing out off axis. Only one or two cuddling viewers can see the X950 at it's best at one time, though in most cases other family members will not notice or mind a moderate amount of degradation. When arranging the X950's environment, make sure the primary viewing seat is located directly in front, and if the X950 is mounted up high, make sure it is tilted down.

The X950 comes out of the box in Standard picture mode, which shows glimpses of, but definitely not all, the X950's picture quality potential. The picture showed good depth, but slightly over saturated and neon-like colors. In addition, there was a slightly glazed over smoothness as if some noise reduction circuits were hard at work, and a phenomenon known as the Dirty Screen Effect was visible, which makes large and bright panning objects appear dirty with smudged, greasy streaks and fingerprints. Switching to Custom mode (shown in the "Before Calibration" measurements) gave a visible increase in accuracy, though the picture was slightly bland and washed out, lacking excitement and contrast. Switching LED Dynamic Control to Low, switching the Light Sensor off, and choosing the Warm 1 color temperature will give a good starting point toward getting a better picture from the X950. While neither Warm 2 nor Warm 1 give an accurate white balance without the aid of calibration equipment, Warm 1's errors are more palatable than Warm 2 and therefore can give a more pleasing image short of a true calibration.

Calibration:

In unmodified Custom mode (based on Warm 2), the X950's white balance had an emphasis of green and lack of blue in brighter levels, which will give the picture a bland, dingy overtone. On the other hand, the measured gamma was excellent for a dark room environment.

Color accuracy was good overall, though full purity red shades measured a bit violet and full purity blues were pulled slightly toward purple. Thankfully, since there is no CMS adjustment to correct them, those inaccuracies were very mild and did not draw attention to themselves.

With the local dimming turned off, black uniformity was pretty good, with just slightly brighter areas visible to each side of screen center. Moving up in brightness and looking at dark gray fields, there was some streakiness visible, with the center slightly greenish and the sides slightly purplish. Pushing the brightness all the way up to peak white showed good uniformity, with just the tiniest of dark areas visible around the corners. Turning local dimming on low, which is how I would recommend setting it in most situations, did not change white by much at all. However, it did change and improve the uniformity of dark gray shades except in areas surrounding brighter objects, and blacks were truly dark and uniform.

I performed most of the measurements with the local dimming turned off, turning it back on Low for selected tests and most of the viewing. Turning it on Normal made the gamma measure much worse. On Low, the only noticeable side effect was a degradation of the gray scale tracking, which was more than made up for with the dramatic increase in the worst case scenario contrast ratio. The contrast measured 3882:1 with local dimming off, 23,000:1 on Low, and surprisingly 15,263:1 on Normal. My worst case scenario contrast measurement is intended to be a torture test for LED dimming, with the black measurement taken with a 100% white surround along the edges of the picture and a large video black area in the middle occupying 50% of the screen area.

Blu Ray motion was handled very well with the Tru Motion set to off or Clear, and I settled on Clear for the evaluation since it eliminated a bit of blurriness around fast moving objects with 60 Hz material. Other selections may have been satisfactory as well. Despite the relatively simple calibration adjustments, the X950 measured well enough after calibration. While there are still some minor errors in grayscale tracking and color saturation that could be improved with more adjustments, I believe that a better tuning of the local dimming white balance shift would make a more important improvement.

I noticed a degradation of near black performance with any adjustment of the RGB Bias controls, so I believe the best performance can be obtained by adjusting only the RGB Gain controls with an accurate meter. The Reality Creation could be made to slightly increase resolution without adding visible edge enhancement, and the Smooth Gradation control eliminated steps in smooth gradient ramps that are normally visible very close to the screen but not from normal viewing distances.

The X950 had some visible color displacement, similar to Y/C delay, with lower resolutions via HDMI. 480i and 480P suffered most from this, and 720P also exhibited it. That resulted in a smearing of some color transitions with lower resolution sources. Resolution and clarity at all 1080 formats were excellent.

Lip sync was just fine in both 2D and simulated 3D mode, getting the HDMI signal from a Blu Ray player going through an HDMI distribution amp, and also in streaming from Netflix.

I measured the X950's off axis behavior by taking a simplified measurement run directly on axis, and then repeating it at approximately 45 degrees off axis. The off axis angle was judged by eye, so it should not be considered a scientific test; rather, just an indication of what changes and in what direction.

Both the very detailed before/after calibration report and the off axis report are broken up into pages and attached.

Evaluation:

The X950 was evaluated in different lighting conditions: pitch black, moderately dark, and bright, with the majority of notes being taken in the moderately dark environment since the calibration was optimized more for it. The X950's local dimming is well behaved and contributed in a big way to it's overall stunning picture quality. With a strong native panel contrast ratio of around 3900:1, the local dimming is just helping along an already solid contrast, and the fact that it's full array goes a long way toward making it a worthwhile improvement with few side effects. However, it could be made even more effective with finer zones. It appeared to have fewer zones than that of the best former examples of the breed, namely the Sharp Elite and LG 55LHX. That caused the glowing around objects depicted against a dark background to be somewhat larger and more diffuse, and it did spill over into black bars on letterbox movies. Thankfully, it usually did not detract much from the enjoyment of the image, and that image jumped to life with realistic looking colors and an excellent sense of clarity. Unfortunately, like the Elite and LHX, the X950 also suffered from the DSE, which can be visible in bright, panning objects like hockey rinks or clouds.

4K material from Netflix and YouTube looked somewhat variable, with certain scenes exhibiting a breathtaking natural detail that seemed beyond Blu Ray. Moving up very close to the screen revealed very sharp, detailed edges. However, I am not confident that I was seeing 4K at or even near it's best due to source and bandwidth limitations; it was in this streaming content that I noticed occasional contouring or layering of colors and brightness, and judging by the washed out look and questionable colors in some "Ultra HD 4K" material, it seems that the new format's potential is not yet being fully exploited.

Contrast held up very well in both dark and bright movie scenes. In chapter 23 of The Dark Knight, the Joker's face overlaid a mostly velvety black background early in the interrogation, and then the picture became bright, punchy, and vibrant as the scene changed.

Skin tones had the right balance of richness without being overdone, and the image had a smooth yet detailed look that can impart a certain lifelikeness that only the best displays can match. The image also showed impressive depth when appropriate, and panning and motion were excellent, not drawing attention to themselves.

How does the X950 stack up against the Elite? The Elite's higher number of zones allows for less glow around objects displayed against a dark background, thereby increasing perceived contrast. However, the X950 has much better color, both measured and perceived. The Elite's color woes were not limited to the notorious cyan bug; all colors suffered, as they did on all Quattron displays. That made the color more variable; sometimes colors could look great, and other times things weren't quite right. They both suffered from DSE. In most other ways they are quite similar. With Blu Ray and cable/sat, you can make your choice depending on whether you value tight contrast or accurate color tracking. However, with 4K capability, the X950 steals the show.

Despite occasional flaws, the X950's image has an immediacy and accuracy that I find very appealing. It is very worthy of the flagship XBR status.

Pros:
great punch and lifelike contrast
good performance with a wide variety of content
clear, clean image


Cons:
occasional Dirty Screen Effect
would like to see more dimming zones

 

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