Sony Bravia XBR-55X900A UHD LED TV Review
Sony's X900A is excellent—if you have money to burn and actual 4K content.
We’ve finally reached the next generation: Welcome to the wonderful world of ultra high definition. Sony has been selling the UHD X900A series since last year—originally, an 84-inch, $24,999 display. We're not going to talk about that behemoth today. Instead, we have the smaller, more affordable option: a 55-inch version for $4,999. UHD content has never looked so good.
You do have 4K content, right? No?
We received the retail version of Sony's 4K content box, which treated us to over 8 million pixels of beautifully-rendered videos and movie trailers. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of actual content on the market (movies, TV shows, etc.), making the TV’s astronomical pixel count somewhat moot—for now. As far as pure television performance, though, the X900A is excellent. We tested superbly accurate colors and a decent contrast, not to mention this Sony’s freakishly good audio quality—these are hands-down the best speakers I've come across on a TV.
While anyone would be happy owning the X900A, is it really worth $1,000 more than television perfection?
What Is Ultra High Definition?
A quick primer for the uninitiated
Ultra high definition is the next step in display resolution. When an HD television is listed as "1080p," that number refers to its resolution: 1920 pixels wide, 1080 pixels tall. With a resolution of 3840 pixels wide and 2160 pixels tall, UHD offers four times as many pixels as HD.
Why should anyone be excited about extra pixels, though? Because of picture detail, that's why. With even more pixels than HD, 4K TVs are able to show a staggering level of detail—things like the wrinkles on a persons face, strands of hair, and grains of sand are more clear than ever. Sure, HD displays can do this just fine—Panasonic's ZT60 does an excellent job of this already—but more of a good thing certainly won't make a TV worse.
Check out this 4K guide for more quick facts.
Design & Audio
A beastly beauty
The 55-inch X900A comes in an enormous box. True, normal people would consider any box with a 55-inch TV huge, but I completely forgot about the speakers built into the sides of this TV—they take up almost five inches on each side of the X900A. That’s right: This Sony is about 10 inches wider than most other 55-inch TVs.
How does this actually look? Monstrous, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From my totally masculine perspective, the X900A would be the envy of other man caves: big TV, big speakers, lots of pixels. Fellow reviewer Virginia Barry has a completely different take on this giant: she described its appearance as "gross." In fact, the entire design drew a strong reaction, positive and negative, from everyone in the office that saw it.
We need to highlight the quality of the X900A's gigantic speakers—these things are amazing. Sony delivers two 20-watt speakers and two 12.5-watt subwoofers, and the difference in audio quality is instantly recognizable. Cranking up the volume on a movie produces satisfying bass that you can feel—normally you would need an external speaker setup to experience this. Of course, audiophiles with great surround systems in place already will make no use of this feature whatsoever, leaving you with a useless eyesore.
Interface & Smart Features
Everything we loved (and didn't) on the W900A, but in UHD
Sony hasn’t changed the appearance of its interface or smart platform for the X900A—everything is identical to the W900A and W802A, just upscaled to a higher resolution. That means a simple and intuitive menu system, which includes an abundance of picture adjustment options. There are some useful features to be found, like controls to automatically adjust brightness, augment black levels, and tons of motion enhancement settings. Don’t expect the same amount of tweakable options that Panasonic’s ZT60 has, though.
As far as smart features, we’ve discussed our thoughts on Sony’s platform before. Aside from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, there isn’t much to see on the Sony Entertainment Network. Want to know what a really smart idea would be? Having downloadable 4K movies on this platform. Sony plans to do this in the future... just not on its actual displays. You need the Sony 4K Ultra HD Media Player—currently $699—which will include a 4K store sometime in the future. Are you counting? This whole 4K thing is more expensive than it initially sounded.
Perfect colors, but a contrast ratio that should be much higher
Sony does colors right. We’re usually impressed by the color accuracy on the company’s higher-end displays, and yet the X900A still manages to wow us. Red, green, blue, white—they all look incredibly accurate. And somehow, we’re also disappointed. What gives?
The whole concept of ultra high definition is more than just pixels; in the future, this technology will have more realistic colors. What if I told you that normal HDTVs only show 35.9% of colors that the human eye can see? UHD TVs (and appropriate content) will show deeper reds, greens, and blues, but the technology isn't there yet—current 4K TV models like the X900A do not make use of this expanded color gamut.
One point of contention is the so-so contrast the X900A produces. While this is one of the brightest TVs we’ve ever seen, its black level is yawn-inducing. The frustrating part is that we’ve seen better from Sony. Last year’s excellent HX950 has quite possibly the best local dimming I’ve ever seen. If you’re unfamiliar with local dimming, it’s a feature that controls different zones of LEDs on the TV for dynamic lighting. If part of the screen is showing black content, it will turn those LEDs off, creating eye-popping contrast. The X900A has a simplified version of this feature, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as the HX950. For $4,999, that’s unacceptable.
It may seem like I’m harping on the X900A’s picture quality, but believe me: It looks excellent, with or without actual 4K content. But that's another problem—to properly enjoy this TV, you need content that isn't widely available yet. Watching daytime soaps upscaled to 4K resolution won't look any better on the X900A than it would on a comparable high-end, non-4K display. And with a price this steep, we expect quality that surpasses excellence.
A UHD TV stuck in an HD world
The Sony Bravia X900A is a strange beast: It’s a 4K TV living in a non-4K world. This makes it a tough choice for consumers. If you want to watch actual UHD content, you need Sony’s $699 media player, which comes with 10 movies on it. You’ll be bored of these films in less than a week. While Sony plans on adding a 4K store to the content player, the actual arrival date is a mystery.
So, is the Sony X900A worth your five thousand dollars? If we lived in a world where UHD content grew on trees, then yes. Sadly, such a wondrous, geeky place doesn’t exist yet. The Sony Bravia X900A offers terrific picture quality and amazing audio, but it isn’t much of an upgrade over the company’s cheap-by-comparison W900A.
Ultra high definition is clearly the future of the TV industry—not the present.
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