The future of TV is 4K, and judging by Sony's latest X9005B telly it's already arrived. In addition to finally becoming more realistically affordable, proper 4K content is now available from Netflix. And it's amazing.
Sony's KD-65X9005B is 4K and affordable, but not only that, it's one of the best televisions available to buy now. All that and it's future-proofed for years to come too. After a couple of weeks with this 65-inch beautiful monster is there anything we don't like about Sony's 4K vision?
Before we dig deep into Sony's wonders, a quick word on 4K. It's all about the resolution. We've spent years with "Full HD" TVs (1920 x 1080 resolution), but many movies and shows are captured at higher resolution than that. Which is where 4K - which you may see referred to as "Ultra HD" or "UHD" - comes in to play. With four times the resolution its 3840 x 2160 display is extra crisp.
However, it's been a slow start because proper 4K source material has been relatively scarce. But that's changing, with Netflix already streaming 4K and even services such as YouTube on board too. There's still no physical 4K format, but when there is the X9005B has the latest HDMI port compatibility to ensure support.
In its 65-inch size the X9006B is a magnificent looking television, even if it could be mistaken for a small space station from afar. And that "deadly design" heading above wasn't to be taken lightly, as this TV weighs too much to set-up alone without the risk of being flattened.
It's not small, but that's the point. Unlike some slimmer TVs out there Sony hasn't shied away from size, opting for its new wedge-shape design as a point of focus but also to enhance audio. This is a showy TV that demands attention - it's a "look at me" kind of TV, not a slim and tucked against the wall one.
We think the X9005B looks best with the legs at either end of the TV, but we couldn't find a table at home big enough to sensibly hold this 65-inch beast. So we set-up the legs in the middle, which we got used to and quite like the look of now. Setting them up was as easy as sliding them in and adding a few screws - so long as you have a TV buddy around to help, but we can't imagine many people won't want to help to get first dibs on viewing.
The back panel can be removed and replaced allowing for cable tidying. If users choose to mount the TV there is also an extender box that allows easy access to ports without having to go behind the TV. Not just a pretty screen then.
There is also a 55-inch model available for those that either don't want a room-consuming screen or don't want to risk being crushed. Plus the smaller panel is also even less cash, around £2,700, equating to a solid £900 saving compared to its larger brother.
Sound goes Pro
Sony has been bold with the X-series: the wedge shape, metallic sides, rounded top and very obvious speakers stray from the current slender screens. Everything works perfectly to create an entertainment centre that looks every bit as good as you expect it to perform. That wedge shape isn't just about looks, though, it's also there for sound quality.
The shape delivers a wider bottom and thinner top, allowing for three powerful front-facing speakers which really do away with any need for soundbar extras. There's even an optional 100W wireless subwoofer for more kick, though we were perfectly happy with the power the TV speakers managed. In fact we forgot just how good a television could sound without a sound system - this really is the whole package.
Sony has increased capacitance compared to last year's model by one and a half times and added fibreglass speaker units. These changes can really be heard in both quality and power. On a software level S Force Pro handles 5.1 signals, rather than downscaling to 2.1 before virtually jumping to 5.1 again like S Force previously did.
The menus offer plenty of tweaking options too, the most useful of which is Voice Zoom that enhances spoken audio over other noises immensely. Great for gaming where instructions are being whispered over gunshots and explosions. The Music setting is also useful for balancing instruments and proved addictive for making the TV a giant speaker box. We mirrored a mobile and ended up streaming Spotify over to the TV all the time - the speakers are that good.
From top notch sound to top notch image quality. The X9005B is one of the best pictures we've ever seen. There we said it. Now to explain why it's not just the 4K part that's led to that conclusion.
Colour is more important than we sometimes think when getting caught up in pixel counts. While pixels add potential sharpness it's colour that creates the realistic look, something the X900B's Triluminous display does perfectly. Unlike some screens that turn colour saturation up high to try and make the picture more vibrant Sony has managed to balance bright and mute perfectly. While watching films and TV shows we've watched before we were noticing different props, people and movements that we just didn't pick up on when watching on a lesser screen.
The X-tended Dynamic Range brand of picture balancing from Sony also plays a large part in creating a perfect picture. Despite this being powered by an LCD panel the blacks seem as true as a plasma screen. That means real blacks, without any bleed from the backlight when everything's set-up to perfection, whereas many LED-backlit screens we've seen suffer.
The important thing we noticed was that even in a really dark scene it's possible to make out different levels of blacks - dynamic range as the director intended. That scene from Kill Bill 2, shot in a black coffin, was given new life on this screen where we saw things that were previously just a singular black. But, like on most LCD screens, if the backlight and contrast are pumped too high there can still be light bleed into the blacks. We just didn't find the need to turn those things up in our experience though - even when watching in a lit room.
The final part of the trio that creates the Sony X900B display is the 4K X-Reality Pro engine. This multi-layered smart processing engine is able to boost input signal to higher resolutions, without it looking forced. We expected the computerised haze and blurry soft images sometimes associated with upscaling, but it's nowhere to be seen. So whether watching HD TV, a 1080i Sky box input, or even a DVD, the X9005B manages to deliver an extra level of density with its upscaled 4K picture.
These extra pixels deliver an almost 3D effect. We've never watched The Chelsea Flower show for so long, after flicking over it was hard to turn away with all the rich colours and depth of foliage.
Gaming gets its own paragraph simply to say this is one of the best gaming experiences we've ever had. Utterly immersive in both upscaled definition and scale. That is all.
Genuine 3D and 3D upscaling from 2D is also an option. It looks fine, without much of a headache after getting used to it. But to call it 4K proper would be a bit of a stretch. We also found it suffered from crosstalk at times, creating double ghosting effects that can get annoying. But 3D is over in our view - when you have 4K just revel in the resolution.
Smart that's actually smart
A smart TV isn't just about being internet connected, it's about having a menu that's easy. But, more to the point, one that's easier to use than digging out a tablet or laptop to stream catch-up TV. The Sony X9005B has managed to do this with its simple but fast smart menu. Our only moan is a slight lag when starting up the TV from cold, but that's normal and what's a few seconds?
Screen mirroring was a great way to quickly throw YouTube videos up onto the big screen, or anything else on the mobile's screen for that matter. But it was the YouTube app that impressed us, allowing users to find videos then fling them to the TV while continuing to search on the app as the video plays on the TV. Watching 4K time-lapses and trailers got boring after a while so we ended up back on the phone flinging non-4K material to the TV for everyone to see.
We found ourselves watching most content through Plex media server using the videos on our laptop. From watching TV our networked content was accessible in just two TV menu clicks. Streaming was perfect every time over Wi-Fi and jumped to where you last left off every time you continued something again. USB reading is also possible for those that don't like to rely on streaming over their network.
The other big service that many will be interested in is Netflix - it even has its own dedicated button and the service launches within seconds. Native 4K content is available via the X9005B as it can decode H.265 footage. If you've got a downstream of 15.6Mbps from your service provider then, bingo, you'll be able to watch the second season of House Of Cards in 4K, with others promised to follow soon (including Breaking Bad, oh yes).
Although there's no 4oD or ITV apps available in the catch-up section, the usual mix of BBC iPlayer, Sky News, Amazon, Instant Video and plenty more are on offer. And as this is internet-connected there's always scope for this to update and expand over time.
With HDMI 2.0 on board the X9005B can cater for 4K signals up to 50/60p, putting it a step ahead of most first-gen 4K tellies because it can cater for twice the refresh rate. And although there's still no 4K Blu-ray format sorted just yet, support for 4096 x 2160 resolution (it's a little wider than the 3840 x 2160 4K standard) at 24p most likely puts a tick in this box. Exciting.
Social and special modes
The X9005B also features a built-in camera if you fancy Skype-ing. Video calls can be made while watching shows so users can effectively watch with a mate somewhere else. If you want to, that is, it's not really to our taste.
Also new for 2014 is Social View, a Twitter application that pushes tweets across the bottom of the screen. These can relate to the show you're watching at the time, or custom searches. Cosmetically you can opt for a smaller image with wordage running underneath, or a full screen images with a tweeting overlay. Shoe-horning social media onto a communal TV seems unnecessarily gimmicky to us, despite Sony's reports that a majority of users like Twitter functionality. We're yet to find out who those users are.
Also kicking off this year is a Football mode. It is June 2014 and, yep, there's a little tournament just around the corner. This mode applies digital signal processing (DSP) to make the ambient crowd noise from stadiums more expansive and immersive. It's effective, if a little fatiguing. Best switched off when watching Eastenders to avoid death by Dot Cotton.
If you're thinking about upgrading your TV and taking the 4K plunge then you'd be hard pressed to find anything nearly as good as the Sony X9005B.
Although the 65-inch version's £3,600 price isn't small, it's a lot more affordable than first-generation 4K was. And with the 55-inch available at £2,700 the savings - both in space and money - of that option are appealing. It sounds like a lot of cash, but this Sony is future-proof and will last you for many years to come.
For the money the overall experience is simply epic. Great design, all-encompassing screen scale, excellent upscaling, plus you're all set for more 4K content and apps as they become available.
Put simply, the Sony KD-65X9005B is one of the best TVs we've ever seen. Not just from a picture perspective, but from an integrated audio point of view too. The future has arrived.