Sony got its 2018 TV account off to a great start with the XF9005, which uses an appealing combination of genuine innovation and a high-end panel design to deliver excellent picture quality for its price.
Indeed, the 9005 is so good that it raised our hopes sky high for Sony's step-down XF8505 series, as reviewed here. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't take long in to realise that it represents a truly painful step down in quality. Here's why.
- 4x HDMI in
- 3x USB Multimedia port
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options
The XF8505 is pretty attractive for such an affordable TV. Well, affordable for a 4K high dynamic range (HDR) set. Its screen frame is slim and elegantly minimalistic, while its metallic support feet appear well-made. Those feet carry channels, too, into which you can tuck all your cabling to complete the screen's tidy look.
The screen's plasticky bodywork is a touch lightweight and flimsy, though. Also, using feet positioned towards the screen's left and right corners requires a fairly wide bit of mounting furniture.
The plastic finish isn't really noticeable from a normal viewing distance, though, and at least the feet aren't mounted right at the very corners.
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG
- Processing Engine: Sony X1
The LCD panel design Sony has used for the XF8505 is a disappointing far-cry from the one used in the XF9005. Particularly alarming is its use of an IPS type of LCD screen in conjunction with an edge-based lighting system. Compared with the rival VA panel technology, IPS panels have long struggled to deliver credible black colours and contrast. Especially when illuminated by LEDs positioned at the edges of the picture rather than directly behind it.
In the XF8505's case there's no local dimming to help the lighting cause out, either. Which means that different sections of the edge-based lighting can't be made to output different amounts of light to suit the content of the picture. Instead, all the LEDs have to be dimmed or brightened together, which will inevitably lead to some sort of contrast compromise when showing scenes that contain a mix of dark and bright content.
The XF8505 takes a significant step down with its picture processing, too. It only gets Sony's original X1 processor, versus the 40 per cent more powerful X1 Extreme processor deployed in the brand's XF9005 models. Cue less impressive upscaling of sub-4K sources, more potential for colour banding noise, and no sign of Sony's excellent object-based HDR Remaster system for turning standard dynamic range sources into surprisingly convincing.
Before anyone gets too disheartened, though, experience shows that even Sony's original X1 system still carries some impressive processing touches for its price. Especially when it comes to motion and colour resolution.
The XF8505's HDR support comprises the industry standard HDR10 format, and the relatively new, broadcast-friendly HLG format (as used by the BBC's 4K/HDR iPlayer World Cup streams). Not carrying the X1 Extreme processor means the XF8505 also cannot support the Dolby Vision premium HDR system.
The XF8505's brightness measures around 510 nits from a white HDR window covering 10 per cent of the screen. This is a pretty mediocre result for an HDR TV in 2018. After all, Sony's step-up XF9005 series get pretty much twice as bright with the same test pattern, while Samsung's flagship TVs for 2018 reach nearly 2000 nits.
Anyone thinking the XF8505 could make a good gaming monitor will be pleased to hear it only takes a respectable 30ms to render its pictures. Provided, that is, it's running with its Game preset selected. In all other picture modes input lag rises to 100ms.
- Android TV and YouView
Sony continues to use Google's Android TV for its smart features - and this continues to cause some problems.
For starters, the power required to run Android TV's seemingly heavy duty operating system causes both the smart menus and Sony's TV setup menus to run sluggishly.
The home screen menu looks cluttered and doesn't really show much understanding of what most users will want to prioritise on their TV's home screens. Namely video streaming services rather than games.
The home screen also lacks customisation options compared with most rival smart engines, and takes over the whole screen rather than just a section of it, preventing you from being able to keep watching TV while browsing its menus.
Android TV does have a couple of strengths up its sleeve. First, it supports a huge number of apps (even if many of them aren't, in truth, of much use to a TV audience). Second, it supports Chromecast from compatible external devices without the need for any extra external gateway devices.
Despite the large number of apps it can support, Android TV has struggled to get onboard all of the catch-up services for the UK's key terrestrial broadcasters. So it's a relief to find the XF8505 solving this issue by integrating YouView, which consolidates the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 catch-up services into one easy to use interface. Yay.
All the concerns raised by the XF8505's use of an edge-lit IPS panel prove well founded.
Its picture performance is sadly defined by a complete inability to deliver anything resembling a credibly rich, deep black colour. Especially - though not exclusively - with HDR content.
Put on any dark HDR sequence and parts of the picture that should look black instead look aggressively grey and washed out. As well as looking distractingly unnatural in itself, this inability to provide any black level depth severely limits the XF8505's ability to deliver the sort of extended dynamic range that gives HDR its name. Especially when it can only stretch at the bright end of the spectrum to a pretty uninspiring 510 nits. HDR pictures, after all, are regularly mastered to at least 1000 nits of peak brightness, and in some film's cases, 4000 nits.
Unfortunately, it's not just black tones that the XF8505's contrast problems negatively affect. Dark colours only really spring to life if they've got deep, natural-looking black colours to work against, and that just isn't the case here. As a result, dark colours feel rather flat and lifeless. In fact, often the greyness that lies over areas of what should be blackness also lies over other dark colours and tones.
While these backlight limitations are cruelly exposed by the extra brightness demands of HDR, they impact standard dynamic range (SDR) images too, albeit not quite as aggressively.
Having said all that, the XF8505 is not without its charms. Colours, for instance, look bold and refined during bright scenes. This is especially true with HDR pictures, showing that for all the XF8505's contrast and brightness limitations it's still capable of giving at least a flavour of HDR's qualities.
Native 4K sources look clean and sharp, too. And this impressive sharpness holds up even if the picture contains lots of motion, thanks to Sony's excellent MotionFlow processing system.
And there's some good to be taken from the XF8505's use of an IPS panel: it does deliver a wider effective viewing angle than you get from a VA panel.
When a picture source is exclusively bright and thus plays to the XF8505's strengths, it can genuinely look decent. The problem is that such source material only shows up for some of the time, and when you're paying four figures for a telly you'll be wanting all the modern high-end tricks.
The XF8505's audio is much better than its pictures. Despite its trim and unassuming design it manages to pump out plenty of volume without the sound becoming becoming harsh, muddy or constrained.
It delivers male and female vocals alike with plenty of authority, too, even during robust action scenes. Most unexpectedly of all, bass levels drop low enough to add real impact to explosions, dinosaur footfalls and other weighty movie staples.
Sony has delivered some excellent TVs over the past couple of years, but the XF8505 doesn't fall into that camp. Combining an IPS-style LCD panel with edge LED lighting prevents this set from handling dark scenes - especially HDR dark scenes - with any conviction.
As a result, its pictures often don't look even in the same league as those of Sony's step-up XF9005 TVs. Or, more tellingly, those of similarly priced rival TVs (especially some Samsung models) that use VA-style LCD panels instead.
Alternatives to consider
Samsung QLED Q7F
This 2017 Samsung QLED TV is now available for less than the Sony XF8505. Which makes it quite a bargain considering it's nearly three times as bright, uses a clever screen filter to make it remarkably easy to watch even in a lot of ambient light, and delivers a vastly more HDR colour range.
Read the full article: Samsung QF7 review
Crucially, the 55XE9005 uses a direct LED lighting system that produces both more brightness and much more contrast than the XF8505 series.
Read the full article: Sony XF9005 review