(Pocket-lint) - It's fair to say that 8K TVs - sets with four times the resolution of today's 4K models - need to embark on a pretty major charm offensive. Initial reactions to the idea of 8K TVs have typically ranged from "we just don't need it" neutrality to outright hostility.
It's easy enough to understand why 8K TVs haven't so far been welcomed with open arms: there's no native 8K content to watch on them. The current AV distribution infrastructure is barely able to cope with 4K, never mind 8K. Some also claim there's just no need for 8K, as the human eye won't be able to see the difference anyway.
Also 8K TVs currently cost significantly more than most premium-grade 4K TVs. The upscaling that 8K TVs need to apply to all current sub-8K video content has the potential to make the picture worse, not better, too.
With its debut 8K TVs, though, the 85-inch and 98-inch ZG9s, Sony is out to change at least the last two of these 8K preconceptions. Or, as Sony sees it, misconceptions. How? By making sure that the ZG9's headline-grabbing 33.2 million pixel count is just one of its many high-end charms.
Sony KD-85ZG9: Design
- 4x HDMI in
- 3x USB Multimedia ports
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options
There's not really any hiding a ZG9. With the 85 (KD-85ZG9) and 98-inch (KD-98ZG9) screen options, these tellies are going to take over any room they happen to appear in. Unless one happens to live in Buckingham Palace. So it's easy to forgive Sony for not really doing anything particularly stylish with them, preferring instead to put function ahead of form.
The chunky, two-tiered frame around the screen, for instance, gives Sony the space to build in four front-firing speakers - two along the top, and two along the bottom. This unusual configuration is supported by two subwoofers on the rear of the 85-inch model, and a single, bigger sub on the 98-inch version.
As you might guess from this talk of rear-mounted subwoofers, the ZG9 is deeper round the back than most of today's TVs too. This also reflects the fact that Sony's debut 8K TVs boast the latest version of its Backlight Master Drive advanced LCD lighting system. More on this in a moment.
The 85-inch ZG9 sits low on a pair of rather industrial looking feet, while the 98-inch can be placed either on similar feet, or easel-style floor-standing legs. While not especially glamorous, the ZG9 is prodigiously well built - necessary, given how much screen acreage there is to support.
The ZG9's connections seem at first glance to tick all the key boxes. There's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for your network needs, plus four HDMIs and three USBs. Only one HDMI supports the latest HDMI 2.1 standard required to handle 8K at more than 30 frames a second, though. This seems a little tight on a £14K TV - especially when all four HDMIs on LG's latest 2019 OLED 4K TVs are 2.1 ready.
Sony KD-98ZG9: Picture Features
- HDR Support: HLG, HDR10, Dolby Vision
- Processing Engine: Sony X1 Ultimate
The 85ZG9's biggest story is the resolution of its screen. It's Sony's very first 8K TV, after all. That's four times the resolution of those 4K TVs that have only just started to get a foothold in homes.
There are, as noted earlier, questions over whether anyone actually needs that many pixels. Especially as there's currently no native 8K content to watch. There seems little doubt, though, that such content will come eventually. Rakuten has said it will launch 8K streams this year, there are already a few 8K videos on YouTube (though as with Samsung's 8K TVs, the 85ZG9 can't play these), and Netflix has already shot a few shows in 8K (though it hasn't streamed them at that resolution yet). Most notably of all, both the Sony PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett have hinted at some degree of 8K support.
It will be a long time before 8K content arrives in any great quantity, though. Which is where Sony's X1 Ultimate processor comes in. This uses a dual database approach to compare incoming sources against a vast and ever expanding library of different content types to figure out how to optimise playback. This includes, particularly relevantly for Sony's 8K TVs, elements for removing source noise and adding pixels - and the results of this sort of database-driven upscaling are a quantum leap from the old approach to upscaling witnessed on HD and many 4K TVs.
The X1 Ultimate processor can also upgrade standard dynamic range (SDR) images to high dynamic range (HDR) ones. In fact, this is applied automatically on most of Sony's picture presets.
In terms of native HDR support, the 85ZG9 can handle the (predominantly broadcast) HLG format, the industry standard HDR10 format, and the premium Dolby Vision format, with its advanced colour system and extra scene-by-scene picture data. There is, however, no support for the relatively new HDR10+ system, which also adds scene-by-scene image data to the HDR stream.
Sony's processor is also on hand to deliver superior motion handling by LCD TV standards (a particularly big deal in the 8K realm), as well as an impressive anti colour banding filter to stop HDR pictures suffering with striping artefacts.
Sony's Triluminos processor is provided to deliver the sort of wider and more nuanced colour range needed for today's wide colour content. Though not using Quantum Dots to produce its colours does prevent it hitting quite as wide a spectrum of colour as Samsung's 8K TVs.
It does a good job of hiding this, though, by providing a huge amount of HDR friendly, colour volume-amplifying brightness. The 85ZG9 measured in at 3700 nits on a white HDR window, which is bright. The 98-inch ZG9 - yours for just £85,000! - actually gets to just under 4000 nits, so it nearly the same peak brightness achieved by Dolby's water-cooled Pulsar LCD mastering monitor.
This sort of brightness is only possible with LCD technology at the moment; OLED tends to top out at under 1000 nits. But brightness is, of course, only part of the HDR equation. You also need to combine the bright image peaks with deep black levels. Which is where the Backlight Master Drive comes in. This uses a direct lighting system (where the LEDs sit behind the screen rather than around its edges) capable of outputting different light levels simultaneously across 720 separate zones. Samsung's 8K TVs, by comparison, use a maximum of 480 dimming zones.
Sony's X-tended Dynamic Range Pro technology, meanwhile, shares power intelligently around the screen to give bright parts of the picture an extra HDR-friendly boost.
One last key feature about the 85ZG9 is its wide viewing angle support. This first appeared on the ZF9, with mixed results. The way it let you watch an LCD TV from almost any angle without the picture losing contrast or colour saturation was great. The way it reduced the screen's reproduction of black tones was not. Sony claims to have improved things this time round, though.
Sony KD-85ZG9: Smart Features
- Smart system: Android Oreo, YouView
Sony has used Google's Android TV platform for most of its smart TV duties for years now. The 85ZG9 gets the latest Android Oreo implementation, and it seems this will be upgradable to Android Pie when that arrives.
The latest Android system delivers an improved interface that does a better job of emphasising video content over less TV-friendly gaming and 'infotainment' content. Its interface is still rather clumsy compared with rival systems, though. And while it's a bit better than it used to be at recommending relevant content, it still lags behind rivals in this key aspect.
It certainly delivers zillions of apps. Though many of these, in truth, are fairly pointless on a TV. And while it includes Netflix, Amazon and YouTube in 4K HDR iterations, it doesn't support all of the UK's main catch up TV platforms. So it's a relief to find Sony equipping the ZG9 with YouView, which brings the main UK catch-up TV players onboard within a handy electronic programme guide (EPG) that includes a week's worth of past programming for streaming as well as upcoming broadcasts.
Android TV is still a bit buggy and fond of large updates. But it seems to run more stably on the ZG9s than on previous Sony TV generations.
Sony KD-85ZG9: Picture
The 85ZG9's pictures have more flat-out wow factor than those of any other TV to date. And unfortunately for all the 8K cynics out there, while not all of this picture prowess is down to its 8K resolution, it certainly helps.
All the native 8K material Sony provided for the review (remember, there's none to be found in the real world) looked sensational. Detail levels are so extreme that actually the idea of detail almost becomes meaningless; essentially the absence any sense of pixel structure or jaggedness along diagonal and curved edges means that the picture just looks like reality. Not like a TV picture at all.
The impact of this is genuinely startling - and contradicts any arguments that human eyes can't see a difference between 4K and 8K (although it does depend on screen size and distance from it, of course). The sense of 'being there' - be it at the Rio Carnival, in the middle of a stunning landscape or even, in one memorable 8K render demo clip, participating in a PlayStation Gran Turismo race - is like nothing any 4K screen can provide.
The enormous size of the ZG9's two screens options contributes to the impact native 8K provides, for sure. But the fact that 8K still has an impact from a pretty distant viewing position shows that what's happening with 8K goes beyond the usual viewing distance/screen size suggestions some cynics are trotting out.
It's important to add, though, that 8K looks so spectacular on the ZG9 because the pixels are supported by other premium-grade picture attributes. So, for instance, Sony's colour processing has the precision to render colour blends down to the sort of minute tonal shifts required by 8K pixel sizes, while motion processing does a remarkably good job - especially on its True Cinema setting - of retaining much of 8K's sensational clarity even when there's extensive movement in the image.
The ZG9's light management contributes to the sparkling purity of the 8K picture, too. It enables the screen to resolve light differences down to a remarkably small area by LCD standards - something that's especially useful when it comes to rendering the really intense points of peak light that are such a key part of convincing HDR experiences.
The ZG9 also excels at presenting uniformly bright HDR shots with exceptional - actually, unprecedented - brightness and punch. Yet thanks to its 720 dimming zones, it manages to combine these ultra-bright highlights with some convincingly deep, pure black tones.
Samsung's latest 8K TVs can go blacker still, it should be said. But the Sony compensates for this by not having to dim bright objects as much as the Samsung when they appear against very dark backdrops. This gives the image a more consistent feel.
The Sony's slightly higher black levels also mean it retains dark shadow details slightly better than Samsung's 8K TVs. And every detail counts in 8K, even more than in 4K. THE ZG9'S black levels are far better than those of the ZF9, too, despite it using ostensibly the same wide-angle viewing technology that cause black level issues on the earlier 4K set.
Moving to real-world 4K content rather than Sony's 8K demo material, the 85ZG9 still delivers phenomenal results. The upscaling system works extremely well, adding to the image's sense of density without any edges, colours or fine details becoming forced and unnatural. There's not quite the same jaw-dropping purity you get with native 8K content, but the upscaled 4K images look better than they would on a vanilla 4K screen. Which is quite an achievement given how many pixels are involved in the 4K to 8K upscaling process.
There is a degree of diminishing returns with the ZG9's upscaling, though, in that with HD and SD sources the picture doesn't really look significantly sharper or more truly detailed than it would on a native HD TV. The raw sense of 8K pixel density, though, persists: Sony's noise reduction systems work well; and crucially, for the most part, upscaled HD/SD is still surprisingly watchable. Though anyone who spends £14,000 on a TV will hopefully invest in as many 4K sources as possible.
Sony's HDR upgrade system is also remarkably effective. This is subtler than the one Samsung used to provide (but has now ditched), but the result is a remarkably convincing expansion in the colour and light range available with SDR images. People who don't like it, though, can always do away with it by selecting the Custom picture setting.
There are a couple of limits to the ZG9's generally remarkable and ground-breaking pictures. First, even the use of 720 dimming zones can't prevent some backlight blooming around bright objects in the picture. Especially when a dark scene retains dark background details, rather than when the bright object appears against more-or-less complete blackness.
The blooming can break out, too, into the black bars above and below films that use a wider aspect ratio than the 16:9 TV screen, at which point it becomes more noticeable.
Occasionally a mid-dark colour tone can look slightly out of whack too. And finally a (hopefully fixable) quirk in the X-Tended Dynamic Range system causes very bright peaks in some 4,000-nit HDR material to shift from white to a quite pronounced shade of blue.
Overall, though, the ZG9's pictures do a surprisingly effective job of both justifying its enormous price tag and appealing to AV fans who want to be ready for the 8K future now without having to sacrifice the quality they're used to with today's 4K content.
Sony KD-85ZG9: Sound
The ZG9's innovative forward-facing speaker system does some pretty cool stuff. Having speakers above and below the screen lets the sound circle around the action impressively, with sometimes startlingly precise effects placement. And this effect is only likely to get better when the TV receives an update later in the year to handle the Dolby Atmos sound format.
Dialogue generally appears quite accurately placed in the image, too, thanks to the speakers being both forward-facing and positioned both above and below the picture. However, speech can become tough to make out when there's a lot of other audio stuff happening around it.
There's no distortion from any of the speakers even at high volumes. Bass isn't as deep or rich as it likely would be from an external system using a dedicated subwoofer, but still gives action scenes a sense of expansion and conviction.
The sound doesn't drive forward into the room as much as might have been hoped, though. Instead the sound seems to be taking place across the front of the room rather than all through it.
While it may be questionable if anyone really needs an 8K TV just yet, especially when they cost as much as a small car, the ZG9 joins Samsung's 8K TVs in removing any doubt that 8K offers a genuine step forward in picture quality.
Especially when this Sony's extra pixels are joined by a supporting cast of excellent colour, contrast, motion and ground-breaking amounts of brightness and LCD backlight control.
Samsung Q900 / Q950R
Although just three inches smaller than the 'smallest' Sony ZG9, Samsung's Q950R is a rather helpful £4,000 cheaper. It still offers outstanding picture quality for that money too, combining gorgeous native 8K thrills with another strong upscaling system and excellent wide-angle viewing. Black levels are slightly deeper than those of the Sony, and colours are slightly more dynamic. But the Sony appears to deliver slightly more consistent lighting and more shadow detail in dark areas. We've reviewed the previous version, the Q900, which doesn't have quite as wide a viewing angle - but is otherwise much the same TV.