Sony X9300D and X8500D UHD 4K TV review
Are Sony's Android TVs worth buying? We compare against LG OLED.
- One of the best pictures
- Great upscaling
- Android TV
- Good black performance
- Modes need frequent adjustment for best quality
Both of these TVs are among the best on the market. But they look expensive in a competitive market and you can buy similar quality for much less.
Best picture quality
When both flagships are displaying demonstration videos which use 4K and HDR, the degree of difference is minimal: both flagship TVs are capable of stunning colours and true blacks (the slightly-lesser X8500D series offers just that bit less contrast and not-quite-true-blacks – but then it ‘only’ costs $4,499 for a 65-inch unit). You’ll probably watch the 4K demos on YouTube many times and show your friends but this is not representative of real-world content. How does Standard Definition TV and low-quality YouTube appear? What about the Grand Prix on free-to-air TV? What about E! Entertainment channel’s low-res, trashy programmes on cable? Programs broadcast in low quality are watched most of the time. So we’ll work down to that.
Watching the latest Blu-ray movies on all three models is stunning. Especially space scenes where the difference between dark and bright is exemplified. Pockmarked skin and individual hairs are very clear and crisp on all models. However, while letterbox bars on the LG are always true black, we did notice significant light bleeding into all of Sony's bars when they were next to bright areas on the screen – slightly more so on the X8500D models. This picture illustrates the difference – it’s more-perceptible in a dark room. In terms of performance the LG still wins here with its true blacks but not by much. It’s better (and only sometimes - depending on the scene) than the X9300D to the same degree that the X9300D beats the X8500D.
The main difference between the X9300D and X8500D series is the backlighting... and $1500. The image here illustrates how this translates into performance: the X8500D's (right) letterbox bars are slightly lighter.
A big problem is that Blu-ray discs do not have the capacity to store a 4K movie. All the talk of 4K and now 4K HDR comes from Netflix where its own shows like House of Cards, Narcos and Daredevil have recently all started using it.
The detail in these dramas can be amazing. However, quality consistency in different scenes changes dramatically in all instances. Well-lit, slow-moving scenes can offer incredible detail, whether it’s pores on someone’s skin, floral details on curtains behind a character or intricate floor tiling. The next moment, it’s a gritty dark scene with added-in, excessive grain and far less clarity. The differences really show up on these top TVs now – the quality that gets displayed varies dramatically depending on what gets put in to a higher degree than ever.
However, while raw image quality from Netflix (and streaming video in general) can be exceptionally good, motion smoothing issues can be rife. Bit-rates on Blu-rays can dynamically vary during playback to a massive degree depending on how detailed (or how much motion) there is in a scene but this doesn’t seem to be happening with streaming video... yet. On all these TVs we saw some horribly juddery panning shots when image smoothing processes were caught off guard. And this brings us to another issue – you’ll frequently be playing with picture mode to get the best picture when watching different types of content.
Image optimisation and vivid mode
When a Blu-ray movie was playing on the Sonys, you couldn’t change anything and for good reason: the TV knew you were in Full HD/24 frames per second movie mode and there was nothing that could be done by an amateur to improve picture quality. With Netflix and streaming video, the TV doesn’t know what it’s playing and colour performance and motion smoothing vary a lot.A network TV, standard definition screen capture from the movie, Castaway as displayed by LG's OLED TV in Vivid mode. It's nothing like the exemplary quality of its best HD performance.
Read more: Hisense Series 7 ULED 4K UHD TV review
If you put the LG in Vivid mode, all colours go extremely bright but motion smoothing and colour gradient quality can fall off a cliff. However, using other picture modes still allows the OLED TV’s natural bright colours and true-black blacks to perform well. But, with the Sonys, to really make the most of HDR you need to be in Vivid mode all the time. This isn’t the train-wreck it is for LG although image smoothing and other processing still seems to decline as colour performance increases. However, when you need to get the smoothing performance back, you lose the great, bright colours that Sony’s Vivid mode offered: in short the Sony TVs struggle to engage all of their image optimisations at once when displaying streaming 4K video from Netflix.
As such, the more-naturally bright OLED TV can wins for 4K Streaming Video on Demand - in some scenarios, even though it’s not by much. As before, the main difference here between the X9300 and X8500 is slightly better backlighting and not much else.
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