Sony XBR 75X940D Review Features
Introduction and features
Much as I love high dynamic range (HDR) technology in principle, it isn’t half catching TVs out this year. The extreme amounts of brightness HDR demands are really bringing home the problems LCD screens have with delivering light on a truly ‘local’ basis, with problems such as light stripes, blocks and halos distracting you from the otherwise spellbinding HDR action.
Cue one of two reasons why I’m excited about the arrival on our test benches of the Sony XBR-75X940D. The thing is, this 75-inch TV replaces the edge-mounted LED lighting sported by all the other HDR-capable TVs I’ve seen so far this year with a direct LED system, with the lights sitting right behind the screen.
This sort of LED configuration, in conjunction with a local dimming system that can output different light levels simultaneously from different parts of the screen, has consistently delivered superior contrast in recent years, so hopefully it will do a better job of meeting the considerable challenges posed by HDR.
The other reason I’m excited to be testing the 75X940D is that its predecessor, the KD-75X9405C, was arguably my favorite all-round TV of 2015, so there’s a good chance that the new model will pick up the quality baton.
Having said that, the 75X940D cuts a dramatically different figure to last year’s model. Sony has decided to scrap the monstrously powerful magnetic fluid speaker array that added so much width and depth to the 75X9405C’s bodywork, opting instead for a screen frame that’s barely a centimeter across, and a rear that’s impressively trim for a TV that’s using direct LED lighting.
Having loved the exceptional audio quality the 75X9405C delivers I personally mourn the passing of Sony’s magnetic fluid speakers, although for most people I have no doubt the 75X940D’s much trimmer appearance will make it an easier-to-accommodate monster TV than its predecessor; it’s also likely that a TV as big and expensive as the 75X940D is going to be partnered with an external speaker system of some sort.
The 75X940D’s connections tick the boxes I’d expect of a flagship TV. Most notably it has four 4K/HDR-capable HDMIs, three USBs for playing a wide range of multimedia file types from USB storage devices, and both wired and wireless network options.
The network options can be used for streaming multimedia from networked DLNA-enabled devices, or for accessing Sony’s online smart TV services. Most of these services are delivered via Google’s latest Android TV system – which isn’t a wholly good thing, for reasons discussed in the Usability section.
But at least Android TV does now carry the 4K and HDR-capable Netflix and Amazon apps, alongside YouTube, Hulu, HBO Now, Google Play Movies and TV and Sony’s own PlayStation Now on-demand game streaming service.
I’ve already mentioned the two main highlights of the 75X940D’s picture technology: its HDR readiness, and its direct LED lighting engine. But it has plenty more flagship tricks up its sleeve too, including a native 4K resolution, Sony’s Triluminos technology for delivering an expanded and more accurately rendered color range, and a so-called X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro system that can divert power from dark parts of the image where it’s not needed to bright areas, to give the image more punch and the sort of expanded dynamic range HDR is all about.
The 75X940D’s various picture technologies are all marshaled, moreover, by the latest version of Sony’s 4K-friendly X1 video processing chipset, which has previously put on a strong showing, particularly when it comes to color and upscaling HD to 4K.
The 75X940D is also noticeable for supporting 3D playback (a feature that’s vanished from all of Samsung’s and Philips’ TVs for 2016), while one last slightly complex point worth covering is that while Sony has, for what it claims are internal marketing reasons, decided not to seek the Ultra HD Premium badge of quality assurance from the AV industry’s Ultra HD Alliance group, the 75X940D does apparently meet all the relevant contrast, color and brightness criteria.
Performance and picture quality
While it remains to be seen if the Sony 75X940D will be the best TV of 2016 (I’m still waiting expectantly on the arrival of LG’s new OLED TVs, plus Samsung’s KS9500 direct LED flagships), its pictures certainly set a very high bar.
Feeding it the likes of The Revenant, Deadpool and Kingsman on Ultra HD Blu-ray – meaning the set is pushed to the limits of its abilities, with both HDR and 4K in play – the pictures it produces are, for the vast majority of the time, nothing short of jaw-droppingly good.
Their HDR success is down to a whole range of factors, as I’ll explain, but there’s one which stands out above the rest: the appearance of only minor light clouding around very bright objects when they appear against dark backdrops.
I mention this first because it’s the distractions caused by less subtle light ‘pollution’ on this year’s other HDR TVs to date that have pretty much single-handedly left me feeling a little disappointed with their HDR efforts.
So while even the direct-lit, locally dimmed 75X940D can’t deliver flawless light control with HDR, the fact that its patches of extraneous light are both fainter and less defined at their boundaries than those of other screens – including the Panasonic TX-65DX902 – means they’re much less distracting on the rare occasions when they crop up.
The exceptional quality of other aspects of the 75X940D’s HDR performance also makes it much easier to become lost in the film you’re watching. For instance, despite the strong backlight control the screen delivers a massive luminance range between the brightest and darkest elements of its pictures, as well as pulling out even the tiniest of light differentials and shadow details between the eye-catching dark and light HDR extremes.
Colors, too, look sensational, as Sony’s tried and tested Triluminos technology rises masterfully to the challenge of the wide color spectrums employed on all the Ultra HD Blu-ray discs I’ve seen so far.
The screen’s exceptional contrast, brightness and color performance boost its 3D performance too, keeping the action looking vivid and bright even when you’re wearing the active shutter glasses.
The combination of contrast and rich colors additionally helps 3D worlds look more solid and impressive in scale, leaving as the only 3D issues some noticeable ghosting noise around heavily foregrounded or backgrounded objects, and a softer picture finish than you get with upscaled HD or native 4K 2D images (don’t forget that 3D isn’t part of the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, so it’s currently HD only).
As with previous high-end Sony 4K TVs, the 75X940D does a pretty much exemplary job of upscaling HD sources to its native 4K pixel count. It manages to add a sense of increased detail and clarity to HD sources without exaggerating any grain or MPEG compression noise the source might contain, and without causing other processing issues like blurring or lag.
Even the HD source’s colors get an apparent boost in tonal resolution, as Sony’s processing works out with uncanny cleverness the tones of all the new pixels it needs to create between the existing ‘real’ ones.
The 75X940D is spectacularly less watchable with standard definition sources, it must be said. But really, what did you expect considering how unforgivingly huge the screen is, and how many pixels the processing is having to conjure up?
One last important picture point to cover is how well the 75X940D handles non-HDR sources; after all, aside from a handful of shows on Netflix and Amazon, plus Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, everything else you’ll watch on the 75X940D will use the old standard dynamic range (SDR) luminance and color levels we’ve been used to for decades.
Happily the 75X940D adapts its performance to SDR’s less demanding world pretty much perfectly, retaining its flare for color and detail while also delivering an even better black level performance that remains free of almost all traces of unwanted clouding issues as a result of not having to try to deliver HDR’s vastly more demanding brightness peaks.
This is not a strong point for the 75X940D, for two reasons. First, Android TV continues to be the least friendly of all the main smart TV interfaces thanks to its cumbersome full-screen, multi-shelved menu approach, its inability to learn in any significant way the sort of content you like to watch, and its failure to provide much in the way of user customization.
The sheer number of apps available is pretty overwhelming too, despite the vast majority of those apps being of niche interest to typical TV users to say the least.
The other usability issue concerns the 75X940D’s remote control. Sony has decided to make all of its buttons sit almost flush with its bodywork, a decision which creates a cool look and feel, but which makes the remote almost unusable, as your fingers don’t have any frame of reference to help you find your way around – and Sony has compounded the problem by grouping too many of the important buttons in a confusing layout in a fairly small area of the remote’s upper half.
I lost count of the number of times I accidentally hit the wrong button, and can’t think of any other remote design that’s come so close, so often, to being hurled at the test room wall.
The 75X940D doesn’t benefit from the huge, ultra-powerful magnetic fluid speakers that made such a design statement on its predecessor, so not surprisingly it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good. There’s far less bass extension, and the sound appears slightly muffled and indirect because the 75X940D’s speakers no longer fire directly forwards. The soundstage is smaller too, and treble details sometimes sound a touch harsh.
Considered alongside more typical flat TV competition, though, the 75X940D actually holds up reasonably well. Its slightly larger bodywork helps it deliver a more rounded sound than Sony’s step-down X930D models for 2016 (even though the speaker power arrangement appears to be the same), and it also seems able to go a little louder before starting to sound harsh, although I’d say Samsung’s KS9000 models still sound slightly richer.
By historical standards $5,999 isn’t really a vast amount to pay for a high-quality, feature-rich 75-inch 4K LCD TV. That doesn’t alter the fact, though, that it’s still going to be more money than the vast majority of households are going to be able to find for a TV.
Also, perhaps more pertinently, while I understand there are major economy of scale issues when you’re manufacturing screen sizes bigger than 65 inches, there’s no getting round the fact that stepping up $3,000 from the $2,999 price of the 65-inch Sony 65X930D feels like a heck of a leap for 10 inches more screen, even when the 75-inch model also delivers significantly superior performance.
That said, with its huge screen, lengthy feature list and surprisingly attractive (considering how massive it is) design, the 75X940D does a pretty good job of justifying its price even before you turn it on – and when you do switch it on you just fall for it all the harder, as it produces the single best picture quality of any TV I’ve tested so far this year, regardless of whether you’re feeding it an HDR or SDR diet.
The size of the screen is irresistible to anyone who loves movies, especially when that screen is filled with the sort of outstanding and groundbreaking picture quality the 75X940D serves up in almost every frame, and with almost any source.
The remote control is horrible, and Android TV continues to feel unfriendly and lacking focus. Picture-wise there’s a little clouding around very bright HDR elements at times, and the price of entry is high.
Thanks to its combination of a huge screen and often mesmerizing HDR and 4K picture quality, the 75X940D crosses over from being a mere TV into genuine home cinema territory. It also delivers the most convincing all-round showcase of what HDR is capable of that I’ve seen from a TV to date, while simultaneously working wonders with all that non-HDR stuff we’re still going to have to spend most of our time watching. If you’ve got the living room space and bank balance health to take it on, you’d be crazy not to audition one as soon as possible.