Sony KD-84X9005 £25000
25th Oct 2012 | 11:07
Is this the future of television?
Well here's something you don't see every day: an 84-inch TV with a native '4K' (now officially known as Ultra High Definition) resolution.
And actually, it's not surprising you don't see one very often given that a) Ultra High Definition panels are still exceptionally rare, and b) the Sony KD-84X9005 we're gawping at here costs £25,000 in the UK, $US24,999.99 in the US, where it's known as the Sony XBR-84X900, or $AU24,999 in Australia under the code KD-84X9000.
It also has to be said that there's currently not exactly a wealth of native Ultra HD content to feed such a high resolution screen; just your digital photos and a handful of online video files, really. But then there can, of course, be no chicken without an egg (or is it the other way round?).
So we have no problem in principle with Sony getting its Ultra HD guns out for the second time in 2012, following the launch of its stupendous VW1000ES projector. Especially because the Sony KD-84X9005 claims to carry state of the art upscaling of your normal HD and even standard definition content, courtesy of a brand new all-Sony chipset dubbed 4K X-Reality Pro.
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Sony has been careful, too, to make sure that the KD-84X9005 feels entirely TV-like, rather than like some 'pro' panels. So it's got a built-in Freeview HD tuner, ships with a pair of bolt-on and startlingly powerful speakers, supports 3D playback, and even carries the new Sony Entertainment Network 'smart TV' online system.
If you'd prefer something similar but different, you could always just scrape together £17,000/AU$25,000/US$25,000 instead for Sony's VW1000ES Ultra HD projector.
Or failing that, £7,000 (around AU$10,850/US$11,208) will get you Toshiba's Ultra HD 55-inch TV, the Toshiba 55ZL2. But as well as producing pictures far smaller than those of the Sony KD-84X9005, Toshiba's TV also provides no way of getting 4K/Ultra High Definition video into it, and features a highly flawed glasses-free 3D TV system.
While only football agents and Russian oligarchs might actually be able to buy a Sony KD-84X9005, though, its Ultra HD capabilities must still be of interest to anyone with even a passing fascination with AV. Especially as they might just provide us an early glimpse of a higher-resolution future. So without further ado, let's get stuck in.
Before sinking our teeth into the 84-inch Sony KD-84X9005's main attractions, let's quickly spare a thought for its design. At first glance this looks a little industrial with its severe black bezel and the slightly clumsy way the full-height speakers bolt on to the screen's sides.
However, the ever-so-shiny finish of the twin-necked floorstand and the unusual ridging that's been applied to the bezel both give the TV an expensive-looking lustre, and the design strangely grows on you over time. Especially if you can place it in a suitably opulent setting.
The main reason for wishing you could afford to spend this huge amount of cash on a TV, though, is obviously the Sony KD-84X9005's native '4K' pixel count. Actually, Ultra HD is a slight exaggeration, since unlike the genuine 4K (4096 x 2160) resolution of the Digital Cinema-aping VW1000ES projector, the Sony KD-84X9005 provides 3840 x 2160 pixels.
This could lead to some interesting aspect ratio discussions, but the main thing is that the Sony KD-84X9005 still presents pictures with comfortably more than eight million pixels in them versus just over two million pixels in normal Full HD images.
Anyone with any interest in picture quality will immediately appreciate the potential impact so many extra pixels could have - especially on a TV screen as gloriously big as 84-inches.
Obviously an Ultra HD screen is always going to look its humdinging best with native 4K sources - as will be underlined during the performance section of this review. So it's an issue that, at the time of writing, native 4K sources are essentially restricted to digital photographs, a handful of short online videos, and the sort of manufacturer demo reels that Sony provided via PC server for this review.
However, the Sony KD-84X9005 does at least cater for native Ultra HD video if and when it does appear via two of its four HDMI inputs - which is more than can be said of the also native Ultra HD Toshiba 55ZL2.
Even more importantly, at least in the short term, the Sony KD-84X9005 features a brand new upscaling chipset designed by Sony specifically for its new 'hero' TV.
Dubbed 4K X-Reality Pro, this new video processing engine combines the frankly scary processing power required to calculate the huge amount of pixels in an Ultra HD picture with Sony's unique 'database' approach. Here the burden on the processing engine is alleviated by the chipset being able to identify a wide array of different video source 'types' to apply pre-determined processing algorithms to.
Of course, Sony also provides a 4K/Ultra High Definition upscaling chipset in its BDP-S790 Blu-ray player.
But it's quick to stress that the one inside the Sony KD-84X9005 is far more sophisticated, advanced and specialised than the one in the BDP-S790 - not least because of the extra demands associated with getting upscaled Ultra HD pictures to look brilliant on a super-large screen.
It's good, too, to discover that Sony has provided a tool set on the Sony KD-84X9005 for adjusting various parameters of its processing engine. For instance, you can tweak the extent to which it adds sharpness to images, and the extent to which the system filters out noise at source.
As we'll see in the performance section of our review, some of these fine tuning touches really are very useful.
Intriguingly considering it's Sony's flagship 2012 TV, the Sony KD-84X9005 is the first TV set from the Japanese brand that uses a passive 3D system rather than an active one. But this isn't as strange a decision as it perhaps initially appears.
Because having double the native horizontal resolution in the Sony KD-84X9005's screen means that for the first time you can enjoy passive 3D with a true Full HD resolution when watching 3D Blu-rays.
There's none of the resolution 'halving' you normally have to put up with, so hopefully you won't see such traditional passive 3D problems as jagged edges, black horizontal lines over bright image content, or a generally slightly rough finish.
If this proves to be the case, then you will hopefully also be able to enjoy all the more vividly passive 3D's notable advantages over its active 3D counterpart: no flickering, practically no crosstalk, and a generally less fatiguing experience.
We'd hoped Sony might also have embraced the cheapness of passive 3D glasses, but bizarrely, despite the Sony KD-84X9005's huge price tag, you only get two pairs included for free. Just as well you can pick up others for pennies.
Despite its huge price and Ultra HD capabilities, Sony believes it's extremely important to sell the Sony KD-84X9005 as a fully fledged TV rather than a mere display. With this in mind, the TV set ships with a built-in Freeview HD tuner, as well as all the normal AV inputs.
There are also USB ports for video, photo and music multimedia playback - something that's particularly significant where JPEG photos are concerned, since for many people their digital photos will be the only way they can immediately experience true 4K images on the Sony KD-84X9005.
Please note that there's a 4K photo option in the menus that you need to check is activated if you want to experience the full resolution monty.
The Sony KD-84X9005 also supports Wi-Fi, with which you can - just as with Sony's 'normal' TVs - stream material from a Mac or DLNA PC via Sony's free HomeStream software. Plus you can go online with the Sony Entertainment Network, which gives you access to an impressive range of services, mostly focused - entirely sensibly - on video streaming.
Highlights of this platform include BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Netflix, Lovefilm, Sony Entertainment Television Network, Eurosport, YouTube, Sony's own 3D channel, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Sony's Music Unlimited Service, Sony's Video Unlimited film streaming service and Sky News.
Wrapping up the Sony KD-84X9005's key features are its use of Sony's most potent MotionFlow XR800 motion processing system, and speakers designed to thrash the puny audio efforts of most flat TVs into a bloody pulp.
These huge speakers run the full height of the TV, and churn out a substantial 50W of audio power from 10 separate drivers, including tweeters, dedicated mid-range units and four subwoofers.
With its native Ultra HD resolution, it's in this picture quality section that the Sony KD-84X9005 really needs to shine if it's to in any way justify its terrifyingly high price.
Thankfully that's exactly what it does, providing us with arguably the most potent glimpse yet of just what a difference Ultra High Definition can make to your AV quality of life.
To cater for our native UHD testing needs given the absence of commercially available 4K content, Sony provided a powerful PC running a loop of native Ultra High Definition footage the brand had shot itself using its own 4K cameras.
And every single frame of this footage - which incorporated such delights as shots of stunning seaside towns, fancy Spanish villas, the Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra, a girl paddling in the sea, and a staged football match - looked nothing short of stunning.
The level of detail in the pictures is almost hard to comprehend. You can clearly see such minutiae as brickwork texture, clothing weaves, and not just individual leaves on trees but even the veins and ridges of those leaves.
As well as being mesmerising in itself, this level of detail enables you to sit notably closer to the screen without the picture 'breaking up' than you could with any similarly huge 1920 x 1080-resolution screen. This enables you to become more immersed in what you're viewing, because the image fills more of your field of vision.
The extra resolution of the Ultra High Definition images also extends the apparent depth of pictures, even in 2D mode.
Because where distant objects on 1080p screens look indistinct and thus ultimately flattened, the Sony KD-84X9005 can retain detail to an almost infinite point in the distance, so that your eye can more readily deliver the illusion of depth in the 2D image.
This might sound a bit technical, but it actually has a profound impact on how much you're drawn into the images you're watching.
Switching back to a standard HD TV after watching the Sony KD-84X9005 strut its Ultra High Definition stuff is extremely revealing. Suddenly those 1080p images you'd previously thought were so crisp and sharp look noticeably soft and low on depth.
More to the point, you just don't get lost in them quite so much, because a 1920 x 1080 pixel count doesn't get anywhere near as close to matching the optical acuity of your eyes as 3840 x 2160 does. So inevitably your brain is never going to engage with 1920 x 1080 in quite so direct a way.
We'll come back to this point again presently, but first we also need to discuss Ultra HD impact on colour. Again it's profound, thanks to the way having nearly four times as much native resolution enables colour blends to enjoy pretty much infinite subtlety, completely free of any banding or blocking flaws.
As well as making pictures look much more lifelike and colours much more natural, this extra colour resolution again enhances the sense of depth of some images, as your brain finds it easier to perceive the 'solidity' of objects in the 2D frame.
All this talk of extra detail, extra colour resolution and extra sharpness, though, doesn't really impart what's truly great about seeing Ultra High Definition images on a high quality 84-inch screen.
For that we refer back to the 'optical acuity' point we made earlier. Ultra HD pictures are simply so great a leap on from standard HD on a large screen that it completely changes the way you invest in what you're watching.
It's much easier to get entirely transported to and lost in the emotions of the film/TV world on show. In this respect it gets much closer to the experience of going to the cinema than you could ever get with even the best 1920 x 1080 TV.
It's worth adding here, too, that remarkably Sony's Reality Creation system somehow seems able to make native Ultra High Definition sources look even higher resolution than they would naturally. Toggling the system on while watching 4K appears to add an even greater level of crispness to proceedings. Crazy. But in a good way.
Fortunately given the lack of Ultra HD content in the world right now, Sony's new 4K X-Reality Pro system also works wonders when upscaling normal broadcast and Blu-ray HD sources.
Somehow it manages to interpolate into the image nearly four times the number of pixels contained in the original source in real time without causing such potential processing-related horrors as input lag, colour inconsistencies and excessive grain.
To be clear, the resulting upscaled images aren't a match for native 4K content in terms of their sharpness or clarity. But they certainly look far sharper than they would in their 'native' 1920 x 1080 state, and are largely immune to the jagged edges and sense of horizontal line structure usually visible with extremely large HD screens.
One little niggle is that Sony has set the Reality Creation system associated with the Sony KD-84X9005's upscaling a little too high in its out of the box state, resulting in small objects looking rather pixellated. But this can readily be solved by reducing the sharpness component of the Reality Creation system, slightly increasing the noise filtering component.
Take these simple precautions, and the impact of Sony's upscaling is genuinely profound.
Also helping justify the £25,000/US$24,999.99 (around AU$38,765) price tag is the 3840 x 2160 resolution's impact on 3D. In fact, the Sony KD-84X9005 produces the most flat-out enjoyable 3D experience we've ever had in our test room.
This is because, as discussed in the Features section of this review, it delivers all the benefits of the passive 3D format - no flicker, practically no crosstalk, a relatively unfatiguing experience - with none of the negatives (horizontal image structure interference, jagged edges, a sense of lost resolution).
The brilliance of the Sony KD-84X9005's passive 'argument' potentially falls down, of course, should anyone ever deliver native Ultra High Definition 3D sources, as it would only be able to present these with a reduced resolution thanks to the way the passive 3D system 'shares out' the horizontal line resolution. But with even 2D 4K seeming still a way off, 3D 4K seems a very distant dream indeed.
You might reasonably expect the Sony KD-84X9005 to come a serious cropper with standard definition material, given the sheer processing logistics involved in converting such a low-res source into something with more than 8 million pixels in it.
But again the prodigious processing power of Sony's X-Reality engine comes up trumps, adding plenty more sharpness and a far greater sense of detail to a standard definition source without - so long as the source is of at least a half-decent standard - emphasising or failing to deal with source noise.
Clearly we'd always suggest that a £25k/US$25k TV with the attributes of the Sony KD-84X9005 be fed as much HD - or better - content as possible. But on those rare occasions these days where you really can't avoid standard definition, at least the Sony KD-84X9005 won't leave you staring at the upscaled televisual equivalent of a car crash.
There's only one issue we have with the Sony KD-84X9005's picture quality, and that concerns the uniformity of its backlight. The main test sample used for this review showed clear signs of backlight 'clouds', where parts of dark scenes look brighter than others due to the screen not being able to distribute its edge-based LED lighting evenly.
However, having seen other running samples of the Sony KD-84X9005 on previous occasions that didn't suffer nearly as badly with this problem, we're inclined to take Sony's word for it that our test sample was suffering a slight fault in this department.
Ease of use isn't a strong area for the Sony KD-84X9005. The most disappointing thing is the appearance on the TV of the same fussy and frustrating double-axis main menus sported by Sony's other current televisions.
These menus are delivered at the same resolution as they are on Sony's non-4K models too, meaning that their text looks blocky and grubby - hardly the front end experience such a cutting edge, resolution-obsessed TV should be presenting.
Things are at least a bit better with Sony's SEN menus. These are much prettier and more logically organised than those of previous Sony TV online systems, making browsing a much more tempting prospect.
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The addition of a Favourites section where you can shortcut your favourite apps is extremely welcome. And the implementation of Twitter as a ticker underneath a reduced version of the TV picture is inspired.
However, we feel a bit sniffy about Sony giving its own Music and Video Unlimited services the lion's share of the SEN menu space, while the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm are relegated to a general 'apps' menu. And there's also scope for Sony providing more direct links to more content by using smaller icons or a higher resolution menu system.
Sony seems to have put almost as much effort into the Sony KD-84X9005's sound as it has its pictures. And the results are, for the most part, terrific.
Bass levels, for instance, are miles deeper, richer and more effective than those of any ordinary TV - which is, of course, particularly handy when you're rollicking through a Blu-ray action scene.
Even better, the healthy dollops of bass the Sony KD-84X9005 can produce don't overwhelm the mid-range, thanks to the open flavour, clarity and raw power of this most important section of the audio range.
Even trebles are well served, adding bags of life and detail to the mix without ever sounding harsh.
Our only concern with the Sony KD-84X9005's sound is that voices can sound dislocated from the action - as if they're appearing from the left or right edge of the screen - unless you sit in exactly the right place.
This problem is alleviated a little by the way you can adjust the angle of the speakers, but a more dispersive approach to the mid-range would still fit better with normal family viewing situations.
There's also a philosophical argument here. As in, should Sony have bothered putting together such a potent audio system for the Sony KD-84X9005 when it will very likely be partnered with a high-end separates audio system?
But then Sony decided early on in the Sony KD-84X9005's development cycle that it wanted to make it very obviously a TV rather than a 'mere' screen. And if you're making a TV, it needs sound.
And if you're going to add sound to an 84-inch 4K/Ultra High Definition TV, it might as well be bloody good.
It's a sad but unavoidable fact that the vast majority of the world's population will not be able to even dream of affording the Sony KD-84X9005.
It also seems likely from what we're hearing that the Sony KD-84X9005 will be quite a bit more expensive than upcoming 84-inch 4K TVs from LG and Toshiba.
And it's even more expensive in the UK than Sony's own 4K/Ultra High Definition projector, the VW1000ES.
On the other hand, the Sony KD-84X9005 is easily the most exciting, adorable and AV life-changing TV we've seen. And we are confident that Sony's 4K X-Reality Pro processing contributes a substantial boost to the Sony KD-84X9005's native and upscaled 4K performances over and above the quality that the other upcoming 84-inch 4K TVs will likely be able to deliver.
Some will question the wisdom of investing £25k/US$25k in a technology - 4K/Ultra High Definition - that's not even guaranteed to become a widespread commercial reality.
But don't forget that the TV does also upscale HD extremely ably. And anyway, if you can afford such an expensive TV, the chances are that you're wealthy enough not to need to spend too long justifying the outlay.
With its Ultra High Definition native resolution, groundbreaking 'Full HD' passive 3D system, hi-fi level speaker system and specially developed, ultra-powerful video processing, Sony's KD-84X9005 is an incredibly ambitious bid for TV greatness. And yes, it's got a £25k/US$25k price tag that wholly reflects the extent of its ambition.
But it really is glorious. With native 4K material it produces far and away the best picture quality we've seen on a commercially released TV, with levels of detail, colour accuracy, clarity and depth that shift your experience from just watching TV to actually feeling like you're looking through an open window.
Its 3D images are a revelation too, as the 4K resolution combines with passive 3D technology to jaw-dropping effect.
The set's operating system could be better, and the backlight isn't entirely perfect. But neither of these flaws do much to stop us confidently proclaiming the Sony KD-84X9005 the best all-round TV in the world right now. All we need now is more 4K/Ultra High Definition sources to exploit it with.
Native Ultra HD pictures look unbelievably good, and the set's upscaling of HD images is enormously impressive, too. What's more, the passive 3D pictures are a joy to behold, injecting new life into the ailing 3D concept, and the set's audio is extraordinarily potent for a non-separates system.
However much the TV might ultimately justify it, you can't exactly ignore its £25k/US$25k price tag. The operating system looks low-res and is a faff to navigate too, and the speakers only work at their best if you sit in a quite small sweet spot.
Finally, our test sample suffered some backlight consistency problems - but other samples we've seen in demos haven't suffered nearly as much with this, making us suspect that our test sample could be slightly faulty in this area.
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Its backlight isn't as clever as that of Sony's HX853 TVs, and its operating system could be better. Plus it's truly, intimidatingly expensive. However, with native 4K content - if you can find any - the Sony KD-84X9005 is the best TV ever made. Period. No argument.
With 3D, the Sony KD-84X9005 is the best TV ever made. And thanks to the quality of its upscaling, we'd even say that after a little tweaking of its processing settings it's the best TV for watching current HD sources on, too. Job done, then.
Given the uniqueness of the Sony KD-84X9005's proposition, there's nothing very direct for us to include here.
Thinking out of the box a bit, though, there's Sony's VW1000ES projector. With its true digital cinema native resolution of 4096 x 2180, this enables you to enjoy the joys of 4K/Ultra High Definition on an even greater scale than the Sony KD-84X9005, while costing less in the UK or the same in the US.
However, projectors aren't as convenient to install in a normal home environment as a large TV. The Sony KD-84X9005 also produces pictures of considerably greater brightness.
The only other 4K TV you could consider is the Toshiba 55ZL2. This does indeed look spectacular with native 4K sources, and also delivers glasses-free 3D.
However, it's much smaller than the Sony KD-84X9005 at just 55-inches; the glasses-free 3D is flawed to say the least; and worst of all, the 55ZL2 is incapable of receiving 4K video inputs.