Sony’s pride and joy for 2014, the flagship XBR-65X950B 4K UHD television, has spent more time in our testing room than any other television this year. Clearly, we can’t seem to get enough of it and are having a tough time letting go – that should tell you something right there – but our protracted evaluation isn’t entirely motivated by selfishness. Rather, the reason we’ve been staring this thing down for so long is because it is waging war against the Panasonic AX900 4K UHD TV for bragging rights as the best TV for 2014. And it is a tight, tight race, folks.
Call in the brute squad, because this TV is an absolute beast.
To be clear, when we say “best,” we mean the best performing television, not the best value. Sony’s got a few top-notch TVs that deliver seriously killer picture quality for a lot less money, such as the X900B and X850B. Still, the X950B stands alone as the only Sony set to get full-array LED backlighting with multi-zone local dimming — technology that contributes heavily toward the best possible black levels, screen uniformity, and contrast, among other picture-quality considerations. Pair that with Sony’s Triluminous Display tech (quantum dots) which expands the color gamut, and you’ve got a truly remarkable TV.
But, if you want one, you’ll have to pay handsomely for it, and you’ll have to go big. The X950B is only available in 65- and 85-inch screen sizes, the former going for about $7,000 online.
Is it worth the big-time cash? Yes, if you demand the next best thing to the dearly departed plasma TV. This gem from Sony is, aside from the aforementioned Panasonic model, the closest we’ve seen an LCD TV get to the sort of deep, rich blacks and shadow detail that last year’s great plasmas were hailed for. Simply put: It is stunning.
Out of the box
Call in the brute squad, because this TV is an absolute beast; a handsome beast, but … still. The 65-inch model we tested weighs in at 99 lbs. Call it an even 100 if you count the two remote controls, which comprise the more conventional wand-style and a more compact touchpad style. Due to its backlighting system, the X950B lacks the ultra-slim profile its edge-lit cousins flaunt. That means it measures 4.5-inches at its deepest point – but, remember, what you take on in girth, you are rewarded for in picture quality.
You can mount the X950B, but we think that task is best left to a professional with insurance and a rock-solid warranty policy. Alternately, you can place the TV on its two provided feet, which provide remarkable stability considering how small they are. The feet are also adjustable, so that you can accommodate different types of media stands, but the TV is most stable when the feet hold it from the extreme right and left.
The TV does exhibit a couple of issues which might get caught by especially observant videophiles
Viewed straight on, the X950’s screen dominates your field of vision. The bezel, which isn’t especially trim, blends into the dark screen so seamlessly you hardly notice. What you will notice, unfortunately, is the shoddy camera mounted at the top center of the TV. We’re not fans of the camera’s appearance or quality. Fortunately, just two screws hold it in place, so it can be removed from its USB port and put away. If you fancy the idea of Skyping with friends or family, or trying a little social TV viewing (which will require your companion to have a similar split-screen setup) then you can reattach the camera or replace it with some other USB webcam. We do recommend taking it off or at least unplugging it, though, because not only is it an eyesore, but there’s no lens cover, and since smart TVs can be hacked, we think it’s best to render it neutral.
In the box with the TV we found two pairs of active 3D glasses, an AC power cord, port replicator, IR blaster, assembly screws, and some operating instructions.
Outside of the litany of picture quality-related tech this TV sports, a handful of user-facing features set this TV apart from the pack.
The Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) is Sony’s private online entertainment platform, and it has seen some remarkable improvements over the past few years. Though we prefer LG’s webOS interface on the whole, SEN offers a ton of music and movies unique to Sony, and easily the best online gaming platform in existence right now. With the use of a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 controller, owners can access PlayStation Now and play a wide array of games online without the need for a console.
The TV’s app section comes with a handful of pre-installed apps, including the usual suspects such as Netflix and Hulu, with plenty more to add on your own. We especially like the ability for users to customize the app screen layout so the most frequently used apps are just a few clicks away.
Sony also has a leg up when it comes to 4K content. Using the Sony FMP-X10 ($700), owners can access well over 200 different 4K titles. Though the player used to be exclusive to Sony televisions, it will soon be updated to work with any 4K TV with HDCP 2.2-compliant HDMI 2.0 inputs.
If you don’t want to spring for Sony’s 4K media player, no worries: Netflix offers some 4K content, Amazon Prime Instant is set to drop its 4K streaming service any second now, and UltraFlix is due to be offered on Sony TV’s soon, with M-Go also coming around the corner. The X950B packs the h.265 decoder necessary to stream any 4K content that might come available in the future.
The X950B comes with a bit of a learning curve when it comes to navigating the settings menu.
The onboard sound system pales in comparison to the aforementioned X900B, but then again, there are no huge speakers flanking the sides. It’s hard to come down on Sony too hard here, though, as the TV deserves a sound bar and subwoofer at the least, or a proper surround sound system for an audio experience as immersive as the TV’s picture.
We’re also not in love with the provided remote controls. The touchpad remote, which needs no line of site thanks to Bluetooth, lacks smooth, timely on-screen motion to match up with the swiping up and down on the trackpad. The traditional remote, while certainly functional, isn’t backlit, and essentially useless in the dark. Of course, if you’ve got the bucks for a TV like this, an excellent universal remote is an easy purchase.
Overall, we think Sony’s interface is intuitive, and responsive. We noticed no significant lag in executing our instructions so long as we were using the wand-style IR remote, apps loaded quickly, and moving from one menu to the next took no time at all. We had a great time using this TV, which is a big step forward from prior Sony models. With that said, we did notice the X950B takes longer than usual to power on and boot up. Tradeoffs.
The X950B comes with a bit of a learning curve when it comes to navigating the settings menu because it offers so much granular control. Enthusiasts will love the glut of options for picture adjustment and processing, whereas novice users may be intimidated. If ever there was a TV that deserved a professional calibrator, it is the X950B. With that said, we found the Cinema 2 picture preset offered the best out-of box picture settings. We checked with several calibration tools and found the backlight, brightness, picture (contrast), and scaling settings were spot on. Only color was off, way off. We’re not sure why, but we had to make significant adjustments to color and tint to get the TV to line up with our baseline expectations. The color setting wound up on 72 and the tint setting on G1.
The X950B is easily the finest television Sony has ever made. With the exception of Panasonic’s AX900, no other LCD television being sold today comes so close to matching the black levels of yesterday’s plasmas, or the brightness and color of today’s OLEDs.
The X950B’s upscaling is capable of making 1080p Blu-ray discs look very close to 4K native material. From Skyfall to Dark Knight, to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to Prometheus, we threw the hardest test material in our arsenal at this TV and it never failed to dazzle us with a drop-dead gorgeous picture. If you can afford it, the X950B is an outstanding choice – easily in our top three favorite televisions this year.
The TV does exhibit a couple of issues which might get caught by especially observant videophiles, but shouldn’t be a problem for the overwhelming majority of viewers. First, we’ve seen smoother motion resolution before. There’s a little bit of judder from 24fps sources that can be noticed, especially with vertical movement.
Second, the backlighting zones are just barely discernible when large swatches of uniform color cover the screen. For instance, there were moments while watching Star Trek: Into Darkness where we could see faint vertical lines giving away the backlighting zones. We were able to exacerbate this using test discs just to be sure.
Finally, we were able to trip up the television with a complex moire pattern which gave the TV’s processing a run for its money and might result in some noise whenever the TV might have to resolve complex uniform patterns. We didn’t note this causing a problem during our regular viewing sessions, though.
If you’re buying a luxury television, it should make you feel like you’ve got something really special, and it should make your friends feel really jealous. The X950B does both. As for whether it is the best LCD TV of the year, you’ll have to wait until we come out with our Panasonic AX900 review, because we’re still sorting that all out. But to be sure, the X950B is the finest television that Sony has ever made, and it might well be the finest for years to come.
- Deep black levels
- Excellent shadow detail
- Top-notch 4K upscaling
- Loaded smart TV interface
- Color needs adjustment out-of-box
- Ugly, shoddy webcam
- Big and heavy