Sony XBR55X930D (2016) review

Before you buy any other TV, you need to see Sony's X930D

One look will have you lusting over the Sony X930D.
One look will have you lusting over the Sony X930D.
One look will have you lusting over the Sony X930D.

Highs

  • Outstanding HDR performance
  • Rock solid out-of-box picture presets and processing
  • Ultra-sleek appearance
  • Android TV makes set-top streamers unnecessary

Lows

  • Screen glare is a big problem
  • Pricey for an edgelit TV

Last year’s Sony TVs were thick and wedge-shaped, some with huge speaker systems tacked onto the sides. But they were big for good reason: full array LED backlights provide superior picture quality and the large speakers produced some of the best sound we’ve heard from a TV without a sound bar tacked on. When we saw this year’s thinner models, we had to wonder: Was Sony now giving up performance in the name of a snazzy, ultra-thin look?

Sony claims its “Slim Backlight Drive” delivers the same capabilities in a thinner package, but we dismissed it as snake oil it until we saw it the first time in person. Whatever magic Sony has developed for its light-guide plate (the layer that spreads light from edge-mounted LEDs to every part of the screen) very clearly works. We saw an edge-lit Sony without the Slim Backlight Drive sitting right next to a model with it, and the difference was blatantly obvious.

Perhaps Sony’s move to this uber-thin TV with an inferior backlight system wasn’t so nutty after all. Considering nearly every TV reviewer on the face of the planet is so busy raving up and down about OLED, what else is an LED TV maker to do but step up their game? LED TVs needed more uniform brightness, better black levels, less halo effect, and less edge light bleeding, and Sony manages to deliver that with the X930D, in spite of its super-thin profile. Toss in excellent processing with HDR and Wide Color Gamut capabilities, and you have one of the most desirable 4K TVs Sony has produced, and for way less than OLED.

Out of the box

The X930D is a super-slim stunner of a TV — up top, at least. Travel down the TVs back a bit and you’ll find the typical bump-out guarding all the TV’s processing guts. The bump adds about 15mm to the TV’s otherwise waifish 10mm profile at the top, but that doesn’t seem to take away from the TV’s presence as an ultra-svelte TV, sure to impress onlookers.

The X930D sports a clever cable management system that yields a very clean look on the back of the TV if properly used. Sure, most folks don’t spend a ton of time looking at a TV’s posterior, but unruly HDMI cables can detract from an otherwise clean-looking installation.

The X930D’s stand incorporates some of that cable management, as well. Though its core is made of thick metal, it is covered up front with a faux brushed aluminum plastic faceplate, and in the rear with a swooping plastic cover with an outlet for cables.

In the box with the TV, we received a single voice-activated remote control, batteries, TV stand with hardware, and a quick-start guide.

Features

The Sony X930D is certified Ultra HD Premium by the UHD Alliances, which is to say it is supposed to be among the most advanced televisions today offering HDR, Wide Color Gamut, and 4K resolution. And, indeed, it is. This TV’s specs place it among the absolute best in the market.

HDR is a key attribute here, as high dynamic range offers a significantly “punchier” picture than 4K alone. And, these days, there’s plenty of 4K HDR content to watch. Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Vudu all offer growing libraries of 4K HDR content for streaming, and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs offer and even better experience, with more titles to add to the pile.

Whatever magic Sony has developed very clearly works.

It should be noted here, however, that the X930D supports only the HDR10 format, and not Dolby Vision HDR. Presently only LG offers support for both formats, and Vizio, while expected to offer an update to support HDR 10 in the near future, seems to be delaying that update’s deployment, and for now only offers Dolby Vision support.

Powering the X930D is the Android TV operating system, with support for 4K HDR content through all of the major services, and a few you might not have heard of yet. One of our biggest concerns with smart TV platforms is how easy and comprehensive searching for content is or isn’t. With Android TV, we’re pleased to report search is both extremely easy, but not especially comprehensive.

The microphone built into what is otherwise a fairly standard-style remote, is not active straight out of the box. This is likely to do with consumer privacy concerns. You’ll want to activate it, because it makes the act of searching for content much easier. By pressing and holding the mic button on the X930D’s remote, you engage OK Google, which means you can ask it anything, and it will give you Google’s answer.

So, ask it the weather in your area, the time in another country, how to convert measurements – you name it. Of course, this is most useful for searching for content on TV. The only problem is that the search results for TV and Movie titles will be limited to showing what’s on Netflix, Google Play, and YouTube. Neither Hulu nor Amazon Prime Video are represented. For instance, when we searched for Silicon Valley, which is readily available for free to Amazon Prime members, we got only Google Play as an option to click.

Sony XBR-930
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That annoyance aside, the Android TV experience is excellent. We never had trouble finding the correct area to make adjustments to specific settings, and the settings themselves were made clear by apt descriptions. We’re especially big fans of the Discover button, which pulls up access to various apps and services without stopping the programming in the background. It’s the sort of thing we’re coming to expect thanks to LG’s WebOS and Samsung’s Tizen, and it’s nice to see here in Android TV as well.

The setup

As is often the case, we did very little to customize the TV’s already solid out-of-box settings. In fact, we found ourselves surprisingly pleased with how well Motionflow, when set to True Cinema, reduced 24 FPS film judder effectively without introducing easily noticeable “soap opera effect.” A list of our settings for the HDR Video mode can be found below.

For evaluation, we used a number of test discs, one of which offered HDR test patterns, plenty of streaming 4K HDR content from Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu, as well as Ultra HD Blu-ray discs played through a Samsung K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

Performance

Not since last year’s LG OLED have we been so impressed by a television. That’s admittedly in part because Sony has the honor of being the first top-of-the-line LED TV to hit our lab in 2016. We expect to be similarly impressed by the Samsung KS9800, and Vizio P-Series (based on prior experience in an un-controlled environment). But this Sony gave us the first really impressive example of HDR being pulled off against a fairly uniformly black background.

Skeptics take note: Sony has made it pretty difficult to catch its LED edgelights in the act. For most common viewing scenarios, the Sony manages to keep light blooms and halos to a minimum. Yes, it’s possible to light up the lower half of the screen during a letterboxed movie by adjusting the TV’s volume, so you can force the TV into a tough situation and it will give itself up. But that’s not a typical viewing scenario. Based on comparisons to last year’s model, we have to credit Sony’s Slim Backlight Drive for this advancement. It’s a nebulous name, and it’s probably some pretty simple science at play, but it achieves the desired effect, and we like it. Go on with your bad selves, Sony!

Out-of-the-box color accuracy is impressive on common viewing material. No blown-out orang-ish reds, no artificially saturated greens — just high-quality, visually pleasing color. Of course, an ISF-certified calibrator could take the TV to that next level, but for most viewers, out-of-box performance in the Cinema, Cinema Pro, and HDR Video modes is going to be highly satisfying.

Then there’s the also questionably named X-tended Dynamic Range feature, which is a bit of processing that increases brightness levels in key areas, creating a sort of faux HDR experience when watching non-HDR material that we found very convincing. Put in some proper HDR video, however, and you will be dazzled.

Our favorite Ultra HD Blu-ray at the moment is Deadpool, an already entertaining film by nature of its comedic approach and extremely well-conceived and well-executed actions scenes. But HDR takes this film to the next level as it is expertly implemented in just the right places.

The texture of the title character’s hero suit is on constant display, with a natural sense of depth and realism we didn’t think was possible with a TV. Spectral highlights on cars, guns — pretty much anything with shine potential – all looked much more realistic than without HDR.

We were similarly impressed with the spectacle that is the IMAX film, Journey to Space. Every flame from every rocket booster and thruster was rendered against dark backgrounds with impressive control, yielding high-contrast images that were a treat for the eyes.

HDR is, in our opinion, the most meaningful technological evolution for TV that we’ve seen since the introduction of the flat panel and High Definition video. 4K Ultra HD on its own won’t woo everyone, but HDR and wide color gamut is something everyone can see and appreciate. And the Sony X930D does it all expertly.

We do have one major complaint, however. The X930D has no effective anti-glare coating on it. The TV is certainly bright enough to do battle with sun pouring in the windows, but the reflection you’ll get off the windows eclipses whatever the brightness does. It’s a shame, too, because this single factor is big enough to hold back our Editor’s Choice award. However, it should be understood that nearly every other detail on this TV is spot-on, which made it a shoe in for our recommended products column.

Conclusion

2016 will go down as a landmark year for television. 4K content is becoming plentiful, HDR and Wide Color Gamut are taking 4K Ultra HD to the level we always wanted, and the top-tier televisions built to reproduce this content are more capable than ever before.

Sony is doing its part to make sure the bar is raised ever higher. We do wish the X930D had full-array local dimming – why they restrict that feature to the X940D, which is only available in a 75-inch version, is beyond us – but we almost don’t mind because Sony has done a wonderful job of helping LED TVs look their best.

You may have to pay more for it, but the Sony X930D is one of the sexiest LED TVs we’ve reviewed in some time, and totally worth the extra money.

Bottom line: Go see this TV. You’re going to want it.

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