Sony XBR-85Z9G Master Series
“The Sony Z9G paints a big, bright, beautiful picture of 8K TV’s future.”
- Gorgeous picture overall
- Exceptionally clean images
- Android TV is faster
- AirPlay 2, HomeKit, Alexa supported
- Excellent 4K to 8K up-conversion
- Blacks looked IPS-like
I just spent two hours in a room with the 85-inch Sony Z9G 8K HDR TV. It wasn’t nearly enough time. I want more. For a real review, I need more. But it is not likely the Z9G will ever find its way into my testing lab because — well, it’s big, heavy, spendy, and risky to ship.
I can’t call this a full review. Still, I saw a lot at visit, and I came away convinced that this TV makes sense, though only a very specific – dare I say, special? – type of person should consider buying one.
Big 8K TVs make sense and Sony’s Z9G proves it
Before I can even start talking about this TV, I must justify its existence. Sad, but true.
Some of you reading this are arguing with me in your head right now. I get it. For some reason you don’t want me to be right. Maybe it’s because you’re mad there’s already something new and you can’t afford it (though that would mean you secretly want it, right?) Or perhaps you hate the state of our capitalist system which pushes manufacturers to constantly push the edge of the technological envelope, even though it might not make any practical sense. (See our Galaxy Fold review for more). Or perhaps you fancy yourself an industry insider and you think this is a bad strategic play on the part of manufacturing giants like Sony.
That’s all fair. I’m not here to judge. I only want to cut through the noise with some facts and let you weigh them as you will.
I won’t be surprised if I end up calling it the best 8K LED TV this year.
Let’s start by pointing to one very clear-cut example of why 8K TV’s arrival makes sense: 4K TV. We are right back to where we were when 4K first snuck on the scene 6.5 years ago, only with four times the pixels.
LG brought its first 4K TV – the 84-inch 84LM9600 – to market in late October 2012 for the grand old price of $20,000. By contrast, Sony’s Z9G is one diagonal inch larger and costs $7K less at a launch price of $13,000. Oh, and it runs circles around the six-year-old LG.
There was much outrage over an $20,000 84-inch 4K TV back then, but time passed, technology trickled down, and now you can buy a decent 65-inch 4K HDR TV for $500. You can buy a downright amazing 65-inch 4K HDR TV for $820.
Perhaps we can stow the outrage and disbelief for a moment and look at the Z9G as a souped-up version of that old 4K LG and see it for what it is. A gateway to the future of TV.
Ever major TV manufacture is in the 8K game right now, and just as 4K TVs paved the way for 4K content production and delivery, so too will these new 8K TVs. Also, when you’re Sony and you make the cameras that capture content and the studios that master it, you should have the screens to display it, too. Sony makes 8K cameras, is working on a production workflow, and now it has the TVs ready when all those other pieces come together.
Very well, then, how’s the TV?
So, is the Sony Z9G any good?
It’s fantastic. I won’t be surprised if I end up calling it the best 8K LED TV this year, but I have a few more TVs to check out before I can decide. I only have two complaints. I think it has an IPS panel, and the blacks looked a little grey to me at times – just a teeny bit. Also, it is expensive, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Everything else about the TV, from what I saw in my two hours, looked outstanding. Especially the processing. Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor doesn’t just have a cool name. It does an excellent job of preserving detail in bright objects and scenes, it virtually eliminates banding as images fade in and out, it cleans up a lot of noise, it has class-leading color and tone mapping, and it plays the “creator’s intent” game like a boss. Perhaps most importantly, it upscales 4K and 4K HDR content extremely well. That’s a good thing, because no one will be watching 8K native content on this TV anytime soon.
It upscales 4K and 4K HDR content extremely well
Unless, that is, you see the TV playing Sony’s 8K HDR demo reel at their local retailer. If you do, you’ll understand what 8K video at 85-inches and above means for realism. When the paltry 45 pixels per inch on an 85-inch 4K TV is replaced with the 90 pixels per inch on an 8K TV of the same size, and each of those pixels is fed exactly what was recorded by an 8K camera, the resulting image is the 8K truth.
To be clear, I was watching uncompressed 8K video, but what I saw was much more vivid and realistic than the uncompressed 4K footage I have seen in the past, and I am convinced the same will be true for the compressed version of 8K that we get in the future once new compression codecs in development are deployed. In other words, taken in perspective, the Z9G 8K TV I saw today is a much more detail-rich and realistic TV than any 4K LED TV of the same size I’ve seen in the past.
Part of the reason I liked what I saw was because Sony’s Backlight Master Drive – the powerful backlight system we saw in the vaunted Z9D a few years ago – is back in action, and it looks great. It may be driving an IPS panel (Sony won’t say, but it sure looked like one), but it is doing a knock-out job of making the panel look excellent, with what appeared to be minimal blooming and just the right luminance intensity. This TV doesn’t try to overwhelm your eyeballs. It seduces them, then dazzles you.
I was also delighted to see that the Android TV system Sony is using is finally driven by a processor powerful enough to force it into compliance. Android TV is snappy and responsive on the Z9G and, I hope, will be the same on other Sony models this year.
For those not into Android TV, Apple’s AirPlay 2 and HomeKit are appearing via firmware update later this year, and the Z9G also supports Amazon’s Alexa. Voice commands can be issued by pressing a button on the TV’s newly-designed remote or the “always listening” feature you get with most smart speakers can be turned on within the TV, no additional hardware or speakers required. No matter which smart assistant platform you prefer, the Sony will work with it.
The same goes for HDR formats. Sony supports HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma – or HLG for short. There is no HDR10+ support, per se, but Sony says its processing algorithm does the same alteration to the picture as if it was reading HDR10+ data coded on a disc or coming from some other source.
Oh, and that newly designed remote is a refreshing change from Sony. We’re thrilled to see it, and we’re very please it includes a settings button to help get past all the layers Android TV puts between the user and their picture settings.
I must call attention to the bulkiness of this TV. My comment to the Sony crew was, “It looks like a TV bolted onto another TV,” and while I think that sums it up nicely, I should clarify that statement and point out this TV sandwich is made up of some thick bread. That’s going to bother people who prefer a sleeker, futuristic look.
Before I wrap up, I should mention the TV’s sound quality. Sony worked hard to optimize sound so that it seems to come from the TV and feels much more spacious. It was convincing in the demo I heard, but before calling it a win, I would need to hear more. Frankly, though, a TV this beautiful deserves at least a killer soundbar, if not a full-on Dolby Atmos surround system.
The Sony Z9G paints a big, bright, beautiful picture of 8K TV’s future, with class-leading processing and pristine picture quality, successfully delivering an at-home cinema experience as close to what movie directors intend you to see as any TV we’ve seen this far. By all accounts, it is a stellar, top-tier TV.
If you were one of the first to own a 4K TV six years ago and feel like you made the right call, then buy this TV. If you are a video enthusiast with a nice chunk of disposable income and you want to help get 8K off the ground by spreading the word, please feel free to buy the Z9G. If you are independently wealthy and demand the best stuff so you can show folks how awesomely well-off you are, then do it – buy this TV.
If you are not one of the above people, do not buy this TV. Hang out for four or five years and check back when 8K is more widely available. In the meantime, kick back, relax, and watch the 8K TV takeover from the comfort of your 4K TV-equipped living room.
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