Sony XBR Z9D SERIES 4K HDR TV Review – 65 and 75 inch (XBR65Z9D, XBR75Z9D)
After unveiling their 2016 XBR-XD series 4K HDR LCD TVs in early to mid-2016 with the priciest X940D model as the flagship of these excellent televisions for what many thought would be the rest of the year, Sony surprised many tech watchers and consumers with a second release of two new and amazingly powerful “real” flagship 4K HDR TVs in the form of the Z9D models. Now that these two televisions are here and on sale, they without a doubt represent the absolute best of what Sony has to offer so far. Now only are the Z9D TVs Sony’s best 4K TVs to date, they’re also widely considered to be the two best performing non-OLED 4K HDR TV models yet released among all such TVs from all the major brands. This is what we’re going to confirm or deny in this review. Their stunning display quality is pretty much unquestionable but the question of whether the Z9D TVs really go beyond any other LCD/LED 4K TV yet made in matching the performance of OLED technology is something which bears a fair bit of measurement and consideration here.
What we can say about the Z9D models right off the bat is that they deliver some truly and absolutely stunning display specs. With peak brightness like nothing previously seen in a consumer 4K ultra HD TV and a level of local dimming precision that’s basically unparalleled in the world of LCD 4K TVs thanks to their patented Backlight Master Drive technology. The 75 inch Z9D 4K TVs and the 65 inch XBR-65Z9D model we’re specifically reviewing here (there’s also a monstrous and monstrously pricey 100 inch model on sale) are definitely stunning when seen from up close and in person. Sony has made what could arguably be called the most serious effort yet for the consumer market in creating two 4K TVs with LCD display technology which can at least come practically close to matching the quality and dimming precision of LG’s OLED 4K display systems.
It’s hard to decide where to start with so many high quality features and specs found in Sony’s new Z9D TV. This is definitely a flagship model par excellence and in comparison to Sony’s own earlier X940D 2016 flagship 4K TV, the Z9D absolutely kicks many things up a few notches. Basically, the Z9D is either as good as the X940D and its closest rival the Samsung KS9800 or a far superior performer in most specs. This applies particularly the display output metrics of this new Sony HDR TV. On most of those it definitely has a strong claim to being by far the best 4K LCD HDR TV we’ve seen to date even though it doesn’t quite match the heavily hyped quality that Sony itself claimed for it.
Let’s start with the physical design of the 65Z9D we’re reviewing here. Outwardly, the new Sony TV looks remarkably like the early 2016 XBR-D 4K TVs it replaces as this year’s top-shelf model. In other words, it’s a very attractive 4K TV if you’re a particular fan of sharp, jagged edges and don’t have a fixation with the almost delicate-looking curves of Samsung’s 2016 HDR 4K TVs like the KS9500. The Z9D is all about slim, sharp-looking minimalist utilitarianism with virtually nothing in the way of curves on any part of its design and least of all in its screen, just like the earlier 2016 XBR-XD Series TVs it surpasses. Brushed metal design and black body color prevail in this model to create an elegant but tough looking 4K TV. The TV’s overall build quality is essentially excellent and definitely delivers the feeling of a 4K TV with high quality and precision put into its construction. Nothing about the Z9D feels or looks particularly fragile as the television sits there in a living room home entertainment stand.
One other aspect of the Z9D’s physical design which we also greatly liked was the rear design. The middle of the TV’s backside consists of a thick smooth black panel with a grid-covered plastic covering along both sides of it. This combination of the two looks good but also conceals a high level of practicality since both the protruding smooth panel and the matter grid layout of the television come with a series of smaller panels which can individually be removed to expose connectivity ports and sections for threading cables through to the back of the TV. It’s a neat and aesthetically pleasing design for easy cable management and hiding the connectivity assembly while also protecting all these more delicate areas from airborne dust.
Now we move onto the display specs which are the absolute best aspects of this new Sony 4K TV. As we’d said above the Z9D delivers some of the most absolutely stunning and precisely engineered LCD 4K TV picture performance we’ve yet seen in anything from any LCD 4K TV made by any brand that’s sold in North America. Earlier in 2016, when the XBR-XD TVs such as the X950D and X850D came out, we generally considered them to be superb 4K TVs but inferior performers to their competitors from the main premium LCD 4K TV rival Samsung. Only the X940D flagship TV really matched the finer points of Samsung’s best models like the KS9500 or KS9800.
We mention all this because it’s definitely not the case anymore with the arrival of the Z9D. This TV definitely beats even the best from Samsung for this year and it does so most particularly in the one spec at which Samsung has absolutely excelled: peak brightness. In the Z9D, the peak brightness is more stunningly elevated than we’ve ever before seen it go in any 4K TV and even the peak luminescence of 1460 nits produced by Samsung’s 2016 flagship KS9800 doesn’t come close to matching the 1,840 nits we saw in the Z9D. Yes, over 1800 cd/m2 of brightness, at least in a 10% display window. This is truly impressive to behold in a 2016 HDR 4K TV.
What the Z9D also delivers is a fine precision of backlight control which is simply unprecedented in an LCD TV. This was of course the biggest performance promise put out by Sony for these 4K TVs when the company made a big deal about their new Backlight Master Drive technology but it’s one thing to hear hype and another thing to actually see it live up to its boasting. Well the Backlight Master Drive and overall local dimming control of the Z9D definitely pull this off. We’ve never seen a 4K LCD TV with either full-array or edge-lit LED backlighting deliver a more precisely tuned level of local dimming than the Z9D. The effect on content realism, dynamic range and overall picture quality produced by this particular 4K TV’s several hundred local dimming zones is breathtaking.
Thus since the Z9D offers such an enormously high peak brightness and never before seen levels of local dimming control with several hundred independent local dimming zones across its screen, it goes almost without saying that this 4K TV also delivers some truly amazing HDR performance. In addition to the brightness and precision backlight control of the Z9D, its HDR color specs for wide color gamut and 10-bit color are downright superb. Nearly 96% of the DCI-P3 color space is faithfully reproduced and colors on the screen are delivered by the Z9D with a complete absence of color banding that’s downright impressive for a full-array backlit 4K TV.
On the other hand, we should note that the black level performance of the Z9D isn’t quite as deep as we’ve seen it in Samsung’s 2016 SUHD TVs or even Vizio’s 2016 P-Series HDR models. However, because the black uniformity and local dimming precision that the Z9D offers are so outstandingly superior to those of these rival 4K TVs, the slightly weaker blacks are a very minor issue. We’ll go into these a bit more in our display specs section.
In addition to its HDR video delivery performance, the Z9D offers up some truly stunning rendering of normal SDR video sources. This applies not only to native 4K content without built-in HDR formatting but also to non-4K content sources which have been upscaled with a truly exceptional level of sharpness. All Sony 4K TVs we’ve looked at to date offer some fantastic non-4K content upscaling but in the Z9D, the quality we observed surpasses even the best we’ve yet seen from previous 2016 or older Sony models like the X930D or X940C from 2015.
The brains behind this superb content upscaling power lies in the new X1 Extreme chipset, which manages a more intelligent type of content upscaling algorithm that works with particularly superb quality on Full HD video from streamed and disc media sources or external drives. However even 720p and SD video from DVDs or cable and antennae TV sources is made to look notably sharper in a way that Sony’s older 4K TVs and rival flagship TVs from Samsung or Vizio don’t quite match. Sony has even added in a new processing feature to its X1 Extreme engine which upscales all incoming signals to simulated 14-bit color. This technology on top of the TV’s native 10-bit color rendering capacity pretty much eliminates all color banding in Blu-ray discs and other media. In all of the three Z9D models, such as the 100 inch version pictured below.
4.7 - 4 Reviews
Overall, there is very little to complain about in the 65Z9D or either of its other sizes in the 75 and 100 inch range. These are truly stunning 4K TVs and on the whole we’d definitely consider their performance at display to be the best among all other 4K LCD HDR TVs we’ve yet reviewed. However there is one broad but fundamental “flaw” that the Z9D could be said to suffer from. This is quite simply that it doesn’t quite live up to the expectations foisted upon it as a true match for OLED performance.
Basically, despite its unprecedented peak brightness and a local dimming precision no other 4K LCD TV has ever managed to reach, the Z9D still obviously falls short of the single pixel-level local dimming precision of any OLED 4K TV. Furthermore, while we can’t expect any LCD/LED 4K TV to match the total perfect blacks of OLED, the Z9D doesn’t even quite match the black levels of its other major LCD TV rivals like the KS9500 or the 2016 Vizio P-Series TVs. This is a minor issue in a 4K TV with far superior peak brightness to these other models (it outputs about 4 times the maximum luminosity of the P-Series and even delivers 400 more nits than the flagship Samsung KS9800) but it is something which goes against the hype put out about the Z9D as a TV that was a match for OLED in the range of its contrast.
You see, since contrast isn’t measured by comparing maximum black level to highest peak brightness, the slightly elevated black levels of the Z9D actually cause it to deliver what is in fact a slightly worse level of contrast performance than Vizio’s or Samsung’s 2016 4K TVs. Again, this is a minor detail in a 4K TV with nearly perfect black uniformity and local dimming that’s far superior to those offered by these other TVs but it’s something worth noting. Even with its completely unmatched peak brightness of more than 1,800 cd/m2, the Z9D doesn’t reach the unbelievable 4,000 cd/m2 luminosity Sony claimed it was capable of. In this too Sony oversold the TVs capabilities and this fact might disappoint some buyers of such a seriously expensive piece of 4K display technology.
Bear in mind that even with the above criticism taken into consideration, the Z9D is still on the whole a better 4K TV than any other LCD model we’ve yet looked at but its superiority is found mostly in its superb upscaling engine, higher peak brightness (which is offset slightly by a slightly weaker black level performance) and in its incredibly specific local dimming capacity which works off more than 600 local dimming zones. No other LCD 4K TV we know of delivers that many local dimming zones. In terms of color performance, motion control specs and HDR quality, the Z9D performs comparably to rival LCD television models and thus its higher, OLED-like prices verge on being a bit unjustified.
Moving onto a few other minor problems with the Z9D which we think are worth mentioning, we would have liked to see a full four HDMI 2.0a ports for 4K with high dynamic range at 60 frames per second. Instead, the Z9D comes with only two such ports and its other two HDMI slots are only of the older 4K at 30fps HDMI 1.4 type. Additionally, the Active 3D system of the TV is good but does deliver a certain amount of notable crosstalk, especially when looking at objects with a high negative or positive parallax (viewing angles basically).
Finally, we gotta say it. We still really miss the powerful side-mounted speakers of the 2015 Sony flagship X930C and X940C TVs and wish Sony had kept this technology in place even if it made for bulkier 4K TV build. Thus, despite all of its other amazing features, the audio on the Z9D is only decent but far from the stunning sound performance of its 2015 cousins. If you want a truly strong sound experience in this 4K TV, you’ll definitely want to invest in a good external sound bar.
The Sony 65Z9D and its 75 inch and 100 inch cousins don’t quite match up to the claims of their being able to outdo OLED 4K TV display as far as contrast, local dimming and black level performance are concerned but this was a silly sort of claim anyhow though we suspect that it’s used to partly justify the exceptionally high prices of these new Sony models. That said, we absolutely love the Z9D TVs. They are on the whole the best 4K LCD TVs we’ve yet reviewed and the overall picture quality these models offer is simply stunning. This can’t be denied. Sony’s incredibly precise local dimming technology for the Z9D models is particularly impressive to behold.
• Screen size: 65 diagonal inches (XBR-65Z9D), 75 diagonal inches (XBR-65Z9D), 100 diagonal inches, (XBR-65Z9D)
• Smart TV: Android TV with Apps and Full Web Browser
• HEVC (H.265) Included: Yes
• VP9 Included. Yes
• HD to UHD upscaling: Yes
• HDCP 2.2 Compliance: Yes
• Refresh Rate: 120Hz native refresh rate
• Screen Lighting: full-array LED backlighting with Backlight Master Drive and 600+ local dimming zones
• Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160 pixels UHD
• Wireless Connectivity: Yes, includes both built-in WiFi and Ethernet port
• Remotes: Sony button remote with voice recognition
• Connectivity: 4 HDMI (2 of them 2.0a) ports, 3 USB ports, 1 Ethernet port, 1 Component, 1 composite, 1 Audio Out, 1 Digital Audio Out
• Sound: 10 W+10 W
• Contrast Ratio: 4,010:1
• Black Level maximum: 0.029 cd/m2
• 3D Technology: Active 3D
• TV dimensions (65 inch model): 57.56 x 36.22 x 10.55 in
• 75 inch: 66.30 x 41.22 x 10.94 in
• 100 inch: 88.90 x 54.84 x 19.84 in
• Processor: 4K Processor X1 Extreme
Among all of the superbly crafted standard technologies packed into the Z9D for the sake of making it deliver such stunning display performance, there are three specific things we consider to be particularly noteworthy since they’re so crucial to what makes this particular line of new HDR LCD 4K TVs stand out at least partly from the rest released in 2016.
Backlight Master Engine and local dimming :
Backlight Master Drive in the XBR-Z9D is a new version of Sony’s full-array LED backlighting as it was found in the 2015 and 2016 flagship X940C and X940D TVs. Thus, while it offers the basic functionality of full-array LED backlighting as we know it in all LCD/LED TVs in which it’s found, Backlight Master takes things to an entirely new level in the sheer precision of backlight LED control it offers and in the vastly bigger than ever before seen array of LEDs that are there to control for the Z9D’s local dimming.
The Z9D offers an unprecedented 600+ local dimming zones which more or less correspond to the number of LEDs behind this 4K TV’s display. In other words, the local dimming zones have been shrunk down to the single LED level or something very close to it (Sony is a bit cagey on giving out the exact details). This means a level of LCD TV local dimming performance that comes closer than anything yet seen in LED backlit 4K TVs to simulating the virtually perfect precision of OLED display panels. And the bonus on top of this is a level of peak brightness which completely outshines any OLED display by a huge margin.
Unbelievable Peak Brightness :
As we stated above, the LED local dimming of the Z9D offers a stunning 600 plus local dimming zones across these TVs’ displays. This massively enhanced version of full-array LED backlighting will obviously deliver some superb brightness in almost any premium 4K TV, but in the Z9D Sony has really taken the brightness of its LEDs up dramatically, partly due to better LED design and partly through Calibrated Beam LED calibration for a more finely focused light output per backlight LED. The result of these efforts is a peak brightness that we’ve never before seen in any 4K HDR TV, not even Samsung’s HDR LCD models with the company’s famously bright LED arrays. Thus, the Z9D offers over 1800 nits (cd/m2) of peak brightness in a 10% window. This is almost 400 more than that produced by the previous brightness king, the KS9800 SUHD TV from the rival brand.
X1 Extreme Processing Engine :
Sony’s 4K TVs since we’ve started reviewing them have pretty consistently offered superb levels of upscaling for non 4K content as it displays on their native ultra HD screens but with the Z9D, Sony took things further still in some key ways to create an upscaling engine which works even more superbly than previous versions we’ve seen in just about any other 4K TV. The effect is sometimes minor but it is notable. Thus, what the new X1 Extreme Processor of the Z9D does through its so-called Object-based HDR Remaster technology is not only extract the maximum possible amount of sharpness from all types of non-4K content of all resolutions, it also attempts to give HDR-like color and contrast/dynamic range quality to SDR video sources of all types. Of course the result doesn’t look quite as good as true full native 4K HDR video displayed on this TV but we were still very impressed, especially with native Full HD Blu-ray disc media and to a slightly lesser extent, Full HD streaming video feeds. In both cases, the quality, color, sharpness and dynamic range of the video sources looked much better than they would on any SDR 4K TV or HDTV model we can think of.
This added type of HDR upscaling for SDR content is sort of a next-generation holy grail for 4K TV makers and Sony’s effort at producing it in the Z9D is superior to any we’ve yet seen in other major LCD 4K TV models.
4.7 - 4 Reviews
We’ve heavily covered all of the Z9D TV’s visual qualities and their effects on picture quality and performance above, so here we’ll focus on concrete metrics for key display indicators on color, black level, black uniformity, contrast and motion control specs as well.
Color-wise, the Z9D TVs are fully HDR-capable (obviously enough) and come with a built-in 10-bit color system which delivers 1.07 billion color values for smooth color gradation and Wide Color Gamut that covers 95% of the DCI-P3 color spectrum. This is pretty much the average for today’s HDR TVs and these specs are identical to those found in earlier 2016 Sony HDR 4K TV models. In other words the Z9D performs wonderfully at HDR color but not exceptionally so by HDR TV standards. Under HDR color settings the color coverage as a percentage of the largest currently used Rec.2020 color spectrum is also quite good at 66%. Rec.2020 is much broader than DCI-P3 and covers virtually all colors that even the human eye could see.
Black level and black performance in terms of uniformity in the Z9D are also very good to excellent. The deepest black level this TV is capable of without local dimming activation sits at 0.29 cd/m2, which is actually weaker than that found in most rivl 4K HDR TVs, especially from Samsung and Vizio. On the other hand, with local dimming fully activated, the darkest sections of the screen which are furthest away from active LED zones can manage a black level that truly is impressive at 0.003 nits. This is almost on par with the performance of OLED display except that this sort of deep darkness is only found well away from any actively lit areas of the Z9D’s display. Quite simply the slightly elevated black levels of the Z9D also mean a somewhat weaker contrast ratio of 4010:1 since this is not measured by comparing peak brightness to black darkness. Instead, contrast is calculated when black levels close to lit areas are compared to standard white levels on the display (which sit at just over 100 cd/m2). On the other hand, the black uniformity of the Z9D’s display when the display is set to full black while still active definitely impressed us. We’d say that it’s as visibly close to perfect as can be expected from an LCD 4K TV model, with no obvious backlight bleed or clouding that we could see anywhere at all.
For peak brightness, which is the complimentary spec to black performance, the Z9D is an unmatchable performer, truly. This 4K TV doesn’t quite match the 4,000 nit peak brightness that Sony claimed it could do during their promotion of the TV but it does still deliver 1,840 nits in a 2% and 10% window. This is by far and away the highest peak brightness level we’ve ever seen in any consumer TV to-date and completely blows the competition from today’s brands out of the water.
Moving on to motion control specs, as expected for such a premium 4K TV, the Z9D offers excellent motion blur control, superb motion interpolation on its native 120Hz panel and it’s fully capable of playing back 24p content without judder via all possible input sources. If watching movies, sportscasts and any regular fast paced TV programming is your thing, this model does not at all disappoint in how well it handles all such content either in 4K resolution or upscaled HD and so forth. We particularly recommend using the “True Cinema” mode for watching movies on this model since it smooths out differing frame rates without resorting to motion interpolation and its notorious soap opera effect. Additionally, the Z9D is a great television for console gaming and for use as a PC monitor if you’re interested in that. It offers a decent input lag of 32 milliseconds and offers support for several different resolution formats at different frame rates when hooked up to a PC.
Finally, to go over this amazing aspect of the Z9D’s design, we love the TV’s fantastically robust full-array LED backlighting. Over 600 local dimming zones down to what must b nearly the single LED level in terms of independent control is a quality of local dimming that no rival LCD 4K TV comes close to matching and for some perspective on how much more powerful the local dimming in this model is than that of most rival models, realize that the Samsung KS9800 full-array flagship TV offers only a couple hundred local dimming zones and Sony’s own previous flagship the X940D comes with less than 150 of them. The Z9D completely surpasses both in its performance.
Connectivity-wise the Z9D 4K HDR TV models are built with the sort of standard specs we’d expect from any major 4K TV today. They offer the same sort of connectivity as their early 2016 4K HDR cousins in the XBR-XD Series TVs. This means the following:
• 4 X HDMI ports (two of them of the HDMI 2.0a type)
• 3 X USB 3.0 ports
• Digital Optical Audio Out x 1
• Analog Audio Out 3.5mm x 1
• Component In x 1
• Composite In x 1
• Tuner (Cable/Ant) x 1
• Ethernet x 1
• IR In x 1
The Z9D TVs all also come with full web browsing, support for the HDR10 high dynamic range format and of course come with support for H.265 and VP9 4K video compression as well as HDCP 2.2 content copy protection.
The XBR-65Z9D 4K TV and its 75 inch and 100 inch cousins are not at all cheap. They’re expensive even by HDR OLED 4K TV standards and we think this price is slightly unjustified. The 65 inch model we’re reviewing here retails for $5,499 while the 75 incher sells for $8,999. As for the 100 inch model, it’s firmly in ultra-luxury buy territory with a price tag of $59,999.99.
4.7 - 4 Reviews
The single biggest flaw of the Z9D HDR TV is the simple fact that it’s priced as if it surpasses even the best that OLED display in 4K TVs has to offer even though despite its stunning display specs, this TV still falls well short of OLED local dimming and black level quality. This in no way means that the Z9D is anything less than one amazingly powerful 4K LCD TV but we do think it could have been sold at a price slightly more in line with those of competitor flagship 4K LCD TVs like the KS9800.
• Extraordinary local dimming performance
• 600+ local dimming zones
• Amazing peak brightness
• Best non-4K content upscaling we’ve ever seen
• Excellent color and motion handling performance
• Fantastic delivery of HDR
• Not quite as good as OLED on the whole
• Speakers are strictly mid-grade
• Could deliver deeper blacks
• Too expensive