Sony Z9F 4K HDR Master Series TV First Look Review (XBR-65Z9F, XBR-75Z9F)
Stephan Jukic – Sept 11, 2018
Sony recently invited us to attend their unveiling of the new late 2018 Master Series 4K HDR LCD and OLED TVs. The models in this ultra-premium lineup consisted of the OLED A9F, the successor to Sony’s A8F released just a bit earlier this year, and the new LCD Z9F, Sony’s long-anticipated replacement to the Z9D flagship TV that Sony released in late 2016.
Both of the new televisions were absolute marvels of high technology and stellar picture performance almost across the board and now that we’ve done our hands-on overview of the A9F, it’s the Z9F’s turn, so we’re going to cover it here in as much detail as we were able to glean from our time with the new giant of a TV at the unveiling.
The Z9D was beyond all doubt Sony’s best ever 4K LCD TV when it was unveiled in late 2016 and we’d even argue that in terms of sheer raw quality, it was the single best LCD 4K HDR TV of 2016, 2017 and even part of 2018 from any brand. It simply excelled on virtually all fronts and provided levels of peak brightness, local dimming quality, black delivery and contrast that we had never before seen in any 4K LCD TV until Samsung unveiled the even better Q9FN in mid-2018. In other words, it was time to finally replace the Z9D, and while Sony was perfectly justified in calling it their best 4K TV right up to this year, a new edition was definitely overdue with the release of Samsung’s flagship models. This is the Z9F and based on what we saw at Sony’s NYC event, it very seriously promises to live up to the reputation the Z9D already established for nearly three years. This is one stunner of a TV and based on certain key visual specs we were able to examine, it looks like it might also be the best 4K LCD TV of any brand when it emerges in the fall of this year.
- Stunningly high levels of peak brightness
- Exceptionally good local dimming quality
- Remarkably vibrant color delivery
- Fantastic motion handling
- Beautifully deep black rendering
- It’s expensive
- Not as bright as expected
- No smaller sizes
What We Liked
Improved Picture Performance and Picture Processing
Both of the Master Series 4K HDR TVs come with Sony’s beefed up new X1 Ultimate Picture Processing engine and this little piece of technology ties into just about every other key ingredient in both of these TVs’ display performance. Due to the processing power of the X1 Ultimate engine and related technologies such as Object-based Super Resolution and Object-based HDR remaster, the new Z9F promises superior motion handling, better color delivery, higher-quality HDR mastery and generally better rendering of nearly any kind of content (whether it’s 4K video or not). Based on what we saw at Sony’s fairly recent unveiling of the Z9F, the company has largely pulled this off with this beast of a television.
One of the big selling points that Sony constantly referred to for both of the Master Series 4K TVs was the idea of “Creator’s Intent”, which is basically an attempt by the company to create a level of out-of-the-box picture quality in both the A9F OLED TV and the Z9F that’s so good, it comes professionally close to simulating how the creators of high quality content wanted it to look on the screen. The key step Sony took to achieve this process was making the Z9F match as closely as possible the display performance of Sony’s own extremely expensive but extremely precise BVM-X300 4K V2 OLED Master Monitor for movie production reference use. Now, the BVM-3000 is a pro production reference monitor with out-of-this-world color, contrast, and other visual specs and as such it costs tens of thousands of dollars. The Z9F can’t match what a piece of professional calibration display technology like that is capable of, but it comes remarkably close, and compared to rival ultra-premium 4K LCD HDR TVs we saw it compared to, the Z9F gives every other consumer market option on the market a serious run for its money.
In other words, the color delivery of the Z9F was simply stunning and particularly so for HDR content. The same applied for motion handling, black levels, the sheer quality of local dimming and, to a lesser extent, to the levels of peak brightness we were able to see. In all of these key areas of picture performance, this 4K HDR TV at least matches and in most ways exceeds what its predecessor the Z9D could do. It definitely gives even the best 2018 Samsung 4K HDR TVs on sale right now a run for their money on color, local dimming and motion performance.
Contrast, Black Levels and Local Dimming
These are a subset of the overall picture performance improvements created in the Z9F by its new X1 Ultimate processor but they’re crucial aspects of picture quality. The Z9F, thankfully, delivers all three: contrast, black levels and local dimming, marvelously. The other Master Series 4K TV is the A9F OLED so obviously the Z9F is no match for THOSE types of black levels but by LCD standards, this model does some truly amazing things with its backlight control technology. Like its predecessor the Z9D, the Z9F also comes with an incredible number of local dimming zones across its full-array LED backlight setup.
Sony absolutely would not tell us exactly how many dimming zones this TV comes with despite several attempts by myself and others to push them on even a general number. However, based on what we were able to see, the quality of this TV’s local dimming definitely indicates at least as many and probably even more local dimming zones than was the case in the Z9D. The result of such a high level of local dimming quality is that the Z9F also delivers some truly incredible black levels and contrast ratios as needed for high quality content. Furthermore, while Sony didn’t go into details about the Z9F’s LED design, we suspect that this model comes with the same narrow focus technology that was found to make the Z9D’s LED’s illuminate so precisely for minimal halo effects in onscreen content.
The bottom line for this aspect of the Z9F is that what you get is a remarkably great handing of shadows, contrast and deep blacks that will make any content look particularly good when it’s being displayed.
Also See: our review of the stunning Sony Master Series A9F OLED 4K HDR TV for 2019
Color Performance and Motion Handling
The color performance and motion handling of the Z9F are both specifically worth mentioning because they were so evidently exceptional during our hands on demonstration of this model. Placed side by side next to one of Sony’s own older X940F 4K HDR TVs, the Z9F displayed the color palettes of various pieces of scenery with a much stronger level of vibrancy that has to be seen to really be appreciated. Furthermore, the specific brightness and shadows of these scenes helped along this color rendering for an overall effect that was decidedly superior. This is partly because, in addition to the X1 Ultimate processing engine, Sony has given the Z9F (and the A9F OLED) what it calls Pixel Booster technology, which participates in the same process of making the TV’s pixels stand out more sharply for their individual contrast and rendering of vibrant colors. The effect then translates out to the entire TV display itself across all 8.29 million pixels on the 4K screen. Again, given the level of color performance we could observe, the quality was visibly superior to what we’ve previously seen even in Samsung’s otherwise excellent QLED TVs, which are known for their own high quality of color performance.
There’s also another benefit that Sony has added to the Z9F thanks to a combination of the X1 Ultimate engine, the above-mentioned pixel booster technology and other design specifications (which the company wouldn’t reveal in detail at their demo). This is incredibly wide viewing angles of a broadness we’ve never before seen in a 4K LCD TV with VA display panel technology. Sony calls this feature X-Wide Angle and The Z9F delivers consistently better contrast, brightness and color accuracy at wide off-center viewing angles than any LCD VA panel TV we’ve ever before seen. Again, placed next to Sony’s own older premium 4K TVs and Samsung’s ultra-premium models –which also come with VA panel screens—the Z9F was the hands-down top performer at viewability at an angle. What we saw was almost comparable to the viewing angles of TVs with IPS display but with the much deeper, richer black levels of Vertically Aligned pixels.
We should also note that the Z9F supports all three of the major HDR formats right out of the box. No more waiting for an eventual Dolby Vision update later on. On this baby the format comes along with HDR10 and HLG right away for the content that also supports any of these formats.
Netflix Calibrated Mode & Reference Settings
As we explained above, Sony made a huge issue out of its efforts towards “creator’s intent” for its new Master Series 4K TVs. The phrase and variations of it were tossed around repeatedly by both representatives of the company and those of Netflix and other Sony partners in the creation of these Master Series TVs. This is because Sony has made a strong effort to deliver out-of-the-box picture quality in the Z9F and A9F that’s so good, it comes closer than ever to matching the quality of color, contrast and other visual details that the creators of original 4K HDR content had in mind when developing it for TV playback.
On the one hand, this development consists of bringing the Master Series TVs and the Z9F among them closer than ever before to delivering the same raw picture quality that Sony’s professional X300 4K OLED production calibration monitor is capable of, and on the other hand this included a new “Netflix Calibrated” mode that’s exclusive to the Master Series TV models for the time being.
For this latter feature, Netflix worked with Sony to create a range of settings that can be automatically activated to show the best and most production-accurate visuals for HDR content from Netflix’s growing library of original series and 4K HDR movies.
Both Zack Estrin, Executive Producer for the Netflix Original Series “Lost In Space” and Netflix VP for device partner ecosystems, Scott Mirer were on hand for the Master Series demo to explain how both the Z9F and the A9F OLED excelled at displaying their content at its absolute best. Sony partner Display Portraits has also had a hand in the refinement of picture quality for the Z9F and A9F Master Series TVs. Their CalMAN calibration software/hardware is designed to automatically calibrate these televisions to a professional degree –a useful feature for pro reviewers and home users who want to make their own Z9F work at its absolute optimum settings.
Most importantly of all for the vast majority of Z9F owners, the TV comes with what Sony now calls “Reference Mode Settings” already enabled on this model. These are found under the TV’s Custom menu and replace the previous Cinema Pro Plus settings. They have been fine-tuned by Sony itself so that the Z9F supposedly performs better than you’ve ever seen a 4K HDR TV perform right out of the box. We can’t be 100% sure that Sony didn’t tweak things a bit further but at their demo of the Z9F, the TV was shown performing with its reference Mode enabled and what we saw looked superb by the standards of how most 4K TVs show color, contrast and brightness right out of the box.
What We Didn’t Like
Its numerous superlatives aside, the Sony Z9F Master Series model isn’t without its small share of what we could consider flaws or imperfections. None of these except maybe for its eventual and almost certainly very steep price tag are what we’d call deal breakers but they’re worth mentioning. Even as far as the surely high price of the Z9F is concerned, if you’re going to aim for home theater quality of this caliber, you can’t expect it to come cheap anyhow.
With that said, here are some less than ideal aspects of the new Z9F.
The 2016 Z9D was the absolute brightest 4K LCD HDR TV ever made for the mass consumer market right up until Samsung released the Q9FN 2018 edition earlier this year. This Samsung model outgunned the Z9D on maximum screen brightness and delivers almost twice the maximum contrast of its older Sony rival when local dimming in the Q9F 2018 model is activated. Naturally enough, we expected the Z9F to beat Samsung on this front just because it’s so good in every other major way.
Unfortunately, we aren’t quite sure it will pull that off. At Sony’s demo, our hands-on experience didn’t include being able to test specific calibration specs so we can’t be sure either way but based on a visual comparison with the best TV that Samsung has to offer, we’d say that the Z9F performs more or less the same, and might possibly be a bit dimmer in terms of peak performance. We’ll know better when we can do a detailed review with full measurement of specs. That said the Z9F is definitely extremely bright and even if it delivers performance that’s on par with what its predecessor or Samsung’s Q9FN can do, we’re still talking about over 1600 nits of peak brightness. What this model definitely seemed to show was a superior overall level of contrast and local dimming precision, so that works in its favor despite any peak brightness issues.
The design of the Z9F is pretty plain. So are the designs of many other ultra-premium 4K HDR TVs such as the Samsung Q9 2018 rival but we would have liked to see a bit more inventiveness here. This TV only really impresses when its turned on. Standing there, completely black, it looks fairly plain and is also quite thick through the display due to the bulk of its full-array LED backlight system behind the display. LG’s best 2018 OLED TVs and Sony’s own A9F OLED all look decidedly more elegant and as a result more impressive in a living room. In other words, the A9F impresses most with its picture quality.
The Sony Z9F may be an absolute beast of a 4K TV as far as its display prowess is concerned, but when it comes to this model’s audio specs, it’s strictly weak sauce, unlike the much, much more robust A9F OLED TV. The speaker system of the Z9F tops out at just two 10W speakers and some additional audio gimmicks from Dolby that don’t compensate for the TV’s fundamentally weak sound system. In other words, get an external sound system, if you can afford a TV like this, then you can surely afford one of those as well.
Release Date Issues
The Sony Z9F is definitely expensive. The 65 inch model starts out at $3500 and the 75 inch edition retails for a whopping $6000. This is fine as far as it goes, since premium 4K TVs of this caliber are obviously going to be expensive and everyone knows that. What is however still be annoying is knowing that certain features of the Z9F are locked into it and its Master Series cousin the A9F exclusively only months after the company’s most recent previous premium TV releases the A8F OLED and the X900F 4K LCD HDR TV.
The Bottom Line & Price vs. Value
Sony has now released the prices of its Master Series 4K HDR TVs and we can confirm that the Z9F costs a nice little chunk of change more than any other 2018 Sony TV except the A9F Master Series cousin that’s coming out with the Z9F (at least for the 65 inch editions, which are priced equally at $3500 for both models). This is to be expected. What we can say is that in terms of overall quality the Z9F is probably going to be the best 4K TV released in 2018 and into early 2019, so if you want top-notch performance and don’t feel like waiting until the 2019 releases show up on the market in the spring of next year, go for the Z9F. Its predecessor the Z9D kept top spot as one of the best 4K TVs in existence for nearly three years. We don’t think the Z9F will last quite that long but it will be an absolutely great piece of home theater technology for at least as long even if other models supersede it sooner or later.
Key Sony XBR-Z9F Specs
- Screen sizes: 65 inch XBR-65Z9F, 75 inch XBR-75Z9F
- Smart TV: Android TV smart platform 2018
- HEVC (H.265) Included: Yes
- VP9 Included. Yes
- HD to UHD upscaling: Yes
- HDCP 2.2 Compliance: Yes
- HDR Support: Yes, HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma, Dolby Vision
- Refresh Rate: 120Hz native refresh rate
- Screen Lighting: LCD/LED display with full-array LED backlighting
- Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160 pixels UHD
- Wireless Connectivity: Yes, includes both built-in WiFi and Ethernet port
- Remotes: Sony smart remote, voice control, remote app for iOS and Android
- Connectivity: 4 HDMI (all of them 2.0a and HDCP 2.2) ports, 3 USB ports, 1 Ethernet port, 1 Digital Audio Out, all located in eternal One Connect box
- Contrast Ratio: at least 9,000:1 with local dimming activated
- Audio: 10 W+10 W with Dolby® Digital, Dolby® Digital Plus, Dolby® Pulse, Dolby® AC-4 DTS Digital Surround
- Maximum Peak Brightness: measurements weren’t allowed but almost certainly at least 1600 nits nits based on comparison to other high-end 2018 TVs we’ve reviewed
- 3D Technology: N/A
- Processor: X1 Ultimate Processor engine
Sony Z9F Display Performance Specs
We’ll save the detailed performance metrics of this particular Sony 4K OLED TV for when we have a full hands-on review in our hands. For the time being, we can safely say that the Z9F model offers up a selection of very impressive color, contrast, black level and motion handling performance metrics that are unlike nearly anything we’ve seen before in one of this or any other brand’s 4K HDR TVs. The color delivery of this model showed itself to be downright spectacular and with some extremely good color fidelity for the content we were able to see displayed on the Z9F during Sony’s demo session. Furthermore, motion delivery with Sony’s new X- Motion Clarity system did really seem better than we’ve seen it before in other LCD 4K TVs, from Sony or any other brand.
The contrast of the Z9F IS definitely better than we’ve seen it before in previous HDR LCD 4K TV models, at least when it’s being used to display HDR content and this was not only demonstrated to us but is something quite evident. This TV simply does a fantastic job of showing fine details even in very shadowy scenes on the screen. The color quality we observed on the screen was also distinctly vibrant but managed to conserve excellent accuracy at the same time. These superior features apply in comparisons that we were able to see between the Z9F and any other older Sony 4K TV except the A9F OLED model (which has many of the same technologies but applied to OLED display) and they even apply when the Z9F is compared with the best premium LCD TV of rival brands, based on what we saw without being able to measure concrete specs.
Sony’s ZBR-Z9F OLED 4K HDR TVs maintain all of the latest and most commonly used connectivity ports and technologies, just like pretty much any other 4K TV released in 2018 so far. This model will not come with HDMI 2.1 unfortunately (as far as we know at this point) but it does come with the essentials for a great content viewing experience across the board and offers full HDR video support in all of its HDMI ports. The connectivity specs of the Z9F are as follows:
- HDMI : 4 (2 and 3 come with HDCP 2.2 and full HDMI 2.0a capacity)
- USB : 3 (USB 3.0)
- Digital Optical Audio Out : 1
- Analog Audio Out 3.5 mm : 1
- Tuner (Cable/Ant) : 1
- Ethernet : 1
- HDR10 support: Yes
- Hybrid Log Gamma HDR support: Yes
- Dolby Vision HDR: Yes
The Sony Z9F TV models also offer audio connectivity in the following types.
- 1 Passthrough ARC Dolby Digital
- 1 Passthrough ARC DTS
- 1 Passthrough Optical Dolby Digital
- 1 Passthrough Optical DTS
Sony Z9F Pricing and Availability
Currently, Sony is selling the Z9F 65 inch and 75 inch models at prices of $3500 and $5,999 respectively. This is to be expected for new release TVs of this level of quality. We expect this price to drop at least a bit moving into 2019 so if you feel like waiting to get your hands on what is arguable the single best LCD 4K HDR TV of 2018 and early 2019, wait a bit longer if you like.