Is it safe yet to buy a 4K TV? Manufacturers want us to think so, even though it seems that there’s always some new hitch to make consumers wary that the set they buy today will be an expensive doorstop a year or two down the road. For example, the first few 4K TVs lacked an HDMI 2.0 interface—a necessity if you wanted your set to be compatible with future 60-fps Ultra HD content like sports. When the next generation of 4K sets came out, there was a question of whether the HDMI 2.0 interface would support HDCP 2.2 content protection—a necessity if you wanted to watch copy-protected Ultra HD movies.
Now it’s 2015, and set makers are finally selling TVs that are ready to handle all (or most) of the UHD content you throw at them (the meager amount that exists, that is). They have HDMI 2.0 ports with HDCP 2.2, along with digital tuners that are presumably ready to receive future UHDTV broadcasts. If your Internet connection is sufficiently high-speed, they can also stream 4K from providers like Netflix. The only thing that many new sets aren’t compatible with at present is the High Dynamic Range (HDR) content that’s supposed to be available from Netflix and on UHD Blu-ray (when that ultimately arrives).
It’s not HDR-compatible, but Sony’s new 65-inch XBR-65X850C, one of the company’s more affordable 4K offerings—has almost everything you need to get up and running with Ultra HD. I say almost everything because the sample I received for review didn’t include Netflix as part of its streaming options, despite the presence of a big, centrally located Netflix button on the remote control. (The Netflix app has since been added.) Otherwise, it has Sony’s proprietary Triluminos technology (not nanocrystals, Sony says), to deliver a vivid, expanded color range—as well as 10-bit color compliance for the inputs and new, advanced 4K X-Reality Pro upscaling. It also has Android TV for its smart OS, with accompanying features such as Google Play movie/music streaming, voice-activated content search, and Google Cast for “throwing” app-based content from your computer or Android/iOS portable to the TV.
The XBR-65X850C’s edge-lit LCD screen is surrounded by a vanishingly thin black bezel. The accompanying stand looked alarmingly slight at first, though the set was sturdy enough once I got it situated on my TV table. An array of control buttons is located on the set’s back panel, along with four HDMI 2.0 and two USB ports. Sony doesn’t include active 3D glasses.
The smallish remote control is nothing special. It does its job OK, but I would have preferred one with a backlit keypad. Along with that Netflix button, it has a control labeled Home that launches the Android TV interface. Sony also provides a touchpad remote control that lets you navigate menus by sliding a thumb across the pad’s surface. And then there’s Sony’s TV SideView Android/iOS app, which combines program guide info with remote commands if you’d prefer to control the TV from your smartphone or tablet.
Having spent years watching Sony lag behind in the smart TV race, it was refreshing to hit the Home button on this set’s remote and have the screen light up with the clean, colorful Android TV user interface—a huge improvement over what Sony offered in the past. Along with Netflix and the Google app suite mentioned above, the XBR-65X850C has Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and Pandora. It’s also “DirecTV Ready,” with RVU functionality, so DirecTV subscribers can access recordings and other features from a Genie HD DVR located in another room. Netflix streaming on the XBR-65X850C supports 4K playback. Unfortunately, the same does not apply for Amazon Instant Video (coming soon, according to Sony). I was also disappointed that PlayStation Now game streaming was not yet available.
The XBR-65X850C provides the usual slew of picture presets. Cinema Pro was strikingly accurate out of the box. (Tweaks I made to the TV during the calibration process improved only slightly on what Cinema Pro delivered.) Adjustments include a gamma slider, an Advanced Contrast Enhancer (a form of edge-lit “local dimming”), Color Space options (among them was BT.709, DCI, and BT.2020), and a 10-point color temperature adjustment—the first I’ve seen on a Sony TV.
As usual with Sony TVs, there are plenty of picture detail enhancements, including Reality Creation/Resolution. The Motion menu, meanwhile, has adjustable settings for motion Smoothness/Clearness. Preset modes include True Cinema, which does a straight 5:5 pulldown of 24p film-based content, and Smooth, which delivers the best motion resolution of the various settings, though with noticeable soap-opera effect.
While the XBR-65X850C had plenty of brightness on tap, along with impressive measured contrast, its shadow detail wasn’t as good as what I’ve seen from other Sony TVs over the past few years. The upshot was that some shadowy scenes looked flat. However, the majority of images came across as fairly punchy. For example, when I viewed a nighttime scene from Life of Pi where the young Pi Patel watches phosphorescent jellyfish float in a pitch-black sea, stars in the background were a vivid white, and the sea and sky both came across deep and dark.
Screen uniformity is an issue with the XBR-65X850C. Instead of the usual Dynamic LED Dimming backlight control that we’ve seen on many other Sony sets with an edgelit backlight, this one has frame dimming, which apparently dims the full backlight on dark scenes as opposed to modulating specific backlight zones. I’m not sure if the set’s frame-dimming tech was the problem here, but the screen’s vertical edges looked noticeably brighter than its center on a number of movies I watched. With sports, news, and well-lit sitcoms, however, screen uniformity issues weren’t a distraction.
As with other Sony TVs I’ve tested that feature the company’s Triluminos tech, colors looked accurate, but with an appealing extra hint of richness. On the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, the XBR-65X850C did a great job of capturing the gray, brown, and blue garb of the Cambridge University students, as well as the dark wood interiors of the classrooms and nearby pubs. While the film’s hues remained fairly muted and period-faithful throughout, in a scene where Stephen and wife-to-be Jane attend the university’s May Ball, the colorful decorations and gowns worn by the revelers looked robust and bright.
The Sony’s upconversion was for the most part very good, though as usual with the 4K TVs I’ve evaluated, it was one-upped by the performance of the Oppo BDP-105D universal player I used for testing. To check out actual native 4K, I downloaded to Sony’s FMP-X10 4K movie server the latest film by Neill Blomkamp, Chappie, about an innocent robot who gets hijacked by gangsters for ill purposes. The 4K picture looked crisp and noisefree — exactly what you’d expect from an ultra high-def source. Elements such as the texture of clothing, fine text displayed on computer screens, and the robot’s HUD-like vision came through with exceptional detail.
When I strapped on Sony’s somewhat flimsy, battery powered, active 3D glasses to watch a few scenes from Pacific Rim, images looked solid and had good depth. The only problem I encountered was a double image when subtitles appeared onscreen during exchanges in Japanese. Otherwise, the Sony’s 3D picture was satisfyingly bright, especially when I selected the High 3D glasses brightness mode.
Sony’s mid-level XBR-65X850C Ultra HDTV offers decent overall performance at a reasonable price—for a 65-inch 4K model, that is. And the company’s new Android TV UI is a big step up in the smart TV department. Also on the plus side, this set has accurate out-of-the-box color and good contrast, and its video upconversion made nearly everything I watched look crisp. Shadow detail and picture uniformity were two areas where it fell short of other Sony sets I’ve reviewed, but depending on the content, I found myself regularly drawn in by the XBR-65X850C’s picture.
Sony’s mid-line 4K TV delivers decent performance for its price and features a new Android TV interface.
Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 19.5 x 7.75 x 18.25 • Weight (Pounds): 31 • Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0 (2; 1 with HDCP 2.2) • Other: LAN (1), RS-232C, IR, DC 12V (2), USB (SW upgrades only).