Many TV brands have adopted Mini LED technology this year, but Sony is having none of it. Its 4K LCD models for 2021, including the upper mid-range 65X90J under examination here, persist with the ‘standard’ LED lighting that LCD displays have been using for years. Happily, though, this certainly does not prevent the 65X90J from being seriously desirable. Read our Sony XR-65X90J Review.
It looks the part, for starters. With its blade-style feet (either fit them close together or under the screen corners) and slim screen frame, it does as much as it can not to distract you from either your decor or what you’re watching.
The set uses a VA-type LCD panel illuminated by direct lighting and 32 local dimming zones. This is a far cry from the 448 zones deployed by Samsung’s 50in Mini LEDtoting 50QN90A elsewhere in this issue (p70). However, we’ve seen enough Sony LCD TVs now to know that it’s not just the number of dimming zones that counts, but what you do with them. And in the 65X90J’s case, ‘what you do with them’ is drive them via Sony’s impressive new Cognitive XR processor.
This processor, as its name just about suggests, has been designed with a focus on reproducing images that look less like pictures on a screen and more like the real world as your eyes perceive it. It also marks the biggest single specification change from this TV’s 2020 predecessors, the well-regarded XH9005 models, which used Sony’s X1 Extreme chipset.
Better than okay, Google
The 65X90J runs the Google TV operating system, which proves to be a solid upgrade over the previous Android TV. You still get handy convenience features, such as built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant support, but with a more inviting-looking and focused onscreen menu system, plus superior content recommendation and search features.
There’s currently no support, however, for YouView or Freeview Play, and the only catch-up app available for the UK’s main terrestrial broadcasters is My5. There’s no BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub or All4. These are supposed to be coming, but we’ve been hearing that for a long time now.
Available HDR flavours are HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG, but not HDR10+. You can run Dolby Vision in conjunction with a light sensor that can auto-adjust the image’s brightness and tone curve depending on room conditions.
The 65X90J’s connections include four HDMI ports, two of which are built to the 2.1 specification capable of handling 4K/120Hz feeds from the latest consoles and PCs. But there are limitations to the 65X90J’s gaming prowess, which we’ll cover later, and one of the HDMI 2.1 ports is also used for the eARC audio passthrough system, so if you need to use that you’ll only have one full-fat HDMI socket left for source gear.
Both Netflix and IMAX have given this Sony their seal of approval in the form of Netflix Calibrated mode and IMAX Enhanced compatibility. The former sets the TV’s picture settings to imitate the conditions Netflix’s own content is mastered in (apparently), while the latter means the TV has been assessed as good enough to unlock the full picture potential of content created using IMAX’s proprietary mastering techniques.
Some of this IMAX Enhanced content can be found on Sony’s Bravia Core streaming service, which uses speeds of up to 80Mbps to deliver cleaner 4K video streams.
For sound, the TV can decode and play Atmos tracks, and carries Sony’s Acoustic Multi-Audio system, which places soundpositioning tweeters on the chassis rear.
Take it up a notch
The 65X90J is a marked improvement over its XH9005 predecessor. The first thing that wows is just how much justice it does to the phenomenal detail and sharpness of all-time favourite 4K Blu-ray platters, such as the ‘IMAX’ parts of The Dark Knight, Tenet and Mission Impossible: Fallout.
What’s more, the TV keeps holds of this sharpness fantastically well during camera pans and when objects pass across the screen, the new XR processor maintaining Sony’s reputation for handling motion better than the vast majority of its rivals.
Of course, some of the incredible texture and detail these pristine IMAX/70mm sequences enjoy is a result of the Sony’s beautiful colour and shadow rendering. The former finds the set knocking out an impressively wide colour range for its price, combined with remarkable tone rendering for a TV that only has a relatively small number of dimming zones to work with. The latter sees the screen conveying ultra-dark sequences (like my It 4K BD torture test of Georgie in the basement) appearing rich in detail in even the very darkest corners, creating a sense of depth and space as convincing as that associated with bright scenes. It’s very impressive stuff, and better when it comes to shadow detail than the aforementioned Samsung 50QN90A Mini LED.
‘Its sharpness, brightness and motion handling make it arguably the best sub-£ 65in TV around’
As usual with Sony’s mid-range LCD models, this screen is enjoyably bright, measuring around 930 nits on a 10 per white HDR window in Standard mode, and 840 nits in Cinema mode. This is especially effective with HDR images that fill the screen with brightness, such as the daytime desert sequences in Mad Max: Fury Road (4K BD). There can be some clipping of detail in very intense bright areas, but this is seldom egregious enough to pull your attention away from the rest of the image.
Gaming on the 65X90J is mostly seriously fun. The 4K/120Hz playback runs beautifully smoothly, 4K HDR graphics look clean and punchy, and while a response time in Game mode of around 17ms is higher than some competitor models, it doesn’t seem to significantly impact your gaming skills. Also, following a recent firmware update, the TV can both automatically optimise its settings for PlayStation 5 HDR, and automatically detect whether a PS5 is playing a video or game source and switch picture presets accordingly.
The 65X90J’s blend of high brightness, wide colour volume but limited number of local dimming zones invariably creates a few backlight problems. The set can do unexpectedly deep, neutral black levels with very dark scenes, but where a shot contains a mixture of light and dark content, black reproduction suffers, and you can see faint but large areas of backlight blooming.
The issue is particularly noticeable if you’re watching a wide aspect ratio film. The backlight ‘blooming’ spreads into the black bars above and below the picture, where it becomes much more distracting.
Other issues include limited viewing angles before colour and contrast drop off; no Dolby Vision Game preset, meaning you have to play with much higher input lag if using an Xbox Series X’s Dolby Vision game mode (and you can also only use Dolby Vision if you reduce the Xbox’s 4K frame rate to 60Hz); some noise with the Dolby Vision Bright and Vivid modes; and still no support for variable refresh rates (but this long-running limitation should be fixed soon).
Niggles over, because the 65X90J’s Acoustic Multi Audio system is excellent. Volume levels are high by built-in TV sound standards, and provided you’re not sat too close to the screen, sound effects, including voices, appear to be coming from pretty much exactly the right place. The mid-range is responsive, with the dynamic range to take on Tenet’s massive audio moments rather than fading away. Bass is deep and well rounded too.
Sony’s sweet treat
It will be interesting to see what Sony might do with Mini LED tech in the future. And I can’t ignore the fact that fans of local contrast can get LG’s 65B1 OLED for only £ more than the price of the 65X90J. But this TV’s sharpness, brightness and masterful motion handling still make it arguably the best sub-£ 65in model around
PRODUCT: 65in 4K HDR LCD TV with direct LED lighting
POSITION: In the upper mid-range of Sony’s 2021 TV lineup
PEERS: LG OLED65B1; Hisense 65U8GQ
4K: Yes. 3,840 x 2,160 HDR: Yes. HDR10; HLG; Dolby Vision TUNER: Yes. Freeview HD; Freesat HD CONNECTIONS: 4 x HDMI inputs (2 x v2.1, 1 x eARC); 2 x USB; optical digital audio output; headphone output; Ethernet; composite video SOUND (CLAIMED): 20W BRIGHTNESS (CLAIMED): N/A CONTRAST RATIO (CLAIMED): N/A 4K/120 PLAYBACK: Yes DIMENSIONS (OFF STAND): 1,452(w) x 834(h) x 72(d)mm WEIGHT (OFF STAND): 22.9kg
FEATURES: Built-in Wi-Fi; USB multimedia playback; Cognitive XR processing engine; Acoustic Multi-Audio sound; Triluminos colour; Dolby Atmos; multi-position feet; Android TV OS; Apple AirPlay 2; Bluetooth; full-array local dimming backlight
TENET: Christopher Nolan’s most mind-melting film yet is perfect home cinema fodder, particularly as the tricksy plot almost demands a rewatch. It’s visually and aurally stunning on UHD BD too, with its large-format film origins resulting in a pin-sharp picture and a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that’s among the best in the biz.
Despite mild backlight limitations, the 65X90J's pictures are bright, colourful and sharp, its gaming support is good and getting better, and its sound quality is outstanding.