Sony Bravia KD-84X9005 review

Pros

  • Native 4K images are astonishing
  • Upscaled 4K images are brilliant too
  • 3D images are the best we’ve seen

Cons

  • It costs £25k
  • There’s a rather small audio sweetspot
  • We did mention it costs £25k, right?

Sony’s latest television costs £25,000. No, really; we haven’t accidentally added an extra zero. Or two.

We thought it best to mention this price right away so that the vast majority of you will realise from the off that the Sony KD-84X9005 is not a TV you’ll ever be able to afford. But at the same time, this is a TV you can’t afford to ignore. For in a couple of crucial areas it offers us a glimpse of the potential future of television that anyone with even the faintest AV pulse ought to be very excited about.

First and most importantly, the Sony KD-84X9005 is only the second commercially released TV that carries a native ‘4K’ resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. The first was Toshiba’s 55in 55ZL2, which predominantly used its 4K-ness to deliver glasses-free 3D. In fact, it couldn’t even take native 4K feeds via HDMI. Sony’s 4K TV debutante, on the other hand, takes its high resolution duties very seriously, accepting 4K stills from digital cameras via USB and 4K video via two of its four HDMIs. And presenting them all on a truly epic 84in screen.

The other especially fascinating thing about the 84X9005 is that it’s the first TV we’ve tested that combines a native 4K resolution with passive 3D technology. This matters because having double the horizontal resolution means that for the first time we’ll be able - hopefully - to appreciate the good things about the passive 3D format without having to swallow the usual resolution-reducing negatives. Needless to say we’ll come back to this potential dream 3D scenario later.

You might have raised a quizzical eyebrow when we said that the 84X9005 can take 4K video feeds. For it is indeed true that right now such feeds are in extremely short supply; just a handful of short files available on the Internet, and a Sony 4K demo reel running off a high-powered, HDMI-connected PC that we used for this test.

Sony, though - along with other brands that have already shown 4K displays - clearly thinks that if it builds 4K screens, then 4K content will inevitably follow. And we’d like to think it would know, given its own involvement in the movie world. But at the same time there are certainly parts of the film industry that are deeply suspicious of 4K as a domestic format. And perhaps even more pertinently, there also still remain substantial issues over just how you package and distribute 4K, with its huge data requirements. The Internet is too slow, and you can’t currently fit full movies in 4K on Blu-ray discs.

All of this means that the 84X9005 could be seen as not just an expensive TV, but an expensive gamble on a technology that’s by no means guaranteed to be the next big thing. However, this argument forgets one key point: that the 84X9005 can also upscale current HD and even standard def sources to fit its 4K pixel count. So if the upscaling is up to the job, it could deliver the best ‘HD’ pictures to date, which in itself would be an achievement worth a king’s ransom to well-heeled cineastes.

Design and features

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how well - or otherwise - the 84X9005 performs with both native and upscaled 4K images, there are a few other ‘housekeeping’ issues to cover. Mostly to do with making it clear that despite its lofty pricing and ambitions, the 84X9005 is still definitely a TV rather than a pro-level display not truly aimed at home users.

For starters, Sony has tried to make the 84X9005 reasonably attractive, giving the admittedly rather stern metallic bezel an unusual ribbed finish and providing a glinting silver, two-poled floorstand for the 84in screen to slot onto.

Your £25k also gets you a pair of startlingly potent-looking speakers that can bolt onto each of the TV’s sides. Painstakingly designed by Sony’s audio department expressly for the 84X9005, these speakers employ a remarkable 10 drivers to produce 50W of power that will also, hopefully, exhibit a truly hi-fi sensibility.

More proof that the 84X9005 is very much a domesticated TV comes from its provision of a Freeview HD tuner, playback of photo, music and video files from USB sticks and networked PCs and Macs, and even Sony’s latest 'SEN' online service.

With a graphically rich new interface and heavy focus on the video streaming platforms that most people want from online TV services, SEN is mostly a great success. Our only niggles would be that the presentation doesn’t give you instant access to many different apps from the home screen; that the main SEN menu is sluggish; and that Sony has given too much screen real-estate to its own Video and Music Unlimited services.

One less welcome hold-over from Sony’s mainstream TVs is the 84X9005’s main feature menus. These are confusingly organised and tedious to navigate, and since they appear in the same fairly low resolution used on Sony’s smaller TVs, on this 84in screen they look depressingly blocky and rough.

Right, that’s quite enough preamble. Let’s fire up the Sony 4K PC server and see if the 84X9005 confirms that big-screen 4K really is the thing of AV beauty we hope it is.

Picture quality (with 4k content)

It takes mere seconds to confirm that true 4K images on the 84X9005 are nothing short of breathtaking. Sony’s demo reel takes in a bewildering array of content, from stunning sun-soaked vistas of coastal European beach resorts to views of Spanish stately homes to footage of the Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra; a bit of footie coverage (featuring actors rather than real footballers); and a lantern festival. And every single moment of the provided footage looks completely and utterly glorious.

Detail levels are immense. So much so that actually trying to describe the amount of extra detail in the images feels redundant. Instead it seems more sensible to talk about the way the 4K experience completely does away with the sense that always exists to some extent with 1,920 x 1,080 TVs; that you’re watching a mechanical panel full of pixels reproducing an image made of dots.

The 4K resolution just gets so much closer to the ‘resolution’ of your retinas than normal HD, leaving you unable to perceive pixel or line structure in the image. And the result is that you feel instantly as if you’re watching a real-life scene unfolding before your eyes, rather than the output of an LCD display.

Naturally the intensity of this ‘no technology wall’ experience is enhanced on the 84X9005 by the hugeness of its screen, as from the sort of surprisingly close viewing distance Sony recommends, the dazzling 4K images pretty much completely take over your field of vision.

Of course, the almost overwhelming intensity of the 84X9005’s viewing experience doesn’t rely on resolution alone. Fortunately the extremely powerful video processing system and panel-driving technology Sony has developed especially for its flagship TV also delivers numerous other critical image goodies to ensure that the whole resolution house of cards doesn’t ever come crashing down.

For instance, LCD’s customary tendency to lose resolution over moving objects could pretty much obliterate the previously mentioned direct connection with whatever 4K content you’re watching. But the 84X9005 handles motion superbly well, with practically no resolution loss evident, and judder also kept to a minimum if you employ Sony’s MotionFlow processing.

The only note of caution here is that we only felt fully comfortable with MotionFlow’s ‘Clear’ mode, finding most other settings to be a bit overbearing and artificial.

The 84X9005’s colour reproduction is also mesmerising. The subtlety with which all those extra pixels in the screen can render even the finest of colour blends is almost hard to comprehend, in fact, helping the image create a much more credible sense of object solidity and space, even in 2D images, than we’ve ever experienced with even the best 1,920 x 1,080-resolution TVs.

Colour tones are remarkably natural with all the 4K content we watched too. Indeed, overall the screen’s colour accuracy is so good that as with the fine detail presentation, you tend to forget that you’re looking at a screen rather than the real world.

Yet another unexpected benefit of the native 4K images is their apparent depth of field. There’s much more clarity over very distant objects than you get with normal TVs, which works miracles in pushing further back the deepest perception point of any images that don’t contain depth limiters (like walls!).

It still feels at this point as if we haven’t completely conveyed what watching a high quality 84in TV showing true 4K images feels like. So all we can say is pop down to Harrods - where the 84X9005 is now up and running - and see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Picture quality (non-4k content)

So what about when you get the Sony KD-84X9005 home (even if this is only in your dreams...)? In other words, what’s the 84X9005 like when you can no longer feed it much native 4K content?

Thankfully, it’s still brilliant. Sony has developed a new version of its X-Reality Pro picture scaling and processing engine just for the 84X9005, to cope with the frankly terrifying job of generating enough extra pixels of picture information to convert an this new ‘4K X-Reality Pro’ engine works outstandingly well.

Upscaled images from Blu-ray films look instantly sharper, more detailed, more involving, more richly coloured and for want of a better word, more cinematic than they ever look on even the finest 1,920 x 1,080 screen. Actually, simply being able to watch Blu-rays on a screen as big as 84in without having to worry about visible pixel and line structure is a marvel in itself.

The upscaling isn’t totally perfect. In its default state it tries too hard, introducing slightly too much grain and dot crawl to proceedings as it goes about adding its huge quantities of extra detail. But fortunately the tools are provided to tame the resolution and noise levels of the upscaling process, and some careful playing with these tools soon has things looking much more effective.

3D

As if the 84X9005 hasn’t already caused us to drool enough, there’s still its 3D to cover. And basically it’s the single finest 3D experience we’ve ever had.

Having double the horizontal line resolution to play with largely does away with passive 3D’s usual jagged edges, visible line structure and reduced resolution complaints and the results are a joy to behold. leaving you with unfettered enjoyment of passive 3D’s key advantages. Namely: no flicker, minimal crosstalk ghosting, and a largely fatigue-free long-term experience.

The sense of depth in the 84X9005‘s 3D images is outstanding too, thanks in no small part to the way the extra detailing and colour subtlety gives your brain more visual 'cues' as to how to interpret the relative depths of different objects and planes.

Not surprisingly, the obsession with AV quality that’s clearly driven Sony’s every move with the 84X9005 extends to those swanky speakers we described yonks ago. Their power levels are in a different stratosphere to those of typical flat TV speakers, helping them serve up just the sort of bass levels, expansive mid-range, treble detailing, and sense of audio space that an 84in screen deserves.

While the 84X9005 delivers comfortably the finest all-round AV performance we’ve ever seen from a TV, we did stumble across a couple of flaws. The first concerns those mostly brilliant speakers, as they tend to leave vocals sounding rather dislocated from the picture unless you sit in exactly the right place in front of the screen.

The other issue is some noticeable backlight inconsistency on our test sample, where dark scenes reveal areas of the picture where the edge LED lighting creates more brightness than it does elsewhere. However, we’ve seen other 84X9005s suffering far less with this problem than our test sample did, and Sony itself told us before we started our tests that it wasn’t happy with this aspect of the test sample’s performance.

So given the care Sony has poured into every other aspect of the 84X9005’s performance, we feel pretty sanguine about giving the brand the benefit of the doubt and feeling confident that ‘in-store’ samples of the 84X9005 will perform better in this respect.

Verdict

As we mentioned near the start of this review, 4K sources are not certain to go mainstream any time soon, or even at all. But as well as side-stepping this issue by delivering the best 3D and Blu-ray pictures we’ve seen, if there’s one thing the 84X9005 does magnificently well, it’s convince us that if true 4K sources don’t ultimately appear in force, the AV world will be seriously the poorer for it.

Manufacturer and model

Sony Bravia KD-84X9005

Screen size

84in

Resolution

3,840 x 2,160

Backlight technology

Edge LED

Picture engine

800Hz Motion Flow

Digital Tuner

Freeview HD

3D Ready

Yes

3D Technology

Passive

3D Glasses supplied

Yes (2 pairs)

2D-to-3D conversion

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes (built-in)

Online content

Sony Entertainment Network

DLNA Streaming

Yes

Smartphone control

Yes

Contrast ratio

Over 1,000,000:1

Brightness

Not given

Refresh rate

200Hz native (800Hz via Motion Flow)

Speaker power

50W

Energy Efficiency Class

B

Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)

2,137 x 1,511 x 567mm

Dimensions (without stand, W x H x D)

2,137 x 1,136 x 90mm

HDMI

4

Component

1

Composite

1

SCART

1

Digital audio output

1 (optical)

PC Input

1

USB

2

SD Card slot

No

Ethernet

Yes

CI Slot

Yes