If you’ve been lusting after a top-notch TV but your budget just can’t quite stretch to the flagship models from the usual suspects, then you’ll want to sit up and pay attention: Sony’s latest LED LCD TV, the XF90, is set to cause serious waves in the ‘mid-range’ TV market.
It’s certainly still not cheap, but the XF90 (alternatively known as the X900F in the US) sits in the middle of Sony’s 2018 TV lineup, below the Bravia A1 and AF8 OLEDs, and beneath the Sony ZD9, which remains the company’s flagship LED LCD for the third year in a row. And besides the £1,699 55-inch KD-55XF9005 which we’re reviewing here, it’s also available in 49”, 65” and 75” sizes.
What you need to know
The XF90 draws upon every last bit of Sony’s LED knowhow. Naturally, 4K and HDR are first and foremost on the specification list, but it also features full-array local dimming (FALD) direct-lit LED backlighting (which is widely acknowledged to be far superior to the edge-lit backlighting in lesser sets), and is partnered with the company’s most advanced X1 Extreme processor, the Android Smart TV platform, and – new for 2018 and exclusively on the Sony XF90 at present – X-Motion Clarity light-boosted backlight scanning technology.
Features and design
The XF90 is a fine-looking TV. The bezel is impressively thin, and the aluminium trim and feet look great, but there’s no getting away from the fact that direct-lit LED LCD TVs need a much bulkier backlighting array to do their stuff – peer over the back and you’ll see a sizeable bump behind. Still, it’s nice to see that the supplied remote control has also received a welcome minor facelift, with discrete buttons and slightly weightier feel.
But perhaps the most controversial element of the Sony XF90’s design is its feet: these splay outwards as they’re designed to accommodate Sony’s XF9000 soundbar. If you own a narrower AV rack, you can also point the feet inwards to reduce the footprint a little, although this isn’t mentioned in the user manual. Some users may find this a bit of a pain, but it’s not all bad news. There are grooves behind each feet to route cables for a cleaner look, and unlike last year’s XE90 and XE93, the XF90 doesn’t use an external power brick, which tidies things up considerably.
The connections are found on the left rear of the display, and face both sidewards and downwards. There are four HDMI sockets, but just as with previous Sony X1 Extreme TVs, only HDMI inputs 2 and 3 are the full-fat HDMI ports that can do 4K HDR at higher bit depth, frame rate or chroma – and only once you go into the user menu and switch on HDMI signal “Enhanced format”.
As usual, the Android Smart TV system is entirely usable, if a little clunkier than the competition, and we wouldn’t expect too much from the down-firing speakers – unless you’re happy to put up with average sound quality, this is a TV which deserves a quality soundbar at the very least.
The Sony XF90 uses a VA-type LCD panel. This is capable of producing deep, inky blacks by LED LCD standards, but there is a downside: VA panels have a narrower viewing angle compared with IPS LCD or OLED, so you’re advised to watch the TV straight on for the best picture. If your living room can’t accommodate that, then we’d advise you look elsewhere.
Initial impressions are very good indeed. Sony said they’ve been making efforts to improve factory calibration at the manufacturing phase, and it shows. Brightness and colours are impressively uniform across the entirety of the Sony’s 55in panel, and we measured a DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage of 94%, which is very respectable indeed.
Colours are a little undersaturated out of the box, but this was soon fixed by calibrating the greyscale and adjusting the colour controls. As with Sony TVs since 2016, there are two-point and 10-point white balance controls on board, but sadly there’s no advanced colour management system for really in-depth tweaking. Still, a little effort ensured that all the colours clicked into place very nicely, and the result was that SDR movies looked supremely accurate and realistic, with skin tones looking particularly lifelike.
The TV is equipped with the company’s currently most advanced X1 Extreme video processor, which marks a worthy upgrade over last year’s XE90. The results are highly impressive, too, with the X1 Extreme serving up the best scaling we’ve seen in a consumer TV. It’s capable of extracting crisp detail from less-than-pristine sources, and crucially without introducing the excessive visible ringing of lesser processors.
We’re also big fans of the Smooth Gradation feature which is very effective in reducing posterisation – that annoying patchy effect which is occasionally visible on anything from popular streaming services such as Netflix and Prime Video to Blu-ray discs.
Motion handling and HDR
Motion handling marks another masterstroke for Sony: the innovative X-Motion Clarity feature is a revelation on the KD-55XF9005. It harnesses the full-array local dimming and peak brightness potential of the TV, and uses the power of the video processor to locally boost the brightness of the LEDs where backlight scanning occurs. In laymans terms, that results in a clearer picture that’s not significantly darker, nor flickery, which will please fans of fast-action sports.
The Sony XF90 also delivers a dramatic HDR experience. Once calibrated, peak brightness reached over 1000cd/m2 on a 10% window, and a very impressive 680cd/m2 across the whole display. Rather like its predecessor, the XE90, the XF90 makes do with 48 independently dimmable zones – which is by no means a class-leading number – but Sony’s local dimming algorithm does well to minimise haloing or blooming artefacts particularly with some gentle ambient lighting. Is it up to OLED standards? No, of course it isn’t, but it’s darn good all the same, and as the onboard X1 Extreme chipset can be firmware-upgraded to support Dolby Vision in the future, the HDR capabilities are only going to get better.
Input lag and gaming
The XF90’s input lag figures are consistent with what we’ve previously obtained on other Sony TVs equipped with the X1 Extreme chipset. We measured a competitive 25ms in 4K HDR mode, but that increases to 42ms for 1080p video signal due to the need to scale 1080P images to fit the 4K screen.
What does that mean for gamers? Well, those of you using PS4 Pro or Xbox One X consoles which send out 4K video by default don’t need to worry, as the Sony XF90 feels very responsive. If you’re thinking about hooking up the likes of the Nintendo Switch, however, which is 1080p only, then the Sony is liable to feel slightly more sluggish.
The Sony XF90 marks a confident step forward from last year’s successful XE90. With a brighter, more impactful HDR performance, incoming Dolby Vision support, and superbly smooth motion thanks to the X-Motion Clarity technology, the XF90 is a force to be reckoned with.
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