How to buy the best TV
How to buy the best Sony TV
By Martin Pratt
Article 4 of 7
We see what's in store for Sony's range of 2019 OLED and LCD TVs and demystify the marketing lingo so you know your X1 Ultimate processor from your X-Reality Pro.
Sony is expanding its Master Series range of TVs, which debuted at the end of 2018, with a new high-end OLED and LCD set.
The ZG9 was Sony's big reveal at CES in January 2019 and this LCD TV is its first consumer 8K TV. The smallest ZG9 will be a colossal 85 inches, but there'll be no shortage of more wallet and living room-friendly OLEDs and LCDs coming too.
We'll get more information on Sony's more affordable TVs in the lead up to their release in the spring. For now you can take a look at the TVs released in 2018, which are still available and are cheaper than they've ever been, and see some of the cutting-edge tech that can be found in Sony's 2018 and 2019 ranges.
While LG chose OLED for its first 8K TV, Sony has decided that LCD displays are the best way to begin its expansion into 4K TVs. It seems that a huge screen is important to the 8K experience. Only Samsung has released a 65-inch model and the ZG9 starts at 85 inches.
The price will likely be sky high, but the X1 Ultimate processor should at least give the ZG9 a reason to exist in a world with precious little 8K content. It analyses every object on screen and upscales each individually to simulate the extreme clarity of 8K content.
Both Samsung and LG's cutting-edge processors do the same thing in an effort to overcome the lack of 8K content, and we're curious to see which brand's chip does it best.
Sony puts its most advanced TVs into its bravely named Master Series range and the AG9 is the OLED that's hoping to be worthy of that title in 2019. Unlike the ZG9 LCD in the same range, the AG9 is only 4K and is likely to be somewhat affordable as a result.
It uses the X1 Ultimate processor, which is Sony's most advanced chip. Each processor update should bring with it sharper detail, more natural and vibrant colours, and smoother motion. The X1 Ultimate processor isn't entirely new though - it's in this TV's predecessor the AF8 OLED and you can see what we thought of it in our review.
Sony's TVs should be best for watching Netflix originals, such as Bird Box and Stranger Things, because they have Netflix calibrated mode - although it's difficult to say exactly how much of a difference this sort of tech makes. A Best Buy TV should be terrific at displaying content whether it's being streamed from Netflix or played from a disc. The AG9 supports a new standard, too, known as IMAX enhanced, which helps bigger displays capture some of the impact and immersion you get from huge IMAX cinema screens.
Sony AG8 OLED
The other OLED in Sony's lineup is similar to the AG9, but there are a few key differences that justify the AG9's higher price. The AG8 doesn't have Sony's most advanced X1 Ultimate processor, it has the X1 Extreme instead. Though still very advanced, the X1 Extreme likely won't be as good at upscaling content to 4K quality as the X1 Ultimate.
It lacks Dolby Atmos sound processing, too. This audio technology simulates a more expansive soundscape by making noise appear to come from more areas of your room, particularly above your head.
It's a shame that the AG8 lacks both these features, but they could turn out to be inconsequential. The X1 Extreme is still a high-end processor and when it comes to sound we care more about balanced treble, mid-range and bass.
Ultra expensive 8K ZG9 aside, the XG95 is Sony's flagship LCD range. It uses the same X1 Ultimate processor as Sony's OLEDs, which is capable of detecting hundreds of distinct objects on screen in every frame and improve their colour, accuracy and brightness where needed.
This sort of dynamic upscaling is on the tip of every manufacturer's tongue and we're keen to see which brands' high-end sets does the best job.
Sony has created something called Sound-from-Picture reality to make the audio sound more positional. Two tweeters have been added to the rear of the TV with the goal of making the sound come from the centre of the screen.
Sony is still using Android for its smart TV platform and Google Assistant is built in for voice control. Microphones in the TV mean you can control certain features even if the remote has gone walkies. Speaking of remotes, the XG95 will see the debut of a new sleek, simplified remote. We haven't seen it yet, but Samsung has its own smart remote that's light on buttons and a little fiddly as a result. We hope Sony's simplified remote doesn't strip quite so many buttons away.
The XG95 range will be available in 55, 65, 75 and 85 inches.
Sony has taken an unusual approach with this mid-range series of TVs. The features aren't a million miles away from the XG95 LCD TVs, but the XG83s only come in two sizes: 43 and 49-inch.
It's odd for a 4K TV to come in relatively small sizes. 55-inch has become the norm and every 4K range released by any brand for the last few years has included one. It's an odd but not unwelcome move. It demonstrates that Sony is considering people who don't want a huge TV, or whose living room isn't big enough to accommodate one.
The X1 processor powers the TV and while it's not as advanced as the X1 Ultimate in Sony's high-end TVs, it will still improve brightness and make colours look more natural according to Sony.
It uses Android for its smart TV platform and Google Assistant is built in. Opening apps, searching for content and changing the channel can all be done with voice commands, but unlike the XG95 you'll need to press a button on the remote first.
The XG81 range, which comes in 49, 55 and 65 inches, is a more traditional 4K LCD range; when it comes to screen size, anyway.
It's not quite as advanced as the XG83s though. There's no X1 processor, but the X-Reality PRO software is Sony's name for its upscaling tech and it's on all Sony's 4K TVs.
Like the XG83, you can control the TV with your voice using Google Assistant and the microphone built into the remote.
There doesn't seem to be much difference between the XG80 and the XG81, but the former is available in more sizes. It comes in 43, 49, 55, 65 and 75 inches, which makes it one of the broadest ranges in terms of screen size.
When the features look to be identical, the differences between ranges usually come down to tuning: how much time has been spent tweaking and honing to make the picture and sound as good as possible.
We'll be testing all the TVs in the 8 series, which includes the XG83, XG81 and XG80, so we'll uncover the differences in our lab.
These are Sony's entry-level 4K sets, which means they don't have the Google Android operating system. We weren't impressed with alternative Linux-based system that was put into this range's equivalent from 2018, so hopefully it's either been overhauled or rebuilt for 2019.
The operating system doesn't have any bearing on picture or sound quality, of course, so even if the smart features are lacking, the XG70 TVs could still be a pleasure to look at.
We've been impressed by entry-level 4K TVs in the past, so there's no reason to count the XG70s out just yet.
43, 49, 55 and 65-inch XG70 TVs will be available.
Sony sold two OLED TVs in 2018, but only one of them was new. The A8F will sit underneath 2017's A1, but on paper there isn't much to pick between the two.
Both TVs have the best technology Sony has to offer. According to the Japanese brand, the X1 Extreme processor built into the A1 and A8F is better at upscaling content to 4K than its other chips. It also has something called object-based HDR, which means it analyses individual things on screen and adjusts the colour for a more realistic image.
Triluminos is Sony's way of saying that its TVs have a wide spectrum of colours and it's found on all of its 2018 4K sets.
The OLEDs have two flavours of HDR: HDR10 and HLG, plus it also includes Dolby Vision.
HDR10 is the current standard and HLG is the HDR format that broadcasters will use when HDR TV channels launch.
You can learn more about this new technology in our guide to HDR.
So what's the difference between these two TVs? It looks like aesthetics at this stage. The 2017 A1 had a large kickstand, which acted as a subwoofer and made the TV tricky to wall-mount. The A8F has a tiny silver stand at the base instead and is much thinner as a result.
The ZD9 was the cream of Sony's LCD crop in 2017 and it was kept around for 2018, too. It has the same processor and HDR formats as the OLED TVs and some of the other premium LCD sets. The key difference comes in the backlight.
The Sony ZD9 comes with a Master Drive backlight and it's the only Sony TV that does. The LEDs inside the panel fire a more direct beam of light, which should mean less colour bleeding into darker areas of the screen. It also has more LEDs than Sony's other backlights, so the ZD9 is brighter.
Don't expect to get a ZD9 in a living room-friendly size, though. In only comes in 65, 75 and 100-inch varieties, which makes it Sony's biggest TV from 2018.
The XF90 was first introduced in 2018 and it's very much a premium series. The only difference on paper between it and the ZF9 is the backlight.
Both are full-array, but the XF90 TVs don't benefit from the Master Drive technology. This should mean that the ZF9 is brighter and may have less colour bleeding into darker areas of the screen.
Full-array isn't something that Sony's other LCD sets benefit from and it's one of the key reasons why you'll pay more for an XF90 TV. Full-array means there are more LEDs and more dimmable zones. The more dimmable zones there are on a backlight the better the TV is at controlling which parts of the screen are lit and which are dark. This should make for better contrast.
As we move into Sony's mid-range series, the differences between TVs becomes greater.
The XF85 has the X1 processor rather than the X1 Extreme, the backlight is edge-LED rather than full-array and it isn't compatible with HLG. The processor is a downgrade, but it still benefits from object-based HDR, but the TVs armed with the X1 Extreme processor should do a better job of upscaling content to close to 4K quality and keeping things fluid during fast-moving scenes.
Its lack of compatibility with the HLG HDR format isn't really an issue now, but when the BBC and other broadcasters launch HDR channels, then this TV won't get the benefit.
The final key difference between the XF85 and the XF90 is the kind of backlight it uses. On XF85 TVs, the LEDs run around the edge of the screen rather than sitting behind it. This means edge LED TVs can be slimmer than full-array ones, but the contrast is likely to suffer as there are less dimmable zones.
The XF85 series is available in a huge range of sizes: 43, 49, 55, 65, 75 and 85 inches. You read our in-depth reviews of the models in this range in our Sony KD43XF8505BU, KD49XF8505BU, KD55XF8505BU and KD65XF8505BU reviews.
The XF80 has the X-Reality Pro processor, which was first used in Sony's 2013 TVs. It upscales content to 4K by comparing the patterns it sees on screen with those in a vast database to achieve better colour and brightness. It doesn't have object-based HDR or the advanced colour levels of the X1 or X1 Extreme, though.
The lack of a second tuner means you won't be able to record one show while watching another or connect a Freesat HD box.
It's difficult to spot the difference between the XF70 and XF80. Both have the same processor, backlight, smart TV platform and HDR compatibility.
We'll need to get these TVs into our lab to spot the difference and see if this series has the sound and picture quality to beat Sony's pricier TVs or its cheaper ones.
The 7000 range of Sony TVs is one of the broadest. Take a look at all our Sony TV reviews to see how its cheapest models fared.
It's tough to tell these to ranges apart. Both are powered by the X-Reality Pro processor, but these are HD TVs, so it won't be upscaling anything to 4K. They are HDR compatible, too, but only with HDR10.
Unlike the 4K LCD TVs, you don't get the Android smart TV platform, instead they will use a Linux-based system developed by Sony. You won't get the same quantity of apps as you would with Google's platform, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Sony smart TV will be more awkward to use.
These TVs will also benefit from Freeview Play. This useful piece of software combines the electronic programme guide with catch-up TV apps, so you can easily watch shows coming up and those you may have missed.