Sony XG95 review: strong TV picture with halo
2019 at Sony started off with a change of guard: up to now, the XF9005 has been considered the «LCD mainstream flagship» by the Japanese manufacturer. The XG95 range is now taking over.
And this role really suits the XG95. Well, at least the first time you skim through the data sheet. There's Sony's in-house «Triluminos» imaging technology that wants to create bold colours. The X1 Ultimate processor is supposed to process the image optimally, and the audio is top class with the «Multi Acoustic Sound». And then there's Full Array Local Dimming (FALD), which provides good contrast levels.
Let me put it this way: FALD works. In a way, FALD works too well. This causes problems that can’t be argued away. But first things first.
An intentional minimal-creative design
Industrial look – I heard that a few days ago at the Sony company. For the hands-on article on their 8K LCD TV. That seems to be Sony's motto this year. In fact, the look of the 75-inch XG95 that Sony provided me with is rather simple.
But the TV’s «duck feet» – I just can’t seem to warm to them. Looks too awkward to me. It would look cheap without the soundbar. But that's exactly the point: the feet are designed so that the soundbar can easily be placed in front of the screen without obscuring it. The Sony soundbar fits snugly between the outwardly designed feet. If you look at it from that perspective, the design makes sense again.
Other than that, the television has a typical classy appearance. While there is not quite as much milled aluminium as is often the case with Samsung – I like the way South Koreans design their products – it doesn’t seem cheap at all.
The back of the XG95, however, looks a bit meagre. There are small shafts that lead the cables through the feet; the cables can be hidden better with these. But apart from that, I wouldn’t say a lot of attention was paid to the back panel. Fine, no problem if the TV isn’t free-standing in the room.
Oh, and another thing: the panel is quite thick. About 7.3 cm at its widest part. Can’t be compared to OLED screens, which have no backlighting and are much thinner because of that. But Samsung's Q85R, a comparable LCD counterpart, is only slightly thinner at about 6.2 cm.
So: the beauty prize doesn’t go to the XG95. At least, not if the TV stays off. But that would also be the wrong priority. What’s quite interesting: the TV is almost a piece of furniture with its existence denied – until it’s turned on. Then it’s suddenly the centre of attention.
The TV does have more than enough connections:
- 4x HDMI 2.0 connections, one with eARC
- 1x output for Toslink
- 3x USB 2.0 ports
- 1x LAN port
- Integrated Google Chrome
The remote control is also new. It’s no longer an antiquated piece of black plastic from the Stone Age, but a milled aluminium remote of unprecedented beauty.
Full Array Local Dimming with drawbacks
The XG95 makes a very good impression. No wonder – with the FALD backlighting and Triluminos imaging technology.
To explain: An LCD TV produces the picture by darkening the pixels using luminous crystals found in it. Colour filters – red, green, and blue – then mix the colours you see on the screen. The pixels are illuminated with backlighting: well, a few dozen LEDs. These are usually located on the edge of the screen. The light coming in from the side is evenly distributed over the entire picture with the help of a diffuser film.
Full Array Local Dimming means that the LEDs are not located on the edge of the screen, but directly behind the pixels. Hundreds of LEDs. Each pixel is illuminated in a much more targeted way. And because no diffuser film is required, the difference between the lightest and darkest pixels – the contrast – is greater than with normal LCD TVs. Whereby: the greater the contrast, the better the colours. I’ve explained the correlation in more detail here:
An example: in the picture above is a scene from my UHD Blu-Ray of «Jurassic World 2», in which you see a sunrise. The LEDs behind the sun radiate with full power. You can simultaneously still see the deep black in the upper and lower bars. It’s no OLED True Black, but it’s not bad either. The good contrast levels associated with it provide a pleasant and warm orange that would never look as rich on a normal LCD TV as it does here.
So far, so good.
Surprising, because I'm not used to that from Sony TVs, are what look like light wreaths around bright objects. A kind of halo. They then become visible when these bright objects are right next to dark image areas. Like a bright full moon in the dark night sky. Not good. Here is an excerpt from «Jurassic World 2» from my UHD HDR Blu-Ray to illustrate what I mean. Look at the upper, black widescreen bar, left-hand side.
There, where the two glaring spotlights are shining next to the T-Rex, you see light wreaths above the bar. To compare, I replayed the same scene on my normal Blu-Ray.
The radiance of light around the headlights is practically gone. What seems like a spontaneous test up here, became noticeable to me again and again during my four-week test phase: the light wreaths around bright objects are only there with HDR material. If I watch a Blu-Ray or normal TV, the light wreaths are gone presumably because these contents have significantly lower peak brightness on account of the lower contrast levels.
Another explanation could be a fairly small number of dimming zones, which don’t allow such precise control of the pixels. As a result, image areas are illuminated that shouldn’t actually be illuminated. Because the hundreds of LEDs don’t light up independently of each other. Instead, they are grouped into dimming zones. For example: 600 LEDs are divided into groups of 10 LEDs. That makes 60 dimming zones. There is even a demo video on YouTube, with which the number of zones can be determined. But to make a concluding statement: I find the demo somewhat imprecise.
The problem could be that the dimming zone in the T-Rex picture is larger in area than the two small headlights. That’s why the black bar is being at least partially illuminated, although it shouldn’t be. The luminous crystals, which separate the pixels from the glare of the headlights, are overstrained: this creates a halo.
The assumption is supported by the fact that I’ve never seen the ZF9, Sony's UHD LCD TV's Master Series, grapple with such problems. No wonder: the ZF9 is considered a prime example in the matter of Full Array Local Dimming. The XG95 may not be part of the Master Series because it has significantly fewer dimming zones than the ZF9.
Be that as it may, where FALD should be the big star in terms of contrast enhancement of the XG95, the halos that you see when watching HDR material are extremely annoying. As a film fan, I won’t buy a TV like this.
Triluminos: marketing talk that ensures good colour
The colours are anything but annoying. Look at the scene where you see the large red fires spilling out of the volcano amid the lush, green jungle surrounded by dark clouds of ash. In the middle of it, the grey Brachiosaurus rearing up against its doom one last time. A real high-end feeling.
This is where Triluminos comes into play. Colour filters in a TV can display more colours, the whiter or clearer the light of the LED backlighting is. The problem: LED light is bluish. So, before the light hits the pixels, it goes through nano-sized particles in the XG95. The particles ensure that the LEDs’ bluish light takes on pure white. This makes the bold colours possible.
Sony calls this Triluminos. Oh, and Samsung and LG also operate on the same principle. Samsung just calls it QLED – the nano-sized particles are called Quantum Dots – and LG calls it NanoCell TV.
X1 Ultimate: the strongest processor by Sony... this year
The processor is one of the most important components of a television. Especially because TV panels of different TV manufacturers often come from the same factory. This makes it clear that it’s not always the panel itself that makes the difference between competitors, but the way the image processor processes the image data from sources.
For example, when the Full HD resolution TV signal is upscaled to Ultra HD. Or when unpleasant image noise is suppressed, edges are smoothed out, or colours are enhanced. The processor is responsible for all these tasks, and image enhancement processes of this nature are carried out on all sources by the processor. The same applies to UHD HDR material – but to varying degrees.
The built in X1 Ultimate processor is not new to the XG95. It has been built into all high-end Sony TVs of the Master Series – both last year and this year. For example, in the ZG9, which is Sony's first 8K television. The X1 Ultimate is actually supposed to have been designed from the get-go to operate even the resource-consuming 8K TV without any issues.
The only thing that’s new to the X1 Ultimate is the fact that Sony's most powerful TV chip is also used beyond the Master Series televisions; like in the XG95. HD live TV material even seems as if it’s coming from at least a Blu-Ray: you can see wrinkles or pores in faces, and even gradients are illustrated consistently in the XG95. No image noise at all. Not to mention annoying artefacts.
Well, that is if you click on «Clarity» in the advanced settings under the tab «Consistent gradation» and activate at least «Low». Then you’ll even see scenes like below – from «Interstellar», where especially bright and dark image areas are right next to each other – with no visible gradations.
The prerequisite is that programmes must have a resolution of at least 720p or Blu-Rays with 1080p. Otherwise, it just looks pretty meagre on 195-centimetre TV screen size – regardless of a powerful processor or not.
If you want to buy an expensive TV without making sure that the sound is of similar quality, then it's your own fault. But there are living spaces that don’t allow for a surround system. Or your neighbours just don’t appreciate good bass.
Sony has a clever trick for these cases to get reasonable sound: two speaker sets of each 10 Watts are positioned at the bottom of the screen. Additionally, two tweeters are mounted on the rear panel of the TV; these are located at about the height of the top third of the TV. Thanks to these tweeters, the TV sound doesn’t seem to be coming from below, but rather from the centre of the screen. An interesting piece of technology.
The whole thing is called «Acoustic Multi Audio». I heard about this when I was writing my ZG9 hands-on article. But there you have two more basses and even more ingenious speaker sets. It sounded a lot better there on account of that. The XG95 has reasonable sound, actually surprisingly clear, but it’s far from the surround sound feeling. There is a lack of volume – so, sound that doesn’t just come from the TV itself – as everything seems a bit hollow.
Maybe it's because of the lack of bass. Of course, so many TVs have challenges of getting really clear sound that fills the entire room from such tiny TV speakers. Nevertheless, other manufacturers have the same problem. Manufacturers such as LG. OLED TVs are a lot narrower than LCD televisions; they have even less space for speakers because of that. The C8 OLED that I tested last year impressed me with its intense bass, even though there wasn’t a surround system installed around me.
So, yes. I do criticise the TV for its lack of power in the sound. Could have been better.
Conclusion: performed a little worse than expected
I set very high expectations for the XG95 at the beginning of the test; they weren’t really met. For example, the FALD backlighting technology that I already hailed in Samsung's Q9FN or Sony's ZG9. But, with the XG95 the HDR content has very unsightly light wreaths around bright objects on a dark background. That’s a firm no-go for me. Another drawback is the sound, which could really be more powerful and fill up the room better.
Other than that, the XG95 performs well: the combination of FALD and the Triluminos technology ensures good black levels and at the same time balanced colour reproduction in case of high brightness. The X1 Ultimate Chip should also be mentioned, which does a damn fine job at upscaling non-UHD HDR content and making the operating system run smoothly.
All in all, an LCD TV that doesn’t need to be shy about its technology, but that can’t quite keep up with the prices of its immediate competition.