Sony unveiled its 2016 TVs at CES and we had a chance to see the high-end XD93 and XD94 models in action. Sony will introduce new picture technologies and a better Android TV experience, but the most noticeable change is probably that the side-mounted speakers are gone.
First look at Sony’s 2016 TVs
For some reason, Sony refused to talk numbers and specs at CES 2016. It even refused to say whether its TVs on display were based on Android TV 6.0 or not. But we still learned a few things so let’s dig in.
Last year’s TVs were recognized by a “C” in the model name. The “D” is for 2016. XD93 is one of the two new flagship TVs that will cover the 55-65” size classes, whereas XD94 will be available only in 75”. However, only XD94 utilizes a full-array local dimming backlight system – the most advanced backlighting system for reproducing HDR pictures. XD93 instead uses a new “Slim Backlight Drive” that combines a limited number of zones with a very thin profile.
The side-mounted speakers are gone
There will be no new super-slim “X90” model in 2016. Instead, Sony has made its other high-end TVs significantly thinner, and made it possible to mount them flush to the wall by designing them around the same concept as last year’s X90C. The electronics box on the lower half of the back has integrated wall mounting holes for a slim-type bracket.
When you study the frame more closely you will notice a golden line enclosed inside the matte black bezel. Sony told us that the high-end models use gold, whereas the new mid-range TVs - such as XD85C (the successor to last year’s X85C) - feature the same design detail in silver. Besides that, there is not much magic about Sony’s new designs. The TVs are about as anonymous as they come with super slim bezels and thin profiles.
Sony has decided to remove the side-mounted speakers that it has used on its high-end TVs for a few years now. Not everyone liked the design but at least it made the TVs unique. In essence, the new TVs are large black plastic covers with a LCD display panel built in (and a cable management system). Hopefully that will mean lower prices. And what is that panel with analog inputs still doing there? Analog inputs stopped being relevant when HD resolution entered the equation, so we had hoped that 4K would finally kill these inferior ports. Maybe not.
Sony says that all of its new 4K TVs will support HDR processing but be aware that only the XD93 and XD94 models will feature the “X-tended Dynamic Range” system to boost brightness in highlights (such as sun rays reflecting in water or metal), and only the XD94 will feature full array local dimming, which is required to reproduce the brightest peaks in HDR pictures. In that respect, nothing has changed compared to the 2015 line-up.
You might have noticed that Sony’s 2016 TVs are not “UHD Premium” certified even though Sony is a member of the UHD Alliance. Why? That is a good question and we pressed for an answer during CES but since Sony refused to talk numbers we can only speculate. Do Sony’s TVs not meet the “UHD Premium” specs (>1000 nits peak brightness and <0.05 nits black) for LCD panels? Maybe, but we cannot be sure at this point. Sony’s decision to not talk numbers does not serve them well and one could be excused for thinking that the company has something to hide.
So how did the TVs perform? Well, picture quality looked great but we only saw the TVs in the open booth area. We saw content in 4K, HDR and wide color gamut, and we continue to be excited about the combination of the three factors. XD94 was clearly capable of reaching quite high brightness peaks. XD93 looked good, too, but not much different from last year’s model, except for the new design. We spotted the new XD85 in one of the corners of the booth and it appeared to exhibit the same picture characteristics as last year’s popular X85C model.
Last year’s line-up from Sony was hit by major delays because of Android TV and the software had its good share of bugs and issues. Sony will continue to use the Android TV operating system in 2016 and we had a chance to try the upgraded hardware/software at CES 2016.
As mentioned in the beginning, Sony refused to confirm if the new TVs were running the 6.0 version of Android TV. A source later confirmed to us that the TVs were based on a preview version of 6.0 and we suspected as much based on some of the new features on the TVs. Sony confirmed to us that the 2015 TVs will also receive the 6.0 update.
Android TV 6.0 will focus mostly on bug fixes and performance improvements to improve the user experience. However, it will also include some new features, including a new voice search function. It definitely felt snappier. In fact, the entire Android user interface felt snappier and smoother. You will also be able to control which apps are allowed to push content in the “recommendations” row. More on Android TV 6.0 here.
Android TV 6.0 is coming to 2016 and 2015 TVs
In 2016, Sony will also stop bundling two remotes with its TVs in favor of just one remote control with dedicated buttons for voice, Netflix, and Google Play. It is largely a continuation of previous years’ remote but the back now has a rubbery, granulated surface.
Currently, Sony’s 4K TVs have access to 4K content from Netflix and Amazon, and HDR content from Amazon. Netflix will start streaming in HDR very soon. Sony will launch its own 4K movie rental service, named Ultra, offering access to movies from the Sony Pictures catalog as well as select movies from other studios. The Ultra service will launch later this year. HDR quality will not be available – at least not initially.
YouTube will also start streaming in HDR quality later this year, using a new VP9-Profile 2 codec that brings HDR support to Google’s VP9 video format. Sony’s Motoi Kawamura, Head of TV Product Planning for Sony Europe, confirmed to FlatpanelsHD that the 2016 models will support VP9-Profile 2 and be capable of streaming YouTube in HDR. We saw a demo at CES and it looked very good.
That’s all for now. We have more to tell very soon. We should receive the first Sony 2016 TVs for testing in a few months from now.