Sony XD85 review

Review: Sony XD85 (X85D)

11 May 2016 | Rasmus Larsen


Sony XD85 (X85D in the US) is the successor to last year’s X85C – at least on paper. We say on paper because Sony has changed one fundamental element. Last year, Sony used a VA type LCD panel in the 85 series. This year, the company has switched to an IPS type LCD panel. The TVs still offer Android TV and Google Cast. Sony says that the TV can also process HDR content but be aware that it does not have the hardware to reproduce HDR like the 9 series Sony models.

So has Sony created a worthy successor to last year’s value-for-money X85C model? Given the new panel will it perform better or worse? And has the Android TV experience improved in any meaningful way? Let us find out.

The TV is called X85D in the US and XD85 in Europe. It is the same TV. In Europe it will exist in three design variants named X8505, XD8577 (silver) and XD8599 (black). A curved variant, SD85, will also be sold in Europe.

Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

55"
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR processing (but not HDR hardware)
DCI-P3 color space
IPS LCD with edge LED
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA)
(HxWxD) 71.7 x 123.1 x 4.4 cm (without stand)
15.1 kg
HDMI (4x 2.0)
USB (3x)
Ethernet
1x CI
Optical
HDMI-ARC (4x)
Headphones
2.0 stereo
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9
Android TV
16GB (expandable)
Sony Remote
TV SideView remote app
Manual
Remote control
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First impressions

In many ways XD85 looks like last year’s model. The main difference is the base design. It is now a solid construction, which offers a stable base for the quite large 55- to 85-inch TVs.

The color of the frame depends on which design variants you buy. Our sample has a shiny black-colored frame. If you look at the TV from the side you will notice that there is silver-colored line embedded into the frame. You can distinguish the mid-range TVs such as XD85 from the high-end models in the 9 series by the color of this embedded line. The 9 series are gold/champagne.

Sony says that it has managed to make most of its 2016 TVs thinner but unlike the XD93 that we recently reviewed XD85 does not come with the same ultra slim-type wall bracket solution. Instead it supports VESA brackets and Sony will also be happy to sell you a slim-type (although not as slim as for the 9 series) bracket.

And yes the TV is quite thin and thinner than last year’s model, but there are three things to keep in mind here. This year’s XD85 uses edge LED across all 55-85" formats, whereas last year Sony used direct LED on 65" X85C and up. Then there is the electronics box fitted to the TV’s bottom half.

The third thing to be aware of is that the power supply is external and it is a big bulky, black box that you need to hide somewhere. One end of the cable – the one that goes to the TV – is attached and cannot be replaced with a longer cable. The other end – going to the power outlet – can be replaced with a longer standard power cable. It is not the most elegant solution.

The new stand has an integrated cable management system. It is a solution that simply requires you to make sure that all cables go down through the middle. There is a plastic cover to hide cables.

Most ports are facing to the side but a single HDMI port (HDMI 1), optical audio out, and several analog ports face out towards the wall. We had hoped that 4K TVs would finally kill the low-resolution analog ports but we guess there are still enough legacy devices out there to support them. HDMI and optical audio on the other hand should under no circumstances face out towards the wall and we were frankly surprised to see this kind of carelessness from Sony.




User experience & features

Sony will continue to use Google’s Android TV operating system in its 2016 models. The company has confirmed that Android TV version 6.0 will be available for both 2015 and 2016 models later this year but it has yet to reach any of the TVs, meaning that for our review sample we were stuck on version 5.1. In other words; not much new to report but there are still some areas that we want to elaborate on.

The TVs are stuck on Android TV 5.1 for now

Operating system & smart TV

Sony claims that Android TV has been a success for them. It has helped them sell more TVs and more premium-priced TVs.

But from a consumer standpoint Android TV throughout 2015 was not exactly smooth sailing. Many owners experienced bugs on a daily basis, some of which required a reboot. In Europe, owners also had to wait for over half a year to receive the promised twin-tuner / recording capabilities via an update.

The last few updates have ironed out many bugs and Google has said that version 6.0 of Android TV focuses primarily on performance and bug fixes. That is great news. Developers have not stumbled over each other to release Android TV apps but the Google Play store makes steady pace and is one of the most comprehensive of any TV operating system (besides Apple tvOS and Amazon FireTV OS).

Android TV is getting better, and in version 6.0 you will be able to better customize the user interface and select which apps are allowed to "recommend" content in the top recommendations bar. Hopefully that will make it feel less like an advertising ploy.

Netflix’s Android TV app has been updated to support HDR (high dynamic range), meaning that you can stream Marco Polo in 4K+HDR. We tried it and can confirm that it works but as said before keep in mind that Sony XD85 does not have the hardware to reproduce HDR. We will expand on the topic in the picture quality section.

Google Cast is integrated, too, allowing you to use the TV as you would use Chromecast. Open any app on your smartphone or tablet with Google Cast support and press the cast logo to push the content wirelessly to the TV. The TV takes over the stream to the server so you can use your mobile device for other tasks.

You can even cast to the TV while it is off, and it will automatically power on, open the relevant app and start playing the video. This is very cool. However, be aware that to use this functionality you need to enable "Remote start" from the settings menu and that it will increase standby consumption to a staggering 20W.

After setting up the TV we had 8.2 GB free of internal storage to install apps. It is not possible to expand storage capacity on Sony’s Android TV until version 6.0 arrives.

There is not else much to add to the story of Sony Android TV until Sony releases version 6.0. Instead, read our Sony XD93 review for some more details.



Remote control and operation

Sony has developed a new remote control for its 2016 TVs but the basic layout design is intact. It is a fairly large, rectangular remote with lots of buttons. There is also a big red Netflix button right in the center next to the Google Play button (for the Google Play Movies and TV store). The material on the back feels like rubber.

The remote feels extremely cheap. It boggles our minds why manufacturers pay so little attention to the remote, which is still the primary input device for TVs. Sony’s remote is physically divided into two parts (upper and lower) and if you squeeze it just a little the skin on your finger can get stuck between the two parts, which is not very comfortable. If you grip it firmly the lower part also starts feeling loose. It is in fact loose because you have to remove it to insert batteries.

I like the new rubber surface and the fact that the remote is Bluetooth based so you do not have to point it directly at the TV, but I dislike everything else about the new remote.



Google does not appear to dictate how Android TVs should be controlled, besides dictating that manufacturers integrate its voice search features. Maybe that is a good thing but we cannot help thinking that remotes are stuck in a TV channel paradigm. For comparison take a look at for example the Apple TV remote. The Apple TV has always centered on streaming and it has allowed Apple to focus and create a remote that is incredibly simple to use because you know exactly what each button does, and the UI has been designed to match.

The same cannot be said for Sony and the Android TV user interface. The remote is designed to accommodate the needs of channel surfing. In a way that is fine because most people still watch channels but in a way it also makes it seem stuck in a weird kind of limbo; not ready to fully embrace apps on TVs.

Sony has stopped bundling two remotes with its TVs.

Sony Android TVs can also be controlled via smartphone. You just need to download the free "TV & Video SideView" app. On iPhone it even supports 3D Touch. With this app you can navigate the TV channel guide, meaning that you can press any channel to make the TV switch to that particular channel. You can also schedule recordings, open apps on the TV and control basic options such as volume control. It is one of the best smartphone companion apps amongst TV manufacturers but the user interface can still be confusing at times. If Sony updated the app with a simpler user interface it would be an excellent companion app.


TV channels, recording & sound

We will not go through everything related to TV channels and recording since nothing has changed compared to a few weeks ago. So we suggest that you read our Sony XD93 review.

In Europe, Sony XD85 has the same twin tuner capabilities as XD93.

The speakers in the TV are rather weak. They are hidden out of sight and listening to them it appears that sounds is projected via the new slope stand, which makes voices and mid-tones sound almost too direct, lacking depth and nuance. The sound environment also lacks bass. We recommend that you consider adding a soundbar or another sound solution, even for casual TV watching.


Calibration

The default settings on XD85 are some of the worst picture settings we have seen from Sony to date. Colors are incredibly inaccurate because Sony has decided to push everything into a much larger color gamut than the native Rec.709 used for almost all HD video content out there. Avoid the "Standard" profile at all costs.

Luckily Sony has included other color profiles that are much better. For example the "Cinema Pro" mode, which offers fairly accurate colors. We like the Cinema Pro profile a lot because it is very close to our reference levels. The color temperature is a bit too high and there is an underrepresentation of red in the picture but besides that it is close. Therefore we also had to carry out only minimal adjustments to reach our calibrated results seen below. We are very pleased with the result. You can find our calibrated settings in the measurements table in the next section.

We have also taken a separate measurement of how large a portion of the DCI-P3 color gamut XD85 can cover. As you can see it needs a more saturated green primary, but it hits the red and blue almost spot-on. As a result, it cannot cover the full DCI-P3 color gamut.



Measurements

In our "measurements" section we include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Measurements Out-of-boxCalibrated
Black level 0.26 cd/m2 0.17 cd/m2
Brightness 218 cd/m2 130 cd/m2
Contrast 839:1 765:1
Peak brightness (HDR) 318 cd/m2 -
Input lag 64 ms 35 ms (Game Mode)

Power consumptionOut-of-box Calibrated
On 97 W 67 W
HDR 120 W -
Standby 0.3 W (20W with remote start) -

Time measurements Time
Start-up (until responsive) 6 s
Start-up (until picture comes up) 4 s
Start-up (with Chromecast) 7-10 s
Netflix app start-up time 10 s
Youtube app start-up time 5 s
TED Talk app start-up time 6 s

Video fileSpecs Status
Dubai 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 23.976fps – 10 bit colors - BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 51.4 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Works
Costa Rica HD HD (2560x1440 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 6.54 Mbps bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Costa Rica 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 12.71 Mbps bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Terrifying Pyroclast 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – variable bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD (.ts version) HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 2.5 Mbps bitrate – 60fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 60fps - 2.2 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .mkv file Works
Jellyfish HD HD (192x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 98.3 Mbps bitrate – AVC - .mkv file Works
LG Arctique 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 8 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 50.0 Mbps bitrate – 29.970fps - AVC - .mp4 file Works
Eutelsat 4K demo 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.1 Mbps bitrate – 50fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
HDR Camp HDR (high dynamic range) - 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – BT.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 75.6 Mbps bitrate – 59.940fps – HEVC ([email protected]) - .mp4 file Works
HDR Smurfs 2 clip HDR (high dynamic range) - 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – BT.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 56.4 Mbps bitrate – 23.976fps – HEVC ([email protected]) - .mp4 file Works
HDR Chappie clip HDR (high dynamic range) - 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – BT.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 60.3 Mbps bitrate – 23.976fps – HEVC ([email protected]) - .mp4 file Works
Ghost Towns 8K 8K (7680x4320 pixels) – variable frame rate – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – AVC - .mp4 file Fail

Group SettingValue
Picture mode Cinema Pro
Auto Picture Mode Off
Brightness 11 (higher if MotionFlow = Clear)
Color 50
Light sensor On/Off
Advanced Gamma -2
Black level 50
Black adjust Off
Adv. contrast enhancer Off
Color Color 50
Color temp Expert 1
Color space sRGB/BT.709
Live Color Off
RGB 2-point Red gain Max
Green gain -4
Blue gain -5
Red bias +1
Green bias 0
Blue bias -4
Clarity Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manual
Mastered in 4K On
Random noise reduction Off
Digital Noise reduction Off
Motion MotionFlow Off / Clear / Custom

Note: If you set MotionFlow to Clear or Custom you need to increase the backlight intensity (brightness setting) since you the TV will start using black frame insertion. You can also activate the Light sensor, which will let the TV automatically adjust its backlight setting depending on ambient light levels in the room. It is a good idea to use the light sensor if vary TV watching between daytime and evening time.


Sony XD85 review


Picture quality

Given that Sony has switched to IPS type LCD panels for this year’s 8 series we expected some significant changes. However, it is important to remember that part of what have made Sony’s TVs popular over the years is the company’s excellent picture processing systems. Those are intact in XD85. Before we get to that we just wanted to say XD85 has a semi-glossy panel that suffers a medium level of reflection in a brightly lit room. We have seen much worse.

Unlike last year’s X85C that used a VA type LCD panel, this year’s XD85 uses an IPS type LCD panel. Maybe you already know the general characteristics of each type but if not, the best way to think about it is probably that VA has relatively good contrast and black levels but narrow viewing angles - vice versa for IPS.

With that in mind we started watching regular SD and HD content. As we mentioned in the calibration section the "Standard" profile is terrible. Likely the worst we have seen from Sony ever. Avoid it. Things got much, much better after calibration and XD85 is perfectly capable of reproducing very accurate colors. In a dimly lit room on the other hand it is clear that the IPS panel has quite poor contrast. The picture simply lacks some depth and intensity overall.

As always, Sony has a great video processing. The TV handles SD and HD scaling well, de-interlacing looks good, and in general we noticed almost no issues in image processing. This also means that video in HD and even SD looks perfectly enjoyable on the 55-inch TV. Of course not as good as native 4K content. Upscaling video from HD to 4K does not improve the HD picture in any significant way, despite manufacturers’ claims. You need native 4K content to fully enjoy the TV’s high resolution.



Sony, like all of its competitors, claims that its mid-range XD85 supports HDR (high dynamic range). However, XD85 does not have the hardware to reproduce HDR - in Sony’s language it does not feature the "X-tended Dynamic Range Pro" system. So why claim it? Well, it is certainly true that the TV can receive and process HDR material (or to be precise: SMPTE ST2084). We tried with a suite of different HDR video clips and the TV correctly identified all of them.

However, since XD85 does not have the hardware to do it, the effect is limited. In some scenes, especially outdoor scenes, we noticed that the HDR pictures had more "pop". Sunlight reflections looked clearer and slightly more intense and the whole picture appeared to be more vivid. The former can in part be attributed to HDR while the latter has more to do with the extended color gamut that XD85 supports.

As you saw in our measurement section, XD85 partly covers the DCI-P3 color gamut (but lacks a more saturated green primary), which is made possible by the "Triluminos" system. So when watching HDR video the TV can take advantage of the wide color gamut. It cannot be utilized while watching regular HD Blu-rays or regular 4K streaming (or SD/HD channels/streaming for that matter) because these types of content are encoded in the older and smaller Rec.709 color gamut.

So yes, feeding the TV with HDR content does have an effect. Better quality material is always better and a HDR-encoded video clip typically offers better picture characteristics than the 4K equivalent because HDR material uses the more effective SMPTE 2048 EOTF and wide color gamut.

However, HDR also has several downsides on a mid-range TV like XD85. Because the TV has no local dimming (yeah, we know it has a few edge LED zones but that is not the same) it has to push the backlight setting into max to reach the higher brightness levels for highlights in the picture, which in turn causes significant light bleeding in all four corner and even in the black bars below and above the picture. This is true for all LCDs. Once you feed a LCD TV with HDR content it maxes out the backlight setting (and power consumption jumps dramatically) but try to bring down the average brightness level in the picture by blocking more light in the liquid crystal pixel cells.

When watching HDR on XD85 it is crystal clear that we are looking at an IPS LCD panel. The TV simply does not have the black levels to support HDR video and once the TV pushed the backlight setting into max it completely destroys black levels and shadow details. As we have said many times before, HDR is not about peak brightness. HDR has to do with the entire dynamic range, hence the name.

XD85 also supports Netflix’s HDR streaming. Netflix currently has only one TV series in HDR, Marco Polo, and it is not the most impressive HDR demo. To be honest we would rather watch the 4K version (without HDR) of Marco Polo on a TV like Sony XD85 based on the issues described above.

Our experience with UHD Blu-ray is not much different. Colors look better but because of the wide color gamut but because XD85 does not have the hardware to reproduce HDR the black levels and shadow details get washed out.

We used three video clips that we have in both SDR and HDR (same bitrate and everything) to examine differences, and at times we noticed that the HDR version appeared to stutter at bit more during panning shots. We could not identify exactly why but it happened. You can see a few HDR vs. SDR photos below. Our camera cannot capture HDR and your screen cannot reproduce it so ignore clipped details in bright areas. You might be able to notice that colors look more saturated (the photos are shot in sRGB gamut so the full effect is not captured). It was much harder to capture a shot of how black levels got washed out but take a look at our light homogeneity photos further down to get an idea.



We will refrain from jumping to conclusions because we need to examine HDR on more mid-range TVs than just XD85, but based on what we have seen on XD85 we are certainly not convinced that you can do HDR on a mid-range LCD TV. In some scenes HDR looked better on XD85 but in many scenes, including all dark scenes, it clearly looked worse. Even more critical, since the "UHD Premium" is awarded to even edge LED based LCD TVs we are concerned that not even this badge will ensure a proper HDR experience. But as said, let’s wait with the conclusions.

Since XD85 support VP9 decoding, you can enjoy YouTube in 4K resolution, too. YouTube will roll out HDR support later this year, which requires hardware support for VP9-Profile2 decoding, and Sony has said that it will support that. We cannot confirm yet.

Traditional HD Blu-ray still looked great and XD85 handled 1080p24 correctly. Sony has also fixed the 23.976Hz issue that affected streaming services such as Netflix last year.

As discussed the picture generally lacks some depth - even for regular non-HDR content - which is attributable to the IPS panel. We measured black level to 0.19 cd/m2 after calibration, which is high even for an IPS panel. We liked last year’s X85C a lot and praised it for its great picture quality. Unfortunately, we feel that the switch to IPS has more downsides than upsides. Most importantly, it makes the entire picture feel a bit faded and contrast-poor. Despite the wider color gamut, which visibly improves the picture when you feed the TV with HDR content, we think that last year’s X85C had an overall better picture.

It does not help that XD85 suffers from light homogeneity issues. This can occur on all LCDs and is a common problem; more so on edge LED LCDs than LCDs with direct LCD. XD85 uses edge LED. As you can see from the photos below there are bleeding and clouding issues on XD85. And the black level is weak.



If you are planning to use XD85 for PlayStation or Xbox gaming, you should pay attention to input lag. It defines the lag from the input signal (and game controllers) to the picture appears on screen. The lowest input lag we measured on XD85 was 35 ms (in game mode), which is good but not best-in-class. Below 50 ms is generally considered good enough and below 25 ms is considered very good. We did not spot any particular issues with blurring either. Motion reproduction is over average compared to other mid-range TVs.

The TV does not support 3D. Only Sony’s 9 series models do this year.

Viewing angles are wide, which was expected based on the fact that XD85 is based on an IPS panel. There is still some minor color shifting from extreme angles but we would not be concerned about placing XD85 in a living room with off-axis seating positions. Only plasmas and OLEDs have better viewing angles than IPS LCD. In this area XD85 is also significantly better than last year’s X85C.



Conclusion

On paper Sony XD85 is the successor to last year’s top-seller X85C but in reality it is a much different TV. Sony has switched from a VA LCD panel in last year’s set to an IPS LCD panel in XD85, and it has obvious consequences. First and foremost, it means that Sony has sacrificed black levels for wider viewing angles.

Is that a good compromise? It depends on your habits. If you mostly watch TV during daytime or in a brightly lit room you will likely not be bothered much by the weak black levels, but if you mostly watch TV in the evening hours of the day you will surely notice that the picture lacks contrast and depth. On the other hand, the wide viewing angles are optimal for living rooms with multiple seating positions.

However, as a full package we think that picture quality is a clear downgrade compared to the predecessor. That is true even when you consider other factors such the expanded color gamut and support for HDR, which is a claim at best. To us, XD85 has little to do with HDR (high dynamic range) and if HDR is on your wish list you should seriously consider buying a full-array local dimming LCD TV instead – or better yet an OLED TV. XD93 is also a significantly better TV. XD85 is not a bad TV and its motion reproduction and relatively low input lag should be praised but the TV market is a competitive arena.

Android TV on the other hand has gotten better. Not because of faster hardware, because Sony has chosen to use the exact same chip, but because of software optimizations by Google. Built-in Chromecast is great and you can even use it when the TV is off. However, Android TV still has some ground to cover.

We had hoped that Sony would improve the 8 series through iteration. It could have become something great. Instead the company has created something entirely different. It feels a little too random. If you want a Sony TV we would recommend that you seriously consider buying Sony XD93 instead – maybe that is exactly what Sony had in mind.

Compare prices for Sony XD85 on Pricerunner


Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer


Color accuracy and wide color gamut
Good motion reproduction
Wide viewing angles
Decent input lag
Built-in Chromecast


Out-of-box settings
Weak black depth
Poor “HDR”
Poor remote control
Android TV still not great


Nearest competitors







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