Sony Z9D ZD9 review

Review: Sony Z9D (ZD9)

26 Sep 2016 | Torben Rasmussen


Sony decided to expand its TV line-up this fall with a new flagship TV. Z9D in the US and ZD9 in Europe uses a special "Focused Light Beam" technology to challenge other high-end full array local dimming LCDs. Sony’s TV joins the exclusive club of LCD TVs with more than 500 individually dimmable zones. It obviously supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) and an expanded color space, too.

The TV exists in 65, 76 and 100-inch sizes. We have received the 65-inch model for review.

Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

65"
VA LCD panel (backlit)
Individual LED control
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR (HDR10)
DCI-P3 color space
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA compatible)
(HxWxD) 84,7 x 146,2 x 7,8 cm (without stand)
32,0 kg (without stand)
HDMI (4x 2.0 )
USB (3x)
Ethernet
1x CI+
Optical
HDMI ARC (1x)
2x 10W stereo
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile 2
Android TV 6.0
Bluetooth remote (with microphone)
Manual
Remote
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First impressions

Sony Z9D stands out from most of Sony’s other TVs by using a backlit LED LCD panel and stands out from the previous flagship TV, X94D, by having more addressable dimming zones. Sony has developed a new form of local dimming where each individual LED can be addressed. The principle is called "Focused Light Beam", and Sony markets it as "Backlight Master Drive".

As soon as you set up the TV you notice that this Z9D is unlike most other LCDs as it certainly has some weight and volume to it. It is far from being as thin as some of the edge-lit LCDs or high-end OLED TVs out there. This is of course perfectly natural given how it works; the LEDs are positioned behind the LCD panel.

The back of the TV has been redesigned somewhat and instead of the classic smooth surface that Sony generally prefers to use, it looks more like a sort of matrix. A clever detail is how Sony has managed to beautifully integrate the cover panels used to hide input/output ports. You can remove different parts of the matrix to gain access to the various ports.

Sony has also finally managed to integrate all ports in a way so that they point either to the side or down. Only the analog ports - that you shouldn’t use anyway - point out towards the wall. This ensures that you can mount the TV very close to the wall. Behind the cover panels you can route cables down via the stand module.




The design of the stand and bezel follows Sony’s conventions for the rest of the 2016 line-up but there a few details to make it look more exclusive such as the new golden frame. It is probably also worth mentioning that the 100" model has a different stand that allows you to place it directly on the floor. Unlike X93D, the power supply is integrated in Z9D and we applaud this move. It just felt wrong to buy a high-end TV with a giant power brick attached.

In the box there is a remote that at first glance looks like Sony’s regular remote but reveals some differences when picked up - more on that later. We are handling the 65" version and it weighs 35 kg (with stand).




The LCD panel on Z9D is glossy but slightly less so than X93D and last year’s X85C. When you turn on the TV for the first time you quickly realize that it has a few aces up its sleeve when it comes to reducing reflections...


User experience & features

It should come as no surprise that the TV runs on Google’s Android TV platform. Sony adopted the TV operating system last year and with Z9D, Sony has finally updated to the next software version.


Operating system & smart TV

"Android TV 6.0"
Sony Z9D finally runs on Android TV version 6.0 that was released almost one year ago. The TV also has a faster and more capable processor that on paper should improve the user experience and improve support for HDR.

For those of you who had hoped for a speed revolution and a slew of new features, let me burst the bubble and start out by saying that Android TV 6.0 feels almost exactly like Android TV 5.1 on for example Sony X93D. There are very few visual differences and the most noteworthy change in the user interface is probably Sony’s "Discover" menu that is not actually part of Android. There are some minor changes in how icons on the home menu can be arranged but besides that it feels unchanged. The extra processing power in the TV does not appear to have a major impact either and we experienced the same issues in the same areas, especially when accessing menus, EPG etc.

However, there are improvements to find if you dig deeper. For example, with X93D we experienced issues with streaming uncompressed 1080p material via Kodi but Z9D runs noticeably smoother. On the other hand, most games are still not playable so keep your game console around for now. I also want to repeat a point I have made before about the built-in video player app in Android, which is lousy for navigating a large library. We typically store test video clips on USB devices but it is a pain to access +1000 files when the app is so slow to open folders.

After close to two years on the market, we have had a chance to examine quite a few Android TVs, including Sony Android TV, and since Android TV 6.0 does not feature any major new features - those will be coming with version 7.0 - we refer to our previous reviews of Sony TVs.

Before we wrap up and move on there is, however, one minor new feature in the picture settings menu that we would like to call attention to. In the picture menu there is now an option to turn off HDR on the TV - regardless of the video source. That may sound strange, especially given that Z9D is a high-end TV with proper hardware to reproduce HDR, but for mid-range TVs this is great news. This will finally make it possible to deactivate the HDR part of the signal on TVs that do not come close to having hardware to reproduce HDR, and just enjoy the 4K resolution instead. No more washed out "HDR pictures" on mid-range TVs – fingers crossed.


Remote control and operation

As mentioned in the introduction, the remote control bundled with Z9D looks unchanged at first glance. However, as soon as you pick it up you can feel a difference. The remote weighs more because the rear is no longer made from plastic but instead metal.

We have been harsh in our criticism of Sony’s new remote control, which to us ranks as one of the worst out there so we are happy to see that Sony is moving in the right direction again. Another positive consequence of the new metal back your skin no longer gets pinched between the joints when pressing the buttons. Still, this does not change the fact that the buttons have poor haptic feedback.

The built-in microphone is still located at the top of the remote and communicates with the TV via bluetooth. The rest of the buttons rely on infrared, which require you to point the remote directly at the TV.

Sony ZD9 review


Sony’s Sideview app is still one of the better companion apps out there. It allows you to operate the TV from your mobile devices and it works like before. You have access to the EPG, a full remote screen, apps, and recording features. If you deactivate a power saving function in the menu you can also turn on the TV from the app but be aware that deactivating this function will increase standby consumption.


TV channels, recording & sound

Like the general user interface, there are also very few changes in the TV channel interface. The “Discover” menu shows a thumbnail of the program that is being broadcast on each respective channel and if a thumbnail is missing it has some more modern icons to use as placeholders. The TV guide has also gained a few genre based recommendations for TV watching but it is not as intuitive or flexible as using the Sideview app.

You can still connect a USB hard drive to use for recording via the twin-tuner. However, like previous Sony models, Z9D insists on powering the hard drive on and off constantly (even when the TV is off), which causes unnecessary wear on the mechanical parts. It is not clear why this is the case as it appears to serve no purpose at all and it happens regardless of whether the hard drive has been configured as a unit for recording or not.

One would assume that the significantly thicker cabinet in Z9D would allow Sony to integrate speakers with more punch than the average TV but despite our hopes the TV sound is depressingly flat. Sony offers an optional wireless subwoofer but it will obviously only improve the deep tones so it does not make much sense to pair it with the built-in TV speakers. You should definitely connect proper speakers to the TV.


Calibration

The "Standard" picture mode is, as usual, too cold and bluish in its tone, so we use the “Movie” mode as a starting point for our calibration. Sony is aiming for a gamma of 2.4, which is a conscious choice, but nevertheless it is a bit on the dark side. We aim - as always - for a gamma of 2.2 for mixed use. We managed to reduce the dE deviations for colors with very little effort as Z9D has very decent factory calibration. However, since the TV will only allow you to decrease the values at the bright end of the RGB scale we had to lower all three a little before making our final adjustments.

In order to benefit from the advanced backlight system you need to have automatic local dimming function set to "on", which it is per default. However, be aware that it constantly makes small adjustments to the gamma curve (to compensate for how the dimming system works) so it can mess with your measurements during calibration. Another thing to keep in mind when calibrating the Z9D is that if you opt to use "MotionFlow" several of the profiles will activate scanning backlight that will more or less halve brightness.




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 (ANSI) 0.062 cd/m2 0.022 cd/m2
Brightness 291 cd/m2 159 cd/m2
Contrast 4694:1 7227:1
Peak brightness (HDR) 1600 cd/m2 1400 cd/m2
700 cd/m2 (with MotionFlow + scanning backlight)
Input lag 98 ms (Cinema) 45 ms (Game Mode)

Power consumptionOut-of-box Calibrated
SDR - W 120-150 W
HDR 280 W (max backlight) Up to 280 W
Standby 0.3 W (20 W if wake-on-WiFi is activated) -

Time Time
Start-up (until responsive) 9 s
Start-up (until picture comes on) 7 s
Netflix app start-up 5 s
Youtube app start-up 3 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
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
Spreed HD HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 29.970fps – 0.9 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

Group SettingValue
Profile Cinema Pro
Light Brightness 25
Contrast 90
Gamma -1
Black level 50
Automatic local dimming High
Adv. contrast enhancer Off
X-tended dynamic range Off
Color Color 50
Color balance 50
Color temp Expert 1
Color space Auto
Live Color Off
Adv. color Red gain -3
Green gain -4
Blue gain -4
Red bias 2
Green bias 0
Blue bias 1
Clarity Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manual
Resolution 20
Mastered in 4K On
Random noise reduction Off
Random noise reduction Off
Motion MotionFlow Clear (Standard for HDR)
Film mode Off
Video functions HDR mode Auto
HDMI video Auto
Color space Auto

Note: We only offer calibration settings for SDR, not yet HDR. For our calibration we have not used the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. Use this if you use your TV during the day, too.

A thing to keep in mind is that if you want to be able to turn on the TV from the TV SideView app standby power consumption jumps to 20W. This is a significant price to pay every year so if you care about your energy bill and the environment leave the feature off.


Sony ZD9 review


Picture quality

Even though Sony has opted not to get Z9D “UHD Premium” certified and to use the logo, Z9D has the hardware to meet the requirements because it offers a very potent backlight system. We are currently only able to generate a 10% window for measuring peak brightness and here the TV has a peak brightness of 1600 nits. If you reduce the size of the window it may be able to hit even higher peak values. The TV also manages to reproduce black lower than the 0.05 nits that is required under UHD Premium.

As mentioned, Z9D has many more local dimming zones than mid-range TVs and the closest competitor will have to be Panasonic DX900 that we reviewed earlier this year. On Sony’s TV we are counting 35x18 zones (others are reporting 34x19 but let us not quarrel over that), which amounts to a total of 630 zones (or individual “focused light beam LEDs” to be exact). Like DX900, Z9D now has so many zones that it outnumbers most other LCD TVs out there. And with a peak brightness of over 1600 nits, there is enough brightness to make HDR video "pop". However, our measurements showed that Z9D does not have as wide a color gamut as for example DX900 as it lacks some saturation in the green area of the DCI-P3 gamut.



For the review we used the Samsung UBD-K8500 player for UHD Blu-ray movies, and once the HDMI port that the player is connected to has been configured to expect and handle HDR, you are ready to enjoy the abundance of brightness that this TV has to offer.

And like Panasonic DX900, HDR video on Z9D looks excellent. The high peak brightness level delivers certain scenes with an intensity unlike most other TVs. It makes brightness peaks in the picture look quite stunning. The expanded DCI-P3 color space is also a very visible improvement over Rec.709 used for SDR content.

Since Z9D now allows the user to turn off HDR without having to mess with the HDMI signal, a 1:1 comparison between HDR and SDR is now relatively easy to do. Previously, we used two test video sequences, one encoded in SDR and one encoded in HDR, but with this feature you can more easily compare the two to see what you gain (or miss). Of course with a TV like Sony Z9D the HDR picture is preferable but it is an interesting exercise nevertheless. Of course, we cannot faithfully reproduce the difference here since our camera does not capture in HDR and your monitor cannot handle HDR, but we still think that the photos below can give you a hint about the difference. The pictures are from Netflix, which we used here to confirm that it really is possible to deactivate Netflix’s HDR, if you prefer to watch just the 4K streams.




As soon as the movie rolls you only occasionally notice the blooming / haloing issues that unfortunately still plague all LCDs, and will continue to do so until they can drastically improve the number of dimming zones, ideally one for each pixel. That is unlikely to happen and Z9D has not yet reached the point where these issues are reduced to such an extent that you can completely ignore them.

Even with 18 rows of zones, there are some scenes where light spills over into the black bars on top and bottom as well as some scenes that Sony Z9D is simply incapable of reproducing acceptably such as a starry night sky. In a scene like this the LCD will have to choose between having visible halos around/between star clusters or having relatively dim stars to maintain faithful blacks. This is not limited to HDR content per se as the screen will also try to control the zones in such a manner that SDR picture content reaches deep blacks but the result is often that areas that were not supposed to be dimmed or highlighted, are.

(The following photo is overexposed to illustrate the effect. EXIF data ere embedded in all photos if you want to examine. In practice, blooming will look less severe, depending on the type of content)

Sony ZD9 review


Z9D is without doubt one of the best LCD TVs for HDR reproduction that we have seen to date, but it does not beat HDR reproduction on the 2016 OLEDs that manage to reach visibly deeper black levels and at the same time maintain a higher dynamic range throughout a movie. One of the areas where we noticed particularly visible halos on Z9D was around subtitles, especially when the subtitles are pure white like on Netflix.

Also see our OLED vs. LCD overview

On several occasions we also noticed how the overall brightness level in the picture changed with a scene change but was a split-second delayed, meaning that you would momentarily watch the scene at one brightness level before it got boosted to a higher brightness level. The eye is more sensitive to light at the periphery so it was actually most visible when you weren’t paying full attention to the picture on screen and in general we did not feel that it affected the otherwise great picture quality in any significant way - just an area with room for improvement.




The picture processor in Z9D is as convincing as we have come to expect from Sony’s high-end TVs. It handles SD, HD and UHD without skipping a beat. From our test patters we could see that the TV had a tendency to crush the darkest grey tones but nothing too alarming. Poor SD signals and noisy HD feeds had a tendency to exhibit some dithering-like noise, a bit more than expected, but we never saw anything of the like with our own HD material. HD Blu-rays were upscaled in exemplary manner and looked excellent.

Sony offers one of the best motion systems for TVs (MotionFlow). We have typically preferred to use the "Clear" mode but with Z9D you need to be aware that it impacts peak brightness in HDR quite considerably. Peak brightness actually halves when MotionFlow is set to "Clear" because this mode engages the scanning backlight system. This is a trade-off and if you want the smoothest motion you simply have to live with a lower peak brightness level. However, for SDR it is great to see that Z9D still can deliver +200 nits with scanning backlights (in “Clear”) engaged. MotionFlow’s "Standard" mode still delivers a decent result that smoothens out motion and maintains an acceptable level of motion resolution. However, it also exhibits motion artefacts at times, so in the end it is a matter of taste what compromise one prefers.

Like most other HDR TVs, Sony offers a function to boost - or "upscale" if you will - SDR content to look like HDR. It can be engaged from the menu with the "X-tended Dynamic Range" option. In our opinion this does more damage to the picture than it helps. It simply looks very unnatural and ruins the creator’s intent. Sort of like the "Dynamic" picture mode on speed. Another thing that is worth noting is that while most TVs handles HDR as a separate picture mode that automatically switches the TV to maximum brightness, Sony’s Z9D uses the picture mode that you have selected. This means that if you want full brightness for HDR you also need to use it normally for the picture mode selected. This is not the most optimal implementation of HDR detection but on the other hand maximum brightness is not necessarily a quality in itself - we would only wish that it was a separate parameter for HDR signals in the new dedicated menu.

The use of backlit LED reduces the risk of inhomogeneous backlight distribution and issues such as “clouding” and “bleeding” but as you can see in the pictures below our sample suffered a little from "dirty screen" in the upper half of the panel. It did not bother us during real use and we were only able to spot it on test patterns. The panel had slightly darker corners, but again nothing critical. There were no issues with bleeding or vertical bands.




Historically one of the inherent disadvantages of a VA LCD panel has been narrow viewing angles, and Z9D, which is based on VA LCD, is unsurprisingly no exception. There is a visible drop in contrast starting from a relatively narrow viewing angle and Z9D does not perform any better (or worse) than other TVs from Sony based on VA LCD panels. For HDR this has a quite visible effect since the reduction in contrast from an angle exposes far worse blooming/haloing than when sitting right in front of the TV. In dark scene with bright objects it will be evident to most viewers sitting at an angle that this is a VA LCD and not OLED or IPS LCD.




Unlike the cheaper Sony TVs, their flagship TV comes bundled with 3D glasses but unfortunately we must conclude that we would rather have lived in blissful ignorance when it comes to the TV’s 3D performance because it is really nothing to get excited about. There is excruciating amount of crosstalk in 3D pictures and the glasses produced some flicker at the top of the picture, which we were unable to fix through settings. It did not help to use another pair of glasses either. So while Z9D may be one of the last remaining high-end TVs with 3D, it is certainly not a good choice for enjoying your collection of 3D movies.

When it comes to game console use Z9D is mediocre. With the game mode activated input lag can be brought down to 45 ms but in the movie mode it reaches close to 100 ms, which is clearly too high for game console use. There is some ground to cover before Sony can reach the same 20 ms input lag that Samsung can brag about. This certainly does not make Z9D unfit for game console use - many will probably find the 45 ms adequate - but not recommendable either.

See how it compares to other TVs that we have tested in our input lag overview.


Conclusion

Sony Z9D in the US and ZD9 in Europe is a flagship TV and with its very high peak brightness, lots of dimmable zones, and splendid HDR performance it can certainly compete with other high-end LCD TVs, including the much acclaimed DX900 from Panasonic.

HDR on Z9D is a pleasure to witness and it delivers the highest peak brightness that we have seen to date from any TV. The local dimming system helps maintain a respectable black level and the expanded color gamut brings HDR movies to live. Unfortunately, it still suffers from blooming/haloing like other FALD LCD TVs, so despite Z9D delivering one of the most intense HDR experiences we have seen on a LCD TV, it cannot match the superior picture dynamic than you get with OLED technology.

Still, the TV delivers a detailed and crisp picture in SD, HD and UHD and the company’s MotionFlow technology is still the best available for smoothening out movement without introducing too many artefacts. However, the best mode, "Clear", reduces peak brightness considerably, which will affect HDR picture quality if you opt to it.

Android TV on the other hand has not improved much so if you were not satisfied with version 5.x, the updated 6.0 software in Z9D is not likely to change your mind. The more powerful processor changes little and the more demanding Android games are still unplayable. More apps are being released every week but some major services still only work with Google Cast. Speaking of negatives we also have to highlight the speakers and 3D picture quality, which both leaves much to be desired. The remote has been slightly updated with a new metal back but is otherwise identical with Sony’s standard remote that is not exactly great.

Z9D is without doubt the best TV from Sony to date and one of the best LCD TVs ever but with a relatively high price tag ($6000) it has to compete with the other manufacturers’ flagship TVs, including LG’s 2016 OLED TVs that start at $4000 for 65". And comparing Z9D to one of these we would, without doubt, pick the OLED. If you want one of the best LCD TVs today, Z9D is a great choice but compared to the competition the price seems a bit too steep.

Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer


Impressive peak brightness
HDR and DCI-P3 with many local dimming zones
Great picture processing
Best Motion system
Decent backlight homogeneity


Narrow viewing angles
"Halos" around bright objects in the picture
Too much 3D crosstalk
Weak sound
Mediocre input lag


Nearest competitors







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