Sony X85E review

Review: Sony X85E (XE85)

17 May 2017 | Rasmus Larsen


X85E in the US and XE85 in Europe is a 2017 mid-range TV from Sony. It is the successor to last year’s X85D (XD85) but differs in one key area, namely that it switches from an IPS LCD panel to a VA LCD panel. This alone should increase contrast visibly. In addition, it features 4K resolution, HDR, and Google’s Android TV operating system.

With the 85 series, Sony hopes to take on Samsung and LG’s mainstream models, but can it? We were disappointed with HDR picture quality on last year’s 85 model and other mid-range TVs so can X85E bring much-needed improvements in this area to the table? Let us find out.

Depending on your country in Europe, XE85 will exist in various design versions such as XE8505, XE8577, XE8588, XE8599, XE8596, and possibly others. These are all the same TV from a technical standpoint.


Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

55"
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR10 & HLG (later firmware)
DCI-P3 color space
VA LCD with edge LED
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA 200x200)
(HxWxD) 71.7 x 123.2 x 5.6 cm (without stand)
18.6 kg (without stand)
4x HDMI (4x 2.0)
3x USB
Ethernet
1x CI+
Optical
HDMI-ARC
Headphones
2.0 stereo (2x 10W)
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile2
Android TV 6.0
Bluetooth remote (with microphone)
Remote smartphone app
Manual
Remote control
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First impressions


Sony established a new design foundation and few years ago and X85E follows in its tracks. It is by no means a flashy TV but it looks light and elegant.

The thin bezel is adorned by a thin silver line sandwiched in between two matte black plastic layers. The back is kept mostly clean but there is the usual ”bump” that we see on most modern TVs. Over the years, display panels have become very thin but a TV still requires modules like a power supply, print boards, tuners, and ports. These components take up space.

Part of the “bump” problem is manufacturers’ insistence on including legacy analog ports. I find it hard to understand why a 4K TV needs to be equipped with analog video input ports like the ‘component’ port in 2017. Nevertheless, Sony has chosen to do exactly that. These legacy ports point out towards the wall. We can live with that but we are disappointed to conclude that HDMI1 and the optical audio port also point in the same direction, making it difficult to mount the TV flush to the wall (if you want to use these connectors).

When first setting up the TV, the base felt a little wobbly but it does the job. In each of the two legs there is a small cavity for hiding cables. It is a cheap but very effective solution. The power cable is located at the opposite side than the rest of the ports.

As said, X85E is no stunner but for a mid-range TV I think it looks decent enough.

Like almost any other TV today, X85E has a glossy panel that reflects bright objects in your surroundings. We have seen much more effective anti-reflective filters on LCD TVs but of course we have to keep in mind that XE85 is a mid-range TV.




User experience & features


As you may know, Google and Sony teamed up in 2015 to integrate the ’Android TV’ operating system into most of Sony’s TVs. This is the third iteration but unfortunately X85E uses last year’s SoC (System on Chip); a MediaTek MT5891, which is a little sluggish. The TV comes pre-installed with Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) but will receive an update to Android 7.0 later.

There is not much else of substance to add at this moment. X85E has the same software and hardware as the late 2016 and other 2017 Sony TVs that we have already examined in-depth so check out our reviews section if you want to learn more.

One thing that I do feel inclined to add is that Sony is one of the few manufacturers that actually manages to update software on previous TVs. It can take over a year for the latest Android version to arrive and Android TVs are at least 1 generation behind but that is still better than any competing manufacturer; all of them abandon only one year old “Smart TV”.

Sony X85E review


I should probably also add that the remote control has been slightly tweaked in 2017. It still feels incredibly cheap but at least it no longer creaks or pinches your skins in the joints. It has dedicated buttons for Google Play (the movie store) and Netflix. All things considered I can accept that a remote control like this comes bundled with mid-range TV but be aware that it is the same remote you have to endure when you buy one of the more expensive 2017 Sony TVs.

YouTube HDR did not work on our sample even though it was supposed to (the MediaTek chip should support ‘VP9 Profile 2’). I am not sure exactly why.

I you have not already heard, Sony will discontinue core functionality of the TV SideView mobile app, rendering it as good as useless. You can still use it to control basic TV functions but for that purpose you can also use Google’s official Android TV app. We took it for a spin and it has its moments but also some issues. One of the issues I found is that Google has yet to standardize text input in the Android TV user interface, meaning that an app such as Netflix uses its own text editor.

Sony X85E review


There seems to be some communication problem because whenever you try to input text in Netflix with the official Android TV app, it adds on top of new input all the letters you have already typed. So typing ‘ABC’ turns into ‘AABABC’. There are surely still bugs to be ironed out in Android TV. This one feels so basic that it should have been caught in version 0.1.

The built-in speakers are weak, bordering on shrill. Like most manufacturers, Sony has made an effort to make voices sound clear but besides that sound feels trapped and without bass. Depending on what you expect, this may be enough for casual TV watching but we would definitely recommend that you consider connecting a more powerful sound system.




Calibration


It is standard procedure here at FlatpanelsHD to warn you about using the ‘Standard’ color mode on any TV. We also refer to this as ”out-of-box” settings and if you care just remotely about good picture quality and accurate colors you should avoid using the Standard mode on any Sony TV, including X85E. Just for completeness we did take a measurement (included below) but it was not pretty and ‘Vivid’ mode is so bad that it will make your eyes cry. Also notice, that the ‘Standard’ mode pushes everything into a much larger color gamut than the content was created in. We quickly moved on and used ‘Cinema Pro’ as a starting point.

As you can see in the tab table below, even the Cinema Pro mode is not spot-on but with some minor tweaks (2-point adjustment) we managed to improve color accuracy to under dE 2, which is a low enough error to not be discernible by the human eye. Ignore the jump at black in the calibration report since it was a blip in the measurements. If you want, you can use Sony’s 10-point controls to optimize even further but you need measuring equipment.

We have also included HDR measurements in the rightmost tab in the table below. The TV covers 92% of the DCI-P3 color gamut and 68% of the Rec.2020 color gamut, which a little more than Panasonic EX700 but not particularly impressive in perspective. The TV offers separate picture modes for SDR and HDR. We did not measure all of the HDR modes but based on our testing ‘Cinema Pro [HDR]’ is the most accurate.





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 0.09 cd/m2 0.04 cd/m2
Black level (HDR) >0.14 cd/m2 >0.14 cd/m2
Brightness 356 cd/m2 129 cd/m2
Peak brightness (HDR) 404 cd/m2 404 cd/m2
Contrast 3956:1 3225:1
Contrast (HDR) 2886:1 2886:1
Input lag 109 ms 32 ms (Game Mode)
DCI-P3 92% -
Rec.2020 68% -

Power consumptionOut-of-box Calibrated
SDR 101 W 69 W
HDR 124 W 124 W
Standby 0.3 W (20 W with quick start function)

Time measurements Time
Start-up (until responsive) 4 s
Start-up (until picture comes on) 3 s
Netflix app start-up 3 s
Youtube app start-up 6 s
Amazon app start-up 13 s
Google Play app start-up 4 s

Video file / sourceSpecs Status
Amazon 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC Works
Netflix 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC Works
YouTube 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – VP9 Profile2 4K works
HDR fails
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 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 Fails
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
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
TravelXP HLG 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 50fps frame rate – 10 bit colors – BT.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – HEVC – HLG – .ts file Fails (HLG SDR)
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 Fails

GroupSettingValue
Profile Cinema Pro
Brightness Brightness 8
Contrast 90
Gamma -1
Black level 50
Black adjust Off
Adv contrast enhancer Off
Colors Color 50
Hue 0
Color temperature Expert 1
Color space Auto
Live Color Off
Adv. color temp Red gain Max
Green gain -3
Blue gain -5
Red bias 4
Green bias -1
Blue bias -2
Clarity Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manual
Resolution 20
Mastered in 4K On
Random noise reduction Off
Digital noise reduction Off
Smooth gradation Off
Motion MotionFlow Off/Clear (Off for HDR)
Film mode Off
Video options HDR mode Auto
HDMI video range 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. You may prefer to enable it if you watch TV during both day and night.



Sony XE85 review


Picture quality


As mentioned in the introduction, X85E is the successor to last year’s X85D but from a picture quality perspective the two TVs are actually more different than alike. In 2016, Sony switched to an IPS LCD panel in the 85 series. In 2017, Sony is switching back (like the 2015 X85C) to a VA LCD panel that has deeper blacks and contrast.

Before we start, I think it is important to mark out the pitch. The TV industry is currently transitioning to 4K resolution and HDR (High Dynamic Range). The former is easy to comprehend: More pixels = better clarity. However, based on discussions I find that many people continue to underestimate the importance of HDR. It is currently also one of the most misunderstood concepts in the video industry.

The reason why I am highlighting this again is that more and more TVs claim to support HDR. If you have read our previous reviews you will know that the problem is that many of these TVs lack the hardware to reproduce HDR. HDR is easy to support in software but requires very powerful hardware. X85E is one of these TVs. You can see from our measurements in the measurement table in the previous section that it does not come close to fulfilling the ’UHD Premium’ certification that the industry has agreed on; something that I consider minimum requirements for reproducing HDR video.

For the more expensive X93E Sony had developed a new edge-lit based zone dimming system to improve HDR. However, X85E uses more conventional edge LED and as I have said before conventional edge LED is simply not capable of reproducing HDR due to several factors. When in HDR mode, X85E maxes out brightness, meaning that power consumption reaches max load and that black levels get destroyed. In HDR mode, peak brightness was measured to a little over 400 nits and black depth (on an ANSI pattern) to over 0.14 nits. I say “over” because maxing out backlight makes clouding in some areas of the panel much worse. 0.14 nits black is IPS LCD territory and looks more like dark gray than black.

I have taken a few pictures of HDR video on Sony X85E. The usual disclaimer: It is not actually possible to take photos of HDR video since the rest of the HDR chain out to you is missing (including your monitor). Still, it should give you an idea of how the TV performs in practice. In Life of Pi notice how the starry sky is blown out because the TV maxes out the backlight. In the scene with the Indian musicians, it may be harder to see but while the bright objects were bright and vivid the dark background lost all depth and intensity. In Planet Earth II the sky is blown out (ignore that Earth is heavily overexposed, it will the only way I could capture how the sky looked in practice).




Unfortunately, this translates into quite poor HDR performance in practice. Very bright scenes in movies look decent but whenever there is just a hint of dark tones, pictures on X85E look dull and contrast-poor. I honestly think that movies look better in SDR than in HDR on a TV like Sony X85E. This is easy to see if you switch between SDR and HDR on for example a UHD Blu-ray disc. Sony allows you turn off HDR in the TV menus, and some Blu-ray players also have the capability.

To be clear, these issues are not limited to Sony X85E in way. It is an industry-wide issue relating to edge-lit LCDs. If you read our reviews from last year or our 2017 review of the Panasonic EX700 you will see that we pointed to the exact same criticism towards other mid-range TVs. In fact, the two first 2017 mid-range TVs that we have reviewed (Panasonic EX700 and Sony X85E) perform equally bad in terms of HDR.

This is important. We have yet to witness a traditional edge-lit LCD TV reproduce proper HDR so be wary of such claims by manufacturers. If HDR feels important to you, you should buy at minimum Sony X93E or an LCD TV with full-array local dimming. Or better yet, an OLED TV that can control luminance and colors on a pixel level.

Switching our attention to SDR, meaning everything that is not HDR, makes X85E look like a much stronger performer. The new VA LCD panel can reproduce fairly deep blacks in SDR video and colors appear accurate and natural. Sony’s Extreme processor also has excellent motion processing (best on the market, in our opinion) and good upscaling/de-interlacing. All this adds up to solid performance for a mid-range TV and a visible improvement over last year’s X85D that left us disappointed with Sony’s choice of a contrast-poor IPS LCD panel.




So if you are mainly watching average-quality TV broadcast, HD streaming, HD Blu-ray, and the like, X85E is a great performer. It also handles sports without a hiccup.

Our sample of X85E suffered from some clouding issues that were particularly visible in HDR mode. With SDR content we also noticed the issues a few times, for example in the black bars when watching movies. Be aware that almost every edge-lit LCD TV still suffers from this issue to some degree. Another sample of the TV may have less (or more). See the photos taken at different exposure times below for reference.




As you may know, Sony has this little thing called the ’PlayStation’ and the company has tried to position its TVs as designed for gaming. The truth is that if you want the most out of your PlayStation 4 – and even more so PlayStation 4 Pro – you should pair the console with a great HDR TV. Real HDR truly elevates the gaming experience. I have already said what needs to be said about HDR on X85E but if you want to learn more about HDR gaming on PlayStation 4 you should read our PS4 Pro review.

For HD and 4K gaming on the other hand we are delighted to report that Sony has reduced input lag further. We measured 31.8 ms input lag in the Game mode, which is 10 ms lower than on X93E and 4-5 ms lower than last year’s 85 series. Sony still has some distance to cover if it wants to reach the same low-20 figures that Samsung and Panasonic can deliver but 32 ms is nonetheless decent performance.

We also examined the TV for potential motion trailing, and found that there are no major issues. Like all LCD TVs, X85E has some motion blurring and overdrive trailing but nothing of concern. Overdrive trailing is less pronounced than on Panasonic EX700 but it is still visible in high-contrast scenes, including in games like Limbo and Inside.

Sony offers various modes for its ’MotionFlow’ motion system. We have discussed these in depth in previous reviews so we will not go over all of the modes but only confirm that ’Clear’ can improve motion resolution (by using a backlight scanning method). The downside is that brightness drops considerably so be sure to increase the brightness option in the picture menu if you want to take advantage of MotionFlow Clear. Several of the other modes introduce the “soap opera” effect so they should be avoided unless you want movies to look like sitcoms and want console games to be destroyed by a huge jump in input lag. As a general rule, MotionFlow (and all other motion systems) should be deactivated for gaming.

Sony has completely abandoned 3D. None of the 2017 TVs support 3D.

Lastly, we should point out that the viewing angles are actually narrower than on last year’s X85D. This has to do with the fact that Sony has switched from IPS LCD to VA LCD. With the latter you get deeper contrast but more narrow viewing angles. On X85E we saw color shift almost immediately when moving away from the sweet spot. Colors start to look faded very quickly. The contrast also drops visibly when moving off-center.




Conclusion


Sony has been dancing to a strange beat with the 85 series. Over the years, it has sometimes taken 2 steps back and sometimes another 2 to the side. It has been switching between IPS LCD and VA LCD and with the 2017 X85E (XE85 in Europe), VA LCD is back – like it was in 2015. We very much liked what Sony did in 2015 but over the past two years the TV market has changed in significant ways.

X85E is once again a praiseworthy mid-range TV when it comes to SDR (SD, HD, 4K). Sony’s picture processor is one of the best out there, including for motion. In SDR, the TV has decent blacks, fairly accurate colors, and few issues. Gamers will also be pleased to know that input lag has been reduced to 32 ms. On the other hand, its HDR picture quality is everything but praiseworthy. Black levels collapse because the backlight gets maxed out, which also forces power consumption into overdrive. If HDR is important to you, avoid typical edge-lit LCD TVs, including this.

Google’s Android TV is still hard to love. While Google has fixed most of the major bugs, some remain, and Sony’s use of relatively slow MediaTek chips remains a bottleneck. Developers have not embraced Android TV in the same way that they have Apple’s tvOS so in many regions apps are nowhere to be found. Android TV has potential and Sony is actually one of the only TV manufacturers who issues new major software versions to its previous TVs. Android 7.0 is also coming to X85E (and all of Sony’s other 4K Android TVs). For us, Chromecast remains the best part of Android TV.

All in all, Sony X85E is a significant improvement over last year’s 85 model and it offers a lot of value for your money as long as you avoid HDR. If you are looking for a new TV in the mid-range segment, we definitely think that you should consider X85E.


Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer


SDR picture quality
Reduced input lag
Motion processing
Built-in Chromecast
Value-for-money


Poor HDR
Android TV still not great
Viewing angles
Speakers
Clouding



Nearest competitors







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