Review: Sony X900F (XF90)

22 Feb 2018 | Torben Rasmussen


Sony is racing past its competitors to launch some of the first 2018 TVs. We have gotten our hands on the X900F (XF90 in Europe), which is the successor to last year’s much-acclaimed X900E (XE90 in Europe). The predecessor was deemed one of the best value for money TVs of 2017, mainly due to its full array local dimming (FALD) backlight. The 2018 version also features FALD and adds on top the X1 Extreme video processor, a new MotionFlow “X-motion Clarity” system, and promises of Dolby Vision support and Android 8.0. The two latter features are coming later via firmware/software updates.

XF90 will be available in 49, 55, 65, 75, and 85" in the US, and the same sizes except 85” in Europe. We have the 65” model.

Also read: Sony 2018 TV line-up


Price and retailers:

US retailer
DE retailer
UK retailer

Specifications


65"
VA LCD panel
Direct (FALD) with local dimming in 60 zones
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision (later)
DCI-P3
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA compatible)
(HxWxD) 82,9 x 144,7 x x 6,9 cm (without stand)
24,5 kg (without stand)
4x HDMI (2x 2.0b)
USB (3x)
Ethernet
1x CI+
Optical
HDMI-ARC (1x)
6x 10W stereo
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile 2
Android TV 7.0
IR remote (with Bluetooth microphone)
Manual
Remote control
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First impressions


We never had a chance to properly examine last year’s X900E model so we have no photos or measurements to compare with, which is why we will be making references mainly to the X930E. We just need to emphasize that last year’s X930E – that will carry over into 2018 – is currently the step-up model from X900F.

From a design perspective X900F resembles last year’s 900 series. There is a thin metal line around the bezel, which is no longer divided by the grey contrast line. It is now simply black. The back also appears mostly unchanged, meaning that X900F is thicker than your usual LCD model. This can be explained by the implementation of a full array local dimming backlight, which also makes it bulkier than X930E, which uses an edge-lit zone dimming system. This is completely in line with last year’s X900E, and the jump from 930 to 900 means that you lose the rear panels and elegant cable management system.

The TV has a more conventional back plate with an open I/O connection panel. All ports face either down or to the side, which is great, but it is worth pointing out that only 2 of the 4 HDMI ports support full 4K HDR capabilities. With a game console and an Apple TV 4K you have already exhausted your options. Sony has furthermore combined all analog ports into one combo port, and as such the company is one step closer to a full digital solution.




A TV stand is often the one thing that, visually, separates the look of a TV model from one year to the next. In 2018, Sony will be using a two-legged base that allows you to slide the company’s new compact Atmos soundbar (XF9000) under the TV, if you want to improve to sound experience. I can add that the Sonos Playbar also fits in under the 65-inch version of X900F. The TV’s built-in speakers are placed at the bottom of the frame where you see a glowing Sony logo (the light can be switched off).

X900F complies with the VESA wall mounting standard, meaning that you can use most standard solutions out there. On the other hand Sony offers no special wall bracket solution like the one for X930E that made it possible to mount it flush to the wall and at the same time allow for manual adjustment.

The 65-inch version has a built power supply unlike last year’s 900 series that came with an external brick. We are still awaiting confirmation for the other screen sizes.

The LCD panel is neither more nor less reflective than the average LCD TV with contrast film. OLED panels are still less reflective in general.


Sony X900F review



We found a single remote control in the box that has been tweaked somewhat compared to last year’s version. It is still based on infrared, except for when you use the microphone that transfers voice commands to the TV via bluetooth. More on this in a minute.


User experience & features


X900F runs Android 7 at launch but Sony has promised to roll out Android 8 (Oreo) at a later point. Android 8 will introduce a revamped user interface.

Operating system & smart-TV

Android TV 7
Android TV version 7 is a continuation of the previous versions in terms of user interface and experience. The next version of Android TV (8 or Oreo) will introduce a new user interface but until that happens it is limited what we can add to the conversation. X900F runs and feels like one of the 2017 models in this regard. However, we must applaud Sony for continuing to update its Android TVs to the latest version, albeit slowly. The 2015 models are still receiving Android updates, which sets Sony apart from most other TV manufacturers.

The user interface is still divided into rows of content, with recommendations on top, Sony’s apps next, and your apps third in the hierarchy. There is a dedicated row for games but considering the slow SoC in Sony’s Android TVs, the potential here is very limited. The last row gives you quick access to the various input sources including “streaming channels” that developers have yet to embrace in any significant way. This feature holds potential for app developers to showcase content on the “front page”, sort of like a flow TV channel.

Of course, X900F features Chromecast Built-in (the software version) as it is part of the Android TV package. This will allow you to use the TV more or less like the Chromecast dongle. However, the built-in software version has some limitations. Unlike the dongle that allows users to manually switch between 50 and 60 Hz, the built-in version is locked to 60 Hz, which affects European 50Hz content. Sony’s MotionFlow feature can reduce the judder somewhat caused by this 50/60 Hz frequency discrepancy.

Sony has made some changes to its “Discover” menu that is layered on top of the Android user interface. The menu can be activated from the “TV” button on the remote and now gives you shortcuts to TV channels, certain apps, recordings, TV guide, and HDMI sources. The menu is starting to resemble what LG and Samsung are doing but Sony is not pushing it front and center. We found it a little strange to have a “Home” button that holds shortcuts to inputs, apps etc. and then having the same things featured in Sony’s overlay menu. Even more bizarre is the idea of using the “TV” button on the remote control to access input sources, meaning that it no longer takes you to the actual TV section. The input list can also be found in Home menu and even has a dedicated button on the remote control...

The settings menu no longer takes up the full screen but floats to the right as a side menu. However, Sony’s TV settings menus are still hard to locate and can be accessed through various routes, including Sony’s “Action menu” at the top of the screen. It is honesty a mess and oftentimes it feels like there is no synergy at all between the TV interface and the Android interface.

If you want to know more about Android TV in general, I suggest you read one of our previous Sony TV reviews.

Unlike last year’s 900 series, the 2018 version comes equipped with Sony’s X1 Extreme processor, which is more powerful and offers support for Dolby Vision. However, the Android part of the TV still runs on the same Mediatek 5891 SoC that was introduced in 2016 and it can hardly be characterized as potent. The Android interface always feels a little laggy and slow but at least Sony and Google have introduced some software updates to improve the experience. Compared to our current reference in TV operating systems (Apple TV) there is a very noticeable difference.

Also, when connecting a USB device, Android TV still insists on sending wake commands to a USB hard drive forcing it to read the disc, which in turn increases standby power consumption from 1W to an incredibly 21W. If you have media content stored on an external device, may we suggest that you disconnect it when the TV is off? This will save you money on the electricity bill and make your hard drive last longer.


Remote & operation

X900F comes with an ”upgraded” version of Sony’s remote control. It is no longer housed in a soft plastic encasing, as it was in the past, and no longer the awkward hard-to-press buttons. Instead, Sony has reintroduced soft buttons. But there are still far too many!

There is a myriad of buttons and especially the area around the navigation wheel is a cluttered mess. The “Discover” button has been replaced by an “Apps” button that loads up the Google Play store. It seems as if no one has the courage to rethink this. It would greatly benefit the user experience if someone took the current design, threw it in the trash can and started all over. Sony could look to Samsung for a little inspiration.

Another head-scratcher is the fact that the only button that uses Bluetooth is the voice button at the top that is used to activate Google Assistant. The rest of the buttons rely on directional infrared. A quick note here for the European users; while Google Assistant is already available in the US, it has yet to roll out in Europe and Sony has yet to confirm when it will be available.


Sony X900F review



The remote control has gained a little weight and even though the lower part is not made from metal or a similar material it helps improve the tactile feel. The build quality and buttons have also improved. However, I still think that Sony’s remote control is hopelessly outdated and unintuitive, which is particularly striking when it is placed next to the Apple TV remote that continues to take over more and more of my TV entertainment.


TV channels, recording & sound

As mentioned, Sony has tweaked the bottom menu (that used to be called “Discover”) but besides that the TV elements are unchanged. The TV guide, info bars and everything in between looks identical. In this regard, Sony has over the years made very few changes and while it is fairly minimalistic, it is not nearly as inviting as Samsung’s Tizen-based user interface.

In Europe, XF90 comes equipped with a twin tuner that allows you to record one show onto a hard drive while watching another. However, it is not possible to use the twin tuner in picture-in-picture mode and it is not possible to pause live TV.

Also, changing the channel is still a relatively lengthy affair. It takes approximately 5-6 seconds from the time you press the button to the picture shows up onscreen. This applies to all aspects of the conventional TV interface. It just feels sluggish. I did notice a slight improvement in speed for TV Guide compared to the 2015 models, though.




The built-in speakers are weak and lack bass. Human voices are relatively clear so if you are mainly watching TV program you may find yourself satisfied but we strongly recommend that you connect decent speakers for movie watching and gaming. As mentioned earlier, Sony has made a soundbar that fits under the TV but of course you can also opt for even more powerful soundbars such as the Sony ST5000 Atmos soundbar or a classic Hi-Fi setup.


Calibration


"Standard" mode is as usual too cold so we switched to “Cinema Pro” mode as a basis for our calibration. Sony usually targets gamma 2.4 (BT.1886), which is a conscious choice, but we continue to target 2.2, which is the native gamma of all TV panels, regardless of type or make.

We usually deactivate all dynamic circuits as part of our calibration, which includes dynamic backlight dimming. However, we recommend that you leave it activated on X900F since it is what makes the TV stand out from most other LCD TVs. We should note that it affects the white balance somewhat, which is why we need to have it turned off during calibration.

It took relatively little effort to reach dE values below 1 but as you can see the panel lacks a little saturation in blue. Sony does not offer a CMS in X900F so we were not able to adjust primary or secondary colors.

Switching our attention to HDR, the “Cinema” mode offers a good starting point that tracks the PQ EOTF fairly closely up until the panel’s limitations. However, note that coverage of DCI-P3 is just 89 percent. This is comparable to other Sony TVs but less than what the best LCD TVs achieve.




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 0.08 cd/m2 0.04 cd/m2
Black level (HDR) 0.18 cd/m2 0.18 cd/m2
Brightness 482 cd/m2 170 cd/m2
Peak brightness (HDR) 1020 cd/m2 (10% window) 1000 cd/m2 (2% window)
1020 cd/m2 (10% window)
663 cd/m2 (ANSI)
Contrast 6040:1 4150:1
Contrast (HDR) 3683:1 3683:1
Input lag 96 ms (Cinema) 41 ms (Game Mode)
DCI-P3 89% -
Rec.2020 64% -

Power consumptionOut-of-box Calibrated
SDR 149 W 83 W
HDR 200 W (max brightness) 203 W
Standby 0,3 W (20 W with USB device connected) 0,3 W

Time measurements Time
Start-up (until responsive) 5 s
Start-up (until picture comes on) 4 s
Netflix app start-up 5 s
Amazon app start-up 13 s
Youtube app start-up 10 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 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
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 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 Fails
HFR (100fps) test file 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 100fps – 10 bit colors – Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.7 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Fails

Group SettingValue
Profile Cinema Pro
Brightness Brightness 15
Contrast 90
Gamma -1
Black level 50
Automatic local dimming High
Adv contrast enhancer Off
X-tended dynamic range Off
Colors Color 50
Color balance 50
Color temperature Expert 1
Color space Auto
Color space Off
Adv. Color temp. Red gain Max
Green gain -4
Blue gain -6
Red bias 7
Green bias 7
Blue bias 1
Clarity Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manuel
Resolution 20
Mastered in 4K On
Random noise reduction Off
Digital noise reduction Off
Smooth gradation Off
Motion MotionFlow Personal: 3/1
Film mode Off
Video function 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. .

One thing to keep in mind is that if you activate the function that enables you to turn on the TV from an app via your smartphone, this will increase standby consumption to 20W. This is a hefty price to pay for some added convenience.


Sony X900F review


Picture quality


Compared to last year’s 900 series, the 2018 X900F bumps up the number of local dimming zones in the LED backlight. In fact, it can almost match last year’s more expensive X930E (approx. 60 versus 72) but cannot match the flagship Z9D, which has more than 600 zones for local control. As a general rule of thumb, more zones offer improved luminance control and enable the TV to reproduce more contrast-rich pictures. This is particularly important for HDR video. We should also once again remind you that you need to manually enable the ‘HDMI Enhanced’ setting option for each of the HDMI ports that you intend to use with a HDR video source. It is 2018 and you still have to do this the manual way

Switching our attention to actual performance, the limited amount of dimming zones combined with the fact that the theoretical peak brightness of close to 1000 nits is never actually attainable in real use cases, means that X900F ticks in at 663 nits in peak brightness (ANSI measurement without scanning backlight). There are certain situations where it can hit higher notes but this is a realistic expectation for mixed-type content such as movies, TV series, games etc. At this peak brightness, the black level rises to around 0.15 nits, which is not exactly pitch black. The ‘Cinema Pro’ mode offers a more balanced contrast range, regardless of your settings options, and except for scenes that force it to engage its zones to reach peak brightness, X900F delivers relatively deep black levels for an LCD TV.

The low number of zones affects picture quality negatively at times. Like X930E, bright objects on X900F tend to “pollute” adjacent black areas. This is what many refer to as blooming. The higher the peak brightness, the more you will notice this side effect in the area around the bright object, and oftentimes in the black bars on top and bottom. It is not a major concern for conventional SDR video content because the TV rarely increases brightness to high levels but when it comes to HDR, black levels sometimes rise from an acceptable 0.04 nits to almost five times as much around bright objects, i.e. a planet or stars on a black canvas.

We captured this effect in the first photo below. It occurs mainly when very bright objects splash onto a dark background. It also looks drastically worse when looking at the LCD panel from an angle – more on that in a minute.




Sony’s X1 Extreme processor found inside X900F still delivers excellent performance across sources such as SD, 4K, SDR, and HDR, and we are happy to now have the X1 Extreme inside the 900 series. We had hoped that Sony could provide us with a beta firmware to enable Dolby Vision but unfortunately that was not possible. Sony says that Dolby Vision will be added “this summer” through a firmware update but the company declined to be more specific than that. Through the use of dynamic metadata, Dolby Vision can potentially improve HDR picture quality to a larger extent on an LCD TV than on OLED, as the former has more shortcomings, especially in the dark tones, to account for.

In the past, we have also praised Sony’s picture processing for its handling of color gradients – one area where OLED still, at times, can struggle. Sony has also been quick to emphasize its strength in this area, and once again we must applaud the company for its approach. Color gradients look excellent, free of bands or artefacts. The system can be set up to smooth out gradients quite aggressively. We cannot recommend that you set it to its maximum level (Smooth Gradation), but we found it to be useful mainly when a video source is compressed too hard, which often causes unwanted artefacts. If you make sure to feed the TV with decent video quality, you can rest assured that X900F will reproduce it as intended.




We are usually happy to recommend Sony’s MotionFlow ‘Clear’ setting since it effectively manages to improve motion clarity. However, this Sony has implemented a new “X-motion Clarity” system and when used in conjunction with the ‘Clear’ setting, brightness drops too drastically. X-motion is active throughout all setting modes that involve scanning backlights so our suggestion is that you switch to ‘Personal’ that offers customization options to preserve very high motion resolution, while at the same time preserve very good brightness. It is a win-win situation. Peak brightness gets reduced by 10% by setting the scanning backlight option to 1 (Clearness) but on the other hand you boost motion resolution by more than double. Values above 1 do no bring sizeable improvements. HDR peak brightness still ticks in at close to 900 nits with the scanning backlight system activated. The Smoothness setting option can further improve, well smoothness, but we prefer to keep it at 3 to avoid motion artefacts. If you want to avoid the soap opera effect steer clear of using the “Film mode” option.

We were asked if there are situations or scenarios where an LCD model like X900F would be preferable over an OLED TV, and motion reproduction is one area where LCD has still has an edge. There is currently no OLED TV solution that can deliver as good motion reproduction as the best scanning backlight implementations in LCD TVs – perhaps things will change in 2018. On the other hand OLED has a sizeable lead in most other areas, especially in how it very accurately controls luminance for HDR on a pixel level as well as much wider viewing angles that effectively allow you to watch HDR from any angle.

The pictures below are included to demonstrate how black levels drop drastically when moving away from the sweet spot viewing position on an LCD TV. In fact, moving even a few angles to the side will reveal visible blooming around bright objects that will drastically affect an otherwise great picture. It may not be a deal-breaker – after all this is not unique to Sony in any way – but as HDR becomes the new norm, you should take note that only the sweet spot allows you to fully enjoy the display.




As you know, X900F has direct LED, which allows light to be more evenly distributed across the LCD panel. I will go as far as to say that our sample of X900F delivers the most evenly distributed backlight of any LCD TVs that I have seen as far as I can remember.

It even beats our sample of Z9D that suffered from shadows in each of the 4 corners. On top of that, we observed no colorcast, no banding, no dirty screen effect, no bleeding, and no other brightness artefacts on X900F. Your mileage may wary and perhaps we have been lucky with our sample but if this is what we can expect from X900F in 2018, we are sure that many consumers will be pleased.




We measured input lag to just above 40 ms in the Game profile (SDR and HDR), which is too high by today’s standards. Currently, we can only measure input lag accurately on a 1080p signal and it is not unusual for 4K TVs to have slightly lower lag when fed with native 4K signals so that is certainly plausible. This applies to you only if you own the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. The Cinema mode suffers from 93 ms input lag, which is far too much for gaming.

Also read: Best TVs for gaming

For HDR gaming, blooming rarely shows up and the high peak brightness helps elevate the gaming experience. We can only reiterate what we have said many times in the past already: HDR adds a new dimension to console gaming. If you want to learn more check out our Xbox One S and PS4 Pro reviews.

The viewing angles are narrow but typical for a VA type LCD panel. You should always aim to sit directly in front of the TVs, especially when watching HDR.




Conclusion


We skipped last year’s X900E (XE90 in Europe) but it turned out to be one of the most popular Sony TVs, so we have been very eager to get our hands on the 2018 successor in the form of X900F (XF90 in Europe).

X900F builds on the same platform as X900E and offers many of the same features but there are significant upgrades that are worth considering. It is equipped with more LED dimming zones and features a new “X-motion Clarity” system. It is also powered by an X1 Extreme processor, which enables it to support Dolby Vision (coming with a firmware update later this year).

From an esthetic point of view, X900F looks and feels cheaper than last year’s 930 series that will carry over into 2018. The input and output ports all face down or to the side and it feels sturdy enough but it lacks finesse. The built-in speakers are weak so we recommend that you add a soundbar or another sound solution.

The increased number of dimming zones gives a boost to picture quality, enabling X900F to compete with last year’s X930E in the area of HDR. However, it cannot match Sony’s current Z9D LCD flagship in HDR performance and still trails the reference OLED TVs by a significant margin.

Android looks like Android – for better or worse. X900F comes pre-installed with Android 7 but Sony has promised to bring Android 8 to the TV and with it a revamped user interface. Console gamers will perhaps be a little disappointed to learn that Sony has not materially improved input lag, which ticks in at just above 40 ms for HD in the game mode, which is double that of some competing TVs. We cannot accurately measure input lag for 4K yet.

The picture quality is great and Sony continues to be at the forefront in many areas. X900F deliver contrast-rich pictures across SD, HD, and 4K, for SDR as well as HDR. The addition of Sony’s “X-motion Clarity” cements the company’s position as the king of motion reproduction. Sony’s LCD TVs lead the pack in this area.

X900F can from a picture quality perspective match last year’s X930E but from a design perspective it remains a few steps behind. If you care about value for money, the 65-inch X900F is priced very attractively to compete right out of the gate. X900F is definitely a worthy successor to X900E and we predict that it will once again in 2018 turn out to be one of the most popular TVs. We award X900F (XF90) our Highly Recommended Award.


Price and retailers:

US retailer
DE retailer
UK retailer



High HDR peak brightness – even with scanning backlight
HDR with more dimming zones
Picture processing
Best motion system


Narrow viewing angles
"Halos" around glowing objects
Average input lag
Chaotic remote control



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