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Review: Sony X90J

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X90J is the latest model in a long line of popular 4K LCD TVs from Sony, most recently X900H (XH90). Compared to last year's model X90J features Google TV (the new user interface on top of Android TV), the company's new 'Cognitive Processor XR' and Bravia Core streaming. It also still features 4K resolution, HDR support and HDMI 2.1 (with caveats).

Here is FlatpanelsHD's in-depth review of Sony X90J, also known as X91J, X92J, X93J and X94J.

 Also read: Sony 2021 TV line-up

 

Price and retailers:

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First impressions

X90J looks like most Sony LCD TVs with its black frame, two-legged stand, and modular back design. The Japanese company's conservative design language makes sure that X90J will blend into most typical living rooms. However, it is not a striking TV design – there is a lot of glossy and matte black plastic. The two-legged stand can be set to either wide or narrow position as there are two mounting holes on each side. The legs take up some space behind the TV so be sure to check if your furniture is deep enough to accommodate the TV. It is easy to change the position of the legs if you want to move the TV to another room later on. Sony's TV is also available with a center stand (X92J) and edge stand (X93J, X94J). Input/output ports are found on the back and all ports point either to the side or up (CI slot). X90J has two HDMI 2.1 ports capable of 4K120 (one of which is eARC/ARC) and two standard HDMI 2.0 ports. There are four mounting holes that comply with standard VESA wall brackets

User experience & features

Since Sony X90J is powered by the same MediaTek SoC (MT5895) and uses the same version of Android (with Google TV on top) as Sony A90J, we refer to our recent Sony A90J review for an examination and discussion on the user experience, features, and recent developments. Just a few additional notes: As reported earlier, a Google TV device can be set up as a 'Basic TV', i.e. if you want to use an external box for streaming etc. If you decide to set it up as Google TV instead, you will be asked to accept Sony's privacy in addition to Google's privacy. You cannot use the internet features of the TV unless you accept Google's policies but you can opt out of Sony's policies that cover the often critized Samba, which Sony still embeds in its TVs.

Sony X90J review

Some apps come pre-installed on the TV, presumably as part of commercial agreements between Sony and the app provider – and it is not necessarily the latest version of the app so you will be met by update prompts immediately after setup. This includes Sony's new Bravia Core streaming service that we examined in our Sony A90J review. Bravia Core offers over 300 movies in "near lossless UHD BD equivalent quality with streaming up to 80 Mbps". Like A90J, X90J's Ethernet port maxes out at a theoretical 100 Mb/s so to enjoy Bravia Core streaming in its full glory you will need to use WiFi due to the overhead required by Bravia Core (115 Mb/s internet required).
Google TV user interface

Like other 2021 Sony models, X90J has support AV1 video decoding. It works on YouTube and from other sources such as USB. Unlike A90J, X90J comes with Sony's standard remote control without backlit buttons and without the more exclusive look and feel. The buttons feel soft and mushy. The remote has four sponsored buttons (YouTube, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video) and a myriad of other unnecessary buttons. Unfortunately, Sony's remote control looks and feels cheap.

Sony X90J review

TV audio

During setup, the TV will ask the user to hold the remote control while sitting in front of the TV in order to calibrate the built-in speakers to match the TV's position and your surroundings. It is an iteration on the conventional approach seen in many TVs where you are asked to select whether the TV is on a tabletop stand and wall-mounted – a way to optimize bass response and more.
Sony's microphone-based approach works fine but the TV is still limited by its hardware. The speakers lack detail in general and clarity in vocals, and things often sound trapped. X90J has better bass than the average TV but we are still left underwhelmed. Like other 2021 models, X90J has an 'XR Sound' feature that can up-convert stereo to virtual 5.1.2 channels but we did not particularly like the effect. X90J also supports Dolby Atmos decoding and output. The speaker hardware is the limitation and we recommend an external speaker solution. In addition, X90J has an 'Advanced auto volume' feature – similar to the "AI" features promoted in other brands' TVs – that aims to keep the volume at a constant level across inputs. In our testing it worked quite well.

Calibration

A couple of years ago, Sony changed the formula. Sony TVs still offer a 'Cinema' picture mode but it is not the most accurate out-of-box picture mode. Instead you must select 'Custom' for the most accurate picture mode in X90J, as shown in our measurements. Unlike most other TV makers, Sony has a fairly accurate 'Game' mode. The company has resisted the temptation of boosting contrast and color simply to make games look more punchy at first glance (but worse after you notice the cheap tricks used). It is great see the PlayStation company treat game developers with the respect that they deserve. It is not the TV maker's job to decide how a specific game should look. Having tested Sony X90J and Samsung QN95A/QN90A side-by-side, the difference in how games are presented on the two TVs is stark. Sony still has too many picture modes, which can seem confusing for many users. 'Standard' and 'Vivid' are different but equally bad and in our view both must go along with 'Photo'. 'Custom' and 'Cinema' could be merged. Furthermore, as you can see, 'IMAX' mode is also more or less an exact copy of 'Cinema' and there is really no need for it in a TV. We consider it an ad. With 'Custom' as our starting point, X90J only needed a few minor calibration adjustments to deliver spot-on colors. X90J is also Calman Ready, which lets you easily calibrate the TV if you have the right equipment and software. As for HDR, we are seeing similar results, which is not surprising. As always on a Sony TV, picture adjustments made in SDR mode are transferred and adapted to the HDR mode of the same name. X90J reaches peak brightness of 550-800 nits, depending on a number of factors that we will cover in more detail in the picture quality section. It covers 89% of DCI-P3 and 64% of Rec.2020 – about the same as last year's X900H / XH90. Sony's high-end LCD TVs leave something to be desired in the area of color gamut – it is simply not good enough.

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. Note: Starting with our LG C1 review, we have implemented a new method for measurement of average power consumption in SDR and HDR, meaning that earlier measurements are not 1:1 comparable. The new method will be used in all TV reviews going forward. Note: We include calibration settings only for SDR, not HDR. For our calibration we have deactivated the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. You may prefer to have it enabled.
Sony X90J review

Picture quality

Sony X90J replaces 2020's X900H (XH90), which replaced 2018's X900F (XF90) that replaced 2017's X900E (XE90). These have been some of Sony's most popular TVs in recent years, not because they set new standards for picture quality but due to their value-for-money picture quality combined with Sony's other technologies. Sony is also selling a more expensive 95-series but in the past some buyers have steered clear of it due to its wide viewing angle technology that sacrifices contrast and black. X90J does not feature Sony's 'X-Wide Angle' so viewing angles will be more narrow – it is a trade-off. In recent years, Sony's 90-series has also been a story about a TV model stuck in the same gear. That story continues in 2021 because honestly, if we did not known from the visual tweaks and the Google TV interface, X90J could easily be mistaken for last year's model. Sony's new 'Cognitive XR' video processor's new tricks relate mostly to picture enhancement so if you like to see the picture as the creator intended you will find yourself scaling back on all of that. It means that the end result is not much different from Sony's already-excellent video processors of the past. The new processor delivers great SD upscaling, de-interlacing, motion etc. Combined with the TV's 'Custom' picture mode you are in a good spot. SDR content, meaning anything that is not in HDR, will usually not put too much pressure on X90J's zone dimming system – unless you really want to use the TV's 'Standard' or 'Vivid' mode, which we recommend against. With SDR content you get an overall balanced picture with great accuracy in colors. X90J remains a good allround TV for sports, movies, gaming etc. X90J did not suffer from the same visible banding in dark grey tones as last year's model.
We have the 65-inch model and just like last year X90J's LED backlight is divided into 8x4 dimming zones for a total of 32 zones, meaning that each zone covers more than 3% of the picture area. You could argue if it even qualifies as 'full array local dimming', but it is nevertheless still an improvement over a typical mid-range LCD TV, mainly for HDR content. An increasing amount of content – movies, series, games, even photos – gets released in HDR format, which is a new foundation under video standards after decades of relying on old principles conceived way back in the analog world of picture tubes. As shown in the calibration section, X90J reaches peak brightness of 550-800 nits. Small objects in the picture (less than 2% of the picture area) like stars, lamps or reflections will shine with 600 nits or less due to the limitations of the zone dimming system as well as Sony's more conservative approach to zone control; system is designed to minimize blooming at the expensive of peak brightness. In larger segments of the picture (typically 5-25% of the picture area) you sometimes get up to 750-800 nits but it will also depend on the movie/game scene (its composition, complexity, where the bright objects are relative to the zones in the backlight etc.). In fullscreen X90J can blast almost 600 nits but you will usually not find such bright HDR scenes in movies or games. The zone dimming system also has noticeably rise, fall, and cool-down periods, meaning that you will sometimes see a delay in brightness increase or decrease if too much is happening in a movie/game scene for too long. However, despite X90J's relatively moderate peak brightness levels we still encountered a lot of blooming around bright objects (subtitles, stars etc.) in the picture. It is not bad in a bright viewing environment but it can be quite distracting in a dark room.

Sony X90J review

Sony X90J review

As X90J starts to flex its dimming zones, the picture also tends to get a hazy look, mainly in more demanding HDR scenes, as if there was a bright cloud in front of everything. We measured the panel's native contrast to 3600:1, which helps explain it but the effect also gets exacerbated whenever you are not seated directly in front of the TV due to the VA LCD panel's narrow viewing angles. Another factor worth mentioning is that X90J default to 'Dolby Vision Bright' mode rather than 'Dolby Vision Dark'. The latter is the more accurate picture mode so you should change it. For HDR10 and SDR content you should use 'Custom'.
Like its predecessors, X90J is struggling with HDR. We had the Samsung QN95A / QN90A next to it for the entire review session. Samsung's TV has its own issues (even more visible blooming due to its higher peak brightness, more aggressive dimming algorithm, and a misaligned dynamic tone-mapping approach), but it is still more HDR capable overall. Samsung's TV is more expensive so it is hardly surprising but it is a little disappointing that the 65-inch Sony X90J still features only 32 dimming zones. As discussed in our Samsung QN95A / QN90A review, Sony X90J has "fewer dimming zones but stays true to the source. Even in 'Movie' mode with the various dynamic picture systems deactivated, Samsung's TV employs dynamic tone-mapping to make HDR video look brighter as evidenced by these photos (both TVs in HDR 'Movie' mode). The scene on Samsung's TV looked almost like day. It should have looked like dusk". Here are two good examples of what we saw.

Samsung QN95A review

Left: Sony X90J. Right: Samsung QN95A/QN90A

Samsung QN95A review

Left: Sony X90J. Right: Samsung QN95A/QN90A

On the other hand Sony X90J has a less effective anti-reflection filter than Samsung's high-end models. It is not important in a dark viewing environment but it is an advantage in a bright environment. Which one would we pick for HDR? Neither. Good HDR picture quality is not determined by peak brightness, color gamut coverage or fullscreen brightness. It is a combination of factors where the most important factors remain contrast and brightness control. If you seek beautiful and impactful HDR we recommend that you buy an OLED TV due to its pixel-level control of luminance and color. Sony's own OLED TVs deliver much better HDR picture quality than X90J – it is not in the same league. Switching our attention to console gaming, Sony launched its first HDMI 2.1-capable 4K TVs last year with X900H / XH90. X90J is the successor and it is still equipped with two HDMI 2.1 ports capable of receiving 4K120 (4K at 120 pictures per second) from a HDMI 2.1-equipped game console such as PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Unfortunately, one of the two HDMI 2.1 ports double as the ARC / eARC port for audio output to a receiver or soundbar, meaning that some owners will have only one HDMI 2.1 port free to use with a game console. X90J no longer suffers from the HDMI 2.1 issue with 4K120 at 4:4:4 chroma that caused blurriness in last year's X900H. In our testing, 4K120 worked as expected. Unfortunately, it will once again require a firmware update to enable VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) in X90J. It is also worth noting that X90J supports 4K120 with HDR10 but not with Dolby Vision (limited to 4K60). Not many console games are available in 4K120 at this time. We measured input lag to 19.3 ms (for 60Hz 4K HDR input), which is comparable to last year's model and still not on par with the fastest TVs on the market. We measured >140ms in 'Standard' mode. 140ms feels like a significant delay when using a game controller so be sure to tweak picture settings on X90J when you are using it with a game console.

Sony X90J review

While support for 4K120 (and later VRR) is great, we see good HDR as the most impactful 'next-gen' thing to elevate the visual gaming experience, as outlined in our PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X reviews. If you need to see it for yourself try to play Ori and the Will of the Wisps in HDR on an OLED TV. In HDR 'Game' mode, X90J scales back its zone dimming system to ensure to lowest possible lag, which negatively affects HDR picture quality and contrast in general. The risk of burn-in on LCD is very low so you should be able to play console games on Sony X90J for many years without trouble. On the other hand the LED backlight uses PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation) flicker to regulate brightness, which can cause eye strain for some users. X90J has a BFI (Black Frame Insertion) system as part of MotionFlow that some users may find useful to increase motion resolution in games. BFI reduces brightness and some may find that its flicker effect is visible to the naked eye – we do. Our sample of X90J had some issues with backlight inhomogeneity (dark corners and edges) as you can see below, but nothing too alarming.
The VA LCD panel on Sony X90J has narrow viewing angles. You start to see a noticeable degradation in color from a 25-30 degree angle. You also see reduced contrast and much increased blooming effects if you are not seated directly in front of the TV.

Conclusion

X90J is the latest iteration in Sony's 90-series of 4K LCD TVs. It has a faster system chip compared to most Sony Android TVs and a fresh user interface (Google TV) that puts content, recommendations and ads front and center. You also have ads on the remote control in the form of sponsored buttons. If you replace your TV often you may have been nudged into the experience but if this is your first new TV in 5-7 years it may seem a bit too much.
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As for picture quality, X90J is very similar to last year's Sony X900H (XH90). It is not an upgrade but it is still a value-for-money LCD TV with 4K resolution, decent contrast, accurate colors, and a great video processor. On the other hand it has narrow viewing angles and a limited zone dimming system (only 32 zones in the 65-inch X90J) that sets clear limitations for HDR. You get 550-800 nits peak brightness (but not where it matters most) and heavy blooming. A few of the HDMI 2.1 features have arrived including 4K120 HFR, ALLM and eARC, but HDMI VRR support is still pending in Sony's TVs even after all this time. Our recommendation would be to pick Sony X90J as a good allround TV for SDR content (movies, series, sports, gaming etc.) but look elsewhere for great HDR picture experiences. X90J is not close to matching OLED TVs from Sony and other brands but once again in 2021 we expect X90J to be considerably cheaper, which is what makes it attractive.

Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer
DE retailer

SDR picture quality
Balanced zone dimming
HDMI 2.1 ports, features
eARC & Atmos support
App availability on Google TV


Mediocre HDR
Blooming, peak brightness & color gamut
Too few dimming zones
VRR requires firmware update
Narrow viewing angles







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