What is the Sony XE90?
The Sony XE90 or XE9005 if you want to use its full model number, is the manufacturer’s latest Ultra HD 4K TV. It’s a mid-range model, sitting below the new XE93 and XE94 in Sony’s 2017 line-up. There are four screen sizes in the range, the KD-49XE9005, the KD-55XE9005, the KD-65XE9005and the KD-75XE9005 and we’re reviewing the 65XE90 which is the 65-inch version. The XE90 naturally supports High Dynamic Range and includes Android TV but unusually for a mid-range Sony model it also includes a direct LED backlight and local dimming. Until now this combination of features has been reserved for the higher-end models like the current ZD9 and the previous XD94, which makes the XE90 an interesting proposition. It’s even more tempting when you consider that the 65XE9005 has a list price of £2,500/$3,750 as at the time of writing (March 2017), offering the potential for big screen entertainment at an affordable price point. So does the Sony 65XE90 deliver on its promise or is it too good to be true?
The XE90 uses the same basic design ethos that Sony introduced in 2016 with the XD93, XD94 and ZD9 models. That’s a good thing because we think those particular models were amongst the most stylish TVs launched last year. So you get the minimalist approach at the front with a simple 8mm wide black bezel around the screen and an LED light beneath the Sony logo at the bottom of the screen. This light has a number of different settings, although you can also turn it off completely if you prefer. Around the outer edge of the screen is an attractive silver trim that matches the stand and gives the appearance that the TV is thinner than it actually is, although at 60mm deep it’s still fairly slim for a screen that uses a direct LED backlight. There’s only 80mm of clearance beneath the screen, which means that you’ll probably need to put your soundbar under the TV rather than in front of it.
The XE9005 sits on a stand that measures 500 x 259mm and uses a sloped front section with a striking brushed silver finish that compliments the rest of the TV. The panel is actually attached to supports at the rear, which gives the impression that the screen is floating above the stand and there are spaces inside the supports for tidier cable management. The rear of the TV is black and is composed of a combination of metal and plastic with angled edges, the power connector is on the left hand side as you face the rear, the connections are on the right and in the middle are the 300 x 300 VESA mounts. As with the XD93 from last year, the XE90 uses a large external power adapter that measures 287 x 75 x 35mm, so you’ll need to bear that in mind if you’re planning on wall mounting. The 65XE9005 measures 1447 x 895 x 259mm (WxHxD) and weighs 23.2kg with its stand attached and it measures 1447 x 830 x 60mm and weighs 22kg without.
The XE90 is attractively designed, well made and has plenty of connections
Connections & Control
The connections are all at the rear left of the TV as you face the screen and they use a combination of rearwards and sideways facing inputs. There is a small section that faces rearwards and here you’ll mostly find the legacy inputs such as composite and component video inputs and analogue stereo input, along with an optical digital output and an HDMI input. The remaining inputs face sideways but thankfully these are 32cm from the edge which means you shouldn’t have any problems with cables poking out the sides of the screen. There are three more HDMI inputs (all four HDMI inputs are HDMI 2.0b and support HDCP 2.2), along with three USB ports, a headphone jack, an ethernet port, an AV input using a 3.5mm jack, a connector for an IR blaster and twin satellite and terrestrial tuners. There is also a Common Interface (CI) slot behind a removable panel located above the connections.
The included remote control is the same model that Sony were using last year, it’s comfortable to hold, with a rubberised finish on the front and low-profile buttons which include dedicated keys to take you to Netflix and the Google Play Store. The controller is intuitively laid out, with all the main controls in the centre and easy to use with one hand; although the low-profile buttons can mean that you’re sometimes not sure if you’ve pressed them properly. There’s also a voice control feature and if you would rather use your smartphone or tablet as a controller, there is also Sony’s TV SideView remote app, which is available free for both iOS and Android.
The Sony boasts a decent set of features including Android TV and a direct LED backlight
Features & Specs
The main feature on the XE90 is the inclusion of a direct LED backlight, which means the TV should be able to deliver brighter and more consistent images across the whole screen, which will undoubtedly prove useful when it comes to High Dynamic Range (HDR) content. The XE9005 supports HDR10 and will receive a firmware update to add Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) support later in the year. The 65XE90 uses the 4K HDR Processor X1, rather than the X1 Extreme processor used on the higher-end Sony models, which means it can’t be upgraded to Dolby Vision, so bear that in mind if you feel it might be an important factor to you going forward.
However the 4K HDR Processor X1 does include Object-based HDR Remaster and Super Bit Mapping which is designed to take an SDR source and upscale it to near HDR quality. The 65XE9005 also includes local dimming and X-tended Dynamic Range Pro which uses an algorithm to expand the contrast performance of the TV. There’s a TRILUMINOS display and 4K X-Reality PRO processing that can bring out all the detail in your sources up to and including Ultra HD. There’s also Motionflow XR frame interpolation to help improve motion handling with fast-moving sports content. As with all of Sony’s 2017 TVs, the XE90 doesn’t support 3D.
Sony use the Android platform for their Smart TV system and they recently improved the presentation of all the available apps and content. The simple tile based structure is very easy to navigate, with the most recently accessed apps appearing first and you simply scroll down and across to find what you want. The addition of a recommendation bar is a definite improvement and now allows for integration with Netflix and BBC iPlayer, among other video streaming apps, not to mention Google Play and YouTube. We were pleased to discover that the Android platform was more stable than in previous years and we had no problems with the operating system crashing during our testing.
The new content bar is also useful, allowing you to quickly find the movie, TV show or video that you’re looking for and naturally the XE90 offers all the main video streaming services with support for 4K and HDR. Android TV now provides voice search, which saves you having to type in your choices when looking for content. Sony also includes YouView built-in, which provides easy access to all the catch-up TV services and allows you to scroll back through the past seven days. You can also turn your TV into a PVR by adding a USB HDD to record your favourite TV shows. Overall we found the Sony platform to be both robust and responsive, which is a definite improvement on previous years. Finally Sony include an IR blaster which allows you to control other devices from your TV remote control.
Sony KD-65XE9005 Recommended TV Settings
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-Box
As with all Sony TVs the XE90 ships in the Standard Picture Mode, so for an image that accurately replicates the industry standards, you’ll need to select either Cinema Home or Cinema Pro. We used the Cinema Pro mode for our night time setting and the Cinema Home mode to create a daytime setting. All our measurements were done with a Klein K-10A colour meter, a Murideo Fresco Six-Gpattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate calibration software. You can find our recommended picture settings for day, night. game and HDR modes in the video above. Although if you would rather just set the TV up yourself then you can follow the steps in our PicturePerfect Guide.
The out-of-the-box greyscale performance was reasonably good on the XE90, aside from an excess of blue across the latter part of the scale, which resulted in some DeltaE (errors) that were above the visible threshold of three. However the gamma was tracking our target curve of 2.4 reasonably well aside from a dip at 10IRE and overall this isn’t a bad set of measurements. We have seen better out-of-the-box performances from other Sony TVs but the inclusion of both 2- and 10-point calibration controls means the excess blue should be easy to eliminate.
The colour tracking was also reasonably good, aside from the fact that the majority of colours were being skewed by the slight blue pull in the greyscale. However the colours were all tracking their saturation points quite closely and the luminance (not shown on the graph above) was very accurate, so once the greyscale has been calibrated the primary and secondary colours should fall right into place. Which is just as well because, as with all Sony TV’s, the XE90 doesn’t include a Colour Management System (CMS).
After calibration the XE90 delivered an accurate greyscale, gamma and colour gamut
Picture Settings – Calibrated
As already mentioned, the XE90 includes a two-point white balance control, which you can use to make general adjustments to the greyscale before fine-tuning it with the ten-point control. Although there are no CMS controls on Sony TVs, we generally find that after calibration their displays can be extremely accurate despite this and thus do benefit from the greyscale being calibrated.
We were able to reduce the excess of blue energy, which immediately resulted in a far more accurate greyscale. We then ran through the ten-point fine-tuning the performance. The result was a reference greyscale performance with errors that were all below one, which is well below the visible threshold. The gamma was also tracking our 2.4 target very accurately and overall this was a superb greyscale and gamma performance from the XE90.
Once we had calibrated the greyscale and removed the excess blue, the colour temperature for white was hitting its target and the colour tracking fell into line, resulting in an excellent level of colour accuracy. There were some minor hue errors in green and an over-saturation in red but considering there is no CMS the general performance was excellent and the luminance measurements were spot-on. Overall the XE90 was capable of an impressive level of accuracy in terms of its greyscale, gamma and colour gamut performance that, despite its mid-range position, is comparable to Sony’s higher-end TVs.
Picture Settings – High Dynamic Range
The measurements shown below are for an out-of-the-box performance using the HDR Cinema Pro mode and based upon a basic setup. As you can see the EOTF (Electro Optical Transfer Function) tracked close to the SMPTE 2084 (PQ) target, with the luminance beginning to roll off at 70 IRE. The greyscale is tracking very well, aside from a slight excess of blue at the higher end of the scale and overall the errors were below three, until the curve rolls off at 70IRE, when it just goes above four.
One of the big selling points of the XE90 is the inclusion of a direct LED backlight and the area where this helps the most is in terms of High Dynamic Range (HDR). The direct LED backlight not only meant the XE90 could deliver a very good peak brightness of 936 nits on a 10% window but it could also deliver an HDR experience without the bright edges often seen with edge-lit LED TVs. When watching letterboxed films the black bars remained black, even when there was a high contrast image on the screen.
The XE90 could deliver a wider colour gamut and although it wasn’t quite as wide as many other HDR TVs that we have tested, it was consistent with some of Sony’s models from last year. We measured the XE90 at 87% of DCI-P3 using xy and 80% using uv coordinates, which equates to 65% of Rec.2020. The latter standard is the container that delivers the Ultra HD content, even though the original source content used DCI-P3, which was developed for professional cinema use and is not a recognised colour space for domestic displays. The graph above shows how the XE90 tracked against Rec.2020 and, within the limitations of its native colour gamut, it was reasonably good.
The graph above shows how the XE90 tracked against the DCI-P3 saturation points within the Rec.2020 container and in this test the Sony did a better job, with the primary and secondary colours tracking their targets closer than they did in the Rec. 2020 test. There was some over-saturation of both red and blue but in general the colours were near their targets which resulted in natural-looking colours with actual HDR content.
Thanks to the inclusion of a direct LED backlight, the HDR performance was impressive
In terms of the actual performance of the XE90 let’s start with its black levels and contrast ratios. The Sony uses a VA panel, so the native black level was very impressive for an LCD TV at 0.03nits on a 0IRE window, although that dropped to 0.000nits when the local dimming was engaged, even in the Low mode. Using our target nighttime viewing brightness of 120nits, that resulted in an on/off contrast ratio of 4,000:1 and an ANSI contrast ratio of 3,496:1. These numbers are actually very impressive for a mid-range model and thanks to the direct LED backlight the 65XE90 could also produce a very bright image as well, with a peak brightness of 936nits on a 10% window.
It also managed to deliver a very good level of screen uniformity although how good will depend on whether you are using the local dimming. The screen was certainly free of tinting or dirty screen effect when using a white full screen pattern but when looking at a black screen in a darkened room with the local dimming off there was a bit of unevenness with some slightly lighter patches. Of course these completely disappeared once you activated the local dimming and what was interesting was that the XE90 didn’t suffer from the banding that is often seen on TVs that use a direct LED backlight. The reason for this is probably the limited number of actual zones that the XE9005 uses because we only counted 20 zones in total.
Although the number of zones is very small, especially when compared to the 636 on the ZD9, the benefit is that if you’re a big football fan then the lack of banding as the camera pans across the pitch will be a definite bonus. The downside is that there is some haloing around bright objects against a dark background. With so few dimming zones the TV was always going to struggle in this area and the increased brightness of HDR means that it becomes more obvious with that type of content. The use of a VA panel only exaggerates the issue if you’re sat off-axis and although a drop-off in contrast and colour performance is typical of a VA panel as you move off centre, the haloing does become more apparent. However when sat directly in front of the 65XE9005 the results could be impressive, with the native black levels of the VA panel, the good screen uniformity, the direct backlight and the local dimming all combining to deliver images that were often very impressive.
Once you add in the excellent greyscale and gamma performance and the generally accurate colours, the result is a genuinely lovely picture. The XE90 might not have the X1 Extreme processor but the X1 processor is no slouch, producing highly detailed images from native 4K content and upscaling lower resolution content very effectively. The X-Reality PRO processing could certainly give the impression that images were more detailed but we generally found that they also had an over-sharpened and slightly processed look so we usually turned it off. We also found it was best to avoid using features like X-tended Dynamic Range PRO to create fake HDR content and we would always recommend watching SDR and HDR content as they were originally intended to be viewed. This is because SDR and HDR content is graded differently and thus creating a fake HDR image just results in SDR content looking blown-out and over-saturated.
The motion handling on Sony TVs are generally very good for LCD panels and we measured the XE90’s motion resolution at around 350 lines and obviously this increases to the full 1080 if you engage the Motionflow frame interpolation. This can introduce a certain degree of smoothing, although that won’t necessarily be an issue with sports content, but when it comes to film-based content we prefer using the True Cinema mode which increases the frame rate without introducing interpolation, thus retaining a film-like quality to motion. If motion is a big issue for you then there is always the option to experiment with the Clear and Custom controls to find a setting that you prefer but the Clear mode uses black frame insertion which will make the picture slightly darker, so you might need to increase the brightness of the image and some people may experience flicker.
We started off by watching some standard definition content, specifically Agents of SHIELD which is about the only standard definition broadcast programme we regularly watch. The XE90 did an excellent job of scaling the content to its 65-inch 4K panel and any compression artefacts were the fault of the broadcaster rather than the TV itself. As a result, better standard definition sources like DVD would naturally look better than broadcast TV and the DVD of the recent horror film Lights Outlooked great, with the XE9005 delivering the key dark moments without introducing unwanted artefacts.
Of course once we moved on to high definition content the 65EX90 really had a chance to show what it was capable of and good quality broadcasts looked excellent, with the BBC’s nature programmes being the usual litmus test of quality. The images were detailed with deep blacks, good highlights and natural colours. When it came to football, as mentioned earlier the XE90 was free of annoying banding and the motion handling was also excellent, making this a great TV for sports fans. The XE9005 was especially impressive with Blu-rays and it delivered the gloriously trippy images of Doctor Strange with all the detail and colour inherent on the disc. The XE90 certainly delivered some lovely images, with only the occasional halo as a result of the limited local dimming to spoil the party.
Finally we tested the 65XE90 with a number of Ultra HD Blu-rays and here the direct LED backlight got a chance to shine, if you’ll excuse the pun. The Sony handled the violent comic book antics of Deadpool perfectly, whilst the landscapes of The Revenant looked suitably natural. The blood-soaked mayhem on the battlefields of Hacksaw Ridge flowed a deep red but the greens of the army fatigues also had a realistic depth to them, whilst the explosions retained all their detail. The 4K HDR images really popped off the screen and looked far superior to the Blu-ray version. The direct LED backlight not only meant that the XE90 could deliver bright images but also avoid problems like bright edges or washed-out black bars on letterboxed films. However the limitations of the local dimming did mean that there was haloing on occasion, especially with a bright object against a dark background, such as the tunnel sequence in Hacksaw Ridge. We also watched Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and whilst we don’t necessarily agree with Ang Lee’s use of high frame rate, the XE90 had no problems showing the full 4K HDR images at 60p and they looked incredibly detailed with lovely saturated colours.
The SDR and HDR images were excellent but the local dimming did suffer from haloing at times
Sony KD-65XE9005 Video Review
The fact that the XE90 has a direct LED backlight has a knock-on effect when it comes to sound quality because the deeper chassis affords more space for speakers and thus a better level of sound quality. The 65-inch panel size meant the TV could deliver a decent amount of stereo separation but at the same time the dialogue always remained clear and focused on the screen. The mid-range was well represented, the higher frequencies managed to avoid sounding shrill and there was a decent amount of bass presence. The built-in bass-reflex speakers use two drivers with 10W of amplification for each one and they proved more than adequate for normal TV watching. Sony include a number of audio features such as Clear Audio+ and S-Force Front Surround, both of which are intended to provide a more immersive experience. We found that these features tended to make the audio sound rather echoey and preferred the Music sound mode for a more neutral experience. There’s also the DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) and Clear Phase which are designed to get more from your streaming music sources. Overall the XE9005 proved a competent audio performer but we expect that many people choosing this TV will already have some form of outboard sound solution.
The sound quality was good, energy consumption low and the 32ms input lag should please gamers
Input Lag & Energy Usage
As always we measured the input lag on the XE90 with our Leo Bodnar tester, although have also added an HD Fury to inject HDR metadata to test for HDR gaming as well. The good news is that the XE9005 has a game mode that can be used for both SDR and HDR gaming and it delivered an excellent input lag of 32ms, regardless of whether local dimming was on or off. This should be low enough for all but the most fanatical gamers. We certainly found gaming on the 65XE90 to be an enjoyable experience, with images that were detailed and dynamic, along with Sony’s usual excellent motion handling.
In terms of the XE90’s energy consumption it proved to be surprisingly efficient for such a large and bright TV. Using a full window 50% white pattern we measured the Standard picture mode at 82W and our calibrated Cinema Pro mode at 78W. Of course once we moved on to HDR the level of energy consumption increased, with the 65XE9005 drawing 164W with our optimal settings.
How future-proof is this TV?
|4K Ultra HD Resolution|
|Colour Space (percentage of Rec.2020 – 100% best)||65%|
|HDMI 2.0a Inputs|
|HDCP 2.2 Support|
|4K Streaming Services|
|Smart TV Platform|
|Picture Accuracy Out-of-the-Box (score out of 10)||8|
- Direct LED backlight
- Accurate greyscale and colour gamut
- Great performance with SDR and HDR
- Good motion handling
- Low input lag
- Decent set of features
- Attractive design and good build quality
- Local dimming limited
- Colour gamut could be wider
- Narrow optimal viewing angles
Should I buy one?
The KD-65XE9005 is the first new Sony Ultra HD 4K TV that we’ve reviewed in 2017 and it’s an excellent way to start the year. The design is attractive and the build quality is impressive, whilst there are all the connections you’ll need including four HDMI inputs. The remote control is well designed, even if we’re still not fans of the rubberised surface, and the Android TV operating system gets better each year with a responsive and robust platform at last. There’s an excellent set of features on the XE90, with the use of a direct LED backlight grabbing the headlines, the sound quality is decent and the energy consumption low. There’s no 3D this year but there’s good news for gamers with the 65XE90 not only offering a game mode for both SDR and HDR gaming but also delivering an input lag of just 32ms. The XE90 uses the X1 processor rather than the X1 Extreme processor, so there’s no upgrade path to Dolby Vision, but it does support HDR10 and Sony will be adding HLG later in the year.
The XE9005 performed well in our tests, producing an accurate greyscale, gamma and colour gamut – especially after calibration – with excellent processing and motion handling. The VA panel delivers impressive native blacks for an LCD TV but the optimal viewing angles are limited, and there are only 20 local dimming zones. As result there is an issue with haloing on occasion, when bright objects against a dark background appear to glow and this is exaggerated when viewing off centre. However the small number of zones does mean that the XE90 doesn’t suffer from the kind of banding often seen on other direct LED TVs, making it a great choice for football fans. The performance with both standard and high definition content was extremely good with natural colours and plenty of detail, whilst 4K content looked particularly impressive. The direct LED backlight paid dividends when it came to HDR and although the colour gamut could have been wider, the HDR images that the 65XE90 produced were excellent.
Although the Sony KD-65XE9005 isn’t perfect, it certainly delivers a great picture and feature set for the money. So if you’re looking for a good HDR display or you’re a football fan or a big gamer, then the XE90 could well be the TV for you. Recommended.
What are my alternatives?
In terms of 2016 models the obvious alternative is the Panasonic TX-65DX902B which can be picked up for £2,299/$3,448, making it even better value than the XE90. This TV uses a direct LED backlight with 540 dimming zones, it has incredible picture accuracy and a fantastic HDR performance. The DX902 also has THX and Ultra HD Premium certification and Panasonic will be adding HLG support this year. As far as this year goes, since the XE90 is the first new TV that we’ve reviewed in 2017 it’s hard to say what the best alternatives are. However based upon the new LED LCD models announced, the Sony XE93 with its slim design, X1 Extreme processor and Dolby Vision upgrade path looks interesting, although the XE93 uses edge LED backlighting and costs £700/$1050 more, so the XE90 would seem to be better value for money. If you’re still thinking of Panasonic then the EX750 looks like a possibility, whilst Samsung will have their Q7 entry-level QLED TV and LG will be releasing their new range of Super UHD TVs as well. It’s certainly going to be an exciting year in terms of the choice of quality TVs available but Sony have already set the bar fairly high with the KD-65XE9005.