Despite what some quarters might want you to believe, there’s a war going on in the world of HDR televisions – and it’s a battle from which only the brightest TVs will emerge victorious.
Right now, though, there’s one TV to rule them all, as no rival can outshine the Sony Bravia KD-65ZD9.
There’s no two ways about it: if you want the best HDR image quality, you need to buy a TV that can produce a high peak brightness. This is because both of the current HDR standards used in Ultra HD Blu-rays and 4K streaming – namely HDR 10 and Dolby Vision – use a technique called perceptual quantisation (PQ) to ensure that everything from the dingiest shadows to the most intense highlights are reproduced as accurately as possible across a wide range of TVs. The effect of this process is that only the TVs with the highest peak brightness can unearth all the subtle gradations of detail from the latest Blu-ray titles.
The Sony ZD9 is one of those TVs. It can pump out a prodigious light output of 1,800 nits, which – in addition to being astonishingly bright – allows the television to bring HDR content to life in ways that few other TVs can. Its ability to accurately depict shades of colour, shapes and reflections in turn imparts a super-realistic sense of depth, which makes the onscreen images look three-dimensional without the need for 3D Blu-ray discs or 3D glasses.
Dolby Vision is coming
Besides producing record-breaking peak brightness, the Sony KD-65ZD9 also features the highest number of full-array local dimming (FALD) zones ever implemented on a consumer LED LCD TV, with a total of almost 650. As each dimming zone can be darkened or brightened independently of one another, the Sony is able to display perfect blacks alongside searing whites to achieve hugely impressive contrast. And where some rival TVs struggle to control their lighting zones and exhibit a halo of light around the brightest onscreen objects, Sony’s local dimming algorithm keeps such artefacts to an absolute minimum. It’s a sterling performance.
Unlike some rivals, the Sony ZD9 doesn’t adapt its brightness to suit the HDR material at hand, opting instead to rely solely on its 1,800-nit brightness capacity to resolve the relevant highlight details in HDR content. What this means is that very bright detail in certain 4K Blu-ray movies – and specifically those that were mastered for 4,000-nit displays (which, incidentally, haven’t yet hit the market) – will be discarded on the KD-65ZD9. However, Sony has since announced at CES 2017 that the television will be compatible with Dolby Vision following a firmware update to be rolled out later this year: Dolby Vision’s dynamic metadata and intelligent-mapping approach should help retain detail in the brightest HDR highlights, and mean that movies look more like the director intended them to.
Brilliant upscaling and great gaming
So the KD-65ZD9 delivers spectacular HDR, but it’s far from a one-trick pony. Playing some standard-definition and HD material (both from our collection of test patterns and real-world footage) on the KD-65ZD9 revealed arguably the sharpest upscaling we’ve seen from a domestic television. And, best of all, without incurring any of the side effects associated with excessive edge enhancement such as ringing, fizziness or exaggerated film grain. Motion handling was exemplary too: slow pans in 24fps films appeared buttery smooth, and we didn’t spot any judder or stutter even in challenging fast-action sports from off-air live broadcast.
As with all Sony Bravia TVs, the suite of calibration controls available on the KD-65ZD9 isn’t the most comprehensive, but the good news is that once you dial in the two-point greyscale, colours do fall into place accurately. There’s a Game picture mode that lowers input lag from a sluggish 109ms to a much more gaming-friendly 45ms. While this isn’t the quickest figure, and may deter the most demanding gamers looking for the greatest gaming responsiveness, Sony’s Game mode has one further selling point: it’s one of the few sets that preserves full 4:4:4 chroma and so guarantees the best image quality for PC gamers.
Design and features
Tear your eyes away from the onscreen action, though, and the Sony still looks good. The huge number of dimming zones means that the KD-65ZD9’s figure isn’t as slender as most edge-lit LED LCDs, but the champagne-gold side-trim and grid-patterned rear add a touch of class, and we appreciate the central stand which – unlike many modern TVs – occupies only a small footprint.
It’s also notable that the KD-65ZD9 is one of a dwindling number of TVs to ship with two pairs of active-shutter 3D glasses, but in all honesty it’s not an addition worth getting excited about. Besides a dearth of suitable 3D content, the Sony’s biggest asset – its high brightness – becomes an Achilles heel for 3D content. In our testing, the display’s intense brightness caused large amounts of flicker, which quickly led to eye fatigue.
We’d also wag a disapproving finger at Sony’s Android TV platform. While other TV manufacturers have really nailed their smart TV interfaces, making them slick and easy to use, the KD-65ZD9’s interface is far too clunky to compete. It’s one area where Sony really needs to up its game.
In summary, the Bravia KD-65ZD9 is a sensational HDR TV. And if you’re waiting for Sony’s recently announced A1 OLED TVs, then you might want to reconsider: going by what Sony told us at CES, the LCD-screened ZD9 still has the performance edge for HDR presentations. Make no mistake, Sony has served up the best HDR image quality on the market – for now, at least.