Sony X900F 85” HDR 4K IMAX Enhanced TV Review

Is an 85” TV in your future? Earlier this year, I reviewed the 65” Sony X900F and found it to be an all-around great performer. It provides premium picture performance at an eminently reasonable price point of $1598 on Amazon. Typically, television reviews are of either 55” or 65” models, primarily because of the logistics involved with shipping and setting up larger TVs. However, a larger TV represents at least as much of an upgrade to the viewing experience as paying more for a “higher end” model at a smaller size. Therefore, I asked Sony if I could have some hands-on time with an 85” X900F and the result is this hands-on review.


When it comes to having a thrilling cinematic experience at home, screen size is one of the most important considerations. Hollywood directors make movies to be seen on the big screens that you find in commercial theaters, and they frame scenes with this fact in mind. Therefore, if you want to experience director’s intent at home, a big screen is a must. Fortunately, the price of a high quality 85” television has come down to reasonable territory: An 85” X900F can be had for $4498 on Amazon.


Features and Specifications

This 85” X900F shares the same overall features and specifications as its 65” X900F sibling, so I recommend following this link to the full review of that TV—aside from screen size, they are effectively the same. Critical praise of Sony’s X900F series is loud and clear—it delivers the goods in terms of picture quality for various real-world applications including watching sports, movies, TV shows, and gaming.

Notably, the Sony X900F is an IMAX Enhanced certified display, meaning it has the performance required to do justice to IMAX Enhanced content. The qualifications for certification include the TV’s ability to properly render HDR content in 4K. In this case, the 85” X900F does so at a screen size that delivers deeper cinematic impact and is the most affordable IMAX Enhanced 85” TV you can buy.

A defining feature of the X900F series is the inclusion of Sony’s X1 Extreme processor. It has the horsepower to handle advanced image processing tasks that make for a better viewing experience. The benefits of an advanced processor include the ability to use a dual-database system to improve detail rendition when upscaling, and precision color mapping that allows the TV to translate a single, simple color calibration into accurate results—in all modes and with all content. Sony notes meticulous calibration of each input and mode may yield additional improvement, but the idea is a quick adjustment gets you most of the way there.

When it comes to HDR, the X900F handles HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG HDR video formats. And in cases where banding artifacts try to sneak in and ruin an otherwise beautiful scene, Sony’s processing takes care of it—no other manufacturer seems to have mastered anti-banding the way Sony has.

A native contrast ratio around 5000:1 (measured using an ANSI grid) combines with DCI/P3 gamut coverage of around 93 or 94% to give this TV’s panel a proper head start in rendering a crisp and colorful picture. Well implemented FALD (full array local dimming) adds a bit more contrast to the equation and keeps the letterbox bars dark.


Setup

An 85” TV is a whole different ballgame when it comes to setup. First, you do not want to tackle installing it yourself, it’s simply too big. And you will need space for it— a big chunk of uninterrupted wall or a huge TV stand are a must. For this review, I set the TV up on an oversized TV stand I bought from IKEA, specifically to accommodate a screen this size. This TV’s “stance” is 56” from foot to foot, so you’ll want something wider than that if you are using a stand. My spouse assisted my with the delicate task of putting on the legs, which is something I can handle solo with 65” TVs, and can just barely manage with a 75”, but 85” was too much to tackle alone.


The box for the 85″ X900F completely filled my living room.

In my Philly rowhouse, the seating distance is between 8 and 9 feet from the screen (96” to 108”). A decent rule of thumb for 4K is that if your seating distance is less than 1.5X the screen size, you’ll see a benefit from the added detail, and that’s certainly the case for me with this TV versus a 65”. But here’s the thing… the bigger screen benefits 1080p movies, too. Pop in a Blu-ray and the effect on the bigger screen is undeniably more cinematic, regardless of resolution. For this review, a Sony UBP-X700 Ultra HD Blu-ray player served as the source for my disc-based movie watching as well as regular Blu-rays.

I’m not going to get into the smart TV features of this 85” X900F. They are the same regardless of screen size, and moreover these days people tend to have more than one Smart TV OS they deal with (maybe Roku or Apple TV or a PlayStation 4). This TV does come equipped with Android TV, and it does run fast, so if you do use the built-in capabilities you won’t be disappointed.

I did not spend a ton of time calibrating this TV. That’s because Sony has made it fast and easy to get a great result—even a hobbyist with a basic meter can do it. All I did was tweak the 2-point grayscale to get it as close to 6500k as possible. The nice thing is the one calibration works with all picture modes, SDR or HDR. And the fact it takes a super-simple 5-minute calibration to get that extra bit of accuracy out of an X900F is a major plus in my book, having wrestled with other TVs for much longer on a mode-by-mode basis.


Initial setup was super easy since I have an Android device and a Google account. It was fast and required almost no effort to get the TV connected and running.


I loved the ease with which the Sony X900F connected set itself up and connected to the Internet, thanks to Google.

Mind you, the TV looks great right out of the box, as long as you use a mode like Cinema Pro or Cinema Home. All the calibration does is tweak the white/gray balance a bit closer to absolute accuracy; getting the TV into the right mode is most of the battle when it comes to doing content justice. With this TV, a pro calibration is not a necessity, it’s more like icing on the cake.


Impressions

Because the baseline picture quality of this TV is already very high, the larger screen size is the more impactful improvement (for the extra money) versus attempting to spend a similar amount of funds on a higher tier 65-inch or 75-inch model. While it’s true that every now and then a scene will come up that confounds the Sony X900F’s FALD algorithm, 99.9% of the time even dark scenes look fantastic on this TV. And that’s the whole trick, with the bigger screen you are always enjoying a bigger picture that’s’ more impactful and immersive.

Case in point, once I had an 85” TV in my living room, I no longer felt it was a significant compromise to use a TV to watch a movie for the first time. Ordinarily, if it’s a major film that just came out on video, I watch it in my dedicated home theater—not in my living room.

The impact of the big screen is especially noticeable with content that has aspect ratio changes, which is a feature of some IMAX cinematic presentations and now IMAX Enhanced releases that are coming soon to Ultra HD Blu-ray and FandangoNOW streaming. That’s because with a big screen, the expanded view undeniably delivers greater immersion. Why? Because it contains even more of the imagery captured by IMAX cameras—the scenes are cropped to 2.40:1 aspect, so when shows at 16:9 there’s actually more to see that’s missing from the “Standard” release of the movie! And this is not gimmick, in addition to taking advantage of all the screen real estate, it speaks specifically to director’s intent, because films presented in IMAX commercial cinemas are shown with the same aspect ratio changes.

At an 85” screen size, Sony’s X900F offers the scale and scope of a home theater projection system, along with the performance advantages of a state-of-the-art HDR capable 4K television. For example, this TV gets bright with ease and is immune to the effects of burn-in, so it offers a punchy picture even during daytime—perfect for sports fans.

The ability to get bright has advantages for playing back HDR content as well, this TV can handle up to 1000-nit highlights (a bit less in calibrated movie modes) thanks to Sony X-tended Dynamic Range Pro 6X technology. Projection systems do not even come close to the HDR performance of this TV, and instead must rely much more heavily on tone mapping when it comes to HDR movies—which are mastered for TVs. In a totally dark home theater HDR projection can work, but with an 85” TV you have that home theater-worthy viewing experience available anytime you want, your living room, or media room. The point is that you and your family can enjoy it without having to go full-on bat cave.

With its price point of under $5000, the 85” X900F is a powerful but attainable TV that rewards viewers who take advantage of its picture modes. With smaller TVs, it’s easy enough to just “set it and forget it” and use one picture setting all the time. But here’s the thing, while the peak and average brightness of the 85” are essentially the same as a 65” TV, there’s much more light—overall—coming out of the larger screen.

For picture settings, it’s crucial to note that preference does beat reference—if you like your TV set up a certain way, that’s the end of the discussion—and yes that even includes using motion interpolation if you want to. Having said that, I do recommend that you use the built-in Cinema modes, or perhaps Custom mode, for critical viewing. As a rule, they are the most accurate. And if you are among the majority of AV enthusiasts who shun “soap opera effect” you should use the “True Cinema” Motionflow setting.


Viewing Experiences

Like its smaller siblings, a strength of the 85” X900F is a well-implemented FALD-LED backlight that combines with a VA LCD panel featuring a high native contrast of around 5000:1 (ANSI). This provides deep blacks and an image that pops off the screen. Like other LED-lit LCDs, there is some loss of contrast when viewed off-axis—this TV is typical in that regard. As long as you don’t sit in that rocking chair way off to the side of the room, you’ll be fine. But for the best effect, sit on the couch.

This TV has a high-quality anti-reflective coating that suppresses a lot of ambient light. This allows it to express deep blacks and shadow areas, even in a brightly lit room.

It was shocking to me how much larger an 85” TV seems, when watching movies, versus even the 75” TV that came before. I don’t quite understand how those extra few inches can have so much visual impact, but I do know that even while watching NFL playoff broadcasts (where you get 720p or 1080i, not even full HD) I could see what happened in plays more easily, and also had a far greater sense of “being there” than with a smaller TV.

I’d also argue that Sony’s lauded image processing—including the Reality Creation 4K upscaling (that you should use instead of the sharpness control)—make the best of what broadcast TV is able to offer.

IMAX Enhanced

While currently there are only two IMAX Enhanced titles available—A Beautiful Planet and Journey to the South Pacific—there are Hollywood titles on the way including Venom, Alpha, Jumanji and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Between the two released titles—both IMAX documentaries—A Beautiful Planet is the more impressive production (outer space looks amazing on this TV) and it dazzles with real-life scenes that show the Earth in pristine 4K.

It’s utterly stunning stuff and the scope of the production comes through in 4K at an 85” screen size. The night scenes that showed the Earth from space with all the cities lit up and the aurora borealis… it was so “perfect” you’d think it was the world’s best CGI. It’s real. And while the X900F does not cover the full DCI/P3 gamut that’s used in HDR mastering (look to the Sony Master Series for that sort of performance) real-life imagery typically does not require it. Everything in the movie looks rich and colorful thanks to the TV’s sharpness and high contrast.


Subjectively speaking, A Beautiful Planet is in fact beautiful when presented in IMAX Enhanced on the X900F.

I’ll loop back to IMAX Enhanced video when I get more content, but that does bring up the issue of sound. Namely, when you go big, you need your sound to follow suit. And while some major blockbuster movies are released to home audiences with “neutered” mixes (common crimes include “nearfield” mixes, adding dynamic compression, and filtering out the deep bass), IMAX Enhanced releases will feature full-range, full dynamic range audio that’s meant to bring the commercial IMAX theatrical experience home. Clearly that’s just not going to happen through a TV’s built-in speakers, or even a soundbar.

To get the most out of an 85” TV, ideally you’ll pair it with a power surround-sound system that’s based around an AV receiver or a pre/pro. IMAX Enhanced recommends a minimum of a 5.1.4-channel 3D immersive sound speaker system—with 7.2.4 being the optimum configuration. I went with a full 7.2.4 rig powered by a Denon AVR-X8500H (the IMAX Enhanced flagship AVR from Denon) and the effect was utterly immersive—when you have sound that matches the big picture, you can achieve suspension of disbelief at will… in the comfort of your own home.

HDR

This TV is equipped with Dolby Vision, which optimizes content delivered in that format to the TV’s capabilities. The result is clean and detailed 4K HDR streaming from Amazon and Netflix that has the ability to dazzle when called for. Frankly, I understand why Netflix is so dominant these days, it delivers a wide variety of shows through streaming, at quality levels that challenge 4K disc-based content in fidelity. It’s amazing that you can watch streaming content on an 85” screen and not see flaws; no wonder this is a “Netflix Recommended” TV.

The X900F also handles HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), which is found on some streaming sites (Android TV supports it and YouTube uses it). Moreover, the format has broadcast applications since it is backward-compatible with SDR TVs. The key is this TV will not leave you hanging, regardless of what type of HDR you feed it.

Ultra HD Blu-rays provide exceptional fidelity to home viewers. If you have a sufficiently capable audio system to go with your TV, the experience can beat what’s available at the local multiplex. The latest additions to my collection include First Man, Venom and The Predator; while in the past I’d typically watch blockbuster action-type films in my upstairs home theater, the 85” X900F made it easy to justify viewing them for the first time on a TV, instead of a projection screen.

SDR

As awesome as Ultra HD Blu-rays looks, there is of course a larger selection of movies available on standard Blu-ray in 1080p resolution and standard dynamic range. This Sony makes the most of those iflms. For one, it nails the rec.709 color used by Blu-ray, and the extra size versus 65” TVs makes classic films come to life in a way I have not felt since I saw many of them in the theater.

From The Stuff to Die Hard to Aliens to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, watching movies on this TV is akin to hearing your favorite albums on an awesome new stereo system—you pick up things you never noticed before. Aliens was perhaps the most striking of the batch, it being a 16:9 aspect presentation that filled the huge screen and brought you into the action. Amazingly, James Cameron’s action-horror masterpiece can still thrill on its 100th viewing.

Games

Gamers… using an 85” TV is living the dream. The X900F series is great for gaming, thanks to excellent motion handling and a native refresh rate of 120 Hz. That means you can feed it a 1080/120p 4:4:4 signal (if you are a PC gamer) and enjoy hyper-responsive gaming with an input lag of only 13 milliseconds. Or you can choose 4K at 60 Hz with 4:4:4 color, if your computer can handle it! In that mode, lag increases to about 24 milliseconds, which is still very good. 4K gaming looks phenomenal on this TV and there’s no question you can see a huge improvement in detail over 1080p with the giant TV screen.

I’m a “one game” sort of guy, there’s not enough time to play multiple titles concurrently. And right now that one game is Red Dead Redemption 2, at least until something better story-wise comes along. It’s currently console-only, so seeing what a powerful 4K PC can do with it will have to wait. But to me, what’s key is that the sheer size of the screen changes how you experience game. The cinematic framing of this western adventure (it is inspired by Hollywood directors) takes full advantage of the “big screen effect” whereby you more readily suspend disbelief when the imagery fills your field of view.


Red Dead Redemption 2 benefitted from the cinematic presentation of the 85″ screen.

And as for PC graphics, I go on that platform to play GTA 5 Online. The GTX1080 I use may not hit 4K/60p but what it can do is render the game world with fidelity that makes small details stand out—textures and paint jobs on cars, etc. And when flying at night, which “feels” wonderful thanks to the big screen, you see all the city lights rendered as tiny points and the whole thing takes on a three-dimensional effect. To me at least, it’s gaming heaven to use an 85” X900F with a PC.

Photos and Art

If you have a high-quality camera, you won’t believe how good your pictures look blown up to 85” in size and in 4K. Try it!


Conclusion

Because I already covered the 65” X900F, this review is really about exploring the experiential differences between a 65-inch (or even 75-inch) and an 85-inch TV. While the leap to 85” comes at a premium, I have arrived at the conclusion that in terms of sheer enjoyment, the extra inches are worth it.

As TVs evolve into ever smarter, thinner, more affordable and more capable displays, the value of going big cannot be underestimated. If you are looking for the size vs. price/performance ratio sweet spot in TVs today, 65” is where you should focus; the Sony XBR65X900F is a great value at $1598. But if you want to spend extra for an impactful viewing experience, going large is easy to recommend because the baseline performance of the X900F is so good.

An 85” TV will change the way you watch movies at home and offers the scale needed for a true cinematic experience. It makes movies more immersive and exciting, and when you see 4K IMAX Enhanced content full screen on the XBR85X900F, the argument for going big becomes obvious—it’ll blow you away. In my view, the 85” TV viewing experience is well worth the $4498 asking price. If you truly want to see what 4K HDR has to offer, going big is the right path. Highly recommended.

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