This slim-screen 4K HDR Bravia can't quite match its performance to its aesthetics
Sony's newly-minted 55XD9305 TV is a flatscreen style icon with some cool new technology, introducing a novel Slim Backlight Drive which effectively divides the panel backlight in two, and sporting a waif-like frame that makes it perfect for wall-hanging. The set reviewed here is a 55-incher, but it’s also available in 65-inch guise.
In many ways, the cosmetic design of the XD93 apes what we’ve seen from OLED. Adding a little flourish is a strip of gold running through the edge of the frame; I like to think of it as apologetic bling.
The central silver-slate pedestal is unpretentious but practical. You’ll have no problem sitting this on regular TV furniture. You may have a problem actually assembling it, however – more than a dozen screws are required to get the set safe and sound on its stand, which will be an irritation for anyone eager to get straight in and start viewing. There’s also a horseshoe loop in the box, which initially had me scratching my head – until I realised that it was a simplified wall bracket.
The design will raise concerns about the TV's audio performance. And it's fair to say that here speaker punch has been relegated to a back seat. Its sonic performance is functional – my suggestion is to plan on using a separate sound setup.
Connectivity comprises four HDMIs, a Scart and legacy component/ composite AV inputs, plus three USBs (one 3.0), Ethernet and optical digital audio output. All HDMIs are HDCP 2.2-enabled – this is a huge bonus now that sources that work to the encryption standard are coming out of the AV closet. The set is 3D capable, too. However, with no 3D glasses supplied in the box, this functionality went untested.
While greatest interest will undoubtedly focus on this set's picture quality, one less glamorous aspect needs addressing with a stern face. The remote control intro'd here is a thing of horror. TV manufacturers have long been determined to reinvent the humble zapper – witness the blight of touchpad controllers we’ve had to endure over the recent years. Now Sony offers new misery. The remote with this telly features rubberised bumps and ridges, feels cheap in hand and is a ‘mare to navigate with, not least because you really have no sense of where your thumb is. On the plus side, we do get a built-in microphone, so you can curse and have your expletives searched.
The TV boasts two satellite tuners (not Freesat) and dual Freeview. There's no Freeview Play support, but Sony does offer a YouView interface, which replaces the default Freeview programme guide. This has the welcome benefit of integrating catchup media players for iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5. Of course, for the most part you’ll be living within the Android TV environment.
Apps are many and varied. There's both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, which are 4K-enabled, as well as VOD service Wuaki.tv, YouTube, Dailymotion, the BBC's sport and news apps, and more besides in the Google Play and Opera stores.
The Android platform is the antithesis of LG’s webOS or Panasonic’s Firefox. While rivals are stripped back and minimalist, Google presents cluttered shelves. To help simplify basic navigation, there's an Action Menu on the remote which jumps directly to the various sound and vision menus. Sony also offers a Content bar which allows you to access curated content.
Sony has chosen not to use Ultra HD Premium certification on any of its HDR screens this year, citing its own wider marketing initiative for 4K as the reason. However, the brand maintains the XD93 would pass muster if submitted. I’ll take that with a pinch of salt. Laced up to a UHD deck, this set has nothing like the dynamics of the UHD Alliance-branded Panasonic DX902.
That’s undoubtedly because it’s edge-lit. To improve contrast, the new Slim Backlight Drive uses two LED light modules paired with dual light guides which split screen coverage 50/50. The technique allows the set to effectively switch off illumination to one half of the screen, while backlighting objects in the other, thereby boosting contrast. For most content this appears to work okay. However, there is often an unusual milky luminosity to scenes with swathes of black that's hardly appealing.
Picture presets are extensive, and include Standard, Vivid, Cinema Pro, Cinema Home, Sports and Game. Depending on your source, you also get an HDR Video option. You can apply the latter setting to Full HD Blu-ray, and the set interpolates a greater colour volume, but it’s not recommended if retaining director's intent is your aim.
For regular BD content, the Standard setting gives a good overall balance combining pleasing colour with solid depth and brightness. This wide gamut panel does a particularly nice, rich red, and there's a real snap to the image, delivered via Sony's X-tended Dynamic Range PRO toolkit.
This Sony does a convincing job upscaling HD, too. As was the case in previous ranges, the brand’s multi-talented X1 processor shows a steady hand when it comes to crafting additional detail without over-stressing matters.
Native 4K image quality is reassuringly good. Marco Polo on Netflix is a decent benchmark for 2,160p clarity, and HDR compatibility here celebrates the use of lighting on the show to ramp up textures and nuance. With HDR Blu-ray, things get even more involving. San Andreas is a typically extreme example of first-gen UHD disc mastering, and boasts a surfeit of bright peak highlights. Sony's backlight tech doesn’t have the intensity of a direct LED system, but it’ll still make you momentarily wince.
When an HDR source is recognised, the screen goes into auto HDR Video mode, boosting brightness and contrast. This is particularly noticeable on Netflix, actually. The standard black backdrop of the streaming service is reassuringly dark, but opt to watch HDR content and the set automatically jumps into HDR mode, causing the backlight to leap in intensity. Stop watching and brightness visibly flits back to normal.
While the backlight arrangement can be a little temperamental, I found with a combination of Black Adjust, Auto Local Dimming and X-Tended Dynamic Range, it's possible to engineer a really cinematic black without much in the way of crushed detail. Napoleon Solo's escape from East Berlin (The Man from UNCLE, Blu-ray) through dark, partially-lit cobbled streets, is deeply atmospheric, and even with non-HDR sources, the panel's inherently bright delivery produces some great headlight highlights.
The TV does confound, though. Normally I'd advise any ambient light sensor to be turned off, but the XD93 consistently looked better in my low-lit room with its light sensor on. With the sensor off, it tends to emphasise grain and colour noise: Jessica Jones (Netflix 4K) looks splotchy with livid red speckles. The light sensor is on by default with HDR content, and can’t be turned off.
Motion handling remains a Sony strength, although buyers should choose carefully from the many options here. The Smooth setting is an invitation to motion artefacts, lack of retained detail and a yucky sheen. It's better to opt for Clear; although this darkens down the image, pans are smooth. For movie content, True Cinema is free of artefacts and looks pleasingly filmic.
The XD93 is an innovative, intriguing screen. The application of the Slim Backlight Drive is ingenious, and allows the set to shine cosmetically. Yet while HDR material catches the eye, the TV doesn’t match a full array backlit model for intensity or precision. And I still harbour reservations about the Android UI, which is at times exasperating, and the remote control is a horror. That all said, if you’re after a beautifully designed UHD TV with 4K streaming support, the XD93 is one to consider.
Price: £1,600 approx
We say: This ultra-slim HDR set offers a compelling 4K performance, but Sony's new Slim Backlight Drive doesn’t necessarily dazzle and usability could be better
3D: Yes. Active shutter (but no glasses supplied) 4K: Yes. 3,840 x 2,160 HDR: Yes. HDR 10 Tuner: 2 x Freeview HD; 2 x satellite Connections: 4 x HDMI inputs; Scart; composite/component video; digital optical output; Ethernet; 3 x USB; built-in Wi-Fi Sound: 4 x 7.5W Brightness (claimed): N/A Contrast ratio (claimed): N/A Dimensions (off stand): 1,239(w) x 717(h) x 36(d)mm Weight (off stand): 22kg
Features: USB multimedia playback; 4K X-Reality Pro image engine; Advanced Contrast Enhancer; Motionflow XR 1000Hz; Triluminos WCG colour; Wi-Fi Direct; screen mirroring; dual-band Wi-Fi; GoogleCast; Android smart TV; YouView
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