Sony’s new flagship 4K LCD TVs will outperform their OLED and premium LCD rivals when they ship globally later this summer, Sony executives promised during Wednesday’s unveiling of the Z series at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif.
The three Z series TVs are the company’s first TVs with proprietary Backlight Master Drive high dynamic range (HDR) technology, said to combine OLED-like blacks with brightness levels exceeding that of current HDR-equipped LCD TVs.
Compared to current OLED and LCD display technologies, the Z series TVs also deliver greater color accuracy along with greater detail in bright and dark areas, Sony marketers said. The TVs will also deliver better color saturation in bright areas compared to other LCD TVs, they added.
At CES 2016, Sony demonstrated Backlight Master Drive technology for the first time but didn’t disclose product plans or availability dates. At the time, company personnel claimed the technology would deliver 4,000 nits of peak brightness, handily exceeding the 1,000 nits available with select premium 4K LCD TVs also unveiled at CES.
At Wednesday’s press conference, however, Sony Electronics president/COO Mike Fasulo declined to reveal detailed Z series specs, contending that “we don’t want to get into a numbers game.” Nonetheless, Fasulo contended the Z series TVs would be “the brightest on the market.”
“Every manufacturer measures differently,” added product technology manager Phil Jones in describing the confusion caused by over-reliance on manufacturer specs. But, he said, “if you use the same test methods, no TV can touch us in brightness and contrast.”
The TVs, which also feature wide color gamut and Android TV OS, are the $6,999-suggested 65-inch XBR65Z9D, $9,999 75-inch XBR75Z9D, and 100-inch XBR100Z9D, whose pricing wasn’t disclosed. They will be available later this summer.
The models will appear in “multiple premium channels,” including Best Buy’s Magnolia outlets, custom integrators, independent A/V specialists, and Sony-dedicated store-in-stores on the main floor of select Best Buy stores, Fasulo said. “We’re not interested in sticking them in a wall of TVs,” he said. “Custom integration and A/V specialists, not general appliance stores, will love this,” he added.
Backlight Master Drive
To deliver a wider dynamic range and better local contrast than rival display technologies, Backlight Master Drive combines a high but undisclosed number of densely packed full-array LED backlights, each of which can be turned on and off individually, said Toshiyuki Ogura, chief distinguished engineer for Sony Visual Products. Other full-array LED-backlit TVs, in contrast, individually turn on and off LED zones, each consisting of multiple LEDs.
Upwards of 1,000 LEDs are used, said Phil Jones, product technology manager for home entertainment.
Also to enhance local contrast as well as color purity, the LED lights deliver narrowly focused beams of light, not the more diffuse beams of competing full-array LED-backlight systems, Ogura said.
Sony’s LED technology also reduces motion blur during fast-moving scenes, he said.
The TVs incorporate HDR 10 dynamic range technology, not Dolby Vision. When Fasulo was asked if the TVs are firmware-upgradable to Dolby Vision, he stated only that “they are firmware-upgradable.”
New HDR Processor, Other Technologies
The TVs also incorporate Sony’s new 4K HDR Processor X1 Extreme signal processor, which features three new technologies to goose up realism. In upconverting lower resolution standard dynamic range (SDR) content to 4K HDR, the processor’s object-based HDR Re-master technology analyzes the colors and contrast of individual objects in a scene.
Then the objects are remastered individually to deliver “greater depth, richer textures and more realistic pictures,” the company said. Most TVs, in contrast, adjust contrast by frame, the company noted. The Sony method “improves local and overall contrast at the same time,” Ogura added.
The X1 Extreme processor also incorporates Super Bit Mapping 4K HDR 14-bit processing to deliver smoother gradations of color from 8- and 10-bit sources without the color “banding” seen on others TVs, Sony said. Banding often occurs when reproducing sunsets that consist of “thousands of tones, shades and gradations of light,” Sony pointed out.
The processor’s “dual-database” video processing removes on-screen noise while improving clarity and detail, whereas conventional video-noise reduction can reduce overall detail, Ogura said.
The TVs’ color space is “very close” to the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) P3 wide-color-gamut standard, and color volume exceeds that of rival OLED and LCD technologies, added Jones. Color volume represents a combination of the range of colors and the levels of brightness of each color.
Compared to flagship OLED TVs and select Samsung premium LCD TVs, the Z series TVs are less expensive while performing better, Jones said.
Other features include Android TV's Voice Search enhanced with natural-language voice actions and ability to recognize longer, more complex sentences. The TVs also feature Google Cast so consumers can cast Cast-enabled entertainment apps to the TVs from an Android or iOS device, Mac or Windows computer, or Chromebook.
The 100-inch Z series model comes with table- and floor-stand options. The other TVs in the series come with table stands.
The TVs don’t wear Sony’s premium ES (Elevated Standard) badge, as do select audio components.