Sony XF90 / X900F Preview: An early contender for the year’s best value 4K TV?

What is the Sony XF90/X900F?

At first glance, Sony’s CES 2018 offering seemed a little tame. Aside from its conceptual 10,000-nit 8K TV, its main attractions were an old OLED with a different design, and a single new mid-range series of LCD TV – the XF90 (or X900F in the US).

My initial assumption that this new Sony XF90 range wasn’t particularly exciting proved unfair. Deeper investigation reveals that it’s a substantial upgrade on the previous XE90 series. According to Sony, the XF90s are going to be taking over not just from the XE90s for 2018 – but also the brand’s high-end XE93 and XE94 ranges. No pressure.

Here are my initial impressions – the TVs will be on sale in the spring and a review will come nearer the time.

Related: Best 4K TV

Here’s a picture of an 85-inch XF90 at the CES – though the biggest screen us Brits are getting is 75 inches.

Sony XF90 / X900F – Design

The most instantly noticeable change of the Sony XF90 versus the XE90 is its ‘Soft Minimalism’ design. The screen frame remains a slim affair, available in black or silver. But now the frame is made from aluminium and the Sony logo is squeezed into the frame rather than hanging off the bottom edge.

More strikingly, the centrally mounted silver ‘plate’ desktop mount of the XE90 is replaced  by two long, boldly angled metallic feet. Personally, I find these feet a little comical. Plus the way they’re positioned raises the possibility of the TV not being able to sit on a narrow piece of furniture.

There is method to Sony’s madness, though. Namely that angling the two feet out so much provides space between them for you to slide one of Sony’s trim new soundbars. Soundbars that have also been styled with a view to fitting in with the XF90’s looks. How thoughtful!

For what it’s worth, the XF90’s rear looks much cleaner and smoother than that of its predecessor. Sony has integrated the power board inside the chassis, rather than using an external power transformer, and the XF90 also benefits from Sony’s worthy obsession with cable management.

Sony XF90 / X900F – Features

The Sony XF90’s most significant changes are all found inside its trim form. Kicking off with the fact that it moves from the XE90’s standard X1 chipset to the more powerful X1 Extreme found in Sony’s high-end XE93, XE94, A1 and ZD9 TVs.

The Extreme chipset introduces Sony’s innovative dual database system for enhanced 4K upscaling of sub-4K sources, and the excellent Super Bit Mapping processing for smoothing out the colour striping that can affect HDR playback.

Also key to the Extreme chipset is its excellent HDR upscaling processing, which does a more convincing job of converting SDR sources to HDR than any other system I’ve seen so far.

The Sony XF90 carries a direct LED lighting system, in the way of the XE90. However, it ups its game from its predecessor by implementing a markedly more sophisticated local dimming engine.

Sony refuses to discuss how many dimming zones its TVs have – despite seemingly being annoyed about TV reviewers routinely coming up with a smaller number than we should when we count them for ourselves. However, the company did confirm that the XF90 boasts an enhanced version of its X-Tended Dynamic Range system – Sony’s proprietary system for shifting the energy not needed for dark picture areas to bright areas, to give them more punch.

This is supposed to deliver a six-fold contrast boost versus regular full array playback, compared with a five-fold boost on the XE90.

 


Sony also doesn’t like to talk about brightness specifications for its TVs, but from the specs and demonstrations I was shown, I’m confident that the XF90 will deliver markedly more dynamism and peak brightness than the XE90.

Sony was quite prepared to show footage combining bright lights against a dark backdrop on the XF90, and even in the dark room used for the demos, I was impressed to see practically no sign of the distracting backlight ‘blooming’ often seen on Full Array with Local Dimming (FALD) TVs.

If this combination of increased brightness and enhanced localised backlight control holds good when we get a Sony XF90 into our own test rooms, we’ll be very happy indeed.

Perhaps the single most unexpected feature of the XF90 is its introduction of a brand-new motion handling system. X-Motion Clarity promises to combine Sony’s backlight blinking technology with its X-Tended Dynamic Range local dimming technology to deliver more natural-looking motion, without the loss of brightness usually associated with backlight blinking.
For example, if there’s a bright car driving across the screen, the FALD X-Tended Dynamic Range technology can be used to boost the brightness of the section of the image containing the car, so that it can cross the screen without suffering judder or blur as a result of backlight blinking.

In action, the feature looked impressive. Detail levels in a panning shot across tiled rooftops remained exceptionally clear. Also, as promised, the image didn’t suffer with either the flickering or dullness previous associated with Sony’s backlight blinking motion option.

Given that Sony was showing off a prototype of a new X1 Ultimate processing chip at CES, it’s tempting to imagine that the brand may launch some new high-end models much later in the year.

For the forseeable future, though, the XF90 series (set to be available in 49, 55, 65 and 75-inch models) is going to be carrying the premium Sony LCD flag pretty much single-handedly.

First impressions

From what I’ve seen so far, the Sony XF90 / X900F looks set to deliver a seriously big step up on the performance of last year’s XE90 model while, apparently, only costing more or less the same. We’ll be doing a full review, of course, as soon as we can get our hands on a finished set.