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Hands on: Sony XH95 Review

Sony is banking on modest improvements to woo buyers to this new flagship 4K LED TV

First Impressions

More evolution than revolution, Sony’s 4K HDR flagship LED TV for 2020 is built around the familiar X1 Ultimate picture processor, but improves on usability and audio. Is it enough to compete against a new generation of AI enhanced image processors from key rivals? Watch this space.

Key Specifications

  • 4K Dolby Vision HDR
  • Multi Acoustic Audio
  • Full Array LED
  • Ambient Optimization

The Sony XH95 will lead the way when it comes to Full Array 4K LED screens from Sony this year.

Unveiled at CES in Las Vegas, it’s fair to describe this premium set as more evolutionary than revolutionary, but that’s not to say we don’t have high hopes when it moves from pre- to proper production in a month or two.

Replacing last year’s XG95, and positioned just above the brand’s new XH90, by dint of its support for X-Axis Wide Viewing, the XH95 (known as the X95H Stateside) will arrive in 85, 75, 65, 55 and 49-inch sizes. The model sits to the left of Sony’s new G9 and AG8 OLED offerings, but will doubtless be a bit cheaper.

The design is predictably minimalist. Helpfully the screen’s two feet can be placed wide at the edge of the screen, or positioned narrow towards the centre, to accommodate less expansive AV furniture. Note that the smallest 49-inch model and the largest 85-incher do not offer such versatility.

The XH95 may not boast the level of sonic innovation coming on the top of the line 8k ZH8, with its brilliant Frame Tweeter (yes, the frame of the TV really is a tweeter), but Sony still has some tricks up the sleeve of its R&D lab coat.

Related: Sony TV 2020

Sony XH95 4K LED TV – X1 Ultimate picture processor still sits on Sony’s picture quality throne

Image prowess on the XH95 is a known quantity. The set is built around the same X1 Ultimate picture processor that we saw in last year’s upper class models. What we’re not getting is the kind of AI enhancement seen on the latest neural network Deep Learning silicon being deployed by LG, Philips and Samsung.

This could well put the XH95 at a disadvantage when it comes to direct comparisons. But on the plus side, the X1 Ultimate has consistently impressed with both the clarity of its native 4K UHD performance, while its SDR to HDR upscaling talents remain amongst the most effective and naturalistic available.

Other picture embellishments have also been inherited from last year’s models, including X-Motion Clarity, and X-Wide Angle viewing technology, the latter ensuring you don’t lose too much contrast and colour when you watch from the side.

But here’s a quick caveat: The 49-inch version of the XH95 lacks X-Wide Angle.

Interestingly, Sony has opted not to support Dolby Vision IQ this year, nor Filmmaker Mode. When quizzed about this, the brand once again advocated its own Custom picture preset, pointing out this brings the screen very near to the level of balance, contrast and saturation offered by its own OLED mastering monitor.

Related: What is Filmmaker Mode?

Sony XH95

Sony also continues to be one of the few brands to offer a Netflix Calibrated Mode, which is essentially a movie preset endorsed by the streaming giant.

An additional cinematic stamp of approval is IMAX Enhanced certification, which appears to mean that the folks behind this nascent quality standard (who are Xperi, owners of DTS) consider the TV of a suitable standard to show IMAX Enhanced movies from Blu-ray, and the Rakuten streaming service.

But there is new tech to keep things fresh. Sony has developed its own Ambient Optimization technology, which operates in much the same way as Dolby Vision IQ and Panasonic’s rival Intelligent Sensing approach to Filmmaker Mode, using the set’s in-built sensor to measure ambient light.

However, unlike either Filmmaker Mode of Dolby Vision IQ, the XH95 isn’t content to just adjust picture brightness in bright rooms and reducing it in dark rooms, it also tweaks audio by detecting stuff like curtains or furniture that can absorb or reflect sound. Acoustic Audio calibration is achieved, rather cleverly, by the microphone in the remote zapper.

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Sony XH95 4K LED TV – Android Pie still Sony’s smart TV OS of choice

Sony’s smart TV OS of choice remains Android, here in its latest Pie incarnation. We rate this as a pretty stable smart interface, with a high level of functionality. At the time of writing there are no plans to add Freeview Play, so we’ll inevitably get a somewhat tired looking YouView app to stand in for the set’s programme guide, as well as provide catch-up TV players.

This might change though, as we hear on the grapevine that there’s at least the hint of a thaw in the relationship between Android and Freeview Play – fingers crossed.

The set will ship with voice support for both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but Apple Airplay 2 and Apple Homekit compatibility is also on the way, probably via firmware update later in the year.

In reality, some of the nicest changes Sony is making this year aren’t related to picture and sound quality at all. It’s simply finessing the menus and fine tuning navigation. There’s been an unwritten rule that menus, particularly lesser used ones, should only be the province of the geeky power user. The conceit being that if you don’t know what a particular menu option does, then you don’t deserve to be there in the first place.

Sony XH95

But on the XH95, and for that matter, elsewhere its 2020 line, Sony is simplifying menu options, adding graphical descriptions alongside modes and options. You no longer have to guess (or resort to Google) to find out what anything does.

It’ll also tell you at a glance new firmware release info, and the state of the batteries in your zapper. Sony has even simplified device detection connection info on this set, which just makes usability a whole lot better.

There’s even a funky new default screen design for when there’s no signal input.

Sony has made some significant improvements to the set’s audio too, compared to its predecessor. It features a sound positioning tweeter, and X-balanced speaker as part of its Acoustic Multi-Audio armoury. Once again the largest and the smallest models in the range, miss out on this.

Early verdict

Time spent with the XH95 behind closed doors (and above some concession stands) at CES, has left us eager to see more. While much depends on how the set is priced (probably the same as corresponding XG95 models), this is very clearly a top of the line 4K HDR performer. Improvements to audio and general usability are the most obvious changes.

It remains to be seen just how well the long-serving X1 Ultimate chipset fares against the new, smarter image processors coming from Samsung, LG and Panasonic, but we suspect it is going to be close. Which means you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to upgrading to a new smarter 4K LED TV in 2020.

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