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Hands on: Sony KD-75ZH8 Review

Sony’s second-gen 8K TV looks – and sounds – very promising indeed

First Impressions

Sony hasn’t yet revealed pricing or a firm launch date for the 75ZH8 or its 85in sibling. From what I’ve seen of it so far, however, it can’t arrive soon enough

With the exception of Panasonic, every big-name TV brand at the 2020 CES had some new 8K screens to show off. I’ve already looked at one of these, the remarkably designed Samsung Q950TS.

Here, however, it’s the turn of Sony’s 75ZH8 – an innovative set that’s already looking as though it could give Samsung’s new 8K flagship a serious run for its money.

Related: Should I buy an 8K TV?

Sony KD-75ZH8 build and design – Slim and attractive

While the 75in 75ZH8 might not boast the dramatic, bezel-free design kudos of the Samsung Q950TS, it’s far from ugly. Its frame is slim and offset attractively by a silvery metallic outer trim, and it sits low on a pair of feet so narrow that you can barely see them from the front.

Handily, the feet can be attached in two different configurations: either under the screen’s corners, or closer together if you don’t have a 75in-wide piece of furniture to put it on.

The Sony ZH8 at CES 2020

At first glance, the 75ZH8 doesn’t appear to have any visible speakers. However, closer inspection – as in bending down a bit – reveals a forward-firing strip of speakers tucked under the screen’s bottom edge.

Sony KD-75ZH8 features – Trades the ZG9s Master Drive backlight for Full Array local dimming

The 75ZH8 and its 85in sibling are essentially designed to be more affordable alternatives to Sony’s debut 8K TVs, the extraordinarily bright ZG9s. So, as well as not being quite as fancy on the design front, the ZH8 replaces the ZG9’s Sony Backlight Master Drive system with a more straightforward Full Array with local dimming (FALD) lighting system.

The 75ZH8 does still retain the 8K-optimised version of Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor and Sony’s X-Wide Angle technology. The latter tweaks the traditional (VA-type) LCD panel structure so that the screen can be watched from a significantly wider angle than most LCD TVs without colour or contrast taking a hit.

When Sony first introduced X-Wide Angle, it caused some contrast and backlight blooming problems. Sony’s CES ZH8 demos, however, suggest that the Japanese brand is getting well on top of this problem.

In fact, while watching a range of HDR movie clips in a black box room on Sony’s stand, I was repeatedly struck by how well the 75ZH8 managed to deliver deep, rich black colours – both in the black bars around wide aspect ratio pictures and within night-time or outer space scenes.

On one or two occasions, a rival 8K LCD TV that Sony was running alongside the 75ZH8 presented dark scenes with deeper black levels still. However, Sony was also comparing the ZH8’s pictures against one of its £30,000 BVM-X300 professional mastering monitors.

It turned out that where the Sony’s rendition of a dark scene looked a touch greyer than it did on the rival 8K TV, Sony’s presentation actually tracked closer to the intended look of the image as reproduced by the professional monitor.

The Sony ZH8 at the CES 2020

Sony KD-75ZH8 picture quality – Consistently immersive black levels

The ZH8’s natural immersive black levels are also more consistent than those of the rival set. And, arguably, of any other LCD TV I’ve ever seen, come to that.

During a HDR space sequence that showed thousands of stars, for instance, the ZH8 managed to bring out far more stars than the rival 8K LCD TV. And while the rival 8K LCD also suffered a pulsing effect over the stars, as its local backlight dimming system tried to cope with motion in the frame, the star field and black levels remained rock solid with the Sony ZH8, right across the frame.

It has to be said that the ZH8 didn’t deliver all of the stars – or other very small peak HDR brightness highlights in other demo material – with such extreme levels of brightness as the rival 8K LCD. But when the trade-off is pictures that look much more consistent, stable and pretty much free of all backlight blooming around bright parts of the picture, Sony’s approach is clearly better equipped to deliver a more immersive experience overall.

The experience tallies closer with the pictures of the X300 OLED monitor that are clearly such a reference point for Sony when it’s figuring out how best to apply the power of its X1 Ultimate processor to any given frame.

Don’t assume from what I’ve just said, however, that the ZH8 can’t get bright. On the contrary – during Sony’s CES demos it got very bright indeed at times. The neon lights of New York’s Times Square, for instance, blasted off the ZH8’s screens with an intensity far beyond that of the rival (also high-end) 8K LCD set. In fact, the 75ZH8 resolved more tonal subtleties in the brightest parts of aggressively mastered HDR pictures better than the X300 professional monitor, thanks to the LCD TV’s higher native brightness.

Colours also looked richer in the brightest parts of HDR images on the Sony set than they did on the rival 8K LCD model, as well as enjoying more consistently natural and subtly delineated tones in dark areas.

The Super Bit Mapping part of Sony’s X1 Ultimate processing does away with the striping issue many TVs suffer from, to some extent, when trying to show certain very fine colour blends.

The Sony ZH8 at CES 2020.

The combination of exceptionally intelligent backlight control and fine Triluminos colour rendering helps the ZH8 get plenty of sharpness and detail impact from its native 8K resolution. This holds good, moreover, with the 4K content that made up most of Sony’s demo material, reminding me of the outstanding upscaling capabilities of the X1 Ultimate engine.

Sony KD-75ZH8 sound quality – An excellent effort for a built-in speaker system

The Sony ZH8 didn’t just impress with its pictures during its CES demos. Its audio, too, sounded excellent for a built-in TV speaker system. Those subtly designed forward-facing speakers under the bottom edge pump out far more power and dynamic range than you’d expect, underpinned by more than enough bass to stop action scenes sounding thin or harsh.

Even more surprisingly, the sound seems to expand upwards and outwards from the screen in a way that doesn’t seem possible from a set of compact, recessed, bottom-mounted speakers.

Voices, too, sound clean and accurately positioned on screen even if a voice – or other sound effect – comes from up near the image’s top edge.

Making this possible is the ZH8’s little secret: Frame Tweeters. Drawing in some ways on the Acoustic Surface technology of its OLED TVs, Sony has built small devices behind the left and right sides of the ZH8 that cause the frame to vibrate and produce sound.

It’s hard to accept that a system like this could deliver results as clean, open and dynamic, yet sensitive and clear, as those I heard during Sony’s CES ZH8 demos. But, I guess, sometimes hearing is believing.

Sony KD-75ZH8 – Early verdict

Sony hasn’t yet revealed pricing or a firm launch date for the 75ZH8 or its 85in sibling. From what I’ve seen of it so far, however, it can’t arrive soon enough.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

Features

Size (Inch) 75
Display Type LED
Max. Resolution 7680 x 4320

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