Review samples of these high-tech monsters can't come soon enough
Sony ZG9 8K TV first look: Can it bring 8K to the masses?
Having won CES in 2018 with a prototype 8K LED capable of pumping out an extraordinary 10,000 nits of brightness, Sony has taken the 8K plunge again for 2019. Only this time we’re talking about real products you’ll actually be able to buy – provided you’ve got deep enough pockets.
Sony unveiled two new 8K TVs at 2019’s CES: the 85-inch 85ZG9, and the 98-inch 98ZG9. Clearly, screens as big and cutting-edge as these aren’t exactly going to be mainstream propositions. What they might very well be, though, is seriously brilliant.
Fed native 8K content from a specially shot showreel, the ZG9 delivered pictures so good they didn’t really look like TV pictures at all; they just looked like real life. Or maybe a slightly better version of real life.
For starters, there’s no hint of visible image structure in the picture. This is a big deal when you’re talking about screens as large as 85 and 98 inches. Similarly, there’s no jaggedness around curved or diagonal edges, while even the finest lines and tiniest spots of detail are rendered with absolute authority. And zero noise.
Related: What is 8K TV?
Detail levels compared with a 4K Sony ZF9 sat next to it were out of this world. You could see minute details such as leaves on distant trees, crags in distant rock formations, ripples on lakes and – perhaps most excitingly of all for my inner geek – stunning extra bodywork detailing in specially created 8K renders of Gran Turismo.
Such detail was evident on the 98ZG9 by the stellar colour handling delivered by the 8K-optimised version of Sony’s powerful X1 Ultimate processor. It’s hard to think of any other processor right now that could “map” colour tones so accurately to the tiny pixels squeezed into an 8K TV.
Sony’s processing power also did a great job of retaining the extreme clarity of its 8K pictures with motion in the frame, especially during the stunning Gran Turismo renders.
The combination of vastly more detail and colour finesse helps images enjoy a greater sense of depth, density and purity. Or to put it another way, native 8K pictures on the 98ZG9 no longer really look like TV pictures; they look like reality. As if you’ve stepped through the larger-than-life screen into the lush landscapes beyond.
It actually isn’t just the 8K-inspired sharpness and detail that make the 98ZG9’s pictures look so mesmerisingly life-like, though. The image’s brightness and dynamism with HDR sources is also a sight to behold.
There’s a vast light range between the brightest and darkest points of HDR pictures. Also, the “baseline” brightness the screen can achieve is extremely high by the today’s TV standards.
This means the ZG9 TVs deliver arguably the most consistently complete HDR experience I’ve seen to date. More importantly, though, the high brightness rounds off the impression that you’re staring at reality (which actually tends to be very bright) rather than watching TV.
Related: What is HDR?
The ZG9 TVs both carry the same wide viewing angle technology Sony introduced for its ZF9 Master Series TVs. This means your whole household can share in the splendour of the TVs’ 8K pictures. As we saw on the ZF9s, Sony’s wide-angle technology requires some compromise of the TV’s black level performance.
However, while I did still see occasional signs of this during my time with the ZG9s, it seemed less of an issue than it was on the ZF9. Sony claims to have reworked the ZG9s’ backlighting system in response to the criticisms levelled at its 4K sibling.
Awe-inspiring though the Sony ZG9 TVs look with the company’s specially created 8K showreel, sadly, native 8K content is practically impossible to find in the real world. While this is a shame, it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a reason not to buy a ZG9. Why? Because Sony’s sets benefit from what appears to be a class-leading upscaling system for converting 4K to 8K.
To prove this point, Sony ran a reel of 4K footage simultaneously through a 30-inch Sony BVM-X300 4K OLED mastering monitors, a 4K ZF9, and a 95ZG9. And it was immediately clear that the images on the 8K TV looked sharper, more detailed and, again, more lifelike than they did on the ZF9.
This doesn’t just reveal the remarkable power and intelligence of Sony’s 8K upscaling system. It also proved a key part of Sony’s arguments for the reasons that 8K matters now, even though we don’t yet have native 8K content. You can clearly see that the 8K screen can deliver the same sort of pixel density, sharpness and sense of detail that you see on the 30-inch OLED monitor, while the ZF9 4K screen looks softer and less precise.
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In other words, it’s clear that even when upscaling is involved, only an 8K screen can provide the same sense of sharpness and detail with 4K content that you get on a professional 30-inch 4K monitor.
While the ZG9’s 8K pictures are its headline attraction, its sound is shaping up to be pretty special too. Sony has placed four forward-facing speakers around the ZG9s’ mammoth screens: two at the bottom and, unusually, two at the top. This configuration helps the TVs to place effects and speech in the correct position on the screen. So, for instance, dialogue seems to come from the mouths of the people speaking, rather than from some distant speaker at the bottom or rear of the TV.
This sound dislocation issue becomes more problematic the bigger a TV gets, so it’s great to find the ZG9s’ unique speaker configuration doing a startlingly good job of making the sound appear to be coming not just from the screen, but from specific parts of the screen. This really makes a difference to how much you engage with what you’re watching.
If you wish, you can also combine the TVs’ speakers into a single centre channel that becomes part of a separate surround sound system. This configuration worked very well during our demo, holding its own within a pretty potent set of alternative speakers.
Pricing for the ZG9 TVs is yet to be revealed. Given their size and specification, though, it’s safe to say it’s unlikely to be peanuts. But if money is no object, then the ZG9s look like they might become real ambassadors for the 8K generation.
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