New TVs get introduced in spring, and it’s not unusual for a mid- to high-end set to fall $ 1,000 or more in price throughout the year. That’s exactly what happened to the Sony XBR-X900E last year; the 65-incher started at $ 2,500 and fell to $ 1,500 in the middle of November. And I expect the same thing to happen to the X900F reviewed here.
Don’t get me wrong: the X900F is a superb television right now. Its picture quality is excellent, anchored by deep black levels, bright highlights, rich, accurate color and great video processing. Style is minimalist and sleek, and then there’s the fact that “it’s a Sony.” Sure, its Android TV system is a mixed bag — great features on one hand, slow responses on the other — but you can always just connect a good, cheap streamer if you want.
There are two problems for LCD TVs at this Sony’s price and higher. One is that OLED TVs from LG offer an even better picture for not that much more money, especially if you buy last year’s version. The other is that TCL’s 6 series has similarly excellent picture quality as the Sony for a lot less money. And right now that makes the 6 series a hands-down better value than the X900F.
Yes, the X900F is available in a larger range of sizes than the TCL. And if you value the Sony name or the X900F’s superior style, it might make sense to pay the premium now. But I’ll like the X900F even more when its price inevitably falls later this year.
Minimalist frame, substantial legs
Sony’s TVs are often more businesslike with less flair than the competition, and the sleek, modern-looking X900F fits the mold. The frame around the screen is nice and thin, with a very slightly thicker bottom edge that bears the only accent, a thin line of sorta-transparent, sorta-reflective reflective material. There’s barely enough room to fit the Sony logo.
Last year’s X900E has a single central pedestal stand but the X900F bows to the recent trend of a pair of legs for support. They’re thick enough to make Samsung and TCL’s look a bit spindly, and they sit relatively close to the center but are otherwise pretty standard. On the back they incorporate token cable management, although more than a couple HDMI cables will be too much.
Sony’s Android TV: Capable but slow
Sony’s sets run Google’s smart TV system, and it beats the homebrew solutions from Samsung and LG (if not Roku TV) in one important area: app coverage. It’s also better, pretty much every way, than Vizio’s SmartCast system.
As I saw on the X900E last year, however the responsiveness of Sony’s Android TV system wasn’t as quick as many of its competitors, including LG, Samsung and Roku. At times the home page would take forever to load. Within apps like Netflix and YouTube, moving around, loading thumbnails and other actions wasn’t quite as zippy. And the system lagged when I hit the “Action Menu” key during streaming to call up a picture adjustments. Methinks Sony could invest more in processor speed on this TV.
That said, it was still tolerable to use for the most part, and app coverage and features are top-notch. The X900F’s Amazon, Netflix and Vudu apps all support both 4K and HDR, as does Sony’s own Ultra app, exclusive to Sony TVs, which carries Sony Pictures movies only on a purchase-only basis (typically $ 18-$ 20 each). Apps that support 4K but not HDR include YouTube and Google Play Movies and TV — both a bit surprising since they’re Google properties and YouTube supports HDR on Roku.
With the notable exception of Hulu, which still has the old interface (and which may actually be preferable to some viewers) and doesn’t support live TV, Sony’s Android TV system has nicely updated apps and broad support. It offers YouTube TV, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, MLB AtBat, PlutoTV, Facebook video, Twitch and numerous other apps along with games are available via the Google Play Store (don’t get too excited; it’s specific to Android TV and much less extensive than the one on your phone). Speaking of phones, many more apps can be cast to the Sony via its built-in Google Cast functionality, which works just like a Chromecast.
Ready to listen, remote or hands-free
As you’d expect from a device controlled by Android, the Sony TV’s voice features are a cut above most competitors.
New for 2018, the remote button at the top is a full-fledged Google Assistant icon, which invokes the full version of Google’s ubiquitous voice assistant — it’s just like a Google Home ($ 129.00 at Dell Home), complete with a voice that talks to you through the TV speakers. Since pressing the button replaces invoking the “OK Google” catchphrase, it’s arguably even easier to use, and there are fewer privacy concerns since Google is only “listening” when the remote mic is hot (as indicated by a convenient orange LED).
I got a weather report, scouted nearby pizza joints, and played music from a linked Spotify account (complete with playlists) with no issues, although again responsiveness could be spotty. At times the onscreen prompt took a second or more to appear, especially when watching something on an app rather than via an input. At one point during an HBO stream, the whole system seemed to crash for about 20 seconds when I hit the Assistant button. Basic voice commands also occasionally failed, for example switching inputs and launching apps. Overall I found Sony’s Assistant a tad slower and therefore less satisfying than Nvidia Shield’s incarnation, and neither are quite as capable as Alexa on Amazon Fire TV Edition.
Sony’s TV also accepts voice commands hands-free (no remote required) when linked with actual Alexa speakers — which I tested last year and won’t revisit here — as well as Google Home speakers. Using a Mini, I found that YouTube worked best, although the phrasing can be long and awkward. I said “OK Google, play Long Long Honeymoon videos on Lab TV” and my favorite RVing couple appeared. Afterward I could just say “OK Google, play cat videos” and it knew to play them on the Lab TV (the Sony) without having to specify.
Unfortunately, only a handful of other sources beyond YouTube are supported — among them HBO Now and CBS All Access, but not Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. I love that I could just say “Play Westworld” — without having to specify the app or the TV itself, and it would start up, so hopefully Google adds more apps soon. Strangely, on the other hand, an Alexa speaker can power on the Sony TV, but a Google Home cannot.
Fully featured and connected
The best picture-enhancing extra on the X900F is full-array local dimming (FALD). It improved black levels and contrast by illuminating different areas of the screen separately as needed. Unlike Vizio or TCL, Sony doesn’t disclose the number of dimming zones.
Full array with local dimming
Other picture-centric extras include a native 120Hz refresh rate, a notable improvement on paper over the fake 120Hz refresh rates (they’re actually 60Hz native) found on the Vizio M and TCL P series. New for 2018 Sony says it has improved video processing as well, courtesy of the same X1 Extreme processor found in models such as the A1E OLED. And there’s a new Precision Clarity mode that boosts motion resolution by applying black frame insertion only where it’s needed on the screen, which is said to eliminate the flicker and dimness evinced by similar modes in past sets. See the picture quality section for more.
Sony added the Dolby Vision HDR format to some of its 2017 TVs last year via a firmware upgrade, and says a similar update will be available in 2018 for the X900F. In the meantime, it supports the HDR10 format.
4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2
3x USB ports
Composite video input
Ethernet (LAN) port
Optical digital audio output
1x headphone/subwoofer audio output
1x RF (antenna) input
RS-232 port (minijack)
The X900E has a very healthy selection of jacks. Unlike many of Samsung’s sets, the Sony actually has an analog video input, albeit composite-only, and I also appreciate having a headphone jack.
All of the HDMI inputs will work with 4K and HDR devices, but for best results Sony recommends using input 2 or 3 (which have higher bandwidth than the others) with 4K Blu-ray players and making sure to engage “HDMI enhanced” mode. Unlike LG and Samsung TVs, the X900F will not detect and automatically change that setting for you, which is a shame.