Great images deserve to be seen on large screens, and Sony’s XBR-65Z9F (or commonly known as the 65Z9F) delivers the goods with the help of Sony’s 4K HDR Picture Processor X1 Ultimate ensuring that no fine detail will be missed. An incredibly deep integration of apps through Google Play puts the world’s streamed content at your fingertips. Connect an Ultra HD Blu-ray player through one of the four HDMI 2.0b inputs, and you’ll push the envelope of UHD at home.
Sony XBR-65Z9F Ultra HD TV
- Extremely accurate grayscale and color with CalMAN AutoCal
- High Dynamic Range over 1800 nits peak
- Wide Color Gamut covering DCI-P3
- HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vison support
- HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2 and eARC
- Plenty of streaming options
Sony has introduced landmark televisions in its past; the legendary Trinitron in 1968, WEGA in 1997, and Bravia in 2005. Each attempted to push the envelope in home video reproduction to tell the stories of tens of thousands of filmmakers. With the new Master Series, inspired by Sony’s expertise in mastering content creation with filmmakers and Ultra HD HDR technology, the filmmaker’s intent has never been seen so beautifully at home. The Sony 65Z9F – a backlit LED/LCD – is one of two technologies Sony makes available. The other is an OLED, the Sony 65A9F. Both deliver outstanding images, and each fulfills the criteria of the UHD Alliance for LCD and OLED displays. The reviewed 65Z9F has deep black levels due to the dimmable zones behind the LCD panel yet is capable of extremely bright highlights of up to 1800 nits when the content demands it – and it does so with little compromise. Let’s take a closer look at this television to see how.
Full Array Local Dimming (approximately 100 zones)
3840 x 2160
10-bit panel, 12-bit processing
High Dynamic Range:
HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
65” (75” also available)
Input Signal Compatibility:
up to 18Gbps, 3840 x 2160p @ 60Hz
4x HDMI 2.0b w/HDCP 2.2, 1x composite A/V, RF antenna
optical, headphone, internal speakers
3x USB, 1x RJ-45, Wi-Fi, IR blaster
Dimensions with Stand:
W57.25” x H35.75” x D12.4”
Dimensions without Stand:
W57.25” x H33” x D2.75”
65lbs with stand, 62.2lbs without
Sony, XBR-65Z9F, Ultra HD TV, Ultra HD, HDR, Television, LCD, LED, TV Review 2019
Designed elegantly to fit any room décor, the 65Z9F has a thin, black, and lightly speckled finish on its bezel. If you prefer to mount it on a table instead of the wall, the feet are easily attached and look great from a distance. One person could do the job of removing this TV from the box and assembling it, but it’s not recommended due to the 65-pound weight and awkwardness of carrying such a large display. Panels are snapped to the rear and the feet conceal all the cabling. The rear of the TV looks just as simple as the front without a mess of spaghetti cables. Inputs are 100% 21st Century; there are four HDMI 2.0b inputs, one with eARC to transfer DTS:X and Dolby Atmos audio from a UHD Blu-ray player to a surround receiver or preamp. Three USB ports and an ethernet input accompany the HDMI and Wi-Fi is built in. There is a composite video input via mini jack, just in case you’ve got a retro gaming system on hand.
Due to the full-array local dimming (FALD) backlight, the 65Z9F measures 2.75” thick, much thinner than its predecessors from years ago. We often praise the images of FALD televisions for their superior video when compared to panels that are edge-lit. But to differentiate between their OLED televisions that have perfect blacks across the screen, Sony has reduced the number of zones in this year’s Z9F to that around 100 compared to about 600 on the previous 65Z9D (Sony doesn’t release the information of exactly how many zones there are). In the time before Sony made consumer OLEDs, the 65Z9D was over-engineered to set a major reference for high fidelity LCD. With its Backlight Master Drive system, it would illuminate images tightly to lighted objects and darken in the black areas of the screen. As a result, the cloudiness/halos that’s commonly seen in dark areas on a typical LCD TV was significantly reduced to look like an OLED. The new 65Z9F does achieve an excellent black with FALD, but the reduction in LED zones is noticeable. The 65Z9F is also significantly lower in price than its predecessor, but because of the reduction in dimmable zones, the 65Z9F can’t be considered a direct successor even though its naming suggests it.
There is a design advantage of the Z9F over the Z9D regarding its off-angle viewing. The TV accommodates extremely wide viewing angles without a significant loss in color or dark level details. LCDs usually look the best for those who sit directly in front of the screen while those sitting off to the sides experience a loss in color fidelity. Not so here. The TV’s screen material has some significant ambient light rejection which shoots the light out sideways rather than directly back at the viewer. This is due to an optical filter placed within the LCD stack; it spreads the light around horizontally and less back at the viewer. The perceived contrast ratio is increased for a much more pleasing image. I noticed this horizontal light spread when I shone light on the screen. The benefit is the picture was easily watched without glare no matter the time of day. Considering most living rooms aren’t light-controlled, that’s a great feature to have.
The Z9F also gets a huge video processing update with its Picture Processing X1 Ultimate. It’s two times more powerful than the previous generation as it compares hundreds of objects in the input signal to objects referenced within the processor (specific shapes like beaches, sky, faces, video noise, etcetera). The processor is tuned specifically for this display and reacts very quickly as content changes. Sony claims the resulting image is much more refined than any other TV regardless of the signal source or bitrate. The dual database works in two processes: first it applies the noise removal and then it provides the upscaling to the 4K panel using X-Reality Pro.
Two other features of interest are X-Motion Clarity and X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro. The first one applies picture motion processing for those who want the image smoothened out a bit versus watching the natural judder of 24 or 30fps video. Sony provides various presets that are user-customizable. For those who like the black frame insertion modes (to mimic CRT motion), Sony has provided some additional engineering behind this mode. It’s a localized function to ensure the image remains bright (inserting black frames generally reduces light output). Sony blinks the backlight brighter behind moving objects to counter the darkening effects of black frame insertion. X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro brightens regular Rec.709 content to try to make it look like true HDR material. Using this feature is a matter of personal preference. Regular HD material isn’t mastered this way, so the TV is interpreting how it would look in HDR.
The remote control is not backlit or very fancy, although I do like its lightly fuzzy texture and feel of the keys. The layout is like Sony remotes from the past decade but now it’s completely sealed and smooth for easy cleaning (and your dinner won’t get stuck between the keys). All menu access and navigation controls are in the approximate center of the handset, and it’s a bit traditional (and welcomed) compared to the multitude of wand and swiping remotes coming from the Korean manufacturers.
Sony menus have always irked me. I find them repetitive because I can access the same menu functions from several different on-screen locations all by pressing different buttons on the remote. I think Sony’s intent is to use them as hot keys, but I feel like I’m being led further down the rabbit hole into an endless labyrinth of icons and settings menus. The location of some functions has always been questionable. For example, the energy saving mode and aspect ratio options are in separate submenus and not grouped with the main picture adjustments, even though they directly affect image quality. The user also needs to find the external input menu to activate the deep color functionality of each HDMI input. (VIZIO also does this for some unknown reason. Ed.) Again, a challenge for novice users and too much clicking about for advanced users.
Turning on the TV for the first time requires a brief initial setup that customizes the TV to your location, internet settings, and sets you up with the Google Play store if you have a Gmail account. If you don’t, you’ll want to consider getting one for this television to use more of the apps. Android 8.0 offers a dizzying array of apps and menus that took me many tries to find where items were located. I made mistakes more than once. Twice. Three times. Oh, and maybe four or more. Maybe I’m getting too old to learn this Smart TV or maybe it’s an inherent design that I just couldn’t master quickly. Some of the most frequently used apps like Netflix and YouTube are easy to find, but you’ll really need to become familiar with the location of other content or apps. For example, I needed to download the CalMAN for BRAVIA app to be able to calibrate it with precision using my measuring instruments (more on this later). It took me quite a while to find but once I did, adding it was a breeze. Although when I tried to find the app again after exiting the Smart TV interface, I had forgotten the key sequence to access the page I downloaded it to. Since your Smart TV chops may be better than mine, my recommendation is to spend some time with it at your local big-box store. It’s the only real way to test your comfort in navigating Smart TV functions.
The television can be controlled from a variety of devices including Alexa and Google Home & Chromecast. There will be an update to add support for Apple’s Airplay 2 and Homekit control through Siri. Sony wanted to include all three as to not leave any users out. The TV’s far field mic is built into the panel rather than the remote and can be turned off if one is concerned about privacy.
All viewing was done with the television calibrated correctly to video standards. UHD-HDR was set with a grayscale of D65, color adjustments made to DCI-P3 within the BT.2020 color gamut, and gamma set tightly to ST.2084. Peak white was approximately 1800 nits. HD content was calibrated to D65 gray, BT.709 color, and 2.4 gamma, with reference white set to 100 nits (although you could artificially stretch the video out further to compete with ambient light).
Fury is a fictional World War II drama about a tank crew moving through Germany during the final days of the war. Shia LaBeouf stars alongside Brad Pitt in this fairly bloody film depicting the challenges that soldiers faced when operating heavily-armored military tanks. While the story is not on the scale of Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk, director David Ayer makes a decent film, albeit a cocky depiction of Americans pummelling mindless Germans. The UHD disc is razor-sharp with a wide range of contrast. The climactic night assault is a visual treat as the Sony’s screen flashes bright to dark from the guns and the explosions. The Sony 65Z9F had no issues delivering the range of brightness needed for this film to not only enhance the story line, but to deliver us closer to the action! This film is bright when it needs to be, and dark shadows are seen with details intact. The color palette varies throughout, but leans slightly more to a drab, warn-torn appearance.
The next title I watched was the old 1981 Sam Raimi horror classic, The Evil Dead. This UHD title sparked some discussion among reviews and forums as if a 4K transfer of a 16mm film was needed over the 1080p HD version. With the TV calibrated to the appropriate levels for HD and UHD, the answer is a definite yes! Doing a direct comparison between the HD and the UHD editions, the Sony 65Z9F exhibited a greater sense of depth with many shots, fewer compression artifacts, and the addition of HDR. While the increase in detail won’t blow you away, there is a noticeable improvement in some shots. The resolution of film grain – which can be quite intense at times – appears very smeared on the 1080p HD disc but is highly articulated in 4K. And the HDR! Glares from the chrome bumpers on Ash’s ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88, the headlights beaming down the dark road on the way to the bridge (only to be found destroyed) show the excellent contrast capability of the 65Z9F. The exterior night shot views of the cabin, with the lights on inside and the outdoor light bulbs glowing on their own all exhibit greater contrast than the HD version, which appear very flat and uninteresting by comparison. Since much of this movie takes place at night, I did notice the reduced local dimming zones because the LEDs clouded up some black areas. In the second photo below, you can see the LED zoning of the Z9F with a very black test pattern. Using two headlight shots of The Evil Dead, one of UHD-HDR and one of HD-SDR, the Sony XBR-Z9F shows the extra bright highlights even if the film detail isn’t a slick as today’s digital films. Note that the image of the HDR headlight cannot be realized on your computer monitor but it visibly had significant differences in light texture compared to what looked like a blob of dull light on the HD version of the film.
Blue Planet II is BBC’s follow up to Blue Planet with gorgeous shots of underwater creatures in mostly native 4K. Blue Planet II is great demo material to wow your family and friends, as well as a look at what’s happening under the deadly waters that cover the earth. Diving down to coral reefs and to the extreme depths of the Marianas trench, this multi-part documentary shows us alien life in its natural habitat. The Sony 65Z9F delivered color beautifully and dynamically. The blue water in all its shades was is far more vibrant and deeper throughout the hues. The intricate textures of fish are so prominently displayed with Sony’s fine detail, no doubt due in part to the superior Picture Processor X1 Ultimate. Short of booking your next scuba diving adventure, the 65Z9F is your trip to shimmering water, exotic fish, and illuminated aqua life on coral reefs!
I also tested the TV’s smooth gradation feature using the IMAX title Rocky Mountain Express. Not only is it an engaging documentary about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway through Western Canada and challenges of such a feat, it’s also an early UHD transfer of a 70mm IMAX film that has some visible banding in light to dark transitions. I wanted to see if Sony’s Smooth Gradation feature would smooth it out, but it didn’t, so the problem is in the source material. Using test patterns, I was able to smooth some fine steps, but the result with moving video, as when viewing the black and white portraits of those who spearheaded the railway, introduced some artifacts that I hadn’t seen before with the feature turned on low. I tested it only with HDR content, and while it didn’t deliver as expected, the feature is better-suited for 8-bit content.
Viewing 1080p material upconverted to Ultra HD exhibited more detail as there are now four times as many pixels reproducing the video. The result is reduced stepping on diagonals, and the X1 Processor likely contributes to a virtually artifact-free upconversion. Previous Sony 4K models always introduced a little bit of ringing to contrasting edges of 1080p material, evident on test patterns and less so with real 1080p content. Now upconversion looks flawless! Watching the same films above in their respective HD versions is solid. This is a very fine 1080p television that follows the rules to make good looking video once calibrated. While 100nit HD material doesn’t wow as much as UHD-HDR content, and even though there are fewer local dimming zones than the previous 65Z9D, Picture Processor X1 Ultimate ensures that the Sony 65Z9F does a remarkable job delivering the 1080p goods.
After watching all those great images on the calibrated television, I’ll share with you my test results. To measure the Sony 65Z9F, I used a Konica-Minolta CS-1000A spectroradiometer with CalMAN software, using the CalMAN for Bravia workflow and the downloaded app in the television. HD/UHD-HDR test patterns came from a Murideo FRESCO SIX-G pattern generator and cross-referenced with a R. Masciola UHD test disc from an Oppo UDP-205.
Unlike other TVs that have fully independent image memories, Sony uses some of its picture settings across various modes and on each input. They’ve designed the TV so that the calibrated grayscale and gamma for HD also forms the basis for UHD – and it works very well. These settings are also used for multiple inputs and picture modes and can’t be customized independently. For example, grayscale within the Expert modes will be the same for all picture modes and inputs, but the LED Brightness can be set independently. When one input with HD and UHD-HDR10/DV is calibrated, I needed to ensure all my settings were appropriately selected for each input including the streaming image mode. If using just one HDMI input with all sources connected to an external HDMI switcher in a receiver, this isn’t a concern. But for people who have all sources connected directly to the TV, take some notes and ensure your calibration modes are copied over!
For this review, I jumped right into the CalMAN for BRAVIA software provided by SpectraCal. I didn’t calibrate using only the user menu controls because I wanted to challenge it to perform to its fullest potential. Sony TVs are typically good to go once all unnecessary and/or extra processing has been defeated. But how much better can it get? Quite a bit actually, especially in the darkest parts of the picture. Once the television is connected to the software, your calibrator needs to follow a few rules before the AutoCal takes place. I chose to calibrate in Custom for Pro 1 picture mode (designed to replicate Sony’s BVM broadcast monitors) using Expert 1 grayscale settings. Prior to calibration, the image is too blue, and the gamma is slightly darker than 2.2.
Sony XBR-65Z9F Grayscale and Gamma before calibration, Custom for Pro 1 picture mode.
During calibration, it’s recommended to keep the local dimming feature off and the gamma set for 2.2 for correct HDR calibration. When turned on, gamma readings were all over the map and that’s typical of a FALD display. Sometimes you can cheat by using high APL or full screen patterns but with this Sony I couldn’t. So, I went through a gamut of tests with my profiled C6-HDR colorimeter and my K-M CS-1000A just to see how it performed under a variety of scenarios. Ultimately, I still calibrate with my Konica-Minolta on the final pass because it still performs better than a profiled meter when giving accurate luminance readings and measuring the darkest images. Gamma for HD can be readjusted after the calibration to one’s preference.
Depending on the AutoCal settings and the meter used (as well as the sensitivity settings of the meter), it took me about an hour and a half for the AutoCal process. That’s significantly longer than what others will experience as I set my meter for the highest sensitivity and for the most thorough option on the television. The longer time paid off because after calibration, grayscale was perfect! Using a 20-point grayscale adjustment, there was no way the image could get any better than this, including the level just under 5%. The AutoCal process allows manual control in the CalMAN menu after the automation takes place just in case the user wants to manually adjust some areas.
Sony XBR-65Z9F Grayscale & Gamma after calibration, Custom for Pro 1 picture mode
The AutoCal calibration measures and adjusts at 75% color saturation levels. Even though there are options to measure at different points (as all CalMAN’s options show up in the workflow), don’t be tempted to do it. The results will be very wrong. Sony has included color management settings this year and the AutoCal does the adjustment for you. But unlike the grayscale settings, it’s not universal to all inputs and picture modes. Since there’s no “copy to all” function, you’ll need to manually copy the settings if you want to use them on each input, the forced Netflix Picture mode, or for HDR content. Some might find this a bit of a pain, but it works well for UHD-HDR since you’ll need different color calibration settings for UHD even though grayscale stays the same.
Sony XBR-65Z9F, BT.709 color gamut, post-calibration
With an HDR signal, the user can set slightly different image parameters in the picture mode, but Sony maintains that most of the calibrated settings set for HD during AutoCal (as well as manual calibration) are also good for UHD. It’s near perfect in the areas that were calibrated for HD (codes 108-504) and the HDR highlights beyond code 504 measure slightly blue. If we are to have an error, we’d want a blue one as it will be hardly noticeable. I used the contrast control to set the output of code values respective of their input luminance target (using 504 as my reference) and the result was a tightly displayed UHD gamma (the calibrated white line hugs the yellow target line). This is excellent performance for a TV as it’ll display most HDR content without missing out on things that sparkle. The Sony will display white intensity perfectly up to about 1500 nits and from that point it begins to tone map the rest (the white line roll-off) until its calibrated peak just above 1800 nits (a higher peak output is achievable but at the expense of raising the luminance of each code, which is wrong).
Sony XBR-65Z9F Custom for Pro 1, HDR grayscale and gamma, post-calibration
Since there’s a separate CMS adjustment for UHD content, I plugged in the numbers from the HD calibration only to find they weren’t a good match. “I can do better,” I thought. So, I calibrated the Sony XBR-65Z9F colors first with the Murideo Fresco SIX-G HDR pattern generator, then used the R. Masciola UHD Blu-ray as a cross reference for what’s coming from the OPPO UHD Blu-ray player. After manually calibrating the CMS controls in the Sony’s UHD image menu, the results of the color calibration, referenced to the BT.2020 gamut, are shown below.
Sony XBR-65Z9F Custom Pro 1 HDR Picture Mode, BT.2020 color gamut, post-calibration
The SONY XBR-65Z9F delivers reference images at bright levels. At $3500, it’s worthy of serious consideration when compared to more-expensive competition. After calibration, it’s a statement HD and UHD-HDR television for homes or post-production facilities that monitor their content on consumer televisions.
- Excellent HD color and grayscale
- Very sharp Ultra HD resolution and upconverted 1080p
- Very bright and accurate HDR up to 1800 nits
- Apple Airplay 2 & HomeKit, Alexa, and Google Chromecast control
- Traditional remote
- Copy To All Inputs option for picture adjustments, and then customize if needed
- Less cluttered Smart TV screen
- Streamlined menu system from one access point
I wish I had more time with this TV to go through the rest of my UHD discs. I get addicted to TV when something new comes along, so I tend not to go to the gym as much as I should. What else can I say? This Sony XBR-65Z9F has me excited to purchase more HDR content and subscribe to Netflix. This TV doesn’t suffer from banding artifacts like some of its competitors and its color reproduction is extremely good for HD and UHD material. I miss the greater number of local dimming zones from the previous 65Z9D. It seems Sony has saved the ultimate black level for their reference OLED panel, the XBR-65A9F, which I was fortunate to preview along with this television. When deciding on a TV, you’ll need to decide if the uniform black levels are more important to blinding, bright highlights. Artistically, both televisions offer a unique take on the content with everything else being equal. After watching projectors for such a long time, the color accuracy and brightness of the Sony 65Z9F is a sight to behold.