Hands on with Sony’s 4K BRAVIA TV

We got up close - really close - with the new 84-inch Sony BRAVIA 4K TV

At a hands-on session at Sony’s Sydney headquarters yesterday, we had a half-hour to play around with the new XBR-84X900 BRAVIA — Sony’s debut 4K TV, and its largest LCD screen to date.

We were treated to a demo reel of 4K footage — presumably shot on Sony’s 4K professional video cameras — as well as some photos shown at the screen’s native 4K resolution.

The seating position

When we walked into the demonstration room for the X900, the first thing we noticed was how close the seat was to the screen. Traditional screen size calculations tell us that for a high quality picture, you should ideally be sitting back between two and three times the screen’s diagonal measurement — for an 84-inch TV, this translates to between 168 and 252 inches.

While this formula holds true for 1080p and 720p TVs, Sony’s throwing that out the window for 4K. Our seating position was a mere 60 inches (1.5 metres) from the screen, so we were very, very close. Since 4K has four times the pixels of Full HD 1080p, you can sit much closer without being able to distinguish any individual pixels. Sony’s spiel says that with 4K, you need to get up close and personal to appreciate the difference.

Retina display-toting geeks might be interested to know that the Sony BRAVIA X900 has 52.45 pixels per inch, where a Full HD screen of the same size would be 26.23 PPI. To get 4K, 84-inch-esque pixel density on a Full HD screen, you can’t go any larger than 42-inch — anything larger than this begins to quickly lose relative sharpness and clarity. A Full HD TV in the popular 55-inch size has barely 40 PPI.

The screen

Sitting as close as we were, it was easy to see why Sony’s crowing about this TV. If you’ve got the right content (and that’s a big if — but more on that later) it’s a really really ridiculously good-looking screen.

We watched the entire demo reel of Sony 4K video that the TV was showing — everything from a young girl playing on a beach, to some CGI effects, to some waves crashing, and the requisite wide panning shots of beautiful Appalachian and Bosphorean landscapes. The beach scene was a stand-out favourite, purely because the detail displayed meant we were able to see the individual crushed fragments of shell and clumps of sand in the video.

We were also shown a series of photos, delivered to the X900 at 4K resolution via a PS3. The detail on these was similarly excellent — a good photo really does look good on the X900. The apppropriately pin-sharp promotional photos included a wide-angle view over a cityscape, where we were able to pick out individual air-conditioners and satellite dishes on roofs that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to distinguish on a 1080p

This TV is able to resolve properly excellent amounts of detail. We were told that the hardware that we were seeing was effectively the same as the retail package, so we have high hopes for the probably-around-December shipping version of the BRAVIA X900.

The design

The new 4K BRAVIA’s design is textbook Sony — dark, matte black plastic, dark-tinted and somewhat glossy screen, squared-off industrial edges, and lashings of satin chrome on the metal stand. It’s all very serious and professional, but we like it.

The speakers of the X900 can be detached if you’ve got a proper sound system set up, but we liked them nonetheless. They’re simple, reasonably large cabinets with a grand total of ten speakers all up (with virtual surround sound trickery) and 50 Watts of output power.

The accessories

The BRAVIA X900 supports 3D, and although we didn’t get a chance to view any 3D content we do want to raise a few points and pass a few judgments. The X900 is using passive 3D — the cinema-screen, LG- and Toshiba- backed technology that’s lighter, cheaper, and less fatiguing than active-shutter 3D.

Sony doesn’t use passive on any of its other TVs, but it’s got a good reason for using it on this one. Because the X900 is 4K, it’s able to devote half of its 2160 horizontal lines to one passive 3D polarisation, and half to the other. That’s 1080 lines each — twice the 540 that a standard Full HD TV is able to show each eye, and keeping in line with Sony’s ‘Full HD 3D’ ethos.

Basically, the 4K resolution means Sony can show Full HD 3D video, just like its active-shutter TVs, but with the added bonus of passive technology. Being such an expensive TV, or so we expect, the BRAVIA X900 is almost certainly going to come with a few sets of Sony proprietary-design 3D glasses.

Sony also announced a 4K-compatible A/V receiver at the same time as the 4K TV, and its BDP-S790 is also capable of upscaling 4K video. The PlayStation 3 can do the same.

Some closing thoughts

Sitting so close, we were able to see the purpose behind the slow but inevitable move that is happening towards 4K TV. We have serious doubts that anyone will sit this close when it comes to putting this TV in a living room, but the academic difference is obvious.

As the standard bearer for the next generation in TV technology — higher resolutions, more detail, better quality pictures — the BRAVIA X900 is impressive. Whether you’ll be able to truly realise the potential of the TV within the next few years is another question.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

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