Sony 75-inch UHD TV (X9400C) review: Sony and Android are a winning combination
Bringing spectacle back to the television
- Excellent contrast, colours and upscaling technologies
- Magnetic fluid speakers and wireless subwoofer
- Android ecosystem is well established
- Built in Chromecast
- Two remotes
- Android TV is first generation software
- UHD content remains scarce
Price$ 11,999.00 (AUD)
Most companies strive to make their televisions thin in an effort to make them beautiful. Sony’s television is thicker than most, but it is no less beautiful. The pride taken in its construction and the precision of its finish imbues it with charisma. No other television looks like it, and yet it might be the best looking TV on sale.
The X9400C has an LED-backlit LCD panel that spans 75-inches. It supports ultra high definition (UHD) content with a resolution of 3840x2160, is powered by Sony’s X1 processor and it is backed by the company’s suite of proprietary technologies.
This smart television is the first in Australia to run Android TV. There is no custom overlay. The only changes Sony has made include its unmistakable wallpaper and the inclusion of its multimedia suite of apps.
Android’s leap from smartphone to tablet to television isn’t that large. Google has stripped it down to the basics so that it only presents options that are relevant. The homescreen is broken down into six easy-to-navigate ribbons, which include featured content, featured video-on-demand services, inputs, apps, games and settings.
Applications ranged in the Play store have been tailor made for a television. The catalogue is roughly 600 apps strong, although the source of its strength is a wide range of games and multimedia applications. A button on the remote reads ‘Netflix’, but missing from the local app store are Stan, Presto and Quickflix.
Bridging the divide is an in-built Chromecast. Any Android or Apple application that supports the Chromecast can have its content cast to the X9400C. This makes it possible to watch Presto, Stan and Quickflix content on the TV without an Android TV app. Integrating a Chromecast also allows it to work seamlessly with a wide range of smartphones, tablets and computers from Google and Apple.
A couple of matters flummoxed us with Android TV. Native applications could not read the directory of three different hard drives and two different USB drives. The TV has no file manager; a gripe that was tended to after downloading ES File Explorer from the native app store. It located our storage devices, mapped its directory and let us pick the application we wanted to use to play a video.
The other concerns its reliability. Android TV lacks the refinement in which its smartphone counterpart has grown renowned. Two random restarts left the impression it is first generation software. Working in its favour is a constant stream of software updates; we installed an update during our fortnight review period.
Two bundled remotes are needed to use this Android TV. One of them has every button you’ll ever need. It conforms to convention so tightly that its body is a perfect rectangular prism.
The other remote is a step forward. It has only a few buttons and works with the television over Bluetooth. A trackpad facilitates ‘swipe’ gestures in a fashion common to Android smartphones. Built into the top of it is a microphone that will accurately recognise voice cues. It works well, but it has been designed only to work with a few tasks. It would be better if the functionality of these two remotes were streamlined into one all-you-need remote.
Smart TVs are a recent phenomenon and the tiny misgivings of the X9400C are common to its rivalling brands. Being a smart television isn’t its core competency; what compels is the quality of its sound and picture.
Take the speakers for instance. There are six in total — two tweeters, two mid-drivers and two bass-drivers — and they work with a wireless subwoofer to deliver 190-watts of power. The drivers are of the magnetic fluid variety, which means they take up less space and can be pushed harder than run-of-the-mill speakers.
There’s compatibility for Sony’s high fidelity audio standard, high resolution audio (HRA), and software that upscales the quality to near high-fidelity levels. Sony packs its upscaling software in mp3 players, but this marks the first occasion where it is being used in a television. Everything from broadcast television to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon will have its audio upscaled.Read more: LG's music service plays songs 'six times richer' than CDs
The resulting audio is in a class of its own. Sony’s speakers are front-firing and they produce a stereo image noticeably wider than its rivals. We tested the television in a home with an open layout. The TV and woofer combo played music with enough gusto to deem a surround sound system redundant. When watching Terminator 2 from the Google Play store, we could not only make out the sound of bullets being fired, but also tell when the casing hit the floor and slowly rolled to a halt, all in the midst of a complex action sequence.
Bundled with the proficient sound system is a display capable of stellar picture quality. The imaging technologies working behind the scenes read like jargon, with names including ‘Triluminous display’, ‘X Reality Pro’ and ‘X-Dynamic Range Pro’. The three technologies respectively pertain to colour production, image upscaling and contrast levels.
Ultra high definition content best showcases its capabilities. The picturesque environments in the movie TimeScape benefitted from its wide colour gamut. Sunsets churned through all kinds of reds; leaves were fuller and greener, and; the skies would turn from soft whites to bold blues with masterful subtlety.
Watching movies on a Blu-ray was similarly involving. Casino Royale and Batman Begins were realistically formatted to the richer 2160p display. Noir scenes continued to have some image noise, though they were a rarer occurrence and less offensive.
The upscaling engine was properly tested with DVD copies (576p) of the movie Se7en and The Road to Perdition. The faces of various actors remained in focus during extreme close ups and were coloured in natural flesh tones. The wider gamut imbued scenes with more depth and realism than the UHD LCD televisions from Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Preventing these titles from looking dated was the skillful use of the colour black.
The X-Dynamic Range Pro technology featured on this 75-inch television is versed in contrast levels. Rivalling televisions often spoil widescreen movies with letterboxing that is prominently backlit. The same letterboxing on the X9400C is less intrusive. It can produce a shade of black so dark that it will hide alongside the inanimate bezel. It isn’t as dark as an OLED television — not that dark — but it comes surprisingly close.
Small gripes prevent the X9400C from being a perfect television. Having two remote controls grows tiresome quickly. And it will take some time for the teething issues of Android TV to be ironed out. Once they are, Sony’s partnership with Android will be a winning one.
The X9400C is less about the screen and more about the spectacle of cinema. The black body disappears into the background when the lights are switched off. Speakers rumble atmospherically upon the opening credits. A splash screen reveals a movie title. And for the next two hours — with this television — nothing else matters.
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