updated 07:12 am EDT, Thu September 20, 2012
We get to check out Sony's precedent-setting flagship and come away impressed
Sony invited us to experience its history-making TV, the 84-inch, 4K-resolution XBR84X900 introduced earlier in September. Fittingly, the venue chosen was the Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto, because that's 'where many objects of historical significance are shown.' It's the largest TV Sony has produced, and its first consumer TV to use passive 3D technology rather than active tech that requires powered and heavier glasses.
The set's 4K resolution means is has four times the pixels and four times the resolution of regular 1080p TVs. Sony had its own 55-inch XBR beside the new set and it was absolutely dwarfed, as the new TV is nearly 2.5 times larger.
The picture quality, as expected, was stunning. The amount of detail in the native 4K video content was outstanding, with the more than 8 million pixels outpacing the 2 million on 1080p TVs. A vein in a sleeping child's closed eyelid was very clear, with the baby itself reproduced in actual size. We could seemingly count the hairs on his head as well. Other images of busy European city centers would also make awesome, real life and very difficult Where's Waldo? games.
Sony purposely sat us on a couch very close to the set, with another in a more theater-like setting. This was to demonstrate that the individual pixels cannot be seen from as little as five feet away, and it was certainly true. With a viewing angle of about 60 degrees when sitting front and center this close, the screen fills the viewer's field of vision for a movie-theater-like experience.
When it came time to sample the 3D performance, we were shown a number of previews, including the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man and the upcoming Hotel Transylvania animated film. We certainly came away impressed, especially after learning later that the Spider-Man trailer was upscaled by the XBR84 from a Blu-ray Disc. TV broadcasts and web videos are also said to be upscaled as well, though we didn't get to see any of these.
And here-in lies the rub, at least for the early adopters who just must have the greatest and latest. The availability of true, native 4K content is very limited at this time and is likely to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. This will leave the 'one-percenters' who can afford to put this $25,000 TV into their homes with a few select demo clips to impress guests with, or otherwise watch up-converted content, which, despite our impressions, just isn't the same.
While on the topic of quality, we wish Sony would update its menu graphics just and especially for this set, as the volume display appeared especially jagged on the otherwise ultra-sharp set.
The audio delivered by the included, side-mounted speaker bars was also impressive, considering their fairly small size. Each bar houses 10 speakers, including one soft-dome tweeter, two subwoofers, and two mid-range drivers. Rated at 50W, the bars can be removed for a sleeker look and for those who already have their own home theater systems set up. The bass was decent, and the speakers provided decent depth. They are also said to simulate 5.1-channel surround sound thanks to Sony's S-Force Front Surround 3D tech. With the room being too large to this effect, we didn't get this feeling, though the speakers nevertheless impressed considering their size and location.
Back in front of the XBR84 set up in front of the couch, we had a chance to sample the SimulView feature that will let PS3 gamers enjoy two-player battles in games that support the format on the full screen, without having to share a split-screen in either landscape or portrait orientations. This requires special glasses that must match each player's controller assignment, and basically amount to a neat and sneaky trick. Both lenses only show the images that would be picked up by a player's left eye in the 3D version of the glasses, while the other player gets two right-eye lenses. This was certainly impressive, but we must say some artifacts from the other player's view were visible. They could be minimized by facing the TV squarely on, but never eliminated. Without the glasses, making sense of the on-screen action was tough, as there were effectively two images laid over each other. Gran Turismo 5 racing simulator was loaded, and thus far, only a handful of games support SimulView. Some of the others include Killzone 3, Motorstorm: Apocalypse, and Super Startust HD. Also, while the 84-incher will ship with two sets of Sony's ultra-light and Oakley-style 3D glasses, the SimulView ones will be sold separately.
Otherwise included with the set are two floor mounts; a short one for standing it up on stands and a taller one for putting it on the floor. The cables can be run through one of the legs, making for a clean look when the set is installed on the floor. Keeping the large panel stiff is a metal alloy frame that will prevent damage during transport and set-up. Dubbed an 'air frame,' it looks like an exoskeleton. The bezel is just over an inch thick all around the set.
Being the company's new flagship, the TV has most of the 'creature comfort' features built-in, including Wi-Fi Direct, TrackID, a Media Remote, Video Search, USB input, access to Netflix and other streaming services, and an Ethernet port. The Opera web browser is preloaded as well. It is also DLNA compatible for sharing content wirelessly.
Connections include one RF, two composite video, a component video hybrid, four HDMI inputs, one PC input, three analog audio inputs, 1 digital audio output, and one audio/headphone output. There are two USB ports on the side, the RS-232C input, and one Ethernet port, with an HDMI PC input rounding out the available ports.
Sony reps on hand would only say the TV will ship before Christmas, not committing to the November date touted elsewhere. This could just be the delay before the set arrives in Canada, or just a case of playing it safe if there are any unforeseen delays. As for numbers, the sets will only be sold in high-end Sony stores with large volume sales, as numbers will be limited, at least initially. Whether smaller 4K TVs will be built by Sony in the future depends largely on the XBR84's popularity.
We have a feeling 4K will eventually go the way of Blu-ray and HDTVs, though this will take some time before the technology and hardware becomes affordable enough.