Big is better, but it’s not about size this time, it’s about resolution. Sony hosted an event at the Video & Audio Center in Santa Monica to present their XBR-84X900 84-inch 4K Ultra HDTV. The XBR-84X900 displays an image that has 4 times the amount of resolution of a 1080p TV (that’s a total of 3840 x 2160 pixels). The XBR-84X900 went on sale immediately after Sony completed a short demo for us journalists, and costs $25,000.
The XBR-84X900’s screen is huge, and a good choice for those who want a big display but find a front projector impractical. Looking at the set up close, it’s evident that the glass, which extends edge-to-edge, is different. Corning Gorilla glass is used because it’s stronger than conventional glass, which couldn’t handle such a large screen size. In addition, Gorilla glass also provides a more protective surface against damage and is also water resistant. Still for all its size, the XBR-84X900 isn’t much thicker in the back than that of a conventional 1080p model. From the front it looks even thinner because the screen is so massively large.
There’s only one way to really see what a 4K image looks like — and that’s with scenes shot in 4K resolution. Video clips, along with still photos were displayed in native 4K resolution — it helped that Sony had their F65 4K Cinema Camera to do the shooting. The images being flashed on the screen included scenes taken around the world — for example, the detail seen in the ceiling of the Valencia Central Market (Spain) was breathtaking almost to the point where you might think it’s CGI because it’s that precisely imaged. Still photos were astounding because of the detail involved — a field of sunflowers looked as if it was literally on the other side of the screen and you just needed to reach forward to touch them. An overhead beach scene (Positano Coast, Italy) was so finely detailed that you could see the spokes of the umbrellas dotting the sand.
One of the truly unique things about a 4K image is that you can get so close to it without any loss of the resolution — you’re not seeing lines even from a few inches away as would be the case with a 1080p display. A still photo of the interior of a building had a pillowcase in a corner and I could stick my face right up almost against the screen and still see the detail of the needlework. For that reason, I can understand Sony’s contention that you don’t need to be 10 feet or more back from the XBR-84X900, as would be the case with a 1080p TV of equal screen size. 4K imaging also blows 1080p out of the water where the intensity and saturation of colors are concerned. And if the Sony can handle the harsh lighting of a store’s showroom and still display such a quality image, I can’t imagine it having any trouble dealing with the lighting found in a home.
The XBR-84X900 also has “Smart TV” capabilities in that it can access the Internet — this being similar to other Sony TVs and even their Blu-ray players. The features include Sony’s own entertainment center as well as such standbys as Netflix and Vudu among others. Obviously you can’t get 4K resolution out of Netflix, but the examples presented from the streaming world looked good enough not to be jarring. Built-in WiFi eliminated the need for attaching an Ethernet cable, but also enables a “media server” like function for transmitting video as well as audio to the XBR-84X900 from a mobile device like a phone or tablet. The quality of the still photo looked really good on the big screen too when it’s been up-converted to 4K.
A quality image is also the case with up-converted video, as demonstrated by Sony film movie trailers. I asked Phil Jones, Sony’s Training Manager, whether there’s any special technology in use for optimizing non-4K material. He told me that the Sony 4K X-Reality PRO Picture Engine is responsible for creating high-quality images from any source. He explained that the engine “cleans up” the image, regardless of its origin, taking care of things like shadow detail and removing “mosquito noise” among other issues. Then the engine compares the image onscreen in real-time to a 2K database of images and how they should “look” which has been derived over countless years. A final and unique process for this Ultra HDTV is that the image is then compared with that of a 4K database for further image enhancement/presentation. It’s pointed out that Sony is a leader in the 4K field and so the information that they have gleaned about imaging isn’t something that can be duplicated by others.
The XBR-84X900 provides 3D imaging via a polarized screen, which is unlike the majority of Sony’s TV line, which use active-shutters. Jones said that the reason is that in the case of 3D on a 1080p TV, an active-shutter system must be used to get full resolution for each eye. But, he pointed out, in the case of a 4K display such as this one, the resolution presented to each eye is significantly greater than what a 1080p TV outputs. The 3D viewed in a trailer of Spider-Man speaks to this as it seemed more intense and life-like than the 3D I am used to viewing on a TV. I could also stand pretty much anywhere facing the display, even at the sides, without losing the 3D effect. Definitely viewing 3D on the XBR-84X900 is a treat, and that’s especially true when 3D still photos are displayed because they “pop” so much more here than when viewed on a 1080p TV.
Not to get lost in all this is the sound: the XBR-84X900’s chassis stays thin because the speakers are side-mounted in their own enclosures. Even in the noisy store environment, nuances in voice and music came through without the need for turning the volume way up. Facilitating the quality of the sound are soft dome tweeters and mid-range drivers employed in concert with four forward-firing subwoofers (and 50 watts of digital amplification power). I didn’t get the chance to listen to the simulated 5.1 surround sound, but believe it will perform well when you consider how wide a sound field there is due to the physical placement of the speakers around the display.
Of course the real proof of Sony’s XBR-84X900 84-inch 4K Ultra HDTV is how many consumers will want to get it. So on my way out I asked Video & Audio Center’s Tom Campbell whether any of the XBR-84X900’s had been sold. He told me that the cash register had rung up four sales as well as two on the similarly priced Sony 4K front projection system. That’s $150,000 in less than three hours!
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.