Sony ZD9 4K HDR TV with Master Backlight Drive previewed

posted on Thursday, 21st July 2016 by Steve May

home cinema  4K  HDR  Sony 


Sony has unveiled a new flagship 4K HDR TV range which appears to raise the bar in terms of HDR fidelity and image processing. The ZD9 series will make its public bow at IFA 2016, and introduces a whole new backlight technology, dubbed Backlight Master Drive, which offers ultra precise highlight control along with extreme black levels.

If you thought buying an HDR TV was simply a matter of choosing between OLED and LED, you’ll need to think again.

The technology was first previewed at CES earlier this year, where the brand hailed its 4000nit brightness and 1000 zone backlight control. But with its commercial roll-out Sony is being a little more coy about the specification. “We are not announcing the actual peak brightness or how many zones of backlighting control,” said Motoi Kawamura, General Manager TV Product Planning and Marketing at Sony Europe. “That is our policy.”  Perhaps Sony doesn’t need to talk numbers. There's no doubt that the new technology makes 4K HDR content look remarkable. Motoi also confirmed that Sony would not be seeking Ultra HD premium certification for its new model.

Of course, it’s not just the backlight tech which is new. The screens, which are available in 65-, 75- and 100-inch sizes (KD-65ZD9, KD-75ZD9 and KD-100ZD respectively), all use a new image processor, the X1 Extreme, which claims to be 40 per cent more powerful than its predecessor.

Cloaked Tvs

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New embellishments here include object-based HDR remastering, dual database processing, plus a 4K HDR iteration of Super Bit Mapping. Object-based HDR remastering takes SDR footage and gives it an HDR-style facelift. There’s scene-by-scene analysis, which identifies and interpolates the tonal quality of the image. Comparisons of SDR content upscaled to near-HDR were remarkable. White linen clothing really popped, while plaster rendering in the Mediterranean sun peaked realistically. The clever thing is that there was no loss of detail in the uplift, indeed, more fine detail appeared to be revealed. And in case you're wondering, yes you can watch SDR without HDR-style upscaling, if you choose too.  

The X1 Extreme chip also offers improved noise reduction, courtesy of a specific database. By searching through thousands of picture patterns, the dual database processing can remove unwanted noise and up-scale every image to 2160p.

The first version of Super Bit Mapping is for 1080p sources only. The new version employs 14-bit signal processing, which can break the solid bands of colour in 8-bit HD or 10-bit UHD sources, then up-convert with 14-bit equivalent gradation creating 64 times more colour gradation. 

The Backlight Master Drive features an undisclosed number of precision, controllable white LEDs driven by a highly accurate lighting algorithm. Previously, local dimming was controlled in zones consisting of several LEDs. While effective they create glowing halos around bright objects on black backgrounds. Here, the discrete LED control of Backlight Master Drive is able to dim and boost with far greater control. The optical structure, with a calibrated beam LED design, focuses the emitted LED light in a spot. The effect is less diffusion, and crisper images.Pictured below is a breakout of the LED backlight working beneath an image of Las Vegas.

LED Backlight

Rear (2)

The range is also decidedly good looking. The face of the ZD9 bezel is black slate, with a subtle gold trim, while the rear panel has a grid pattern (pictured above) which completely hides the cable covers. Cable management also allows interconnects to be routed down the feet of the big 100-incher. “If you channel cables under the floor, and then up into the leg it looks like there’s no connections,” we were told.

At its London unveil, Sony bullishly staged comparisons with rival LG OLED and Samsung 4K screens. With X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro switched on, the Sony ZD9 was dramatically brighter than its rivals when it came to peak highlights, but also displayed tighter image control and ruthless fine detailing. A shot of the sun looked smaller and more controlled on the Sony than the same scene depicted on the LG and Samsung screens, both of which had various levels of bloom.

The OLED in particular couldn’t get anywhere near the ZD9’s peaks, yet the Sony set appeared to offer a comparable black level. There is a caveat of course. All the models were demo’d on Vivid mode with Sony sources. To show of the screen with film content, the cartoon Angry Birds was used. Interestingly, when X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro processing was switched off, the peaks highlights on the ZD9 became comparable with the two rival sets.

Interestingly, the ZD9 is not compatible with Dolby Vision HDR.

There’s no doubt that Sony has thrown the cat amongst the HDR pidgeons with the ZD9, and redefined what’s possible with an LED 4K screen. Is this now the Ultra HD screen to beat in 2016?

The KD-65ZD9 is priced at £4,000, the KD-75ZD9 is £7000 and the KD-100ZD9 will sell for £60,000.

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Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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