Sony Bravia Z9F (XBR-65Z9F) TV Review

Sony Bravia Z9F (XBR-65Z9F) TV Review

Last Updated on October 1, 2021 by Daniel Osakwe

The moment Sony announced it was releasing a follow-up to what is arguably one of the most important TVs of all time, the ZD9 series, we’ve been counting down the days until the first ZF9 model arrives.

With Sony’s Z9F Master Series LCD-LED, you get an all-new, ultrapowerful video processor, a new (improved) Android TV app, and an extremely wide viewing angle you’d almost think the TV was an OLED.

The price of the TV is really what has us most impressed. The 65-inch XBR-65Z9F costs $3,499 and the 75-inch XBR-75Z9F costs $5,999 (AU$7,999).

The whole thing sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It turns out that it might be.

Design

sony z9f tv

Featuring 65- and 75-inch screen sizes, the XBR-65Z9F and XBR-75Z9F, the Z9F uses Sony’s new X1 Ultimate imaging processor, which appeared earlier this year in the Sony X900F.

In terms of the exterior of the set, it features just a thin aluminum bezel and two feet that contain cable management. Although the slightly textured finish and a variety of detachable rear panel covers keep your cables neatly tucked away, the dark grey frame and chunky back are hardly glamorous.

As you would expect from any high-end TV, there are four HDMI ports and three USB ports, in addition to Ethernet and wireless capabilities.

In other words, the HDMIs are not built to the upcoming version 2.1 standard, but the actual v2.0 standard. But this is true for every TV available at the moment (and probably also until the end of next year).

There’s one notable feature Sony has managed to squeeze into the 65ZF9, namely the eARC support that makes 4K Blu-ray players and home theater systems from play lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks through the TV and speaker system.

Smart TV (Android)

sony z9f tv

The 65Z9F has both good and bad news: The bad news is most of its smart functionality is based on Android TV. This has continuously been disappointing from the moment it first arrived on TVs back in 2015, thanks to its clunky, full-screen display, over-crowded ‘shelf’ layout, bugs, crashes, lag, endless updates, app overload, and lack of focus on the sort of content TV users (rather than smartphone users) tend to want.

This is one of the first TVs to run the most recent 8.0 version of Android TV. This does, thankfully, mean that there are several improvements over Android TV 7. It puts more focus on video streaming content that TV users care about, and it performs a better job in implementing core TV features, including input selection, setting, and live TV streaming.

Also, the system performed a lot more smoothly and rapidly than it did before. Sony’s new X1 Ultimate chipset may be responsible for the extra processing power, or Android 8.0 may have contributed to it. Either way, we’ll take it.

HD/SDR Performance

In terms of handling HD sources, the 65Z9F is outstanding. X1 Ultimate’s new processor adds millions of extra pixels required to convert HD to 4K. This results in more color nuance and depth, as well as predictable pixel density and detail enhancements.

This upscaling process also removes noise from the source pretty much completely without making the resulting image look soft or ‘plasticky’. Due to its exceptional noise management, X1 Ultimate is exceptionally flexible in handling different quality levels of low-resolution content. A strong contender for Samsung’s recent 8K debutante, the 85Q900R, where upscaling prowess is equally high.

It converts all of its default pictures presets, with the exception of Custom and Cinema, automatically and indestructibly to HDR. As a whole, the converter works great, widening up the color palette without looking forced or uneven, and intelligently extending the light range of the image only where necessary and to the right degree. The system does not try too hard, unlike many rival HDR conversion systems.

In the HDR upconversion process, the only issue is that the increased brightness creates more distracting backlight clouding issues than you get with ‘native’ SDR. Nevertheless, if you watch TV in fairly dark surroundings, the default preset should not apply HDR conversion.

4K/HDR Performance

The 65Z9F should shine when it comes to handling 4K HDR content. However, if anything, things go slightly downhill due to one simple but persistent reason: an underwhelming backlight performance.

Because of the screen’s difficulties hitting a very deep black color, dark scenes, especially HDR images, tend to look rather grey. In light of the fact that Sony’s 65Z9D delivered some of the best black levels seen on an LCD TV, this may come as a shock.

If you are watching something with bright HDR elements against relatively dark backgrounds, you are in for unwanted surprises. There can be very noticeable shadows around bright objects and these can extend across dark backgrounds as well. Unlike the Z9D, this occurs much more frequently and more noticeably.

There can even be a ‘blooming’ effect visible in the black bars above and below images with wider-than-16:9 aspect ratios, a potentially distracting phenomenon. When you watch something with a lot of movement, the blooming artefacts will keep moving around the image and within the black bars.

Despite its name, blooming can be observed even when a low-contrast video is being watched. Objects that are very bright, such as wall lights, can cast strange circles of grayness onto non-black walls behind them, changing the color of those parts of the wall subtly.

Considering our experience with the Sony Z9D, all of this should be expected. Since the 65ZF9 uses a direct lighting system (where the LEDs sit behind the screen), it will have a similar performance to the ZD9. Unfortunately, it seems that Sony cut some corners on its overall zones.

In light of this, the 65Z9D uses more local dimming zones than we could count (seemingly more than 600), whereas the 65Z9F uses only about 100. Thus, it is more difficult for the 65Z9F to ensure that light appears only where it is supposed to.

The 65Z9F’s pictures will be more intelligently dimmed by the new X1 Ultimate processor, Sony claims. However, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t enough to compensate for the loss of so many dimming zones.

One of the 65Z9F’s most impressive strengths might also be contributing to its black level and blooming issues: its exceptional viewing angle support. Unlike other LCD TVs, you won’t lose any color or contrast watching the 65Z9F from almost any angle.

The 65Z9F is a fantastic example of innovation, and it perfectly aligns with Sony’s intention with this model to make an LCD screen behave like the BVM-X300 (a favorite of studios for mastering film and television). Due to the various black level issues, you have to wonder if the mysterious optical processes that enabled this viewing angle breakthrough have negatively impacted contrast.

Furthermore, the 65Z9F solves the color and contrast issues associated with wide viewing angles, but watching from an angle can exacerbate the light blooming issues discussed previously.

We have good news: Sony’s X1 Ultimate processing engine is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

The X1 Ultimate does a great job upscaling 4K sources from lower resolutions. In addition, native 4K sources are enhanced. Its capability to define and render a wide range of colors with exceptional precision and accuracy, combined with the processing’s ruthless suppression of artifacts and noise, results in a 4K experience that is more than a mere display of pixels.

We’ve never seen a TV picture compare to this one (aside from the native 8K pictures from Samsung’s grand Q900R), capturing you in whatever bright scene you’re watching.

It also excels in handling action scenes, where Sony’s motion options reduce judder without making the picture look overprocessed or causing unwanted side effects like haloing or flickering, even in their default settings.

As a result of the 65ZF9’s X-Motion Clarity system, a combination of black-frame insertion technology and clever lighting manipulation movements appear remarkably cinematic and clean and without the loss of brightness associated with black frames.

Consequently, color saturations are extreme without appearing unnatural or lacking in detail, while the image is luminous in just the right way to unlock some of HDR’s drama potential – including wide color ranges and volumes.

According to measurement results, the 65Z9F emits around 1570 nits of brightness in its Cinema mode (using an HDR window of 10% white), 1650 nits in its Vivid mode, and only 1250 nits in its Standard mode. Our best guess is that Sony is trying to balance brightness with limiting the screen’s backlight issues with the Standard mode to achieve these high numbers.

Sound

Despite the price of the 65Z9F, it offers good audio quality enough to survive without a separate audio solution. Even at almost maximum volume, there’s no cabinet rattling or speaker buzzing to ruin the performance. The speakers are powerful enough to handle fairly extreme volume levels without sounding forced.

The detailed presentation of both movie and music sources, along with well-rounded high-pitched effects, is impressive. In addition to its decent bass performance, the 65Z9F’s sound is projected a decent distance away from the screen, giving it an immersive quality and clarity.

However, there are a few issues: First, the dialogue often appears to come from the bottom edge of the TV, so it sounds slightly dislocated from the on-screen action. Additionally, the soundstage is quite large but does not project forward much into the room.

Other panels to ponder

Samsung Q9FN QLED(65Q9FN) is the closest direct competitor to the 65Z9F. As a result of Samsung’s increased dimming zones, it gets even brighter, delivers deeper black levels, and is less prone to blooming backlight artefacts. Additionally, it provides a huge selection of colors. As a result, darkroom/movie viewing becomes more enjoyable. Although Sony offers marginally sharper 4K images, there is also a slight improvement in upscaling, as well as more shadow detail.

The Sony A9F OLED, the Sony Z9F’s twin brother, offers immaculate black levels if you are willing to sacrifice a bit of HDR brightness.

Pros Cons
More affordable than expected Requires careful setup
Wide viewing angle support Vocal playback issues
Excellent video processing Backlight clouding issues
Bright, colorful HDR pictures

Conclusion

With the new X1 Ultimate processor, Sony has a winner on its hands. A wide variety of aspects of television picture quality are affected and improved by it. This advance in video processing, however, has been accompanied by a backward step in the 65Z9F’s backlighting system that sometimes makes the advantages of video processing hard to appreciate.