Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sony X900E vs X930E Review

There are a number of differences between the X900E and X930E but the two most important arguably are the up to 2 times higher brightness on the X930E in comparison to the X900E, in addition to the Dolby Vision support on the X930E (after a firmware update) and lack thereof on the X900E (due to the different processor used).

Full-array backlight (X900E) vs Slim Backlight Drive+ (X930E)
The full-array backlight on the X900E means that the LEDs are positioned directly behind the screen. On the other hand, the Slim Backlight Drive+ is a variant of an edge-array backlighting system. Since the light source in this case is placed on the edges of the screen, the X930E has a slightly thinner profile than the X900E. It needs to be said that edge-lit TVs would normally have only a single LED row alongside one of the screen edges. The X930E differs significantly from these standard TVs because it's illuminated from two sides: top and bottom. Furthermore, there are two LED rows on each side. In order to be efficiently utilized, the X930E's quad LED structure is accompanied by two layers of light guide plates. This allows the X930E to control how much light different areas of the screen get more precisely (depending on the scene), and also leads to an improvement in the screen uniformity, thus bringing it closer to the X900E.

Screen uniformity: Slightly more even on the X900E vs X930E.
One of the advantages of full-array TVs is their better uniformity (although this may vary from panel to panel) in comparison to edge-lit TVs. The difference between the X900E and X930E, however, is less pronounced than what you'd normally expect when comparing a full-array with an edge-array TV, which is mostly due to the more advanced backlight architecture on the X930E. Nonetheless, the X900E is still able to maintain the upper-hand (to some degree, at least), especially during scenes where the camera is panning across a light background. In other words, the X900E is a bit less prone to exhibiting some specific picture artifacts, such as clouding or banding, than the X930E, which in turn makes the X900E slightly more suitable for watching football, or any other sport where it's not uncommon to have occasional camera panning.

Brightness (SDR content): The X930E can get from about 1.5 up to 2 times brighter than the X900E depending on the APL (Average Picture Level) of content
Although most SDR content has low to mid APL (Average Picture Level), some sports, such as hockey and skiing, are an exception since they have a preponderance of bright elements. If you plan to watch high APL content in high ambient light environments, the X930E is better equipped to handle these situations in comparison to the X900E due to the fact it can reach a full-screen (100% APL) brightness of approximately 750cd/m2, which is about 1.5 times higher than the X900E. The X930E's advantage is even more pronounced with low to mid APL content. For example, the X930E is approximately 2 times brighter than the X900E with 10% APL content. But when you consider that SDR content is typically mastered to 100cd/m2, both the X930E and X900E have more than adequate brightness headroom for achieving an overall brighter image, depending on your liking or if necessitated by an excess of ambient light. But as previously said, there is even more headroom on the X930E, though.

Black level: In the same ballpark due to the VA type of panel used on the X900E and X930E
The X930E's advantage in terms of peak luminance output with SDR content is not relevant in case you calibrate your TV to 100cd/m2 (or less) for a darkened home cinema environment. Therefore, what takes a more prominent role in determining the picture quality with SDR movie based content in a controlled light environment is the minimum luminance output. Since the X900E and X930E use VA (Vertical Alignment) type of panels, the black level is mostly identical, and relatively deep. Both series are capable of further improving the black level, provided you use the local dimming feature the X900E and X930E are equipped with.

Local dimming: Not without drawbacks for both the X900E and X930E
The X930E has more dimming zones than the X900E. However, neither one of them is able to completely avoid some of the picture artifacts that local dimming may cause, although this is limited to the most challenging scenes. The fact that the light comes from the top and bottom of the screen leads to X930E exhibiting halos that are more pronounced vertically. Since the X900E has a full-array backlight, it doesn't have such vertical halos, but due to the relatively limited number of dimming zones (which means that each zone covers a larger area of the screen), this model is not impervious to blooming artifacts either. Using a lower setting for the local dimming reduces halos, but also makes the local dimming less effective on the X900E and X930E.

X-tended Dynamic Range 5x (X900E) vs X-tended Dynamic Range 10x (X930E)
There is also a menu option called X-tended Dynamic range. Unlike local dimming, it is used for boosting the backlight in specific zones. This makes it useful for HDR content, but not so much for SDR. The reason is that HDR doesn't attempt to make the overall image brighter (like SDR does) but only the highlights for the purpose of increasing the dynamic range. The X930E is able to achieve considerably higher peak luminance in small areas of the screen in comparison to the X900E. Sony makes that evident by marking the X-tended Dynamic Range feature as 10x on the X930E, and 5x on the X900E. This indicates that the X930E has 10 times (and the X900E has 5 times) the dynamic range when compared to a conventional edge-lit TV without local dimming. In other words, the X930E has two times the dynamic range of the X900E. The reason why the difference between the darkest and brightest areas of the screen on the X930E is greater than it's on the X900E is mostly due to the higher peak luminance on the X930E since the black level is identical on the two series.

HDR: The X930E has considerably higher peak brightness in small specular highlights than X900E.
Having a peak brightness in small specular highlights (5% window size) of up to 1400cd/m2, the X930E can reproduce HDR10 content mastered to 1,000cd/m2 without any tone-mapping in terms of contrast range. Since the X900E peak brightness in small specular highlights (5% window size) is less than 900cd/m2, the tone-mapping cannot be avoided. As a result, some of the brightest mid-tones on the X900E may be rendered slightly darker than ideal in order to be possible for a quantization of the dynamic range of the content to take place (since the dynamic range of the content exceeds the one of the X900E). However, most mid-tones and shadows are unaffected by the tone-mapping, so they are identically reproduced by the X930E and X900E. Only in the brightest highlights, the X930E is able to resolve more detail than the X900E.

Nearly identical DCI-P3 coverage on the X930E vs X900E, except at higher luminosity levels

The higher peak brightness on the X930E in comparison to the X900E allows the former to show more saturated colors at high luminosity levels. However, since both the X900E and X930E utilize the Triluminos display technology, both series support wider color gamut that is used in HDR content. Furthermore, the DCI-P3 color space coverage is identical for most luminosity levels, and only after approximately 75% stimulus, which corresponds to 1,000cd/m2 in the 10-bit HDR10 signal, the X930E has the upper hand. The 10-bit panels that the X900E and X930E use allow them to display more than a billion color shades. This means that is unlikely to witness any color banding, especially when you consider that 14-bit processing is also used by the X930E and X900E. Owing to the increased precision the 14-bit processing provides, the X930E and X900E are able to avoid quantization errors, which may manifest as contours in smooth color gradients. In order to use the 14-bit processing, you have to turn the Smooth Color Gradation on.

4K HDR X1 Extreme Processor (X930E) vs 4K HDR Processor X1 (X900E)
The X930E has a more advanced processor: the 4K HDR X1 Extreme whereas the X900E uses the 4K HDR Processor X1. Although the two processors have some features in common, such as Object-based HDR remastering, Super Bit Mapping, and Dynamic Contrast Enhancer, it needs to be said that only the X1 extreme is capable of processing two databases at the same time. One of the databases contains before and after data in order to improve the clarity of upscaled content, while the other aims to reduce image noise. The X930E is thus able to achieve better results when upscaling lower resolution content to 4K resolution than the X900E, but that still depends on the quality of the source content. Thanks to the X1 Extreme, the X930E will be able to support Dolby Vision later this year (when a firmware update is expected to be available). On the other hand, the X900E cannot be updated to support Dolby Vision. Nonetheless, you can still watch HDR content on the X900E, provided it is in the HDR10 format. Furthermore, both series can be updated to support HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), which is an HDR format that doesn't utilize metadata since it's directed mainly at TV broadcasts.

Audio: Down-firing speakers (X900E) vs Front-firing (X930E)
The X900E's on-board sound system consists of two full-range drivers that are down-firing. Each speaker has 10 Watts of amplification. There is no sub-woofer. In contrast, two 3-way (tweeter, mid-range, woofer) speakers are present on the X930E. The total audio power output is 60 Watts on the 65-inch class XBR65X930E, and 50 Watts on the 55-inch class XBR55X930E. Since the speakers on the X930E are front-facing, dialogues and voices can be projected more clearly in comparison to the X900E.

Although the design of the table-top stand on the X930E vs X900E is almost identical, the X930E series TVs are considerably heavier than their counterparts from the X900E series, which means that the X930E's stand is also sturdier. There are some difference in the front and the back panels of the TVs. The front panel on the X930E includes two slates staggered vertically at the bottom (where the front-facing speakers reside). The back panel consists of multiple removable covers in order for the X930E's inputs and cables to be concealed. Furthermore, there is a geometric pattern on the neutrally colored back panel of the X930E. While the X900E also provides you with the ability to route cables through the legs of the stand, just like the X930E does, the inputs on the back panel cannot be hidden behind covers, not least because some of the inputs are rear-facing. In comparison, all ports on the X930E are either side or bottom-facing.

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