Sony X950G (XG95) review – FlatpanelsHD


In the second half of 2018, Sony launched two new flagship TVs. At CES in January 2019, the company announced that these TVs will be discontinued in favor of new flagship models. X950G (XG95 in Europe) will replace Z9F (ZF9), which was Sony’s first TV with ‘X-Wide Angle’ technology designed to improve viewing angles on a VA LCD panel. X-Wide Angle is found in the 75- and 85-inch models, while the 55- and 65-inch come without. X950G also comes equipped with a full array local dimming (FALD) system, Dolby Vision support, Dolby Atmos support, HDMI eARC, and Android Oreo (version 8.0).

Sony X950G (XG95) will be available in 55, 65, 75, and 85-inch sizes in the US and Europe. We are reviewing the 75-inch model, which together with the 85-inch model is equipped with X-Wide Angle.

The TVs are still not available but Sony has announced suggested retail prices. More information here.

Sony XG95 – specifications

75-inch
VA LCD panel with zone dimming (FALD)
X-Wide Angle filter
4K Ultra HD (3840×2160)
HDR (HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG)
DCI-P3 color space
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA – 400x200mm)
(HxWxD) 96.1×167.4×7.3 cm (without stand)
37.6 cm deep with stand
37/35 kg (with/without stand)
4x HDMI 2.0 (full bandwidth, HDCP 2.3)
3x USB
1x Ethernet
1x CI+
Optical
HDMI eARC (1x)
2×10 W
DVB T/T2/C/S2
Dual tuner
WiFi (ac)
Bluetooth 4.2
Chromecast Built-in
Apple AirPlay 2 & HomeKit (via later update)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile2
Android TV (ver. 8.0 Oreo)
Remote control
App

Manual
IR remote control
Stand

First impressions

We did not receive a review sample of last year’s Z9F (ZF9), which is now being discontinued. As such, X950G (XG95) will be the first Sony TV on our test bench to feature the ‘X-Wide Angle’ technology designed to improve viewing angles. We have the 75-inch model. Unfortunately, Sony has decided not to include X-Wide Angle in the 55- and 65-inch X950G models, meaning that our full evaluation of picture quality only applies to the 75- and 85-inch models.

Modern flat panel TVs without soundbars or other protruding elements tend to look quite similar and from a design perspective X950G does not stand out. The TV resembles last year’s X900F, with some minor changes such as the coarse-textured back and the glossy segment near the top. Sony has confirmed that X900F will carry over into 2019 and that X950G is considered the new flagship 4K LCD.

The TV is quite thick, which is to be expected for a LCD TV with a full array local dimming system. Like last year, Sony has made sure that all input/output ports face either down or to the side. All HDMI 2.0 ports are now full bandwidth ports, meaning that they can carry 4K HDR at 60Hz. The ARC port has been upgraded to eARC, which is specified to handle lossless audio formats such as Dolby Atmos in Dolby TrueHD.

The built-in speaker system has gained two extra channels. Sony has fitted them at the top of the back cabinet and they are designed to fire sound to each side. The stand is largely unchanged and still has a cable management system built-in. However, the more extensive solution that extends to the cabinet is reserved for Sony’s new 8K TV.

And last but certainly not least, Sony has finally listened to our and others’ prayers. The company has designed a new remote control that we will get back to in a minute.

Sony X950G (XG95) review

The panel’s reflectance level is average and not as low as for example Samsung’s Q series TVs and various OLED TVs. Vertical stripes are sometimes visible when light is reflected in the panel, which can be attributed to the X-Wide Angle filter.

User experience & features

All of Sony’s latest TV come pre-installed with Android Oreo (version 8.0). When checking the technical specifications of the SoC, we were able to determine that X950G comes equipped with the MediaTek 5893 SoC but with a later revision number compared to AF9 (UR2 vs. UR1). Same speed but for some reason it has less RAM.

Operating system & smart TV

Android Oreo introduced a revamped home screen with rows (or “channels”) to make them more easily accessible. In addition, a row can be assigned to a specific app that can pull its video content front and center on the home screen (if the app supports it). Android Oreo on X950G has a slightly refreshed in the sense that icons have more rounded corners. Besides that Android on X950G feels more or less identical in use compared to Android on A9F so we have included the video that we originally shot for our A9F review below.

Since Android Oreo is more or less identical, we refer to our Sony A9F review for more information.

Instead, we turn our attention to the new stuff and changes in the 2019 models. One significant change is that Sony has finally gotten around to refreshing its own user interface, meaning the non-Android parts. To understand what this entails it is important to understand how today’s Android TVs are designed. While it may seem logical to assume that Android control the full user interface, it is actually just the “smart” portion of the TV.

Underneath you have the manufacturer’s own operating system that interacts with Android in various ways. Picture and audio settings, along with some other settings, are typically not embedded in Android, which is why Sony’s picture menus look very different from those in Philips Android TVs. This underlying part of the system must also be updated from time to time, if the goal is to advance features such as the TV Guide, settings menus, the program information bar etc.

Furthermore we note that the YouTube app now supports HDR and that it is capable of automatically switching to HDR format. However, playback via USB often fails when using Sony’s built-in media player app. On the other hand, the media player app is noticeable faster to navigate compared to X900F.

If you venture further into Sony’s menu system you will at some point reach an area that allows you to manually configure the TV channel list, and this menu will show you just how fragmented Sony’s TVs actually are. This menu has not been refreshed for years and it basically looks like something you would find in an HD TV. The same goes for Sony’s ‘Sync menu’ that is required to set-up HDMI CEC. These are examples of menus that look out of place compared to the more modern look of the new Android interface.

Sony TVs have previously featured a messy ‘Action’ menu that would slide down from the top. The company later added a ‘Discover’ menu that would slide up from the bottom when watching TV channels. With the 2019 generation, Sony has finally abandoned the Action menu and moved everything to the bottom menu – much like Samsung and LG. In the refreshed menu you will find shortcuts to inputs, user-configurable settings, and – if you are watching TV channels – the TV guide. The settings menu in particular comes in handy as it allows you to add shortcuts to specific setting options. To some extent, this new menu mirrors what LG has done with webOS.

At CES 2019, Sony announced that Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit will be supported in select 2019 TVs. However, the features are not enabled in our sample of X950G. Sony informs us that they will be added via a later update, much like Dolby Vision on Sony TVs in the past. It is likely that Apple is dictating launch plans. We also note that are AirPlay and HomeKit are not yet highlighted on Sony’s product pages.

Until AirPlay arrives, you can use the built-in Chromecast feature. However, it is still locked to 60Hz like all previous Android TVs, which can result in video stutter with 25/50fps video content. We hope that AirPlay will finally address this issue.

Google Assistant has been rolling out to TVs for some time now but is still not available in our region. X950G has built-in microphones in the frame, which enables the user to speak “OK Google” commands (must be enabled manually from the TV’s menu). There is also a built-in microphone in the remote control that you can activate by pressing the microphone button.

Since Google Assistant is not yet available in our region, we were not able to test how it integrates with our services and devices but Google has a product page available online that give you a rough idea. We were, however, able to test the microphones built into the frame. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion the TV started listening as if it had heard the “OK Google” wake word, after which it proceeded to pick up some words in the living room and do random stuff. My recommendation would be not to active the “OK Google” feature to avoid having the TV perform spontaneous search queries.

Android TVs receive regular updates to the smart TV platform, albeit slowly. Google has already released Android Pie (version 9) and is expected to announce the next version later this year. Android Oreo is currently rolling out to select Sony TVs from the 2H2016 generation and onwards. Still, updates routinely add some new features after purchase. TVs based on Tizen and webOS do not receive major updates.

Once again this year, we must conclude that Sony’s TVs continue to wake up from standby from time to time to do something. It affects connected USB devices and raises standby consumption to upwards of 30W for a considerable period of time. It is a matter for criticism and we find it problematic that Sony continues to ignore the issue after having been aware of it for years. We recommend that you disable ‘remote start’ in order to minimize the effect but we still have no bulletproof solution for getting a Sony TV to maintain its standby state, which is something that other TV manufacturers respect.

Operation

After years of criticism for having one of the worst TV remote controls, Sony has finally shaken the bag and designed a new one. The refreshed remote control no longer has the annoying rubber surface and soft plastic buttons of the previous generation. Instead, it has a metal surface with smaller and much improved buttons.

Sony has removed the redundant circle of buttons around the navigation keys that previously contained shortcuts to the Action menu, TV functions, home screen and TV Guide. These shortcut buttons are still available but have been moved elsewhere and away from the navigation buttons, which in my opinion makes more sense. The redesigned remote control has roughly the same number of buttons so it in that sense it represents a traditional approach to controlling a TV, unlike the more simplified remote controls from Philips and Samsung.

Sony X950G (XG95) review

The upper side of the remote is made from metal, while the back continues to be hard, textured plastic that feels cheap. I would have preferred the same soft plastic that previously covered the upper side of the remote on the back of the new remote, at least over this solution. Or ideally a metal unibody remote control. The back feels too rattling and elastic.

The new remote control is thinner than the previous one but the weight feels almost identical – perhaps a bit too light. The overall redesign is a clear improvement and it goes much better in line with Sony’s premium TVs but there is still room for improvement. We have asked Sony if the new remote control can be bought separately and paired with previous TVs but have yet to hear back.

TV channels, recording & sound

The TV channel interface is part of Sony’s own system and together with the other changes, Sony has made a few tweaks in this area. You can now access the TV Guide from the bottom menu by scrolling down to the TV Guide section, which has also been expanded to include more channels.

Sony XG95 in Europe supports TV recording but still lacks time shift functionality, which is supported on Philips Android TVs. Furthermore, PiP does not allow you to watch two TV channels at the same time. Changing the channel still takes 2-5 seconds, despite the faster SoC, but on the other hand the TV Guide is noticeably faster compared to last year’s models.

Sony has added two additional tweeter units near the top, one on each side with the goal of adding more dimension to the sound stage and the give the impression that audio is “coming right from the screen”. However, since the system is limited to 2x10W these are not discreet channels for Dolby Atmos. The effect is certainly noticeable but since the existing speakers have a tendency to sound shrill, there is not much benefit to be had from adding extra units in the high-frequency range. Overall, the speaker system lacks bass and depth.

X950G is compatible with Dolby Atmos, meaning that it can take Atmos sound from apps (such as Netflix) or let a lossless (Dolby TrueHD) Dolby Atmos soundtrack from an UHD Blu-ray player pass-through the TV to an external soundbar or receiver via the TV’s HDMI eARC port. For this purpose, we had requested a sample of Sony’s ST5000 soundbar, which also supports HDMI eARC and Dolby Atmos. And yes, it works, but we encountered various bugs resulting in dropouts or no sound at all when trying to feed the soundbar with an Atmos soundtrack. To resolve the issue we had switch to the built-in speakers and then back to external audio output, after which the Atmos soundtrack was passed through as intended. Dolby Digital 5.1 did not cause any issues. We encountered these issues regardless of whether we were trying to output Netflix’s Atmos or pass-through Atmos from an external player. We do not have other devices with eARC at this moment so we are unable to conclude whether the issue is related to eARC in the TV or soundbar – or both – or Sony’s implementation of Atmos in general.

Also read: HDMI 2.1 finalized – 8K/10K resolution, variable refresh rate, eARC, new cable

Sony has not implemented any other HDMI 2.1 features in its 2019 TVs.

Calibration

Starting with the standard user-facing menus, X950G has a myriad of picture modes available to choose from. Most of them are very poor when measured up against the reference. Curiously, ‘Graphics’ mode gave us the best out-of-box results but it is relatively easy to tweak ‘Personal’ mode to conform to the picture standards, which involves minor adjustments to 2-step white balance. We encountered small deviations in the red primary color but nothing worrying.