Sony High Dynamic Range Update to 4K TVs

The age of HDR gets another step closer

The Sony KD-65X930C can now play HDR.

In case you hadn’t heard, high dynamic range (HDR) picture technology (discussed in detail here) is shaping up to be the next big thing in TV. HDR was put on the AV map back in January of the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by Samsung, when it unveiled a new breed of SUHD LCD TVs (explained here) capable of pumping out the sort of extra brightness and expanded color ranges high dynamic range content brings to the party.

Since Samsung’s SUHD unveiling the other main brands have been scrambling to catch up. LG, Sony, and Panasonic have all had to announce that they’re working on adding HDR support to their relatively high-end TVs via firmware updates. Now, finally, one of those brands, Sony, has rolled out the necessary firmware upgrade. In fact, it’s rolled it out across a wider range of TVs than we’d initially expected - and arguably across a wider range of TVs than it perhaps should have…

First, let’s look at how you get the HDR update. Obviously, you’ll need to have a qualifying 2015 Sony TV. These are any models from the 4K/UHD X930C, X940C, X90C, X850C and curved S850C ranges. You’ll also need to have your Sony TV connected to the Internet via either Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable. Then you’ll need to head into your TV’s setup menus, track down the System Update menu, and ask the TV to check for updates. 

If it doesn’t find any, then that should mean your TV has already downloaded and installed the update. If it tells you an update is available, choose to download it and… go and make a cup of coffee. Or potentially quite a few cups of coffee depending on your broadband speed, as the update is fairly sizeable.

When the download has finished and the TV has installed it, then you should be ready to play HDR.

Which is great if you also know where to go to get HDR content with which to actually make use of your TV’s new feature. For most people, this will mean streaming HDR from Amazon’s onboard TV app, which happily is also upgraded by the Sony firmware update to include HDR support. 

The amount of HDR content on this platform is currently limited, though, to just the pilot episode of Red Oaks and the entire first season of Mozart In The Jungle. What’s more, my experience so far is that this footage doesn’t look as dynamic as the HDR demonstrations I’ve seen running at press events and technology shows. (More details on Amazon’s HDR offering can be found here.

I’ve also discovered after running the update that it’s possible to play HDR video files from USB sticks if you’re able to find any HDR files for download. And finally - although I haven’t been able to test this myself yet - the updated Sony TVs’ use of the latest HDMI connections should mean that they’ll be able to play HDR from the upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs.

I do wonder, though, if Sony was wise rolling the HDR update out to as many TVs as it has. Having now tried the update on an X930C model I have in for testing, I’ve unfortunately found that HDR seems to cause some significant problems for the set’s edge-mounted backlighting, with the extra brightness leading to some pretty obvious bands of light and color inconsistency down the image’s left and right edges. 

On the upside, though, even on the 65X930C HDR enjoys much more dynamism and color intensity than normal content. So hopefully the addition of HDR to models in Sony’s range - like the previously reviewed 75X940C - that use direct LED backlighting, where the LEDs sit directly behind the screen, will yield the same sort of eye-catching results while creating less in the way of backlight distractions.