Sony X930D Hero TV

An X930D in a 'typical' living room environment!.

It was pretty clear at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas which TV Sony sees as its ‘hero’ model for 2016. Aside from a single, not-really-doing-much sample of its flagship model, the 75X940D (which uses direct LED lighting, where the LEDs sit right behind the screen), the only screen abundantly on show was the X930D series. Models from the X930D range were being used for all of Sony’s key smart feature and picture technology demonstrations. Which actually turned out to be something of a problem…

The issue concerns the X930Ds’ Slim Backlight Drive technology. As reported in our previous overview of Sony’s 2016 TV range, this backlight engine is claimed to be capable of localized light controls beyond anything edge-lit TVs have been able to before. In fact, apparently they can even dim central parts of the picture independently of the edges - an edge LED first.

However, while our experience of the Slim Backlight Drive in action confirms that it really does somehow live up to its cutting-edge local dimming feat, to say the implementation of it seems flawed right now would be a huge understatement.

Flawed Backlight

When showing pictures containing a mixture of bright and dark content - such as shots of illuminated buildings and Las Vegas neon lighting against a rich night sky - the X930D sets are clearly able to reduce the lighting in central parts of the picture for the night sky while bright bits around it look striking bold and punchy in a way you just wouldn’t normally see an edge LED TV. So far so good.

Unfortunately, however, the punchy brightness is not restricted to just the bright elements of the picture. It also creeps out beyond the confines of the bright objects into the darkness surrounding them in a painfully defined, almost linear fashion. In other words, the picture’s luminance appeared as a series of really quite clear-cut squares and rectangles during our time previewing a variety of different X930D models - and once you’ve noticed this rectangular lighting it becomes almost impossible to stop yourself from looking for it again. Which is, of course, hardly conducive to an immersive viewing experience.

The Good News

In other ways, the X930D’s pictures look promising. Detail and sharpness levels from the 4K-resolution screen look exemplary thanks to a combination of some above-par motion handling and exceptional color precision - the fruits of Sony’s X1 video processor and Triluminos wide-color technology.

Black levels look impressive in the darkest parts of the picture, and the dynamic range visible within a single frame is prodigious by edge LED standards. 

It’s worth adding, too, that the X930Ds are seriously attractive TVs. As you might guess from the ‘Slimline Backlight Drive’ feature they’re seriously trim, in terms both of the narrowness of their bezels and the slimness of their rears. In fact, excluding their desktop stands the X930Ds are only 11mm deep.

Even this isn’t quite as insanely skinny as the mobile phone-thin Sony X90 model from 2015, but crucially the slight increase in thickness is accompanied by a shift from the X90’s IPS type of LCD panel to the rival VA type. The VA approach slightly reduces realistic viewing angles, but as we would expect from past experience, it clearly enhances the image’s overall contrast potential.

The sad fact is, though, that we found it consistently hard to focus on the X930D’s strengths because it was so hard to see past the backlight blocking issue.

Thinking Positive

Before anyone gets too despondent about this, it’s important to stress that the X930D is still a few weeks away from being launched, so Sony has time to improve things. Furthermore, Sony may well have had to drive its X930D’s more brightly for its demos than you would likely want to run them in a typical domestic environment, exaggerating the light blocking issue. Though having said that, we have to reflect that the demands of high dynamic range content will require the X930Ds to run very brightly at times…

From what I’ve seen of them so far, the only advice we can give to anyone thinking of buying an X930D is that you hold off handing over your cash until I’ve published a full review here in the next few weeks.