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Sony 4K Television: Wow!

See all discounted 4K televisions. Prices as of 16 Oct 2015:

Sony: XBR-55X800B 55" Class 4K Smart LED TV -- 60% OFF, $989 was $2498 <=== bought this
Sony: X850B 69.5" 4K Ultra HD Smart 3D TV -- 53% OFF, $2599 was $5498
Sony: X900B 78.6" 4K Ultra HD Smart 3D TV -- 44% OFF, $4998 was $8998
Sony: X950B 65" Class 4K Ultra HD Smart 3D TV -- 31% OFF, $5498 was $7998
Sony: X900B 64.5" 4K Ultra HD Smart 3D TV -- 40% OFF, $2995 was $4998

NOTE: a few days after I posted this, I learned about the new H.265 standard. I don't know if each of these TVs support that standard. HOWEVER, Netflix 4K streaming works fine and this article states that Netflix streams in H.265; therefore the XBR-55X800B must already be supporting H.265. Also, Amazon Prime 4K streaming works as well. Note that for older 4K TVs (2013 models), a separate box (Sony FMP-X5 or other) can do the H.265 conversion.

Testing the Sony XBR-55X800B 55" Class 4K Smart LED TV

Usage note: many current Macs have HDMI output that can drive a 4K TV. At the least this can be a nice way to run a slide show or similar.

I did not want to spend a lot of money on a 4K TV (and I’m way too busy to watch TV or movies other than rarely, preferably with a good glass of red stuff), but I did want to be able to evaluate 4K video from the Sony A7R II and A7S II on a real television.

So, having a picky eye, I took a chance on the Sony XBR-55X800B 55" Class 4K Smart LED TV. It’s a 55-inch 4K TV with a list price of $2498. But it is discounted by $1400 to $1098, and with a B&H $50 gift card and free shipping it comes to $1048. I know that there are better and bigger 4K televisions out there, but at higher prices*.

* Of course I’d love to have the Sony X900B 78.6" 4K Ultra HD Smart 3D TV ($4000 off). But it’s a little more expensive! And it won’t fit into my office for watching 4K video from cameras. And even 4K won’t look all that sharp if one sits too close to a 78-inch TV.

Sony XBR-55X800B 55" Class 4K Smart LED TV

Evaluating

I watched 5-10 minutes snippets of Netflix 4K streaming stuff: House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Mind of Chef, various nature shows (these nature shows are not well done IMO, using grossly oversaturated postcard-like color), and a few others.

I also tried some regular HD snippets and the Sony TV scaling is excellent, though HD text looks wavy and not so nice, since it is blown up 2X—but regular video looks great. Narcos was not in 4K, but nonetheless looked great, with the TV doing a great job of upscaling. So fear-not if most material you watch is still in regular HD, such as a BluRay disk or higher quality show in HD. But do note that many broadcast and cable TV and similar channels are heavily compressed and of very poor image quality, showing ugly compression artifacts even with a regular HD TV—all those defects will be more obvious.

The funny thing is that my highly tuned photographic eyes kicked in, noticing every flaw of sharpness and lens bokeh (yes even cine lenses have SLOCA!). And that pulling focus must be quite a challenge on 4K—and sometimes there are errors: 4K shows them while HD (2K) gets away with it.

4K streaming from Netflix is quite good, but it shows quality limits, especially for moving/panning and fine details. Dark interior scenes can show digital noise, and the resolution is overlaid by a graininess (noise). You really do not want to see aging politicians without a heavy layer of makeup. Even with Netflix House of Cards which is streamed at reasonably good quality, tonal transitions can be abrupt—and this makes things like the nose on a face look quite strange at times.

But here’s the bottom line: the 4K experience is awesome, and I don’t think going back could ever be tolerable. It’s just a major step up in quality that is very enjoyable. As for color, I made no effort to tune it, but I was thrilled with the color rendition, blacks and contrast (I know it can be better, but there’s that price thing). Interior scenes with artificial lighting looked as such. Outdoors looked like outdoors. It all looked realistic. The picture was immensely satisfying to watch, and I see absolutely no reason to nitpick anything I saw: it’s way beyond the enjoyment level to see anything in 4K versus 2K “Full HD” (half res).

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