While they may lack the pure wow factor engendered by a gigantic 84-inch screen, smaller higher-resolution Ultra HD TVs are on the way from Sony, slated to arrive this April or May. Exact pricing hasn't yet been announced, though they're expected to be appreciably less expensive than the $25,000 commanded by the 84-inch Sony XBR-84X900. We'll report on additional details for these newer, smaller Ultra HD sets as the information becomes available.
The two new Sony TVs are the 55-inch XBR-55X900A and the 65-inch XBR-65X900A. Both will be flagship models loaded with features, including LED backlights and Sony's new Triluminous color technology (which purports to produce a richer, wider gamut of colors), which isn't available on the older 84-inch model. The sets also have built-in Wi-Fi and access to a lot of online content, including several streaming movie and TV services, including Sony's own Video Unlimited service.
Unlike the 84-inch Sony XBR-84X900, which has removable speaker panels on either side of the screen, these new models have extra-wide bezels that house a built-in front-firing speaker array that employs a new magnetic-fluid speaker technology. Like the 84-inch set, these sets have a subwoofer output for adding an external subwoofer for enhanced bass response. Based on my short time with these sets at a press event in New York City yesterday, the sound produced by all three of the Ultra HD sets appears to be a marked improvement over what we typically experience with thin flat-panel TVs.
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The newer sets also have built-in NFC (near-field communications) technology, which the 84-incher lacks. NFC—or, as Sony called it, "one-touch" technology—lets you pair portable devices such as tablets and smart phones to the TV by simply touching them to the TV remote. It will also be used to pair and share content across other devices, such as Blu-ray disc home theater systems, soundbars, wireless speakers, and headphones.
With pairing now made easier, Sony will also offer a second-screen companion app called TV Side View for all its smart TVs. The graphics-rich software, which runs on Apple iOS and Android tablets and smart phones, lets you browse and select shows from an electronic TV program guide, get additional program info, and even get recommendations based on your past viewing experiences, all without interrupting what's currently playing on the TV. The app—which supports Sony's Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services, as well as several third-party services, such as Netflix and YouTube—also lets you use the phone or tablet as a basic remote control.
We expect a number of other manufacturers to offer smaller Ultra HD sets this year, presumably at lower prices than the larger sets. But we wonder if the difference in picture detail, especially with upconverted standard high-def content from Blu-ray movies and broadcast channels, will be visible to most viewers on these smaller sets. Certainly in the demos we've given to other employees here at Consumer Reports, the reaction has been as much to the jumbo screen as it has been to the higher-quality video, although certainly that's been an attraction.
We currently have the 84-inch LG 84LM9600 Ultra HD TV in our labs and recently published our first impressions after some initial testing. We're also expecting to get our hands on one of the first OLED TVs, a new TV technology that I'm personally excited about. If you've been following these developments, let us know what you think of these latest TV enhancements, and whether you believe there's really a need for better-than-HD picture quality.
—James K. Willcox