The old warhorse ZD9 has held onto the top spot in Sony’s LED LCD TV line-up for the best part of two years and is one of the best TVs you can buy. The precision and power of its direct LED backlight, plus superb image processing, has made it a firm AV fan favourite. Now Sony has announced a replacement, in the surprisingly similar shape of the ZF9. This Master Series update has a lot to live up to.
We had a chance to take a closer look at the ZF9 (known as the Z9F in the US), at its unveiling in New York City. The brand, appropriately enough, took over the Sony Hall, for a series of technical demonstrations and workshops.
What we saw left us excited, if a tad apprehensive.
- We also got hands on with the OLED Sony AF9 at the same event
- The best TV under £1000 - affordable 4K options
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Sony ZF9: release date, price and spec
• The ZF9 range will be on sale in late September.
• 75-inch ZF9, £4999
• 65-inch ZF9, £3799
**Screen size:** 65-inches | **Other sizes available:** 75-inch | **HDR:** HDR10, HLG & Dolby Vision | **HDMI:** 4 | **USB:** 3 | **Dimensions:** TBC
Sony ZF9: design
Design appears largely unremarkable, although given that the preview space was interstellar black, finishing details may well have eluded us.
The set has a thin aluminium frame, supported by two widely spaced feet with integrated cable management. The aforementioned full array backlight adds extra depth.
Sony ZF9: image quality
Available in big (65-inches) and bigger (as the 75-inch KD-75ZF9), the ZF9 appears to use fundamentally the same direct lighting array as its lauded predecessor - at least that’s our assumption, as Sony was steadfastly tight lipped on the new screen’s actual specification.
We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s got exactly the same number of dimmable zones as its predecessor.
So should an existing ZD9 owners trade-up, or potential Samsung Q9 buyers broaden their search? Possibly yay, possibly nay...Everything hangs on the set’s visual performance. And the good news is that the set’s new X1 Ultimate picture processor looks to be something very special indeed. It's able to extract minuscule detail from sources, as well as present smooth graduated colour.
If it's mega brightness, as on the Samsung QF9, you might be let down, though. Back at CES in January, Sony previewed an ultra-bright 8K 10,000 nit LED LCD display, but any hope that some of that astronomic luminosity would find a home in this new model has been dashed. While the ZF9 claims a modest bump in brightness, this has been used to improve off axis viewing, rather than boost specular highlights.
That’s not to say it can’t dazzle. Positioned alongside its Master Series AF9 stablemate in the darkened corners of Sony Hall, the ZF9 clearly had the edge in overall pop.
Brightly lit test footage looked gorgeous, with rich, saturated colours and punchy contrast.
Sony staged a number of demonstrations, comparing the new set with a Sony OLED BVM-X300 mastering display, and rival LED models. These controlled demonstrations should really be taken with a pinch of salt, however we saw enough to convince us that the ZF9 is a front line performer.
Despite its LED backlight, the set did a remarkable job of aping some characteristics of the Pro OLED display, although we are not fully convinced that’s what LED LCD buyers really want from their screens.
Set-back in black?
The demonstrations did reveal a question mark over the set’s black level performance, however.
In a staged shootout with another brand, the ZF9 had problems presenting truly black letterbox bars.
Of course, this early sample may not be indicative of the main production run (from the NYC preview, our screen was being packed up and bundled off to appear centre stage at IFA 2018, so there’s clearly not many to go around).
But it does raise questions, and undermines Sony’s ambition for this Master Series model to be used as a client monitor in post production facilities.
That said, superior motion handling, courtesy of X-Motion Clarity, and hands down the best SDR to HDR conversion out there, means this set could well end the year as one of our favourite LED LCD panels.
We’ll know more when we get our mitts on a review sample, of course… With release set for late September, hopefully that won't be too long.