Of course, surrendering two grand for a 49-inch TV isn't everyone's cup of tea. Many would rather stick with regular HD and score more screen, better bread-and-butter performance, and a smaller price tag. Let's face it, there's just no shortage of great alternatives to 4K right now.
But if you're one of many shoppers ready to take the pricey 4K plunge, then Sony's X850B is a worthy option. Be sure to scope out its UHD rivals, though, and don't complain about the towering price tags—'tis the fate of the early adopter.
To test its brawn, I pitted the Sony XBR-49X850B 4K TV (MSRP $1,999) against a laboratory and a hailstorm of performance trials. The X850B didn't impress me in every way, but it emerged from testing with its head held high.
With home-theater viewing standards in mind, the X850B is a pretty strong performer. Its black level and viewing angle disappointed me, but the color production, gamma sum, and grayscale tested with mostly positive results.
Hi Ho Silver!
It costs as much as a used car, but the Sony X850B 4K TV sure is handsome. The company clearly put plenty of time and thought into this model's design.
Slim, matte-metal bezels wrap the panel from top to bottom. Since it isn't shiny, the TV's border fades into black when you turn out the lights for movie night. Wide-set metal feet prop the TV up with a bit of flare, but take heed and mind your measurements: The feet can attach on either end of the panel for a wide stance, but then the TV may not fit on your entertainment stand (in which case you'd need to attach the feet toward the middle of the panel).
In the box, owners will find an IR blaster for cable integration, two sets of passive 3D glasses, a traditional remote, and a touchpad controller. A generous host of ports stands ready to greet you, too: four HDMI, three USB, coaxial cable, ethernet LAN, shared composite/component, a headphone jack, and digital audio out (optical).
TV testers at Reviewed.com evaluate and score each display based on out-of-the-box settings. Most people will never have a display professionally calibrated, after all, so the scores you find on our website reflect what most users will experience.
However, for interested readers, we also calibrate each TV that darkens our doors. We're certainly interested in what the average consumer will experience with each TV, but we're also interested in each TV's full potential. After calibrating each model to dark-room ideals per ITU standards, we publish our work here for your benefit.
Although Sony's XBR-49X850B doesn't pack niceties like a full CMS or 10-point white balance controls, I did manage to improve its image quality by way of basic settings and a 2-point tool. Starting from the TV's most accurate setting, Cinema1, I lowered its gamma, ticked down its backlight, and altered gain and bias points of its red, green, and blue sub-pixels via a 2-point white balance control. In the end, the only performance point that refused correction was red, which remained oversaturated and slightly off-hue.
If a TV's black level looks shallow and unconvincing, even untrained eyes tend to notice. The drama of an inky-black scene suffers greatly when dark shadows appear gray. To asses this aspect of a television's performance, we use a Konica Minolta LS-100 light meter to collect measurements for black level and average peak bright level.
Once we have those readings, we determine the overall contrast ratio by dividing the TV's average peak light level by its black level. In the case of the Sony XBR-49X850B, my results proved disappointingly average. While acceptable, the TV's black level of 0.14 cd/m2 isn't what I had hoped for from this $2,000 TV. The corresponding peak light output is a dazzling 156.2 cd/m2 —and that makes for a contrast ratio of 1100:1.
These results are good enough for most, but since this Sony only produces average results in terms of black level, it's best viewed in a partially lit room rather than a pitch-black home theater.
Features you'll fancy
If you're willing to shell out $2,000 for a television, you're probably expecting the world in terms of smart features—and this Sony will pretty much give it to you. The X850B is 3D, loaded with streaming apps, and packed with twinkling bells and whistles, like a mounted camera and touchpad remote.
If content is your king, Sony has you covered. Users will find Amazon Instant, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Sony's Video Unlimited service, and more. You can find it all in the Sony Entertainment Network, "SEN."
The SEN smart platform boils down into four main tabs: Movies, Album, Music, and Apps. The Apps page carries basic preloaded items like Netflix and Hulu, but you can click the "plus" sign to find more—radio stations, news, games, and so forth. The Movies tab showcases titles from Crackle and Video Unlimited, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Next, search the Music tab to find songs from Sony's Music Unlimited, VEVO, or your own private collection (via USB/DLNA). Lastly, the Album tab curates personal photos for users who sign up for Sony's cloud service.
If you feel like performing an operation on the picture quality, those tools are available under the Options key. The basics await you in the Picture Adjustments menu: backlight, contrast, brightness, sharpness, and other staples. Click down to Advanced for the grittier business of gamma and 2-point white balance—but 10-point controls and a full CMS are nowhere to be found. While I'm on the topic, I should mention a lamentable fact: Calibrate to your heart's content, but you can't savor the fruits of your labor once you launch Netflix. The television stubbornly reverts back to its presets, locking goodies like gamma and throwing away the key (until you exit the app). Pixel peepers, stick with your Blu-rays.
To round out the TV's extra features, I should briefly mention the IR blaster. Plug this gizmo in using its USB connector and place the black tips within clear range. The blaster offers control over cable set-top boxes via Sony's remote—though not without the off-putting input lag that accompanies this kind of chore.
Finally, while many brands offer similar smart perks, not all of them provide a fun tool for navigating those features-but Sony does. The company's touchpad remote makes moving from one selection to the next a bit more fun and fluid (though it's not nearly as zippy as something like LG's gesture-driven Magic remote). On the other hand, the X850B's traditional controller failed to win my affection; its Home button is very ill-placed, so that you're constantly clicking it by accident as you attempt to click the "down" button, which sits just overhead.
A premium centerpiece for sunny sitting rooms
If there's one thing to know upfront about Sony's X850B 4K TV, it's that this panel (calibrated or not) is best suited for an illuminated room. This isn't ideal picture quality for dark-room viewing, period. Barring that, brace yourself for massive 3840 x 2160 resolution and praiseworthy picture quality.
I'll begin the picture-quality rundown with the ever crucial topic of black level. Why is black level so important? Films require rich, shadowy contours to convey depth and drama during dark scenes. If black levels are too bright, these important details appear shallow and lifeless, a weakness that becomes especially prominent during dark-room viewing.
The X850b's black levels are average, at best—which is why it looks best in a partially lit environment. To make matters worse, uniformity issues plague its corners. Uniformity refers to unwanted light that bleeds into dark areas of the screen (a common issue with edge-lit LED LCD panels). While watching The Hobbit in the dark, the black bars that sandwich the film looked too bright in the corners. The blotchy light leaks became especially annoying during very dark scenes. I'll say it again: This TV is not ideal for a pitch-black room.
Color production is the TV's key strength. Films and nature documentaries appear accurate and true to life. The drawbacks in this area of performance are mild and few: oversaturated reds and slightly off-hue greens. The secondary colors aren't perfectly accurate, either, but most viewers will never notice the discrepancies.
Yelling, cursing, nacho-eating sports fans will fist pump for the X850B's motion performance, too. Although the panel suffers a degree of mild blur and juddering during highly detailed, horizontally panning scenes, the behaviors are much milder than what you normally find on edge-lit LCDs. Sony also includes motion enhancement settings, such as Cinemotion and Motionflow. The former works specifically to improve cinematic content, such as Blu-rays, while the latter handles content regardless of source—and both modes offer varying levels of strength (Clear 1, Clear 2, Auto 1, Auto 2, etc.).
The viewing angle isn't as impressive. The X850B slightly outperforms competition like Samsung's HU8550 4K and Panasonic's AX800U 4K, but this Sony still isn't a great candidate for large-group viewing or wall mounting. Be sure to lounge front and center.
Lastly, lots of folks seem curious as to how 3D looks on a 4K panel. I can tell you, it looks terrific. Sony's passive (battery-free) glasses are lightweight and comfortable, and watching 3D content for extended periods doesn't tire the eyes. I did notice some mild ghosting towards the edges of the screen, but that's nothing out of the ordinary. Coraline and a documentary on outer space looked particularly impressive and detail rich. It makes sense. 3D content utilizes higher resolution, after all, so the shoe fits.
In a word, the Sony X850B is a standup, premium candidate for partially lit or sunny living rooms. Those in search of centerpieces for gloomy home theaters should consider other options.
When testing TVs, we like to think of them as art-reproduction machines. Onscreen images don't just come out of nowhere. A filmmaker crafted those images, and a display should be able to recreate the colors and values necessary to match the artist's original vision.
This is why we test each TV's color production against the international standard for HDTV color, Rec.709. The KDL-49X850B handled this test well. Performance isn't flawless: The TV oversaturates red, while green and secondary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow) wander slightly into incorrect hues. Still, the overall result is mostly positive, and calibration reigned in every issue except for red.
If you plan to calibrate the X850B to perfection, bear in mind that Sony doesn't include a full color management system (CMS) here—so your work can only go so far. Nor will you find anything beyond a 2-point white balance control. Luckily, none of the color errors are egregious enough to constitute make-or-break flaws.
In classic liquid crystal display (LCD) form, the Sony X850B LED LCD TV fails to furnish a wide viewing angle. If you tend to watch movies with gaggles of friends, you should consider other options. You could spend the same $2,000 that this 49-inch panel costs and score Sony's 55-inch regular HD flagship—the W950—which has almost double the viewing angle of this X850B. Even better, you could invest in a plasma, which would offer nearly a perfect viewing angle.
But if you generally sit front-and-center anyway, then maybe this TV's total viewing angle of 41º won't beleaguer you. If that's the case, be sure not to stray more than 20.5º from the middle. If you do, contrast will degrade by upwards of 50%.
How much is that TV in the window?
If you want to know what the Sony XBR-49X850B's (MSRP $1,999) biggest drawbacks are, I'll point at its potbellied price tag and uninspiring black levels. As a TV reviewer, the black level is tough to look past. The ability to sink deep into gloomy shadow tones is truly a key ingredient for a masterful home-theater centerpiece.
Yet plenty of viewers don't watch their TVs in pitch-black home theaters. If that's the case, then the Sony XBR-49X850B is a standup companion for your living room. In partially lit and sunny settings, this display really dazzles. Its lush, accurate colors and skillful motion handling equip it nicely for sports, nature programs, and countless other content types.
Garnishing the beautiful picture quality are premium extras galore: The X850B comes with piles of streaming apps, a web browser, 3D glasses, a mounted camera, and a touchpad remote control for easy navigation. Not to mention, this TV's design is amongst 2014's most dashing entries. If 4K is a must, consider Sony's X850B.
Ever seen a TV with orange-tinted highlights? Does everyone look like an oompa loompa? It might be because the TV overemphasizes its red subpixel. To investigate this area of performance, we measure a display's balance of red, blue, and green sub-pixels.
The Sony X850B manages the balancing act quite well up until about 50 IRE (middle gray); at that point, the red sub-pixel begins to drop in emphasis. Meanwhile, at about 80 IRE (bright white), the green sub-pixel starts to rise above the rest, probably to add brightness (green is the most luminous sub-pixel). Although I only had a 2-point white balance control to work with, it was easy enough to balance things out. In the end, the TV wound up with a bit of a blue push at the darkest end of the spectrum, and judicious balance everywhere else.
As to the television's overall DeltaE, or measure of grayscale error, it isn't too bad. Before calibration, I measured a total DeltaE of 4.5—just a hair above the ideal threshold of 3 or lower. After some informed alterations to the sub-pixel balance, I managed to lower the DeltaE to 2.23. This means that the TV's black, gray, and white values are less tainted with unwanted color than before calibration.
If you've ever noticed a flat, blotchy quality during dark scenes in a movie, it may be on account of a television's inability to produce a proper gamma sum. Gamma refers to the interval between each luminance step from a TV's darkest to brightest output. Since human eyes are most sensitive to dark-to-light transitions in the dark end of the spectrum, it's essential that a TV not ramp up too quickly out of black. Otherwise, what ought to appear detailed will instead look blocky and un-lifelike.
Since we calibrate to dark-room ideals, we expect for TVs in Cinema or Movie modes to hit the ideal gamma sum for that setting: 2.4 across the board. While this Sony averages out very closely (2.38), its behavior in the low end is problematic. The X850B averages 2.38, but its gamma in that crucial low end is actually more like 2.2—too bright. Therefore, I changed the TV's gamma setting from -2 to Minimum. While this alteration put the average gamma sum to 2.32, it also captured a smoother gamma curve and superior performance in the critical low end (10 IRE - 30 IRE). In other words, the alteration to the X850B's gamma makes its picture quality look more detailed and more lifelike for home-theater viewing.
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Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.See all of Virginia Barry's reviews
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