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Sony Bravia X90J Review – IGN

The Sony Bravia X90J is a challenging television to review, even when compared to only other Sony televisions. On paper, and visually, it looks strikingly familiar to last year’s X900H. But that Bravia name brings with it the promise of higher-end performance, exclusive features, and a higher asking price.

With the X90J, not only are we asking if it’s $200 better than the great X900H from last year, but how does that price compete against something like the Vizio P-Series Quantum? There is a lot to consider and comparing final scores is unlikely to provide you a straight answer.

Sony Bravia X90J

When looking at the X90J and comparing it to Sony’s X900H, I feel like I’m looking at identical condos, but one has a longer list of amenities. For some, those amenities are a huge selling point and the $200 surcharge will be more than worth it. For others, they’ll be as ignored as that hot tub you have 24-hour access to, but only used that one time right after you moved in.

Sony X90J – Hardware and Software

The Sony X90J looks great from the front, and mediocre from the side and back. The thin bezels are fabulous and the understated logo on the front along with the slim legs looks great. The television is also extremely thin. From the front and the sides, it’s great.

The back is just rounded, bland plastic and unfortunately the X90J has no cable management to speak of – not even leg clips.

Because of this, I really wish the power port and the HDMI ports were all located on the same side, but all of the HDMI ports, the cable plug, the ethernet port, and USB ports are all on the left side of the television while the power outlet is on the right. If you want to try and keep a clean look to your media console or desk, the X90J won’t do you any favors.

One last note: I know that the distance between the legs is probably a decision made primarily for stability purposes, but it severely limits where the television can be placed. If you don’t want to wall mount it – which I did not – you need a very wide desk or media console.

The X90J remote is pretty big, and gigantic by 2021 standards. It has all the legacy controls that have been scaled back or dropped entirely by brands like TCL, Samsung, and Vizio, like a full number pad and several customizable buttons. It also has a huge three-inch space at the bottom of the remote that is just blank. Despite its size, it’s not a bad remote and this is the first time that the four quick-launch buttons are actually all platforms I regularly use: YouTube, Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video. It also supports voice operation which makes searching on YouTube a breeze.

The television is powered by Google TV, which is the new and improved version of what was once called Android TV. It puts an emphasis on customized content more than it does apps, which is similar to how Vizio Smartcast works. It has the advantage of having that content-first design but also has more apps available than Smartcast does, which gives it the edge in my book.

Google TV runs extremely smoothly on the X90J and the browsing experience is excellent. Android TV was always in my top three favorite television operating systems, but now that we’ve transitioned to Google TV and it runs smoothly on new displays, it’s vying closely for my favorite behind Roku. Google also does a better job tracking what content you like from a variety of apps, which Roku or Vizio simply don’t have the capacity to do.

One of the added bonus features of this TV is the Bravia Core streaming service, which Sony offers only on select televisions. It promises higher-quality streams for a set of movies due to a more data-rich delivery. It’s awesome that it’s there, but I don’t know how much of a “bonus” this is for folks who are probably pretty happy with their current suite of streaming choices. Additionally, Sony’s processing is so good, most will have a hard time telling the difference between the higher bitrate Core content and something that has been processed out of Netflix. Speaking of processing…

Sony X90J – Picture Quality

The X90J has what Sony calls a Cognitive Processor XR, which is a technology that the company touts as being able to understand how humans see and hear, making it able to deliver content with stronger contrast, better brightness, and better color depending on what is being watched. That’s a lot to promise, and when watching 4K HDR content, I honestly could not tell you more than “it looks good.” Is it doing more? Probably. Could I tell you based on how the average person uses their TV? Not really. But this is only one slice of the Sony image quality cake.

What I will say is that Sony televisions are known for outstanding image processing and Sony did not pull those punches here. Combined with that Cognitive Processor is a new contrast booster which all add to the already notable prowess of Sony’s processing. While I will have difficulty pulling out what each individual piece of what Sony is doing here, it does unequivocally equate to a stunning picture quality.

As a result, 4K upscaling is fantastic. The poor graduation of highlights from low bitrate content (like the skies above the desert planets in the first season of the Mandalorian) is beautifully fixed and smoothed out as well. Sony regularly leads the pack with this technology and that remains true in the X90J.

While I’ve heard others who have reviewed this television say it doesn’t have great viewing angles, I have to disagree. While yes, because it’s a backlit LCD television it absolutely has a “best” viewing location of straight ahead, if you’re forced to watch this tv from off angles, you’ll still be treated to surprisingly good contrast and color.

One issue I had with this television – and it is a criticism that is shared with the X900H before it – is that it easily shows glare. The screen is very shiny and the television doesn’t get particularly bright either, so it’s not capable of overwhelming even the lightest of reflections. Across the room from the television I have a set of LED panel lights and even set to low, I can very clearly see them reflected back at me during gaming sessions.

Sony X90J – Contrast

Up to this point, I was ready to argue that televisions not using either OLED or Mini LED technology were not capable of making deep, luscious blacks. Sony has proven me wrong, as I was regularly shocked at how good the contrast is on this television.

Blacks are remarkably black. And, as mentioned, while the television is not particularly bright, its ability to push the blacks to such levels of darkness means it can generate some stellar HDR visuals, including in Dolby Vision.

One downside of this contrast is that the television has a tendency to crush blacks, which can be a problem for competitive games. There are portions of the map in Apex Legends that simply will not render any details, and I’ve been knocked out by players standing in these areas that I could legitimately not see.

I tweaked the settings quite a bit in Game mode – which is one of several settings you can gratefully tweak quite a bit to your liking in this mode – to account for this as best I could, but it is really hard to strike a balance of shadow detail and not washing out all the colors on the X90J.

Sony X90J – Stutter

Unfortunately, content that is running at lower frame rates (like movies or broadcast television) can stutter in slow-panning shots. “Stutter” refers to a shaky, jumpy, look to footage and it is particularly noticeable around the outside of the frame. It’s not just reserved for slow frame rate footage either, as I noticed that in gaming scenes that were running at 60 frames per second, if I walked slow enough and focused on the edges, that stutter would be visible.

Sony X90J – Local Dimming

Sony doesn’t publish its local dimming zone statistics, but a manual count showed 24. The company regularly touts that the number of zones is a specification that doesn’t do justice to how Sony uses them, and I agree to some extent. I think Sony does far more with just 24 zones than any other manufacturer can, but it still has limits.

These local dimming zones are quite large and when I tested the television to see how they controlled halo, it didn’t perform particularly well. In a pure testing environment, it was obvious: bright objects against a black background created a very visible halo.

However, testing environments aren’t real life, and in practical use cases it did not matter nearly as much to the point where I don’t think most who purchase the X90J will notice them at all. The only cases where you might see it is if you have subtitles projected over a very dark or black background. Otherwise, and this is also the case in gaming, it’s pretty much a non-issue.

Sony X90J – Next-Gen Gaming Support

HDMI Inputs 3 and 4 support 4K 120Hz and HDMI 1 and 2 are HDMI 2.0B ports. Sony says that it supports auto low latency (ALLM) and variable refresh rate (VRR), but the latter isn’t actually enabled on the television yet.

None of Sony’s televisions support VRR at the time of publication, and neither does the PlayStation 5 (PS5). Sony says that these features can be added via firmware update, but the company is currently waiting for the HDMI standard for VRR to be finalized, which offloads the responsibility.

Obviously VRR is supported on a host of televisions, is supported by Microsoft, and will be available on new HDMI 2.1 monitors, so it seems odd that Sony isn’t adding some kind of support. That said, I’ve experienced some strange software issues with other manufacturer’s HDMI 2.1 ports, so perhaps Sony is attempting to avoid any such problems by leaning too heavily on what might be buggy stop-gap solutions.

Whatever the case, lack of VRR support won’t matter for PS5 owners since the PS5 doesn’t support it anyway, but for Xbox or PC players players, that’s a disappointment. At the time of publication, Sony was unable to provide a timeline for when VRR support would roll out.

Luckily, ALLM is supported and works great. When the X90J detects a gaming source like the PS5, it automatically will turn on the TV if it is off and swap over to Game Mode. Game Mode deactivates many of the processors that Sony has running for high-quality picture content in exchange for low latency and low input lag.

Sony says that Game Mode itself takes full advantage of its backlight array and says that HDR games look as good as movie content – I agree, games look fantastic. For older Sony consoles that do not support ALLM, the TV will still swap to the Game Mode. However, this technology is limited to Sony devices, so it won’t work with your Xbox and you’ll have to manually swap over with the remote and lock your settings in manually.

Even without that processing active, 4K games look fantastic on this television. The Last of Us Part II, after its latest PS5 upgrade patch, and Destiny 2 look stunning on this television. Both the 60Hz cap of the former and the 120Hz cap in The Crucible in the latter worked flawlessly.

Sony X90J – Sound Quality

Sony has implemented a very impressive-sounding audio system into this television and uses not only speakers located behind the TV, but also behind the display itself. Sony says that the audio is dramatically improved because of this and it can even achieve more immersive, 3D audio.

In practice however, it still doesn’t sound particularly good. Is it better than what its competitors are doing? Yes, absolutely, but that doesn’t mean you should be satisfied with it.

Look, thin TVs are bound by the limitations of their physical space. Even adding more speakers and making them smarter by custom tuning isn’t going to fix the problem: there just isn’t enough room in this physical chassis to support the wide ranges necessary for immersive audio. Lows in particular are very weak on this television, and that’s something you’re going to find with all thin televisions on the market.

If you care about sound quality – which you absolutely should – you’re going to want to at least buy a soundbar, while an actual surround sound system would be of course preferable to that.

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