Be warned, this is a very long review. I recommend you have a seat and grab a drink before reading.
Items used during this review: Sony 65Z9D, Sony 75x940D, Samsung 65KS9800, LG G6 OLED, Samsung K8500 UHD player, Star Trek Into Darkness UHD and Batman V Superman UHD.
Anyone who has been a fan of Sony TVs, or any TV for the matter, in the last couple of years is sure to remember the 950B. It was hailed as the best TV on the market by many and remained so until LG burst onto the scene with their OLED technology. Since that fateful day two years ago (two lifetimes in the technology realm), OLED has been the king of the proverbial TV mountain. Sony has now arrived with another TV set meant to reclaim its throne. The Z9D is being hailed by Sony as the best residential available TV on the market. I have had several days to spend with the set and this lengthy review will tackle different aspects of the TV. Quick note: The Z9D still runs on the same version of Android as the “D” models so I’m going to skip the software aspect entirely.
The first thing you notice when you turn on the set is that it’s bright, and I mean bright. I’m not going to measure nits or anything (review sites can do that), but just by eyeing the Z9D, it is nearly as bright as the brightest TV on the market, Samsung’s KS9800. Both of them can hurt your eyes if you stare too closely at them, just like the sun. Staying of the KS9800, Sony went with a Master Backlight system for the Z9D. It basically amounts to a full array set like the KS9800, but without set zones. Know all full-array sets have zones. A zone is a section with a number of LEDs (think 100 LEDs) behind a TV panel. That zone can dim or even turn off giving better blacks. The Z9D, however, is not reliant on zones. Zones are not perfect because you cannot completely turn off one LED while keeping one next to it lit. The Z9D, on the other hand, can turn off any LED it needs to, thanks to its unique lighting system. This leads to blacks that are better (and more importantly, more precise) than any other LED TV. They don’t quite reach OLED blacks, but there's more on that comparison later in the review.
For this review, I will be using the 940D for the primary comparison as it the closest set to the Z9D. The KS9800 isn’t even in the race and comparison to the OLED G6 will come later. For viewing materials, I first used the Sony demo. I instantly noticed that the Z9D was a great improvement in many aspects. Brightness was the most prominent, but color accuracy was the most impressive. Colors that were near impossible to see on the 940D were clearly visible on the Z9D. Also, colors flowed and changed more naturally. Shades of green and red were more accurate and matched their original color. Those who would have labeled the 940D as the most accurate LED TV, would will be pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the Z9D.
First film was Star Trek Into Darkness. This film was used to show color and black level. In the opening section of the film, Kirk and Bones run through the red forest, which is actually red on the Z9D. I always thought the 940D did the best job of showing this vibrant red, but the Z9D is superior in showing not only a brighter and richer red, but a more accurate and clean red. The Z9D not only has more color than the 940D, it has better color (which can be attributed to a better processor). The single most impressive detail in the film was the black of the native populations eyes vs the white of their skin. In the 940D, their black eyes could never truly get black because the LED zone was too large to cover such a small number of pixels. That zone had to dim to get the eyes as black as it could, while also getting as bright as possible to show their white faces. The Z9D does not have this issue. It shows their eyes a true black and their skin a perfect white. It does this with no problem, no haloing effect no and jitter because of the high contrast. This is also evident in the volcano Spock falls into. In the 940D, sections are black and others are red/orange. The TV has to constantly fight to show the mixture of colors as the lava churns, leading to sections that are black when it should be red and vice versa. The Z9D can instantly show dark cooling lava and black smoke while simultaneously showing extremely bright reds/orange hues that would put the KS9800 to shame.
The final film tested was Batman V Superman. This film was chosen because it is a very, very dark film. In fact, it is one of the most difficult films for a TV set to accurately display. A thin line must be walked to strike a balance between its light and dark moments. You either have to turn the brightness on your TV up so as to see the small details or turn it down so the nighttime sequences are actually dark and not gray. I am pleased to say that Z9D took to this film better than I could have hoped. This is where the Z9D shows a superiority to the OLED (there, I said it.) I first watched the actually fight scene between the films two namesakes on the OLED and while the black levels were phenomenal, I knew the TV was hiding so much underneath those absolute blacks. The same scene on the Z9D was nowhere near as black, but this was actually a better situation. The OLED could not show those very dark grays and dark blues like the Z9D could. Batman’s suit on the OLED looked either black or blue, depending on the light, while on the Z9D, it showed the correct shade of metallic gray. His suit actually looked like it was made from a carbon based metal like a titanium and aluminum alloy. Not to be left out, Superman’s costume looked phenomenal as well. The cyan (or teal) of the “belt” around his waist shone through the black of the film with ease. His hair was a perfect black and his heat vision was actually red unlike the orange that most TV’s display. Every scratch mark on Batman’s suit or armor, and every black section around his ribs was visible. His eyes, and only his eyes, glowed a brilliant HID blue as he was thrown across the screen (a testament to the Master Backlight system.) The fight in the abandoned building was equally impressive. Graffiti that was missed on the OLED were easily visible on the Z9D because it’s black level were impressive, but also tame and not absolute. The most impressive thing about the scene was I could simply see everything.
“Well dude, is there anything you don’t like about the TV?” Yes. It does not support HDR through a UHD player right out of the box. You have to dig in the settings to turn it on. If not, films won’t have that desired “HDR” sign on the info bar atop the screen. It’s odd that to unleash the full potential of such an expensive set, you have to search for such an obviously needed thing. It’s forgivable on an 850D, but not on the Z9D. The Master Backlight system can also be too bright. Certain explosions or flashes of light can hurt one’s eyes. While it’s not bright enough to cause any serious or permanent damage, take care not to turn the brightness at max when watching with little children. I don’t recommend that you have it always at max anyway as it shortens the life of your TV. The Master Backlight turns LED’s up and down in brightness depending on what’s on the screen. Really bright sections can sometimes “bleed” (I use that word delicately) into the dreaded 2:40 black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. I didn’t notice this happen once at the top of the screen, but occurred on occasion at the bottom whenever the TV had to put a white object at the very edge of the black bars. It would only light a handful of LEDs at the bar. This is something only active eyes would notice, and also something soon forgotten. In all three films I saw this, but forgot about it within a few minutes as I got more engrossed by the film. Finally, there seems to be a loss of black levels at the black bars on the bottom of the TV when off to a sharp angle. Once again, this only happens when a bright image was on screen, but it’s worth noting. I never saw this when I sat in front of the screen so you shouldn’t either. You have to sit at a near unreasonable angle to see it. And that’s it. There is nothing else I can nitpick about this TV.
So fine. You’ve read all these words (or skipped most of it) to get an answer to this simple question: is it better than OLED. Well... But wait! Before you leave upset, let me explain. To answer such a question, you have to ask yourself, “what do you want from your tv?” Does the Z9D have equal blacks to the OLED? No, but it certainly comes close, closer than any other set has dared. So if you want that perfect black, you have to get an OLED, that’s just technology. But the Z9D did not lose that battle by much. In some sections of Batman V Superman, the Z9D came unbelievably close to OLED blacks, around 90% by my estimation. I have no specific numbers of nits here so sorry, I’m just using my (and others) eyes. The OLED wins the blacks category, but the Z9D wins in almost every other facet. It is a far brighter TV, which allows for impressive contrast. It shows a more natural white (like a monitor white) than the OLED. It is a more accurate TV where color and shading are concerned, with a more powerful processor, and shows every version of HDR indiscriminately. The question about Web OS or Android OS is personal so that’s that.
My last words are this; the Z9D is the best LED TV in the market, and in my opinion, a more impressive innovation than the 950B. It is an obvious contender for simply “the best TV” on the market. Those who purchase it instead of the OLED will be buying a worthy alternative, there is absolutely no doubt about that.