After first showcasing its 2015 lineup of 4K TVs at CES earlier this year, Sony has now revealed pricing and release dates for most of the sets. All of them run Android TV, which replaces Sony's previous, clunky software for a richer experience deeply tied to Google's own software and third-party streaming apps. Most of Sony's lineup is on the larger side when it comes to display size. Though you'll find a few options available in the 43- to 55-inch range, Sony is putting the most effort into models that will dominate most home theater setups at 65 or 75 inches. It's here you'll find the flagship XBR-75X940C, a $7,999 TV that features full-array local dimming, 4K resolution, and support for HDR video output, which Sony will deliver through a firmware update sometime this summer.
Obviously Sony isn't trying to wage a pricing war with Vizio and other manufacturers making entry-level 4K TVs. At a recent press preview, the company expressed confidence that the picture quality these sets display stands alone among the competition. For its flagship models in particular, Sony tosses around its branded "features" like X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro and Triluminos when explaining what your $8,000 will get you versus a TV from Samsung or LG. Sony's latest and greatest are capable of displaying a wider color gamut, which Sony says can match and exceed what Samsung's doing with its SUHD TVs. (No, none of Sony's TVs feature a curved design, but with the best ones, you're still stuck with those pretty large speakers on the sides.)
HDR looks fantastic, but you'll have a tough time finding content at launch
The HDR demonstrations Sony gave were impressive; executives think they've found the right recipe to create stunning picture quality, eye-popping brights, inky blacks, and contrast that can rival OLED. Sony isn't certifying these TVs for Dolby Vision, and the specifications it uses for HDR differ slightly from Dolby's approach, but it looks pretty fantastic. Content is a huge question mark this early. We're only now getting to an okay selection of 4K movies and TV shows, and manufacturers already want to shift focus to HDR. But this one's not a gimmick; HDR looks great, and Sony also says its premier sets will try to "upscale" regular Blu-rays and HD video to benefit from the feature. But again, to do that, you'll be paying a total sum that could decorate your entire house with Vizio 4K sets. (A slightly cheaper, 65-inch entry into HDR will cost $4,499.99, offering fewer bells and whistles than the flagship X940C model.)
Sadly, Sony isn't yet saying when its ridiculously thin XBR-55X900C will hit the market, nor how much it'll cost. A good section of this thing measures just 0.2 inches thick, which is thinner than many smartphones people are carrying around in their pocket. With dimensions like that, Sony had to build its own mount system for the X900C, and also claims that the bezel basically disappears when it's turned on, leaving only the picture visible.
The X900C is probably thinner than the smartphone in your pocket
Based on the brief demo we saw, Android TV on Sony's sets looks basically identical to what you'd see from Google's Nexus Player. There's an added section for switching inputs, but other than that it's the same. You get the benefits of built-in Google Cast support and a healthy ecosystem of third-party apps. (Amazon Instant Video appears on Sony's TVs and in a press release, which is a bit odd since Amazon hasn't yet officially unveiled an Android TV app.) And everything's fast, responsive, and fluid. Sony definitely made the right move here in collaborating with Google to have Android handle the software side of things.
Along with the new TVs, Sony is also updating its lineup of soundbars. The new flagship HT-ST9 runs $1,499, which obviously is on the very high end of sound bar pricing. But Sony says it offers unrivaled audio performance, with sound that, like its predecessor, was fine tuned by Academy Award-winning Sony Pictures engineers. It includes three HDMI ports, 800 watts of output, support for Bluetooth audio, and 7.1 channel surround sound with its seven discrete amplifiers and nine speakers. There's a wireless subwoofer packaged with it, too. Cheaper options in Sony's new line exist between $349 and $699, but the ST9 is the one it's pushing on consumers who want the best possible audio — yet somehow don't have room for or want to fuss around with a proper surround system. The soundbars are also due to start shipping in May.