Sony X85C review

Review: Sony X85C

09 Jul 2015 | Torben Rasmussen


Sony has jumped on Google’s bandwagon and adopted “Android TV”. We have already examined Android TV on media players, and Philips was actually first to launch TVs based on Android last year but they were running a mobile version of Android. This year, every Sony TV from the entry-level W75C and up will feature Android TV, and we are taking a closer look at X85C, a mid-range 4K TV. It lacks the features of the high-end TVs such as HDR and 10 bit colors, but still offers what is necessary to enjoy 4K resolution.

Note that the TV exists in X8505C, X8507C, X8508C and X8509C in many regions. These are all variants of the same TV.

Price and retailers:

US retailer

US retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

65"
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
VA LCD with direct LED

HDR (High Dynamic Range)
Active 3D
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA 300)
(HxWxD) 84.4 x 145.3 x 7.8 cm (without stand)
24.1 kg
HDMI (4x 2.0)
USB (3x)
Ethernet
1x CI
Optical
HDMI-ARC (1x)
Headphones
Analog outputs
Long duct speakers
DVB T/T2/C/S2 (twin tuner)
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9
Android TV (5.0)
Bluetooth touch remote + normal IR remote
Smartphone app (Sideview)
Manual
Remote controls
Subscribe to our Newsletter, Facebook, twitter or RSS to receive notice when new reviews are published




First impressions


Sony X85C is pretty anonymous TV with its slim black metal bezel design. Only a small plastic bar at the bottom edge stands out because of a light diode that indicates whether the TV is on or off (you can turn it completely off in the menu).

The stand looks like a hanger and is made from metal. It feels stable enough but if you push hard enough you can still tilt the TV over. It has no swivel function.

Just like Sony’s 2014 models, the TV is relatively thin in the upper half but it gets thicker in the bottom half to make room for electronics and speakers. This year, Sony has also found room for VESA mounting holes for wall brackets, making it easier to find a solution that fits. The back side is made from plastic with ventilation holes spread across the surface.

Most of the connector ports on X85C face either down or to the side but the optical and ethernet ports point out towards the wall, which is not optimal as cables for these connectors are rarely angled. If you have a soundbar that requires an optical connection you will have to find a wall bracket solution with a little room behind the TV.

As you can see in the photos, there is a USB port dedicated to a HDD for recording. However, Sony has yet to enable the recording features on its new Android TV based TVs so there is no dual tuner or recordings capabilities available at the moment.



In the box we found two remotes, which has become sort of a tradition for Sony. There is not much new to report here except that the “large” remote is slightly rounder and has a new fat Netflix button in the center. It is worth noting that you can turn on the TV either by pressing “TV” or “Netflix”. The latter press will take the TV directly to Netflix, obviously.

There are no 3D glasses in the box. Sony has stopped supplying glasses, just like many other manufacturers, so if you want to use 3D you will have to buy the glasses separately. By now, it is clear that manufacturers see little value in 3D. Or in other words; consumers are not willing to pay extra.

The coating on the LCD panel is quite reflective, which is common on modern TVs.


User experience & features


The transition to Android TV marks a new era for Sony. It will replace the old interface that was probably one of the most cluttered TV interfaces. With Android, Sony - plus Philips and Sharp – will place their trust in Google’s hands. Google will have full control over how the user interface look. There is no “skinning” or “branding”.

Android TV also comes with other practical features such as Google Cast (the system powering Chromecast) and Bluetooth (for connecting remotes and game controllers).

Operating system and smart TV

We have already reviewed Nexus Player, which was the first media box based on Android TV. And except for the features that are specific to TVs, the user interface and functionality is identical on Sony X85C. We will not repeat everything we said last time but instead examine how Android TV works on a... well a dedicated TV.

The first change is that Google’s API for the recommendations engine (the first row of icons) can, in theory, be populated with programs from TV channels. Unfortunately, we have yet to see a TV broadcaster take advantage of the API in our region, and we suspect that we need to arm ourselves with patience.



The recommendations row is generally confusing right now. It offers “recommendations“ that are all over the map and it hasn’t improved much since we first tried it last November. The recommendations are not very relevant, and throughout our testing period Google failed to suggest anything of value. Most of the recommendations are just strange YouTube videos. Recommendations are hard…

Back in November we counted 81 apps on Nexus Player. We now count 184 apps for our region but there are very few local services in the catalogue. This is true for every region, including the US, where notable apps such as HBO are missing. Some of the services support “Chromecast” through a phone or tablet but it might not be an optimal solution for everyone.

Although there are more apps to choose from, the value proposition remains unchanged since we looked at Nexus Player in November. There are a few notable new additions such as Kodi but unfortunately it is a beta version that is pretty bad right now (you can sideload a much better version). Still, we need the big players to get on board to avoid making the Google Play store look like amateur hour.

Speaking of Kodi, it reveals some of the shortcomings of the chip inside Sony X85C. In some situations it feels a tad too weak to serve the purpose of a media streamer. During our testing (a cable connection via NAS) we found that 1080p files (compressed or 1:1 BD) would not play smoothly. SD plays fine.

We were left with the same feeling after attempting to play some of the games from Google Play. You might wonder what the point is in giving access to games from the Google Play stores when the TV is so underpowered that it cannot run them smoothly. These should at least be greyed out from store lists. Keep your game console – or wait for our review of Nvidia Shield that is a powerful game console built on Android TV.

Almost all menus in the TV are integrated with Android TV so it mostly feels like an integrated experience, which is good. However, Sony has tried to fit in a mysterious top menu. It is actually a ghost of Sony’s past and it feels weirdly misplaced. The same is true for some TV related menus but more on that in a bit.



When we first installed X85C, the user interface was very sluggish, worse than Nexus Player. It took several seconds to do just about anything but during the review period a software update for Sony’s TVs was pushed out and it improved things considerably. The video below is shot after the update. Still, it is recommended to wait a few seconds after booting up the TV – preferably without navigating – to allow it time to load everything. The update did not improve upon gaming performance.



The time it takes to start up apps is slightly longer than on Samsung’s new Tizen-based TVs that we recently reviewed. There is no true multi-tasking capability in Sony X85C either, although it is able to keep your last Netflix session in memory for a little time.

Built-in Google Cast (the system powering Chromecast) allows you to turn on the TV even when it is in stand-by, which is incredibly useful if you want to cast a video or photo to the TV without reaching for the TV remote. This also means that you can jump straight into YouTube or any other service with Chromecast support, just like you would with the dedicated Netflix button on the remote. Built-in Google Cast is a great addition to the TV.

Netflix deserves a few words too, since it is - together with YouTube and the integrated Photos & Video app – the only app that delivers 4K quality to Android TV at the moment. Netflix 4K was recently added to Android TV with an update and we found that Netflix quickly jumps to 4K quality after starting in HD. Ironically, the same cannot be said for HD videos (videos that are not available in 4K) as these took longer to reach 1080p resolution after typically starting in SD. We suspect it has something to do with H.264 and HEVC. Our only complaint regarding Netflix is the ugly thick letters and low-resolution subtitles that we also saw on Nexus Player. Why has this not been polished for 4K streams (or just Android TV in general)?

Remote and operation

Sony X85C comes bundled with two remote controls but both of them are made from cheap plastics. The “normal” remote has received a minor facelift with more rounded sides, which makes it more comfortable to hold. Sony has also added a dedicated Netflix button. The “football” button has been moved to a corner but Sony should probably have removed it altogether – don’t use the football mode!

Sony X85C review


The second remote uses bluetooth, making it more versatile, and incorporates a touch pad. It also has a built-in microphone for voice search. All the basic functions can be operated via the smaller remote but the build quality is not great. It has sharp edges and just generally feels cheap – especially compared to for example Samsung’s motion-enabled remote.

Voice control works in several different languages but the English version is by far the best. Personally, I find it awkward to sit in a couch speaking to my TV but you might feel different. The voice search feature can do deep searches for movies/series/content across services as well as apps but just like the recommendations engine only a handful of services have integrated the API.

Sony’s SideView app for phones and tablets is unchanged despite the new operating system. The app gives you an overview of your TV channels, and it works well. However, as mentioned Sony has yet to enable the recording capabilities so the SideView app cannot be used for scheduling recordings yet.

Sony X85C review


TV channels, recording & sound

Sony is not allowed to change the look of Android TV so instead it has tried to overlay a few extra menus, including last year’s "Discover" menu that pops up from the bottom of the screen to give you “content suggestions”. The menu is very static but it is possible to populate it with Netflix shortcut, just not content from inside Netflix. It also presents some TV channels data so you can see what’s on. However, the small thumbnails did not seem to update regularly.

Sony X85C review


Personally, I like minimalism in software and before switching to Android Sony had one of the best TV guides in terms of looks. After switching to Android, the TV guide is an overlay over the channel and it continues to show a decent number of channels in the overview. However, you quickly get lost if you switch between the programs and sometimes it can be hard to know if a show is on or if it is about to start. Despite these issues the TV guide resembles the old look in many ways.


"A decent number of channels in the overview"
In the TV Guide you can click “View” to change the channel, just like on 2014 models, but unfortunately it takes a little time before the information is downloaded, making channel switching slow (at least when using this method). It also takes so time to load up the TV Guide the first time you use it every day. From the information page you can get additional information on actors and use these keywords to search for more information but it is not yet the full IMDB experience, and I miss more relevant information – or simply the option to select. It seems that most of the functionality is powered by Sony’s in-house design and not Android TV.

In addition to the program overview the TV Guide gives you the “highlights” of the coming evening but it appears to be mostly a recitation of what’s coming on during prime time so it is not incredibly useful.

Switching between channels (outside the TV Guide) takes time but is not different than previous Sony TVs. The fastest way to switch between channels is actually to pull up your phone or tablet, load up the SideView app and switch between channels.

We had no chance to test the recording or picture-in-picture capabilities but we should receive Sony X90C for testing later this summer so we will get back with more information. If you live in Europe, it might be relevant to know that the TV also supports HbbTV, and that it works as intended.

To round off we should mention that Android TV still is very rough around the edges. We experienced several freezes, sometimes for minutes, when switching to TV channels. We had no way to locate the source of the problem but sometimes I felt an urge to just pull the power plug and start over. Several times we experienced delay after pressing buttons on the remote and sometimes it felt like the TV just forgot to react. There is no indicator on-screen so all you can do is wait.

In many ways the TV is actually slower than last year’s low-end models. You can compare the experience to the first Android phones that constantly felt underpowered.

Sony X85C comes with a built-in "long duct" speaker system that should improve sound over regular TVs but after having heard the “Magnetic Fluid” speakers in Sony’s high-end TVs, the long duct system fades in comparison. Granted, it is not bad but the tweeter is too shrill and bass is lacking so it might be a good idea to look around for a soundbar.


Calibration


Sony has changed the names of its picture modes over the years so this year we use "Cinema Pro" as a starting point. Sony has chosen to aim for gamma 2.4, which gives a somewhat dark picture best suited for dark viewing environments. We are aiming for a gamma of 2.2, which is better suited for overall use (and has better shadow details). The Standard mode is of course absolutely horrible so do yourself a favor and change to one of the Cinema settings straight away. With relatively few adjustments we managed to get below dE 1 across the scale, which is a great result.

It should be noted that there is no option to copy adjustments across inputs so you will have to do it manually. Or to be precise; it does copy basic settings but not the more advanced 2 point settings.



Measurements


In this new “measurement” section we will include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Brightness & black Out-of-boxCalibrated
Black level - 0.04 cd/m2
Brightness - 133 cd/m2
Contrast - 3290:1
Input lag 64 ms 37 ms (Game Mode)

Power consumption Out-of-box Calibrated
On 160 W 130 W
3D - -
Standby 1 W -

Duration measurements Time
Start-up (until responsive) 10 s
Start-up (until picture comes up) 9 s
Netflix app start-up 13 s
Youtube app start-ip 8 s

Group SettingValue
  Picture mode Cinema Pro
Backlight Max
Gamma 0 (for gamma 2.2 – set to -2 for gamma 2.4)
Black level 50
Black adjustment Off
Adv. contrast enhancer Off/low
Color 50
Color balance 0
Color temp Expert 1
Color spectrum sRGB/BT.709
Adv. color temp Red preset -1
Green preset -3
Blue preset -5
Red bias 3
Green bias 0
Blue bias -3
Vivid colors Off
Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manual
Mastered in 4K On
Dot noise reduction Off
  Noise reduction Off
Motion MotionFlow Clear
Film mode Medium

MotionFlow set to “Clear” results in dramatically lower brightness so we have set backlight to “max” to be able to reach 133 cd/m2, which is OK for most rooms but not enough for daytime viewing. If you need more brightness you should adjust MotionFlow, which will affect motion resolution. The best alternative to “Clear” is probably “Cinema Smooth 24p” but it does nothing to improve motion resolution.

Sony X85C review

Picture quality


When we tested Sony X90B last year we praised it for its excellent picture quality, and we have to say that X85C follow in its footsteps. We are not disappointed. As said before, even a good TV cannot make 576i SD signals - which some broadcasters continue to use - look good. X85C is no exception but everything from 720p and up looks crisp and good. We think that we saw some softness on specific 4K sources but the difference compared to for example Samsung JU7500 is small, but it is hard to conclude without having the two TVs side-by-side. Being a 65” TV we consider normal-bitrate SD to be the low bar for content if you still want to be able to enjoy it on such as large TV.

We did not experience micro judder on TV, HDMI or 4K sources, which is nice after having two Samsung TVs in a row on the test bench that suffered from micro judder. However, we did notice occasional stutter in Netflix’s 1080p streams approximately every 41 seconds, which might be attributable to the lack of support for 23.976fps in Android TV, suggesting that the content is converted to 24fps instead. We have no confirmation as we have no control over Netflix’s content (we spotted it on Limitless and Orange is the New Black), and we should note that we did not experience issues while playing content from a USB hard drive. It is in no way a critical issue and moving pictures generally look good on X85C.

Sony X85C review


To improve motion resolution on X85C it is possible to activate MotionFlow and set it to “Clear”. However, this reduces brightness noticeably. In our opinion this combination presents the best compromise between motion reproduction and artefacts. Sony has – and always has had – one of the best motion processing systems. They usually don’t offer extensive adjustments options, at least compared to other manufacturers, but “Clear” is good. If you want to avoid seeing any artefacts you should instead choose “Cinema smooth 24p”, which is the most natural look, but motion resolution drops as a result – at least until movie makers start shooting in higher frame rates than 24fps.

We measured an acceptable input lag of just above 37 ms, which is not as low as last year’s Sony models and Samsung’s 2015 TVs, but good enough for gaming purposes on a PlayStation or Xbox. The Cinema picture mode has 64 ms input lag, which might be a bit too high for some types of gaming, such as racing or first person shooters.

Sony X85C is based on a VA type LCD panel, just like several other Sony TVs before it. Last year’s X85B, however, used an IPS panel with significantly worse black levels. So that fact alone makes X85C different. Another major difference is that the 65 and 75” versions of X85C have direct LED backlights where LEDs are located behind the LCD panels. The 55” on the other hand uses edge LED where LEDs are placed along the edges of the panel. This means that the larger models should have better backlight homogeneity, and since we have the 65” version we have examined the direct LED variant. Direct LED models have made a comeback in 2015 and we couldn’t be happier. We happily accept a somewhat thicker TV for improved performance.



As you can see, the panel is not 100% uniform and we did experience some minor leaks but note that the last picture is very overexposed to highlight the areas where light leaks through. This is not at all how it looks in practice. You might be able to see that the corners are somewhat darker, and in use this was probably the most noticeable effect. We sometimes observed, depending on the movie scene, bright patches on each side of the panel as if the picture processing thought it was driving an edge LED based TV (but remember, only the 55” is). This was visible at times but overall, backlight homogeneity was very good. Far better than on edge LED based TVs. We are satisfied.

Sony X85C does not support HDR (high dynamic range) and we do not know whether Sony plans to add support to some TVs through an update, like Samsung has done for some 2014 TVs, but since X85C only uses direct LED but not local dimming zones, it is irrelevant. It will never be able to reproduce HDR.

Lastly, we should note that viewing angles are typical for a VA LCD panel. Colors get washed starting from around 30-45 degree angles and contrast drops considerably. Nothing new under the sun.


Conclusion


Sony’s 2015 mid-range 4K TV, in the form of X85C, is also one of the first TVs with Android TV built-in. It gives us a hint of what is to come, and Android TV certainly has potential, but unfortunately it also feels underpowered and buggy in Sony X85C. Some of it can be optimized through software but we suspect that X85C will never be powerful enough to support games from the Google Play store. On the plus side is built-in Google Cast (the system behind Chromecast), which add value to the package and offers you a way to enjoy many of those services that are not yet available as apps on Android TV. It can even wake the TV from stand-by. The next crucial step for Google is to convince developers to support its vision for Android TV.

X85C delivers solid picture quality with accurate colors, excellent picture processing, 4K resolution, and good backlight homogeneity. All things taken into account, X85C is a solid all-round performer. The only problem we found was some occasional stutter in Netflix 108p playback but it was a very minor issue.

The TV still lacks twin-tuner and recording capabilities that will be added with a software update for Android TV later this year. Once that happens, Sony X85C looks like a complete package that can compete on price and features, and a strong alternative to for example Samsung JU7500 and Panasonic CX7. Note that the 65” uses direct LED whereas the 55” uses edge LED so there might be some differences.

Based on picture quality that matches last year’s higher-end - and more expensive - TVs we hereby award Sony X85C with our “Highly Recommended” award. However, Android TV needs some work and love before we are convinced - and more powerful hardware in future TVs.

Compare prices for Sony X85C on Pricerunner


Price and retailers:

US retailer

US retailer
UK retailer



Good picture quality & homogeneity
Android TV with Chromecast has clear potential
Fair input lag
Good motion resolution with MotionFlow activated


Android TV is still buggy and slow
Out-of-box settings
Mediocre speakers
Remote controls
Backlight lights up in left/right sides sometimes


Nearest competitors







Share on:


More reviews

REVIEW
Sony X85E review

Sony X85E (XE85)

17 May 2017
REVIEW
Amazon FireTV Stick

Amazon Fire TV Stick 2

12 May 2017
REVIEW
Panasonic EX700 review

Panasonic EX700

09 May 2017
REVIEW
Sony A1 OLED

Sony A1 OLED

21 Apr 2017