The 2019 8K TV battle lines have been drawn, and both heavyweight contenders have thrown down the platinum-plated gauntlet.
In one corner is Samsung, the champion by dint have having introduced the first 8K TV to the US, the $15,000 85-inch Q900. Now its other new models are out, including a 98-inch version that costs -- wait for it -- $100,000.
In the other corner is the challenger, scrappy upstart Sony. It introduced its own 85-inch and 98-inch 8K TVs at CES earlier this year but waited till now to reveal: $13,000 and $70,000 respectively. Yes, its 8K TVs are cheaper than Samsung's for the same screen sizes. Challenge: issued.
Here's where I remind you that only folks with money to burn should buy any 8K TV. They're (duh) too expensive, there's no 8K content and, like all first-generation technology, they're destined to be replaced by cheaper, better versions next year.
Sony also announced pricing for the rest of its 2019 TVs. Here's the full lineup:
Sony 2019 TVs
|XBR-98Z9G||98-inch||8K FALD LCD||June||$70,000|
|XBR-85Z9G||85-inch||8K FALD LCD||June||$13,000|
|XBR-85X950G||85-inch||4K FALD LCD||late April||$5,000|
|XBR-75X950G||75-inch||4K FALD LCD||Now||$3,500|
|XBR-65X950G||65-inch||4K FALD LCD||Now||$2,200|
|XBR-55X950G||55-inch||4K FALD LCD||Now||$1,400|
The FALD on the chart above refers to full-array local dimming LCD backlights, the most effective image quality improvement for LCD TVs. The 8K versions bring back Sony's Backlight Master Drive technology, which utilizes "ultra-dense LED modules that are independently controlled" and can "intelligently boost the brightness in the areas where it needs to be boosted."
The 8K LCDs and the higher-end 4K OLED TVs, the A9G series, are part of Sony's so-called Master Series' Picture Processor X1 Ultimate. It "has a unique algorithm specially developed for 8K that can intelligently detect and analyze each object in the picture, resulting in exceptional detail and contrast for a more realistic picture that represents the creators' intent," according to Sony. That sounds a bit like the AI processing Samsung uses.
The new 8K sets also have full-spec HDMI 2.1 inputs complete with 48Gbps capability, which means they're compatible with higher frame rates and resolutions that could come down the pike soon, like 4K at 120 frames per second or 8K at 60fps. All 2019 Sony TVs support variable refresh rate (VRR) and automatic low latency mode (ALLM, or auto game mode) for as well as enhanced audio return channel (eARC) -- with the exception of the A8G, which lacks eARC.
Sony also revamped the sound quality, using four front-facing speakers to position the sound so it seems to emanate from the screen. Unlike Sony's OLED TVs, however, the screen itself doesn't produce the sound -- instead there's an array of drivers surroundinng the screen (on the 8K LCDs) and positioned toward the top of the screen on the back (on the 4K LCDs).
Here's a few more details on Sony's 2019 4K TVs.
A9G Master Series OLED TV: Sony's highest-end OLED TVs for 2019 are really similar to the 2018 version, the Master Series A9F, except that now it offers a 77-inch option in addition to 55- and 65-inch sizes. The main different is in design; the A9G has a more standard ultraslim look, without the large "kickstand" lean-back design of the A9F. Sony's OLED TV screens are actually big speakers, and the version on the A9G ("Acoustic Surface+") supposedly offers better sound.
A8G series OLED TV: Sony's step-down 2019 OLED sets, the A8G series lacks the fancy processing of the Master Series and have just the standard Acoustic Surface screens. The series comes in 55- and 65-inch sizes.
X950G series 4K LCD TV: Available in 55-, 65-, 75- and 85-inch sizes, these sets look similar on paper to the X900F we reviewed in 2018, complete with full-array local dimming and Dolby Vision. It gets a couple new features however, including improved sound ("Acoustic Multi-Audio", said to improve sound positioning) and a far-field mic for Google Assistant.
Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support: Similar to LG's and Vizio's, Sony's 2019 TVs will work with Apple AirPlay 2 and Homekit via a software update coming this summer. That means iPhone, iPad and Mac computers can be used to control TV show and movie playback on the big screen, whether from iTunes movies and TV shows or other compatible apps. Photos can also be shown on the TV screen, and it can mirror a phone or computer screen to show web pages for example. The TV can be part of a multiroom audio setup, and controls for the set itself can appear on the phone screen.
With HomeKit, "these TVs can be added to the Home app and included in scenes or automations with other HomeKit accessories" according to Sony's press release. "For example, users can create a 'Movie Night' scene in the Home app to easily turn on their TV and dim the lights, and simply ask Siri to launch the scene."