You don’t get smarter by sitting in front of the TV all day now, do ya? But, if you’re a Sony TV, it turns out that the TV can get smarter by staring at you all day! Armed with an all-new brain, claimed to be the world’s first “cognitive intelligence TV”, the X90J promises to bring cutting-edge tech that was previously reserved for Sony’s OLED TVs, to a (slightly) more affordable premium-LED line.
Before you start thinking about Skynet and Terminators knocking on your doors for watching Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, let me assure you that cognitive intelligence doesn’t mean to pry on your watching habits. The XR Cognitive Processor is programmed to think and see an image like a human would, which means it can identify and isolate key focal points in a frame and apply a bevy of on-the-fly adjustments to the picture.
The key difference between a conventional AI driven processor and the XR processor is its ability to cross-analyze multiple elements derived from hundreds of zones in every frame and fine-tuning clarity, contrast, colour and motion in nanoseconds, just as our eyes process information along with the brain constantly. While it may reek of hubris, one look at the picture quality on the X90J and you may become a believer!
Even before you get into the deepest parts of the Sony’s brain, you have to set it up and that process is now easier than any other TV I’ve used! Starting from the table stand feet which require no tools, they simply latch and snap in place and also allow you to leave enough space to fit a slim soundbar underneath the screen. I could get used to losing my screwdriver set after this install!
The almost impossibly thin bezels are well finished and although the X90J doesn’t break any new ground in terms of aesthetics, it’s also non-controversial and will fit into all kinds of decor without sticking out. The back is patterned to add a bit of character, along with cable management ties included in the box.
Android TV has now transitioned to Google TV, and the X90J is one of the first TVs on the market to sport the new look. It’s fresh all right and the biggest feature is its consolidation of recommendations from various streaming apps right on the home screen. So based on your watch history or preferences, you won’t have to struggle to find similar content across all your subscribed apps.
It’s pretty slick, including the whole Google TV set-up process, which only requires you to scan the QR code displayed on the screen via your Google Home app. There onwards, it’s just a series of automated steps and all you have to do is accept or reject selling your soul various services. To be fair though, there is an option to stop being tracked by Ads if you want to explore the settings and that’s a welcome change by Google.
Google TV also brings some meaningful new updates like a dedicated Kids mode with a built-in off timer, a hands-free voice search since the screen has a built-in mic for ‘OK Google Commands and of course, downloadable games like Asphalt, Dead Trigger and more. But the potential party trick here is the integration with your phone. Just search for a show on Google on your phone, add it to your watchlist on your phone and see it magically appear on the Sony home screen immediately. It’s the kind of stuff we’re used to seeing with the deep integration of Apple/Mac/iOS products, but it’s refreshing to see Google come together with third-party brands to offer seamless solutions too.
There’s built-in AirPlay support, and it works with Apple HomeKit too, just in case you still don’t want to abandon the iOS ship. In fact, this TV plays well with the latest Apple TV 4K (2nd Gen) too, matching its specs with HDMI 2.1 support, 4K/120fps along with Variable Refresh Rate, e-ARC and Auto Low Latency Mode that promises input lag times of under 10ms.
Speaking Sony-cally (IYKYK), there’s a lot of processing on-board, again riding on the XR processor. It’s a 4-speaker system with two top-firing tweeters and two bottom firing woofers that aim to increase the coverage area and with processing, create a virtual Dolby Atmos effect. Of course, like almost every slim LED TV, this one too fails at creating any real impression.
It does create a faux surround effect to make it sound like you may have surround speakers placed at the back of the room, but the weak bass and the occasional unintelligible dialogue doesn’t help in immersion. There’s a fancy acoustic calibration option that uses the microphone on the remote to measure the sound at the viewing position to simulate a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos soundfield, but that’s like extracting Apples from a Heinz bottle.
Picture (almost) perfect
If you plan to use on-board apps only, just hit the Netflix hotkey on the remote and turn on the Netflix Calibrated mode under Picture settings and you’ll be watching Lupin in its best possible rendition within a few seconds. No need to dig into the exhaustive picture control settings. This may be the best such implementation of a preset that I’ve come across, with superbly judged motion processing, contrast and dynamic tone mapping for HDR.
It’s full-array LED panel helps the cause immensely of making any kind of content, be it HD or 4K to simply pop with deep blacks and measured highlights without causing blooming or burnouts. Only on a pitch black screen with thin, white text will you notice the subtlest hint of blooming but the multiple zones of local dimming and Sony’s tight processing really save the day.
With the plethora of picture settings, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of different parameters and the one who spends time in tweaking them, will be rewarded with the best picture you can get for the money. Dolby Vision Bright and Dark are good starting points for HDR content but even on non-HDR or non-4K content, just a pinch of “smoothness”, reducing “clearness” all the way to the minimum can yield fantastic results.
Shows like Ted Lasso on Apple TV+, which is high in dynamic contrast and a rich colour palette with blues and reds of the football team’s jerseys and locker room looks almost like an OLED picture. Hyper realistic skin tones are so natural that it almost makes it look like a 3D image and you’ll find yourself watching shows you hate just because of how good they “look”!
Although Sony won’t say officially, I suspect this is a VA-type LCD panel but the off-axis viewing takes away very little in the way of contrast and colour depth. Of course, sitting right in front of the X90J reveals a picture that is thoroughly immersive with details that are unearthed in close-up shots without artificially sharpening the edges.
The XR processor flexes its muscles on scenes that have a distinct foreground subject, enhancing its depth perception and clarity even further without ever making it all look over-processed or artificial. And that’s where Sony really rises above the competition, in its complete understanding of the highly technical film-making chain of processes. They know just how much AI to use, when to use it and if to use it at all. There’s no A/B comparison mode which allows you to see the picture without the aid of all the XR processor elves, but once you see it, you wouldn’t want a TV without it.
Of the four HDMI inputs, two are HDMI 2.1 compatible, but only one is eARC enabled. Its gaming credentials are up there with the best too and PS5 games look expectedly epic (and smooth), especially now that Sony has updated the X90J with out-of-the-box VRR and ALLM. You’re only limited by the console of choice, XBOX or PS5. You will have to use the HDMI4 input and switch on Enhanced format from the menu though.
Elsewhere, the magic of Google TV can be experienced with handsfree search, just by talking to the TV. Again, ensure the physical mic-button is switched on for it to work. You could also just speak into the remote if that’s your thing.
While on the remote, it’s a straightforward affair but the one thing that triggers my OCD is the choice of adding a YouTube Music hotkey over Disney+ Hotstar. The other three hot keys include YouTube, Netflix and Prime Video, all of which I agree with. Voice assistant works just as well as it does on your phone and overall it’s smoother and faster than Android TV too. The only real weakness with the X90J is the sound quality, which simply begs for a better soundbar or even a full blown Atmos speaker system to enhance your experience.
At under ₹1,40,000, the X90J may sound like a king's ransom, especially when compared to other 55 inchers that sell for less than ₹45,000. But the real competition to this LED is only LG or Sony’s own OLED and Samsung’s QLED range. It’s an astonishing achievement for a regular LCD panel to achieve this level of black control over the entire screen and maintain a colour balance that is impossible to fault. Sony TVs have been Stuff (India) award winners for a few years now, and the X90J seems confident of maintaining that track record.