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Home / Reviews / TVs / Sony KD-55X85L review: nicely nuanced

Sony KD-55X85L review: nicely nuanced

Takes the midrange right to the edge of the high end

Sony KD-55X85L review lead

Stuff Verdict

An across-the-board improvement on the (already pretty decent) model it replaces, the Sony KD-55X85L is impressively nuanced and very easy to live with.


  • Convincing (and extensive) colour palette
  • Impressive backlighting and, by extension, contrasts
  • Great with motion


  • No HDR10+ support
  • Doesn’t sound as good as it looks
  • Not especially bright


When any tech (such as LED-backlit LCD screens, to pick an example not entirely at random) reaches proper maturity, it ceases to be especially glamorous. But it also tends to offer authentic value for money, if for no other reason that it’s stuck around long enough to be developed and finessed. Sony’s X85 range of 4K TVs is a great case in point.

It’s been one of the genuine price/performance sweet-spots in the company’s television line-up for a while now. With this L series it looks better value than ever where that ratio is concerned. Or, at least, it does on paper.

‘On paper’ will only carry a product so far, though. What does the latest version of the X85 have to offer out in the real world?

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Design & build: maximum minimalism

Sony’s been on a mission to dial out as much ‘design’ as possible from its televisions. It’s a policy that’s paying definite dividends; the KD-55X85L features nothing but what’s essential to hold its components together, and looks all the better for it.

The bezels surrounding the screen are so slim as to be virtually non-existent, and thanks to their black finish they disappear altogether when the TV isn’t powered up. At 1228 x 709 x 56mm (HxWxD) the X85L is a definite contender for wall-hanging, too – by the standards of backlit LCD televisions it’s very slim indeed.

The two ‘blade’-style feet on which it stands if you decide against wall-hanging are just as slim and unobtrusive – and they can be attached in a couple of positions. The Sony is pretty flexible about the width of the surface on which you place it. They also lift the screen sufficiently for even quite a chunky soundbar to sit beneath it without problems. 

There’s nothing remarkable about the materials used to construct the Sony KD-55X85L. But its plastics are sturdy and nicely textured, and everything is put together with the sort of expertise we all expect.

Features: nice but dim(ming)

There’s a significant new feature for this ‘L’ incarnation of the X85: local dimming. The Sony’s VA panel (a technology that promises impressive contrasts just as readily as it promises unimpressive viewing angles) features full-array backlighting, and the backlighting LEDs are now divided into a couple of dozen individually controllable zones. 24 isn’t all that impressive a number as it relates to a 55in TV’s local dimming zones, it’s true – but it’s equally safe to say it ain’t necessarily how many zones you’ve got but how effectively you control them.

Control of dimming zones (as well as pretty much every other aspect of picture performance) is the responsibility of the venerable X1 processing engine. The current state of the Sony picture processing art actually comes in the shape of the Cognitive XR processor – but models fitted with that engine are all significantly pricier than this.

There are four HDMI inputs here, two of which can deal with HDMI 2.1 features as well as eARC functionality. Because this is a Sony TV, these inputs support the Playstation 5-specific Auto HDR Tone Mapping and Auto Genre Picture Mode features as well as 4K @ 120Hz, VRR and AALM. But they make you choose between 4K @ 120Hz but not Dolby Vision HDR, or Dolby Vision HDR but not 4k @ 120Hz when you’re gaming.

For passive viewing, of course, the Sony supports Dolby Vision dynamic metadata but not HDR10+ – which is a stance that only looks more wilful with every passing day (much as it does with Samsung’s insistence on supporting HDR10+ but not Dolby Vision).

In addition, there’s an Ethernet port, a couple of USB slots, twin aerial binding posts for the integrated TV tuners, a composite video input and a digital optical output. The wireless stuff is handled by Bluetooth 4.2 and dual-band Wi-Fi.

Sound is served by a two-channel set-up powered by a total of 20 watts that’s capable of making sense of Dolby Atmos soundtracks. There’s an auto-calibration system available here, one that doesn’t take long to optimise the X85L’s output to the specific room in which it finds itself. 

Interface: Google it

As now fashionable even at this sort of money, the KD-55X85L is supplied with a couple of remote controls. They’re both quite small – one feels a bit cheap and plasticky, features altogether too many buttons and isn’t all that pleasant to use; the other is not so button-heavy and offers a far more pleasant user experience.

As with the rest of the Sony TV ranges, the smart interface here is provided by Google TV. It’s just as pushy and screen-hungry an interface here as it is everywhere else, but at least it’s got every worthwhile catch-up and on-demand app going – and Sony’s use of YouView means that it can offer every UK catch-up app, avoiding the ongoing Philips embarrassment of its Google TV interface going without iPlayer, ITV X and all the rest.

Google TV means Google Assistant voice-control is available (there’s a ‘mic’ button on each remote control handset), and the Sony also supports Chromecast and Apple AirPlay. 

Performance: subtle, not shouty

What’s most obviously impressive about the X85L’s picture performance is the way the addition of local dimming allows the Sony to put significant distance between the darkest and brightest elements of images and scenes. The Dolby Vision-assisted The Suicide Squad on 4K UHD Blu-ray enjoys lovely wide contrasts, and the Sony controls its backlighting really well. It may not have that many individual zones to work with, but it keeps blooming and haloing to a bare minimum while offering deeper, more convincing black tones than your average backlit LCD panel can muster.

The apparent contrasts are all the more impressive when you consider that, in the final analysis, the X85L isn’t all that bright a television. In strong daylight scenes, the Sony doesn’t go in for the retina-searing that some alternatives can summon up – but then again, it doesn’t bleach detail from white tones, either. In fact, at both the black and white ends of the scale it’s a detailed, nicely nuanced watch, able to extract even quite fine detail regarding tonal variation where less capable rivals can crush to uniformity.

It’s a pretty lurid movie, no two ways about it – and the X85L has an extensive enough colour palette to give full expression to all of the bright primaries as well as being capable of expressing all the fluctuations in colour in between. It does especially good work with skin-tones, expressing the minutiae of texture just as readily as of colour.

There’s good depth of field to images where appropriate too, and edge-definition is confident too. The X85L can cope with even quite tight, complex patterns without alarms, even if they’re combined with information about texture at the same time. It’s never less than informative, and doesn’t seem to overlook the subtleties of an image no matter how minor they might be or how complex the scene.

Switching to an off-air broadcast of Match of the Day gives the Sony the opportunity to show what it’s got where motion-handling is concerned – and it turns out to have plenty. The complex, multi-directional on-screen movement is gripped securely, even when it’s in opposition to the movement of the camera. There’s none of the edginess or noise that less capable designs can introduce when content is as tricky as this – and the X85L manages to describe fluctuations in the colour of the pitch even if, at a glance, it simply appears to be ‘green’.

It’s fair to say that the sound the Sony KD-55X85L makes is nothing like as enjoyable as the pictures it creates. There’s nothing actively unpleasant about it, of course, and there’s a little bit more substance to it than is the norm. But it’s flat and undemonstrative, and stressy at volume – if a TV could say “buy a soundbar”, it’s all you’d hear coming out of this Sony’s mouth.     

Sony KD-55X85L verdict

Sony KD-55X85L review verdict

The Sony KD-55X85L doesn’t set out to rock your socks off like some mid-range rivals do – but what it lacks in ‘shock and awe’ it more than makes up for with the refined, naturalistic and nuanced images it’s capable of delivering. Which ultimately makes it easier (and more enjoyable) to live with over time.

Stuff Says…

Score: 5/5

An across-the-board improvement on the (already pretty decent) model it replaces.


Convincing (and extensive) colour palette

Impressive backlighting and, by extension, contrasts

Great with motion


No HDR10+ support

Doesn’t sound as good as it looks

Not especially bright

Sony KD-55X85L technical specifications

Screen size55in (version tested), 65in, 77in
HDR formatsDolby Vision, HLG, HDR10
Inputs2x HDMI 2.1, 2x HDMI 2.0, 2x USB, composite video, digital optical audio, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Smart TV OSGoogle TV
Dimensions1228x709x56mm, 16.3kg (panel only)
1228x784x336mmm, 17.4kg (with stand)
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