In 1969 as controller of BBC 2, David Attenborough commissioned the acclaimed arts series Civilisation, partly as a means of showing off the station’s new UHF television service. It feels serendipity has nudged me towards Attenborough this week, as he’s back on our screens with a new program, Planet Earth 2, that is redefining the entire documentary genre. It has been filmed in Ultra-High-Definition and the teasing segment the BBC has made available of the 4K content is as mesmerising as it is dramatic. I needed to watch Planet Earth 2, and Sony have just the TV for the job.
Unpacking the ZD9 is a two-man job. The set is available in 75” and 100” inch versions but even the 65” I tested is a giant. Once we’d carefully removed the huge panel from the box it’s actually straightforward to assemble. It slots in neatly to a very sturdy, heavy base and then just needs half-a-dozen screws to secure it. Sony have given significant thought to hiding cables in your living room and two separate panels clip on to hide any HDMI and power cords meaning there are no unsightly cables poking out at the front.
The ZD9 comes with a conventional looking remote, but one that has smooth almost flush buttons. I powered up the TV and went through the 10 minute set-up process, a crucial part of which is registering the TV on your WiFi network for access to Netflix and other apps.
With my cable TV and internet connected, I was keen first to try some standard TV broadcasts. Immediately, I was struck by the depth and clarity of this TV. Sony have a smart new chip in this TV, the X1 Extreme and I believe it’s this that helps transform the picture you get on this set. Even standard definition TV pictures get the once over and are up-scaled, drastically improving the definition and contrast. Even high-definition broadcasts on this set seem to benefit from the built-in processing power and picture enhancement.
A technology called Object Based HDR Remastering takes individual sections of the picture and adjusts their contrast. Other TVs I’ve tested also adjust the picture but by using a single formula for the whole scene. The ZD9, by addressing individual components produces a picture that has not only depth but texture that you can almost touch. Because Sony have been making TV and films for years, they have amassed an expertise in how images should look and they use these databases of reference, to improve the picture in real-time as you watch.
One of the best tests for knowing what your TV is capable of is to watch some deep space scenes from the 2013 Sci-Fi film, Gravity. The deep wonderful blacks the ZD9 produced were the best I’ve seen on a consumer television and there was none of the segmentation or unsightly banding that can occur with landscape scenes when viewed on some sets. Every single pixel on the screen seems to be bright, deep and almost alive.
The ZD9 uses the Android TV interface for its smart features. While not my favourite interface, Sony have done a really nice job of making it easy to navigate and find your content or discover something new.
The remote control’s voice-search works really well and it’s easy to cast content from your phone or tablet on to the big screen. This is a Netflix recommended TV, and access to Netflix is made easy with a single button press that powers up the TV and loads the Netflix app. I connected some other media devices, USB and a gaming console, with the huge screen making for a fabulous gaming experience in the living room.
TV’s this big and sleek have are always challenged for audio. There just isn’t anywhere to build in big quality speakers and the ZD9 is no different. The sound is a little thin, and I found myself operating the TV with quite a high volume setting, but of course this set is ideally meant to be coupled with a sound-bar or surround sound system.
The price of this set mean it’s a significant purchase for any household and it’s physical size is as much a consideration. That said, in the same way that David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2 is the landmark series of the year, the Sony ZD9 has set a completely new standard for home entertainment.