Sony’s announcement that made most of its headlines during CES 2022 was about the first QD-OLED TVs coming to market — perfectly understandable given the promise they hold — but the company had a second ace up its sleeve that picture quality enthusiasts may be even more interested in. The Japanese plan to also release their first LED/LCD TVs based on MiniLED backlighting, which would be the best choice for consumers in need of a TV set capable of offering impressively bright picture under any lighting conditions throughout the day (as opposed to OLED/QD-OLED TVs that reign supreme in dark environments). This may prove to be a huge deal for Sony, as well as for the high-end segment of the TV market as a whole.
While attending a pre-CES Sony presentation under embargo, yours truly was able to confirm what many journalists had already suspected in 2021: the Japanese did not follow Samsung and LG in releasing MiniLED-based TVs last year because of the local dimming algorithm necessary to drive those MiniLED arrays properly. Sony has been the undisputed leader in TV picture image processing — and local dimming zone control in particular — being able to both drive LED/LCD TVs to acceptable levels of display quality with surprisingly few zones and deliver much higher display quality with a greater number of zones (but still fewer than what the competition needed in order to deliver comparable picture quality).
The company knew the amount of work required to adjust that fine-tuned algorithm to the needs of a much more demanding MiniLED array, so it did that work and is now ready to offer TV models that go for a higher level of display quality than ever before.
Cognitive Processor XR upgraded, Backlight Master Drive returns
The two new Sony models that make use of MiniLED backlighting are the Z9K and the X95K, successors to last year’s flagship Z9J and X95J models of 8K and 4K resolution respectively. The Z9K will be available at 75 and 85 inches, while the X95K will also be offered at 65 inches. As is usually the case, Sony did not disclose the number of MiniLEDs employed on each model or the number of individually controllable zones each will feature, but the latter will certainly be much, much higher than that of their predecessors. For reference, the excellent 2021 Samsung 85QN900A 8K offers more than 2000 individually controllable dimming zones using MiniLED, while the quite good 2021 Sony 85X95J 4K offered around 120 such zones using regular LED local dimming. So… yes. The difference could be substantial this time around.
Sony, during the pre-CES presentation, analyzed how its processing algorithm working with MiniLED will strive to eliminate practically all problems associated with LED/LCD backlighting, approaching almost OLED-level control and deep blacks while retaining the very high brightness one expects from top LED/LCD TVs. We’ll have to wait until the first review units become available, of course, in order to find out how close the Japanese managed to come to achieving this, but the techniques they have developed for doing just that sound extremely promising.
Both models will, of course, be based on Sony’s latest and greatest image processor, the Cognitive Processor XR, which has been updated to offer a handful of features and functions the 2021 XR does not (Sony claims that is why Bravia XR models from last year cannot gain these new features via a software update). Most importantly: for both their 8K and 4K MiniLED models Sony is bringing back Backlight Master Drive, its best-ever backlighting control system last seen implemented on the now legendary Bravia Z9D back in 2016.
This — along with the new local dimming algorithm and the MiniLED arrays found in the Z9K and X95K — is expected to mark such a jump in display quality that could end up offering the absolute best picture an LED/LCD TV can go for in 2022. Unless Samsung, TCL or LG (all also offering updated MiniLED-based LED/LCD models this year) beg to differ, that is!
More affordable Sony LED/LCD TVs, new OLED TV models plus… a camera?
The Z9K and X95K will not come cheap, of course, being Sony’s flagship LED/LCD models for 2022, so the company offers a number of other series of TVs that are more affordable. The Bravia X90K will probably be the most obvious mainstream option, based on “just” full-array local dimming tech, while the X85 and X80 series will rely on simple backlighting only (but cost much less as a result). All models are based on the Google TV operating system (Android TV 10), all will offer HDMI 2.1 ports, all will feature improved sound. Of the step-down models, only the X90K will be using the Cognitive Processor XR.
On the OLED TV front, Sony will be actually expanding its models for 2022. The company will be keeping the absolutely amazing 2021 A90J while updating the A80J to the A80K and introducing an A90K line. The A80K is the more affordable of the two, coming in 55/65/77-inch sizes, while the A90K will actually sit below the A90J in Sony’s lineup and be offered in 42- and 48-inch sizes. All models will also be based on the Google TV operating system and offer HDMI 2.1 ports, a Netflix Adaptive Calibrated Mode, access to Sony’s Bravia Core streaming service and improved sound.
In a “one last thing” manner, Sony also announced the Bravia Cam: a specially-designed webcam that sits atop all the aforementioned new Bravia TVs offering a number of new features and functions. These range from simple video calls or team video conferencing (via Google Duo), to auto-optimization of brightness, dialogue emphasis or sound balance, to actual gesture control (coming in a future firmware update).
Samsung did something along the same lines with its Neo QLED TVs and optional Logitech webcams last year, but Sony’s Bravia Cam comes included with the Z9K and the QD-OLED A95K (optional for all other models) and is much better integrated with the Google TV operating system. Will 2022 be the year when all-hands family video chats in living rooms become the norm? Stranger things have happened!