Sony Master Series Z9G 8K HDR TV hands on review

Sony's flagship LCD brings back Backlight Master Drive and adds 8K

What is a hands on review?
Sony Master Series Z9G 8K HDR TV

Early Verdict

If you’ve been waiting for the proper sequel to the Sony Z9D/ZD9, the new Z9G could be the immaculate follow-up we’ve been waiting for.

For

  • Backlight Master Drive
  • 8K resolution
  • 98-inch is massive

Against

  • Thicker than the Z9F
  • Vocals can be hard to hear
  • 98-inch TVs aren't cheap

After a lackluster showing with the Master Series Z9F, Sony had to do something to set things right with its customer base - namely, folks wanted the Backlight Master Drive that was left out last year. 

The good news is that not only has Backlight Master Drive returned in its full form on the new Sony Master Series Z9G (ZG9 in the UK), but Sony’s also cranked the resolution to 8K and has gone even bigger on screen sizes that now reach up to 98-inches across.

But the additional inches and extra resolution has come at a cost - in a show full of razor-thin screens, the Z9G is a hulking beast by comparison and while it sounds good, it’s nowhere near as clear as the AI-enhanced screens from LG and Samsung that debuted earlier in the show.

Don't let that deter you, however - if you’ve been waiting for the Z-Series’ return to its former glory and you’ve got the deep pockets to pay for it, the new Z9G could be the TV pantheon entry we’ve been waiting for these last three years.

Design

Sony easily has one of the biggest 8K TVs at the show with its 98-inch behemoth Z9G. (Although Samsung also has a 98-inch 8K TV, while LG’s 8K OLED tops out at a close-but-not-quite-cinema-size 88-inches.) If you’re looking for something a bit smaller than 98-inches, Sony will also have an 85-inch model in the US, UK and Australia that should be cheaper and more manageable. 

Speaking of manageable, at 85- or 98-inches, the Z9G isn’t the lightest TV on the market. It’s supposedly pretty hefty to lift and although it can be mounted, Sony will supply you with an easel stand with wheels to make repositioning it less of a hassle.

And honestly, you might need to reposition it if you want to hide the back of the screen, which has a rather large protrusion to house the Backlight Master Drive and audio system. In a convention filled with ultra-thin screens, the Z9F sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Thankfully, in terms of inputs, you’ll have a decent assortment and several HDMI 2.1 ports that will enable 8K60 video passthrough or 4K120, once either of those two formats catch on sometime down the road. 

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the Sony Z9G will use the lesser-loved but still-pervasive Android TV. Make of that what you will.

Performance

The stars of the show here, and the thing that people will both deride-slash-celebrate, are the inclusion of 8K and the aforementioned Backlight Master Drive. The former, while certainly an achievement, will certainly catch some flak from the folks who still aren't ready to accept 4K as the new de facto resolution.

Of course, filling all those extra pixels isn’t an easy job - but that’s where Sony’s new 8K X-Reality Pro image processing algorithm and X1 Ultimate processor come into play. 

According to a discussion with a Sony rep, the X-Reality Pro uses a dual database system to upscale pixels on an object-by-object basis. The algorithm and processor know what a black sky should look like, for example, and can use that data to fill in any gaps that are left behind after the image has been upscaled to 8K. The same process applies to its HDR calculations, which is helped along by the Backlight Master Drive to maintain the integrity of the contrast.

While Sony wasn’t doing demos of the Backlight Master Drive at its booth at CES this year, we know almost everything about it because of its role in making the 2016 Z9D one of the best TVs on the market for the last few years running. Without that and the X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro feature, we’d see murky grey colors (we’re looking at you, Z9F) instead of the rich, deep blacks on a slightly illuminated background like we saw on the Z9D.

Of course, the X1 Ultimate is good for more than just contrast - it also facilitates the extended color range of the TV and the extra-wide viewing angle that helps color desaturation when watching from more than a 30-degree angle.

If there’s one disappointment with the Z9G, it’s the TV’s relatively lackluster sound system compared to what we’ve heard on Samsung and LG’s 2019 flagship models. That’s not to say Sony’s Acoustic Multi-Audio system is bad - it’s not - but it really required external speakers to output the same level of immersiveness and clarity that the other screens had.

Early verdict

Our one short experience with the Z9G was a good one - Sony’s added back in a crucial piece of missing technology that went missing in the Z9F and the 8K resolution with X1 Ultimate processing is just icing on an already sweet cake. 

It will have more limitations when it comes out in the second half of 2019 - likely to come in the form of a steep price tag - but right now we’re just excited to see Sony’s next shot at reclaiming the LED-LCD throne from Samsung.

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What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.