Pat Pilcher: Size does matter

By Pat Pilcher

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Not so long ago, buying a flat screen TV meant not seeing a lot of change from $15,000. More recently, flat screen telly prices have imploded with a fairly decent 40" LED backlit, HD capable TV available for the significantly more pocket pleasing price of $1999.

Now in a bold move designed to up the ante in the TV market, Sony have launched a massive 84" Ultra-HD LCD TV capable of all the usual tricks as well as several new ones that they're hoping will re-ignite the flat screen TV market.

Size Does Matter

First things first, this TV is as huge as it is pricey. Standing in front of the new Bravia whilst it was powered off, I was instantly reminded of those mysterious black monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Thankfully I didn't have chimp suit or a spare thigh bone to toss into the air). At a whopping 84", getting this bad boy home, unpacked and installed will most likely involve forklifts, cranes, structural alterations to your lounge, and potentially divorce from your significant other. Sheer size aside, the new Bravia can be wall mounted, and comes with a stand in the form of chrome legs that allow it to be freestanding.

Design-wise, Sony has paid a lot of attention to detail, and the finish is impeccable. Then again, at a wallet whipping $24,999 you'd be perfectly within your rights to expect high-end build quality.

Its Black monolithic design is gorgeous and only interrupted by two detachable stereo speakers, which hook onto the side bezels and can be angled (more on the audio performance later).

The new Bravia is also able to be net-connected, has access to a smorgasbord of smart TV services along with bunch of online apps and services are available. This said, using the bundled remote to navigate was at best a clunky experience. What did impress however the move to passive 3D glasses.

Having reviewed my fair share of 3D TVs in the past, I was expecting the 3D feature to be bit of a "me too" yawn-fest, boy was I wrong. As the first Sony TV available in NZ to support passive 3D, Sony have put some serious work into getting it right. Not only does passive 3D mean no more hunting about for the charger in the middle of a movie, but the actual 3D itself also appears to have been improved. Gone is the cross talk that created eye-strain and annoyance (especially during extended viewing sessions). I found that with the glasses, I could walk from the left to the right side of the screen and 3D remained perfectly viewable which is something many 3D capable TVs have tended to struggle with. Equally nice (if you're a gamer) is what Sony have branded SimulView. In non-marketing speak, this means when playing a multi-player games, players can take advantage of the TVs 3d capabilities to get a their own full screen using the passive 3D glasses. It mightn't sound like a big deal, but having 84" of on screen real estate to oneself (as compared to the screen being split in half for two players) when multiplayer gaming busts out an 11 out of 10 on the awesome-o-meter.

As would be expected with this stratospheric spec, about the only thing missing on the connectivity front is a kitchen sink (and even that may have been present as I didn't check the Bravia's cavernous box). Given the sheer amount of muscle power required to move this massive set, Sony have sensibly chosen to locate 2 HDMI inputs on the side of the TV and an additional 2 on the bottom of the screen for easy access. Two USB ports allow for the connection of memory sticks and other USB storage for media playback whilst an Ethernet socket (located on the Bottom) provides for network and internet connectivity. For older AV gear there's also 2 composite video Inputs as well as component video, an antenna input for freeview as well as Analog RCA audio inputs and Digital Audio Outputs. From what I was able to ascertain, only two of the HDMI are 4K video capable.

With so much going on in the video department, it is almost too easy to overlook audio performance which also impressed. Where a growing number of manufacturers seem to be skimping on audio to focus on video, Sony have counter-intuitively bolted some speakers to both sides of the screen and included some gutsy amplification for good measure. In a fit of overkill, each speaker cabinet packs 10 drivers, and each is rated to handle a meaty 50w of amplification. While you could argue that almost anyone who can afford this TV is likely to have a killer home theatre set up, it is still nice to see a TV that is able to deliver decent audio out of the box.

While there's acres of bells and whistles to explore, the killer feature of the new Bravia (aside from its stupendous size) is the fact that it is capable of displaying 4k resolution video. In a nutshell, 4K translates into a native screen resolution that is approximately 4x 1080p HD, and the results are sufficiently eye-popping to make divorce from ones significant other an acceptable option when buying this TV.

Describing HD in mere words is always a tricky task, but I was blown away by the sheer amount of fine detail that was viewable with native 4K ultra-HD video. watching 4k (so called because the resolution of a 4k screen is approximately 4x that of 1080p) felt more like looking out of an especially large (and clean) window. This is no mean feat either given that 84" of screen real-estate tends to throw any video defects into sharp and hyper obvious relief. No video problems were present. Even standing just under 2 metres from the screen I struggled to make out any pixel structure or noise with 4k video remaining almost film-like. This is a pretty potent testament not only to Sony's engineering chops but also to just how far things have progressed with LCD display technology.

Unfortunately no 4K Ultra-HD conversation is complete without mention of the fact that there is no 4K video available, be it via broadcast or via shiny round disks. Thankfully the boffins at Sony's HQ anticipated this and engineered some pretty high end video up-conversion technology in the form of what the Sony marketing blub calls 4K X-Reality PRO chipset. 1080p content such as Blu-ray movies looked almost as good as 4k content. Whilst watchable, standard HD broadcast content however looked like regular Full HD re-scaled. Sony had supplied a dedicated server to dish out native 4K content.

Regardless of content, the one thing that consistently shone was contrast levels and colour. Black levels were deep and inky dark whilst whites were straight out of a Persil advert. This is a pretty impressive feat given use of edge-back lighting and its tendency to deliver uneven contrast. Likewise colours seemed pretty natural which added to the "view out a window" effect when viewing 4k footage.

Verdict

This 84" beast is nothing short of stunning. Being projection screen sized (but with none of the drawbacks of using a projector such as daytime viewing, costly projector bulbs etc.) makes Sony's newest (and largest) Bravia a great choice for any AV or movie buff with a spare $24,000 burning a hole in their pocket. Whilst there isn't a lot of content around to take full advantage of this TVs video capabilities, I was moderately impressed with Blu-ray playback, additionally full screen multi-player PS3 gaming was also stunning. Sony appear to be in the throes of rolling out a series of 4K resolution upgrades that will also see the PS3 console shine when paired with this TV.

I'll be dreaming of owning a set like this for some time, but if the TV market has shown us one thing, it's this: prices and technologies do come to those who wait.

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