Sony X930D's Ultra Bright Backlight Gives OLED TVs a Fight

LAS VEGAS – Every major TV manufacturer has figured out a way to give its 4K sets spectacular color, but displaying perfect blacks is another story. Save for LG's expensive OLED devices, replicating black onscreen has remained an elusive proposition. Sony's new X930D series of televisions will address the issue by adjusting the screen's backlighting on a region-by-region basis, as well as supporting high dynamic range content.

I attended Sony's CES 2016 press conference, and got to take a closer look at the X930D afterward. Generally speaking, I liked what I saw, although that's not terribly surprising given Sony's longstanding TV pedigree. The X930D series will come in both 55- and 65-inch models, with a slightly fancier X940D series sporting a 75-inch model. All three sets will launch in early 2016, although Sony has not yet revealed any prices.

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When I watched the X930D display a series of stock footage of people, animals and food, I was impressed with both the bright, vivid colors and the deep, accurate blacks. I've seen similar color on OLED screens, but replicating these effects on an LCD screen has traditionally been extremely difficult. Sony accomplishes this feat through the use of an exclusive bit of technology known as a Slim Backlight Drive.

The Slim Backlight Drive affects the X930D's backlighting, as the name suggests. As a video plays, the screen recognizes areas of high contrast and adjusts the backlight dynamically to highlight blacks and make other colors appear more vivid in comparison. I watched a clip from 2015's Annie adaptation, and New York's yellow sunset and gray buildings looked considerably more lifelike on the X930D than on a similar Sony 4K TV without the Slim Backlight Drive.

Beyond the new backlighting technology, the X930D will possess everything a good 4K TV should have in 2016, including full support for HDR protocols (Amazon Prime already supports this, and Netflix will soon follow) and an intuitive smart TV operating system (in this case, Android TV).

In fact, Sony fans will have one more HDR video source than most in the form of Sony Ultra. This upcoming 4K streaming service will allow users to stream a selection of Sony-owned UHD HDR movies, although the company has yet to announce pricing, release date or a full catalog of titles.