Hands on with Sony's Z9G 8K TV: Big, Bright and Budget-Busting

If TVs have had a unified theme in 2019, it's the introduction of 8K. Sony's Master Series Z9G 8K TVs are leading entrants in the new category, providing the eye-popping 7680 x 4320-pixel resolution that defines 8K, along with a host of features and performance tweaks unique to Sony TVs. The result is staggering, with giant screens, unbeatable detail, and fantastic clarity and realism.

Sony will offer two sizes of the Master Series Z9G starting this June: The 85-inch model will sell for a (relatively) modest $12,999, while an even larger, 98-inch model will sell for an astonishing $69,999. Obviously, the 98-inch model will be a niche product, even compared to the rest of the 8K landscape.

8K delivers reality

During our time with the 85-inch Z9G, Sony demoed the set with a handful of 8K clips. While each clip was very different from the others, they all drove home some of the unique benefits of 8K technology. These clips demonstrated, across a wide breadth of content types, just how much more real everything seems at such high resolution.

One clip showed the natural splendor of Yellowstone National Park, showcasing plants and animals, mountains, and the geological oddities the park is famous for. Whether it was a sweeping mountain vista or a close shot of a tree, the level of detail was immense.

Frost crystals on a tree branch were exquisitely lifelike. Stray hairs were visible on the nose of a caribou. A baby bear playing in tall grass looked cuddly enough to be cute, but real enough to make you nervous about its protective mother.

A different clip of high-performance cars racing through the streets not only showed the blood-red paint job of a Ferrari and the vibrant yellow of a Lamborghini, but also offered impeccable detail, bringing that same level of realism to every shot. The realism extended not only to the candy-colored exteriors of the cars, but also to dashboard controls, steering wheels and brake pads peeking through the spokes of the wheels.

Another clip showed crowds from Carnival in Brazil. There were glitzy costumes and elaborate floats, and the incredible detail offered by 8K resolution made it possible to pick out individual faces in crowds of thousands.

Approaching reality

Every detail on an 8K screen is sharp enough to trick the brain into thinking you could reach out and touch what you're seeing. The effect is amplified by the larger size of the screens. The sheer size of an 85-inch TV is enough to present images at nearly a 1:1 scale with actual objects and people, and the pixel density is so high that even moving toward the display doesn't reduce the realism.

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At 85 inches, the Z9G has a pixel density of more than 100 pixels per inch, so you can get very close to the TV without being able to distinguish the individual points of light that make up the picture. That seamless image, in which the underlying pixel structure is so difficult to see, seems to almost short-circuit something in the brain, and it's seen less as an abstraction — an image representing a real person or object — and more as a reality.

It's the sort of thing that's hard to really convey in text or photos and has to be experienced. Suffice it to say, if you thought the jump from 1080p to 4K was impressive, then the move to 8K will seem even more so.

Beyond pixels

But there's more to a TV than pixels alone, and Sony has a track record of producing some of the best TVs available. With the Z9G, the company is bringing its best, and the 8K set benefits from every optimization and performance-boosting technology offered on Sony's lower-resolution 4K consumer TVs.

Chief among these is high-dynamic-range content, made possible by a full-array backlight with local dimming zones. With 85 inches of screen to light, Sony has ramped up the brightness and provided an unspecified number of dimming zones to provide brightness exactly where it's needed. And you don't get the blooms or halos of unwanted light in other portions of the screen that you'd get with less-precise backlighting.

In the clip of racing supercars, the HDR performance was easily seen in the glowing headlights and taillights of each car, glowing even against the bright colors of the cars themselves. As the autos raced through the night, shadows around the streets ranged from deep black to merely shadowy, and the handling of these midrange brightness levels was superb, with no detail lost in the dimmer light. To my eyes, the set delivered one of the best HDR experiences I've seen.

Supersound

The Z9G is also outfitted with Sony's Acoustic Multi-Audio, a technology for replicating the sound-from-screen experience offered on premium 4K OLED sets, like the Sony Master Series A9F. While LCD technology can't use the same techniques — literally turning the OLED glass into a vibrational surface for producing sound — the new set does approximate the overall experience with an array of cleverly placed speakers.

Along the bottom are two speakers to handle most of the sound in stereo, positioned right along the bottom edge of the display. But a second pair of tweeters provides additional sound, primarily dialogue, along the top edge. The speakers themselves reside behind the display, in the TV chassis, but the sound is piped up and around the top edge of the display, to provide an additional audio source.

These four speakers do a convincing job in approximating the feel of sound coming directly from the display. The result is more-realistic audio, with dialogue that seems to come from the actors on screen and that can even track right and left as characters move from one side of the picture to the other.

Sony Z9G: Big and bigger

Sony's 8K TVs have one defining feature, aside from impeccable resolution: They're huge. The smaller of the two is the 85 incher we looked at above, which is already larger than most mainstream TVs and even many 8K TVs offered by competitors. (Samsung's four 8K models top out at 85 inches.)

MORE: Sony TVs: All Models with Pricing and Release Dates

But Sony's second 8K size option is a stunning 98 inches, measuring more than 7 feet across. And the price is just as huge, with the 98-inch Z9G selling for a heart-attack-inducing $69,999.

The price difference is also enormous. For the cost of one 98-inch 8K set, you could buy five of the 85-inch models, with nearly $5,000 to spare.

This is the future of TV

This isn't my first time seeing an 8K TV, or even seeing this model of 8K TV — Sony was showing off the Z9G at CES 2019 — but we're at the point where I finally believe that 8K is more than a gimmick. The incredible realism offered by this resolution grabbed me in a way it hasn't before and made it seem obvious that this is the next evolutionary step in consumer TVs.

It will be years before we can safely recommend that anyone buy an 8K TV. But the number of 8K sets on the market (including Sony's 85-inch Z9G) is an encouraging step in the right direction, offering a glimpse of where TV technology is headed.

Even though we aren't there yet — nobody should be buying an 8K TV when there isn't even 8K content available yet — we will get there. Japanese broadcaster NHK has already started delivering 8K content to viewers, and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will bring that to a global audience. We can expect 8K sets to really take off then, dropping in price as the technology matures.

But one thing is true right now: There's nothing out there that tops this.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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