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Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Good but not great

October 30,2021 by Jo Brown

Sony had a tremendously successful 2017 in terms of TVs, offering great products at every price point, ranging from the midrange XE90 and step-up XE93 to the full-array local-dimming XE94 and Bravia A1 OLED. The XE85 (full product name: Sony Bravia KD-55XE8596) we have here sits one rung below the XE90, has native 4K LCD screen with edge LED lighting, HDR support for both HDR10 and HLG formats, as well as the Android Smart TV. Our review sample was the 55-inch version.

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Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Design & Connections

The design is no-frills but the TV is still reasonably handsome. The bezel is finished in matte black and suitably slim with a Bravia inscription in the top left corner with a narrow band of silver trim splitting the, adding a welcome touch of sophistication.

The whole lot sits on a central rectangular stand with a faux-metallic finish but is actually plastic. During assembly, I was quite concerned about how much it flexed and wobbled but with the everything put together it felt more robust.

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All the connections on the TV are situated on the left side at the rear and the selection is par for the course with TVs in this price bracket. You get four HDMI ports, which looks plenty, but as is the case with all Sony 4K HDR TVs we've tested this year, only HDMI input 2 and 3 support HDMI 2.0b at higher chroma and frame rates and you'll need to go into the user menu to enable them. The power cable is affixed to the right side of the television.

As with most flat-screen TVs, sound quality is merely passable and would benefit from being supplemented with a half-decent soundbar. The TV’s Android Smart TV platform is reasonably responsive, although I’ve found that it can get bogged down after some use.

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Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Picture Quality & Gaming Responsiveness

The Sony KD-55XE8596 uses a VA-type LCD panel with a true RGB subpixel configuration, which delivers the sort of deep black that only OLED sets can beat, but a narrower viewing angle than traditional LED sets. A thermal scan confirmed that the Sony XE85 is an edge-lit LED LCD with only one strip of LEDs along the bottom border of the panel illuminating the entire screen.

The TV doesn't have local dimming or even pseudo-local dimming. Instead, it dims the whole screen when needed – a technique known as frame dimming or global dimming. It’s a technique that’s effective in deepening the black level or letterbox bars in dark scenes and worked well with our review sample to reduce several spots of backlight clouding, too. Unlike TVs with full-array local dimming, however, there's little to no increase in simultaneous contrast.

One positive aspect about frame dimming is that you don’t get haloing or blooming artefacts, and on our review unit, there was little-to-no banding or dirty screen effect on brighter scenes either. Colour fidelity is fantastic, and I found the upscaling quality of the TV’s X1 processor to be very good indeed, but there is some slight darkening around the edges, which is common on Sony LED LCDs.

As far as motion is concerned, performance is also pretty good. Slow-panning shots in 24 frames per second movies are free of telecinic judder and without needing interpolation and, if you do want to use interpolation either to improve motion clarity or smooth out judder even further, Sony's Motionflow technology tends to introduce fewer artefacts than other brands' implementations.

I measured DCI-P3 coverage at 95% and for HDR, peak brightness with an accurate white point came in at 380cd/m2 on a 10% window. Because the Bravia XE85 is not equipped with local dimming, full-screen peak brightness was the same. What this boils down to is rather disappointing HDR performance when watching 4K Blu-rays, but at least the overall HDR picture is suitably bright. This is entirely in keeping with Sony's HDR tone-mapping philosophy, which aims to preserve APL or Average Picture Level.

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Otherwise, panning shots appeared buttery smooth and Sony’s “Smooth Gradation” technology worked effectively to reduce posterisation and banding artefacts. Last but not least, I measured input lag at 31ms in 1080p SDR (standard dynamic range) and 34ms in 4K HDR mode, which should be fast enough for all but the most demanding of hardcore competitive gamers.

Sony Bravia XE85 (KD-55XE8596) review: Verdict

The Sony Bravia KD-55XE8596 is an excellent SDR TV with deep black level response, accurate colours, good video processing and superb motion handling. It isn’t great at HDR, but that's the case with any edge-lit LED LCD with only one strip of LED modules lighting up the whole screen. For impactful HDR, you'll need to buy a full-array local dimming LED LCD, an OLED set, or a dual-stacked edge-lit LED LCD like the Sony XE93.

That wouldn’t be a huge problem if the Sony Bravia XE85 was cheaper, but at the time of writing this TV will set you back £1,000 and that puts it in an awkward place. For only £200 more you can get the Sony Bravia 55XE90 which has a full-array local-dimming and double the peak brightness at 800 nits, both of which will result in a better HDR viewing experience.

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