Remember when I first bought the Sony Playstation 3D Display I said that I bought it to hold me over until 3D sets were more affordable? Well, that time has come.
As most of you know, 3D has not caught on with consumers. I really attribute this to very poor marketing on the parts of all the 3D TV manufacturers more than consumers not being interested in 3D. After all 3D movies are still breaking records at the box office. Also, last year I bought a Sony HDR-TD30V 3D Camcorder (which I’ve been meaning to blog about!). Normally when you show vacation videos to friends and family they grimace. But the 3D quality of this camcorder was so incredible that they ask to see them! It’s just a shame that Sony stopped making it (so grab it while you can).
Compare this to 3D TVs. For years they’ve been thousands and thousands of dollars–at a time when not too many years have passed since people bought their first plasma or LCD HDTV. The quality of the early passive 3D sets (glasses that don’t use batteries) was horrible, and active 3D (glasses that use batteries) was just too much of a hassle–you had to buy expensive glasses and they never seemed to be charged when you wanted them to be. Worse, 3D movies often cost a substantial premium over regular movies. I remember a few years ago cable companies like ESPN and Verizon toyed at 3D channels, but they flopped because manufacturers couldn’t sell enough sets. Similarly, Netflix pushed out 3D content in a lackluster and half-hearted way–instead of top blockbuster movies there are a bunch of low-budget films in their 3D menu.
Ironically, the thing that might save 3D is 4K. For those of you who don’t know, 4K (or Ultra HD) refers to a picture that’s 4x the resolution of HD. In other words, instead of 1080 pixels up-and-down, 4K TVs have a resolution of 3840 x 2160. I can spout out all the numbers I want, but I’d suggest you go to a Best Buy or a Sony Store to check it out for yourself.
Once I saw my first 4K picture, I knew it was time for me after 10 years of watching a 37″ LCD and a 24″ Playstation 3D Display to bite the bullet and get a new TV.
The first 4K sets came out last year. I deliberately held off on the first generation sets, knowing that they tend to be buggy and that the price would plummet. This year they did, to a certain extent.
I saw the Sony XBR55X850B 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D LED TV in a Sony Store for the first time, and I knew instantly it was the one for me.
One thing I absolutely hated about last year’s passive 3D/4K set was that they put these butt-ugly “Dumbo ears” speakers on the sides of their set. Happily, this year they got rid of it and replaced it with a simple, sleek black border. While it’s a 53″ set, it fits perfectly on my entertainment console which is about 50-51″ end-to-end. The screen is a glossy sheen which is almost mirror-like, so if you have bright lighting in the house near where you sit you’ll want to turn it off.
I ordered the set online and it arrived from Sony quickly. The box is big and really heavy, requiring two men to carry it.
I excitedly began to unpack the box but I couldn’t figure out where to open it. So I took some scissors and cut along the side of the box; luckily I didn’t accidentally jam the scissors into the screen or a cable. I would later realize that those two white tabs you see on front of the box are meant to be twisted, and once you do the box comes apart quite easily. I’ll keep that in mind in 2024 when it’s time to get my next TV.
The TV itself was well protected by styrofoam, and they used the styrofoam packaging intelligently by putting accessories into the styrofoam.
The accessories were:
- User manual and documentation
- Two metallic feet that made up the TV stand, with a bag of screws
- An “old school” remote with tons of buttons
- A smaller remote that had a touchpad and just a few buttons
Okay, let’s talk about the TV stand for a second. While the photos you see all show the stand on the far left and right of the unit, you can also install the stand so that they’re closer to the middle of the unit (just to the left and right of the LED in the center).
Problem is the TV is really, really heavy so you need a helper to help lift the TV while you screw in the feet. Another problem is that the documentation is really, really awful. There are a couple of tiny drawings that don’t tell you anything–and the last thing you want after you’ve shelled out a few thousand dollars is to break your new TV. After 30-40 minutes I finally figured it out.
By default, the feet look like this:
Notice how there are silver screws in the stand. What I eventually found out is that these silver screws are meant to stay in place if you want to put your feet on the right and left edges of the TV, but they need to be removed if you want to put your feet more towards the center.
To mount the feet on the right and left edges, you need to pry off an oval plastic cover (again, prying things off a $2300 TV gets the blood pressure rising a bit, but it comes off pretty easily). Then, you stick the feet in so the flat “notch” on the feet faces forward. Then, taking the two black screws, you secure the feet to the TV–screwing them securely but not too tight (if they’re too tight or too loose, you’re screwed).
It’s the same process with mounting the feet near the middle, except that you have to remove those silver screws before the feet will fit. Also, in my case while the two feet looked identical from the outside, one will only fit on the left and the other will only fit on the right. Again, I wish they could have been clearer about this, but luckily my 95 pound wife has superhuman strength.
I have a 50″ entertainment center from Crate and Barrel. I originally mounted the feet in the middle thinking the TV wouldn’t fit, but it turns out while it has a 55 inch screen (actually, 54.6″ to be precise) measured diagonally, it only measures about 48 5/8 inches from end to end, so it fit perfectly.
I was very happy with the number of ports on the TV.
Specifically, there are four HDMI connections; in the past I was always plugging things like my camcorder, my Wii, my PS3, my Xbox, my Chomecast into a single HDMI port on my old TV, but those days are no more, just click “Input” on the remote and you can go from one HDMI device to another.
I also liked that they still supported Component and Composite video to hook up my older devices. For reasons I’ll go thorugh below, the Ethernet connector was nice to have too.
There’s also an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) port. This is a standard that Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, Nokia, and Silicon Image are trying to put in place, probably a response to Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Chromecast. Since I’m someone who uses a lot of Apple products I probably won’t have much for this, but my wife with her Samsung phone no doubt will.
Finally, it came time to turn on the TV. Right away, the picture looked stunning. As you can see, the screen is so shiny that it’ll reflect any light near you like a mirror, so you’ll be wanting to move your lights or turn them off. But the LED display was much brighter than anything I’ve seen on an LCD display, and much crisper than anything I’ve seen on a plasma display.
The first step it wants you to do is to select a language. You can see that they also want to encourage you to start using their smaller, smart remote.
Next came the time to connect your Internet. You can choose a wireless connection, a wired connection, or skip it.
I’d definitely suggested a wired connection close to your router if you have one, especially if you plan on streaming 4K content. Wireless is just going to be too slow and klunky.
I have Verizon FIOS, and if you don’t have it I strongly suggest you get it (if you sign up through this link, we can both get points :)). I have the 50 MBps plan and I have no problems streaming 4K or 3D from my TV. What nice about FIOS is that no matter how many others have the service in your building or neighborhood, your network performance doesn’t slow down. And from my experience, the fiber optic connection to your house is just so much cleaner and more stable than a regular coax connection.
The next step was a software update.
Now granted, ever since Sony decided to use a Playstation 3 update to wipe out the OtherOS feature from the PS3 without warning to its customers who used it, I’ve never really been able to fully trust Sony again. But given how quickly things are changing with regards to 4K, HDMI, USB, and other standards and specifications, it’s nice to know that as long as things rely on software, your TV will be up-to-date.
The next step was setting privacy settings.
Given all the news with the NSA and incursions and breaches into privacy by every company from Target to Google to Facebook, I was torn about giving up too much information. After all, what you watch on TV is very, very personal information, and while ostensibly they’re using it for testing purposes, you can bet they’re also selling the data as well. Plus, having that camera on top of the TV (which doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose now, but I’m guessing it will in the future) is something else a little unnerving.
But at the end of the day I figured I’d give permission for them to share my TV watching habits, just to see how good they are at things like “recommending TV shows” (the only benefit they call out here).
The next step was choosing whether to use the built-in Tuner or using a Set-top box. I chose set-top box.
Here’s where I got a little confused. I have a TiVo (with a CableCARD from Verizon) and not the cable-company provided set-top box. They’ll bring you through the screen and ask you to choose your cable provider. (I made the mistake of choosing “Verizon”; after a while I realized I should have chosen “Provider not listed (N/A) and then “TiVo”).
You then set up the “IR blaster”, which is a cable that plugs into one of the USB ports on one hand, and has buds that look like headphones that you place near the infared port of your set-top box. It’s an interesting approach, where they decided to put “smart remote” features in the TV instead of the remote.
At long last, my setup was complete.
The next thing I saw was a glorious image of the Yankees playing the Rays on the YES Network.
This photo from a iPhone can’t do it justice, of course, but the picture was bright and crisp, world different from my old LCD set. The TV network broadcasts in 1080p, and the HD picture looked stunningly beautiful. The colors just bounced off the screen.
My next challenge was to go to the on-screen display of the TV. If the TV has an Achilles Heel, this is it. It was next to impossible to try to figure out how to get to the on-screen features in the first place, much less use them.
The first thing I tried to do was to swipe up on the “Discover” button on the little remote, which gave me this screen.
In the mind of some Sony Product Manager somewhere, I can guess what they were thinking. “People are dumb and don’t want to navigate through menus. So let’s read their minds and suggest to them exactly what content they want to see”.
Great idea, but poorly executed. I only see this as a Trojan horse by which Sony is going to try to make more money for itself by “suggesting” that you watch new movies–and pay them a hefty price for them. I’m sorry, I just paid half a month’s salary for your TV, and I’m not going to be shelling out more dough any time soon.
I then went to the “big complicated” remote and pressed the button to get to the menu.
This brought me to a menu of boxes after boxes after boxes of “Apps” for their TV. I started to feel like Goldilocks–the previous menu was too small, this menu was too big. It was like they copied the worst parts of Microsoft’s Windows 8 (you know, the one everyone hates). I wish they were more like Google and decided to copy Apple instead.
Happily, there was a big red button on the remote that says “Netflix”, so I pressed that. I signed in to my NetFlix account. Strangely, I didn’t see the 3D content menu that I see when connecting through the PS3, but I did see a 4K menu with the following movies and TV shows:
- Smurfs 2
- Breaking Bad
- House of Cards
The menu is pretty small for now, but it’ll no doubt grow in time. I clicked on Breaking Bad.
Again, I don’t think these iPhone photos are going to do it justice, but the picture was stunning. infinitesimal details could be seen on the picture, the colors were bright and the picture was almost sharper than real life. There was a surreal quality about it, as if it were ‘too clear’ and ‘too bright’, like the first videotape images from the 1960s. But it was as jaw-droppingly impressive as the first time I saw 4K.
Next, I connected my PS3 to the second HDMI port and popped in a 3D Blu-Ray of How to Train Your Dragon.
I was expecting passive 3D to be not as sharp as active 3D. But the picture was as crystal clear as it is in the theater, with virtually no ghosting, clear details and colors, and brightness that you can’t get with active 3D. I tried both the passive 3D glasses they supplied with the TV, as well as a set of Real3D glasses I “borrowed” from the theater. The 3D popped out of the screen in a way that was larger than life.
Another rather exciting feature is Playstation Now. While they’re supposedly in beta right now, the screen looked like the feature was up and running, and even let me sync one of my PS3 Dualshock controllers to the TV.
When I signed into my PSN account I saw menus that looked exactly like the Playstation Store on the PS3. I didn’t try buying a game yet, but supposedly this will let you play all kinds of games right on your TV dating back to the PSOne, the PS2, and the PS3 right on your TV. If Sony is smart about their pricing (which I don’t think they are at this moment), this could be a huge competitive advantage for them against other up-and-coming TV manufacturers like Samsung and LG.
Finally, I navigated through all the apps and found the YouTube app. I know YouTube supports uploading of 4K videos, but I wasn’t sure if the app on the TV was properly designed to be able to play them. I did a quick search for “4K” and loaded up the first video I saw, which seemed kind of blocky and choppy.
But then I selected another video which were of random scenes from Vancouver, British Columbia. I don’t know if my FIOS connection (which should be at 50Mbps, more than enough for streaming 4K) just needed time to ramp up, or if the previous video was just not very well done, but this video was phenomenal. The colors popped off the screen, and you could see the absolute precision of the details in the picture.
Again, I know my iPhone pictures don’t do it justice, but they were as jaw-dropping to see here as they were in the store.
Usually when I make a big purchase like this I have a tinge of buyer’s remorse afterwards. In this case I didn’t at all. The picture was phenomenal, the display looked beautiful, and I was pretty happy with the feature set. If you’ve been on the fence about buying a new 4K TV, I’d say this one is well worth the price.
And while it’s tough paying for a TV you know is going to go down in price in a year, there are a few ways you can save a little money. First, consider buying the TV on Amazon, where the current price is about $700 under retail.
Second, use a Sony or Playstation Rewards Credit Card and you can get up to 5x the points back for your purchase in a Sony Rewards account. That’s about 10,000 points, or about a $115 value.
Finally, until 7/31/14, you can visit http://sony.com/movieoffer and choose up to 5 movies that you can stream from your TV for free. Unfortunately they’re not 4K movies, and they’re not even all that great, but they’re free (titles include: After Earth, American Hustle, The Amazing Spider Man, Captain Phelps, Elysium, Grown Ups 2, 21 Jump Street, Mall Cop, Men in Black 2, Moneyball, Friends with Benefits, Stepbrothers, The Holiday, Battle Los Angeles, The Green Hornet).