Sony X85JReviewed at $999.00 (55")
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Today we continue our venture into Sony TVs land and we will be looking at another mid-tier 2021 offering from the Japanese manufacturer as these seem to hold a big part in the consumer market trying to combine good features with low prices. And in our Sony X85J review we will be testing the last model belonging in the XR series and will determine if it is a worthy entry in this year’s lineup.
The X85J replaces last year’s XH85 but that model never released in the US market as it was available only in Europe along with some other markets across the globe. The X800H and X900H that did release in the US have their own direct replacements so it comes as a surprise that in 2021 Sony decided to include this one in their US release schedule. To put things into context the X85J is an amalgamation of the X90J and X80J as it borrows characteristics from both of them.
But from a first look the X85J is a LED LCD TV using a 100/120Hz VA panel with a Direct LED backlight system and processing duties are handled by the less capable X1 HDR processor. The TV supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, uses a simple 2.0 channels audio system and comes with Google TV but unfortunately misses a few features that we saw in the higher tier releases. The most important thing to know here is that the X85J is the most affordable 2021 Sony TV with HDMI 2.1 ports, so keep that in mind if it is important to you.
On paper the X85J seems like a good low cost gaming TV but does the sum of its features and characteristics make it a worthwhile offering? Competition is stiff in this category so without further delay let’s start our analysis.
The X85J looks awfully similar to the X90J we had seen previously. Almost everything is the same indicating that both models use the same shell with only two small differences that make them apart. The one is the big X at the back of the unit which is missing in the X85J and also we are missing the side tweeters of the multi-audio system as the X85J features a more basic 2.0 channels variant.
Overall the unit looks as you would expect from a TV of its price, good quality by Sony standards but nothing spectacular while it features relatively thin borders which makes the screen look good enough.
Thickness was measured around 2.8″ (7.2 cm) making it exactly the same as the X90J which is slightly more than what we would like in case wall mounting is your thing. At least having side looking ports does help in such an occasion as you will not have trouble using them at all with the TV mounted on your wall.
Looking at the back the X85J keeps almost exactly the same layout we had seen in the X90J but as we mentioned already there are some very subtle changes. As such, everything has been placed in the same positions with the side-looking ports on the right side and the power connector on the left while the plastic back panel has now a new squarish design to break the monotony.
The TV uses a bench type stand that extends almost on the entire TV length meaning you will need a big furniture to place it on while its design only allows for special clips that attach in the back in order to keep all cables grouped together.
When it comes to their remotes Sony was always playing catch up compared to Samsung and LG. And this was a major complaint we had as even some of their higher tier offerings were using atrocious and old style looking remotes which was unacceptable. Last year Sony finally decided to fix that by redesigning the whole thing and at least now you will get a remote that looks far better and has a more premium feel compared to the cheap remotes we were getting before.
Featuring a grey metal texture the remote that comes with the X85J seems to be exactly the same as the one we saw in both our X90J and X80J review and it looks fairly similar to the one Sony offered last year but with a small addition.
Th difference this year is that instead of only two dedicated buttons for Google Play and Netflix now we have four and these are used for Youtube, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime video. There is also a Google Assistant button that can be used with the built-in microphone in order to issue your voice commands but in order for that to work it needs to be paired to the TV through Bluetooth. If you pair it then all other commands work without the need for line of sight which is a nice small feature to have.
Everything else is exactly the same and all buttons have a nice feel to them with certain distance from each other to avoid pressing the wrong one but unfortunately there is no backlight function that could greatly help in a low lit environment. In general the remote is an upgrade compared to the one we saw in previous years and Sony seems to keep that well into 2021.
Overall we are satisfied with the quality of the X85J. Aesthetics are good, build quality is satisfactory for a Sony model and although we would like a thinner design as the ones that Samsung has in their lower tier categories it was not so bad to become bothering.
Processor technology used
The X85J uses the 4K HDR Processor X1 that we also saw in the X80J recently and is less capable than this year’s Cognitive Processor XR that Sony has been so heavily advertising. It’s also the same processor that we had seen in some of last year’s releases like the X800H so there are no real surprises here as to the processor’s real capabilities.
One of its characteristics is Object-based HDR remaster with which the color in individual objects on screen is analyzed and the contrast adjusted, unlike most TVs where contrast is only adjusted along one black-to-white contrast curve. Because objects are remastered individually, this TV can reproduce greater depth, textures, and more real pictures.
There is also Dynamic Contrast Enhancer which automatically adjusts contrast settings according to your environment in order to provide clearer and more defined colors.
And for last we left 4K X-Reality PRO. By using this picture processing technology the X85J is able to up-scale any kind of source content up to 4K with remarkable results. 4K X-Reality PRO is using a variety of noise reduction techniques to sharpen and refine images while patterns in images are compared with patterns stored in a unique database to find the best hue, saturation, and brightness for each pixel.
In this part of our review we tested the up-scaling capabilities of the unit by using various types of content from low resolution broadcast signals up to 720p and 1080p resolution videos and in most cases everything looked ok without any visible artifacts. We have reached a point that the up-scaling capabilities of these chips are well above average, even the less capable ones so no real complaints here.
Lighting technology used
The backlight system is another area where the X85J borrows from the lower tier X80J and as such we find a Direct LED system without Local Dimming and instead Sony uses what they call Frame Dimming. Keep in mind that all sizes use the same backlight so there are no differences here between the sizes as in some models last year like the X800H.
The Direct LED system is using light behind the included VA panel but is much less capable than a FALD system which means far less brightness output, less light accuracy and lower contrast which means that blacks will appear more greyish than true blacks. At least the X85J uses a VA panel which compensates for the backlight’s low contrast capabilities.
We were not expecting much here as having a Direct LED system is pretty common the last few years in the lower end category and in line with what we have seen in many other TVs with a similar price. Fortunately the use of a VA panel in combination with the Direct LED light system makes the X85J much less prone to any burn-in problems.
Brightness / Contrast
one of the most important aspects of any HDR TV is brightness. By using the Custom Picture mode and with maximum brightness the unit gave us 533 nits of brightness in our 10% white window SDR brightness test over a dark background. SDR content doesn’t have very high brightness requirements so all is good here and the X85J is very good at this.
On our 10% HDR test the X85J was able to output 575 nits of peak brightness. Again we used the Custom Picture mode with maximum brightness and although we cannot say that HDR levels were bad the TV was not bright enough for small details to pop as much as they should.
As with the X90J, the TV can go a bit higher in brightness by using the Vivid Picture mode in combination with a few other settings available but you are going to loose some picture accuracy so it’s a tradeoff really and depends on what you prefer the most.
The X85J is using a VA panel which means that in terms of contrast things are far better with blacks reaching deeper tones and not appearing more grey instead. There is no local dimming here but the performance of the TV was decent enough as it is and for a low cost unit like this you cannot ask for more.
The X85J uses a VA panel so the viewing angles we get are not so good. This is not the fault of the TV itself but rather the display technology being used as all VA equipped TVs are suffering from bad viewing angles. Sony has been implementing certain tech to combat this in their top offerings named X-Wide Angle and X-Anti Reflection technologies but unfortunately these can be found only in higher tier offerings like the X95J.
The X85J unfortunately does not use these extra filters so from what we saw we would say that up to 25-30 degrees the TV retains good image quality. But anything above that colors shift, brightness and black levels integrity takes a huge hit and the overall image quality degrades a lot.
As a result the TV may not be suitable for use in a family room where many members will be using it from various angles. In case you plan on buying this one for this purpose we would suggest you to try it out first before making a decision if it good enough.
As far as HDR protocols there are no surprises from Sony as we continue not to get HDR10+ from them and it seems that they are firmly into Dolby’s camp for now.
In total the X85J features the standard trio of HDR protocols that include the basic HDR10 which is required for 4K UHD playback, HLG that is used in broadcasting and lastly the more advanced Dolby Vision that uses dynamic metadata and offers the best quality from the three available.
If you don’t care about HDR10+ then you shouldn’t really worry about it. Dolby Vision has far more support for the time being but as we have seen an increasing number of titles supporting Samsung’s solution this may become something to consider in the future.
The X85J comes with wide color gamut support which is one of the fundamental requirements for HDR content viewing as it can make the colors look more vivid and lifelike. The unit includes all the same technologies that allow it to achieve such a wide color spectrum. One of these technologies is what Sony calls a TRILUMINOS display which is a technology that the TV uses in order to display a wider color palette and more natural shades and hues.
The difference we see this year is that the X85J is using a Triluminos PRO display instead of the Triluminos display found in the X800H and is exactly the same as the technology utilized in the X80J. Keep in mind that this is inferior to the XR Triluminos Pro tech found in the X90J as that one is used in parallel with the more powerful Cognitive Processor XR.
As for the X85J specifically we measured a 92% coverage in the DCI-P3 color space which is amazing and as surprising as it may be it’s even higher than what we measured in our X90J tests which is a bit odd to be honest. On the more wide REC.2020 color space we got a coverage of 68% which again seems to be slightly higher than the X90J but the difference is not so big to be visible with a naked eye.
Overall the X85J did very good in this part. For such a low tier TV color reproduction was great and gradients were very smooth with only very subtle banding in some rare cases.
In terms of motion it seems that the X85J is again a mix of both the X90J and the X80J. On the one hand it uses a 100/120Hz panel which is good but on the other hand it comes with the inferior Motionflow XR 960 as it doesn’t have the new Cognitive Processor XR like the X90J has which means that it misses a few more advanced motion processing features.
You have the option to use either the standard motion interpolation system or use the Black Frame Insertion (BFI) interpolation that is adding black frames in between individual frames and can potentially smooth out motion. BFI can be enabled by turning Clearness to max if you use the Custom setting in the MotionFlow menu.
BFI was able to improve overall motion but the TV had exactly the same image duplication issues we had seen in the X90J but it varied in both intensity and frequency depending the scenes being displayed. Most of the times it will go unnoticed but with certain scenes it can become very obvious. And keep in mind that in general BFI has also a negative effect on brightness due to the black frames that are inserted.
Once again we need to mention that although Sony advertises the X85J to support VRR this will come with a future update and is not currently available. When this will arrive is unknown and judging by their promises we would suggest you to decide with what features are available right now and not what is promised in the future with an unknown release date. Keep in mind that all Sony TVs in 2021 that supposedly support VRR are on the same boat so you cannot decide to buy a different model depending on this unless you go for a different brand.
Overall the X85J behaved very close to what we saw in the X90J. There was some visible stuttering during panning shots and while motion interpolation worked well most of the times it just couldn’t keep up during very intense action scenes. But if you keep motion interpolation at a minimum you can somewhat improve upon this and stay clear of the Soap Opera Effect. Also the missing VRR stinks and not knowing if and when it will arrive will certainly hurt Sony’s reputation in the future.
Both the X90J and the X80J had outstanding input lags so we were hoping that the X85J would be on the same boat and from what we saw in our measurements we were not wrong. By using the Game mode we got an excellent 15.1 ms which may not be the lowest we have seen, as many models managed to even reach single digits, but its low enough to offer trouble free gaming even to hardcore gamers.
Outside of Game mode we got a 86.7 ms which is very good and surprisingly it is much better than what both the X80J and X90J did in our tests. These measurements are an average of what we saw in both 1080p and 4K resolutions and they were pretty consistent throughout our testing time.
With the inclusion of HDMI 2.1 the unit comes with all the game centric features this offers including Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) which can really benefit the new game consoles that support it.
Before we move on we used our PS5 with Call of Duty WWII in order to feel how the TV behave with such an intensive game and in all honesty our gaming session went very smooth. Our commands registered very fast, there was no obvious delay or slow response and we had really no problems to report. If HDMI 2.1 is what you seek in a Sony TV but you are afraid the cost then the X85J seems to be the best solution for you.
Image quality impressions
The X85J may not be a TV that will impress you at first sight but it certainly has its virtues. The unit has very good contrast ratio, nice color reproduction, excellent input lag and satisfying brightness if you consider its cost. And with the inclusion of HDMI 2.1 with its game centric features this model will certainly attract many cost sensitive gamers.
On the other hand viewing angles are bad due to the VA panel used which makes this less ideal as a family TV, brightness is not high enough to make HDR as impressive as it can be, motion has a few issues and needs certain calibration to find the sweet spot while the missing VRR is rather disappointing.
The X85J seems to feature an audio system which is exactly the same as the one we saw in the X80J which means that we miss Sony’s Acoustic Multi-Audio technology and you will have to settle for a simple 2.0 channels audio system with a total of 20W output power.
But what Sony has done here is that by using a bass reflex system along with their X-balanced speakers, as they call them, they have tried to improve the overall output without changing much in terms of the audio setup being used.
This X-balanced speaker is basically a specially shaped driver in order to provide the best audio result possible for the slimline factor of the TV. Obviously going for a round driver would have a negative effect on the overall TV thickness while an oval driver compromises sound quality. The specially shaped X-balanced driver combines the best of both worlds, at least according to Sony.
As always we tried many different types of content and the included audio system is just fine for casual use. Talk shows and news broadcasts had very clear dialogue, sports felt good enough with nice depth while for movies you will get the absolute basics. If you seek any kind of immersion get yourself at least a soundbar otherwise you will be disappointed with what the TV can offer.
As with the X80J there is Dolby Atmos support along with Dolby Audio and DTS but as the TV doesn’t really have what it takes to faithfully reproduce Dolby Atmos the end result is less than inspiring. All action was firmly positioned at the front, there is no major overhead activity while surround effects were completely missing. The low end felt flat and in no weight in can reproduce the lower registers with vigor and shaking power.
We hate when manufacturers are using Dolby Atmos for promotion when the hardware required to perform accordingly is simply not there. At least with the included eARC port you can pass-through the signal to an external audio device that can do Dolby Atmos and DTS:X real justice.
Lastly we should mention that the X85J also features Acoustic Auto calibration in order to get the best audio performance no matter your sitting position. This is done by playing various test tones and letting the TV determine the best settings accordingly.
Ports and Connectivity
In terms of connections layout Sony have been using exactly the same setup across a large portion of their TV releases. And what we saw in the X85J is exactly the same as what we had seen in many of our previous reviews like our X80J review we did recently as well as the X90J. All of them are grouped together in a special inset on the right side of the back panel and all of them are looking sideways which definitely helps in case you want to wall mount the TV as the ports will be free to use.
Going from top to bottom we get two USB ports for connecting external storage or powering various devices, a digital optical audio output for connecting older equipment that do not support HDMI connections, an analogue stereo audio output for headphones, a composite video input, four HDMI ports for connecting all your devices, an Ethernet port for wired connection to your network, an RS-232C port for control, an IR input and the usual antenna/cable connector.
Sony, unlike some of the other big manufacturers actually provide a USB 3.0 port in most of their TVs, even the most low cost ones. Usually manufacturers don’t seem very fond of using the newer USB ports and rely mostly on the archaic 2.0 version even for many of their top premium models so this is definitely a plus and good for Sony that decided to do the obvious.
Also another thing to mention is that we get two HDMI 2.1 ports along with two more older HDMI 2.0 ones. Although some other manufacturers like LG offer more HDMI 2.1 ports at least two are better than one. The problem here is that one of them is also the one with ARC/eARC functionality so if you plan on using that then you are left with a single HDMI 2.1 port. In general keep in mind that all TVs that feature only two ports use Mediatek’s SoC.
Also while the new HDMI 2.1 ports bring with them all the new features like ALLM, VRR and HFR, VRR is not supported at release and Sony has promised a future update for that, although when this will be available is currently unknown.
In terms of wireless capabilities things are pretty much the same across the board so the X85J comes with built-in WiFi (802.11ac) along with Bluetooth v4.2. No Bluetooth 5 this year it seems.
OS, Apps and Features
In 2021 Sony decided to take things one step further as far as the smart TV platform they use is concerned. All their TVs now come with Google TV instead of Android TV that was used up until last year. And the X85J is no different but from what we could see there are a couple of features missing here that we saw in the higher tier X90J which we will mention towards the end of this section.
Now many of you may be puzzled what the difference between Android TV and Google TV is. Well, it’s not so much difficult to understand what has changed really. Google TV is still Android TV but with an extra layer on top of it. Think of it like it is in Android smartphones. Most manufacturers that use Android in their releases they use on top of that their own layer that gives this extra something to their UI that make them unique both in appearance and functionality.
The same is with Google TV. You still basically use Android TV but there is the extra Google TV layer on top in order to make the UI feel different both in looks and functionality. The 2021 TVs from Sony that use Google TV have at their core the latest Android TV 10.0 but the home screen has been completely changed due to the new Google TV layer.
Everything now seems to have been designed around recommendations either it be movies, TV shows or applications and this seems to be the main focus of the new Google TV in general. During setup the wizard asks you of what specific streaming services you use in order to customize the Home screen recommendations.
Keep in mind that Google TV is still Android at its core even though it looks different. But with Google TV things seem more fluent, more direct and more easy to navigate around.
If there is one thing that Android has in abundance that is huge app support. Through the included Google Play Store you can find literally thousands of apps that you can download and use except from the pre-installed ones. There is so much content available that you will definitely find the ones you are looking for and the list goes on and on.
All the big names are obviously present like Google TV, Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Youtube as well as Pandora, Tidal, Google Play Music, Spotify or iHeartRadio and much more. As always some of them are region dependent so make sure the ones you are interested in are working in your area. Lastly certain apps like Netflix and Youtube support playback for both 4K and HDR content for those interested in it.
Chromecast is also available here and it gives you the ability to stream content from other Chromecast enabled devices like mobile phones and tablets directly to the TV. Voice control is also present but it seems that it is a bit limited compared to other competing models. By that we mean that although you can use the remote’s built-in microphone to give commands to Google Assistant for Amazon Alexa you will need an external Alexa enabled device to work. Additionally there is also Sony’s Voice Search available.
We have seen the same thing in many other Sony TVs and probably this has to do with the fact that it’s using Google’s Android system and thus having Alexa built-in was not possible. With voice control you can issue various commands to the TV but functionality extends far beyond that as you can control any smart devices you have in your house also.
There is also a built-in media player available that you can use to playback various video and audio content from an external storage connected to the USB ports. Sony’s built-in player was always a good performer and compared to the competition we can admit that it will be able to play more files in comparison. But in general don’t expect it to replace your dedicated media player box if you use one. If there is a file that is not following the usual standards it will not play it something that a dedicated player might will.
We did tried various files with different codecs and wrappers and most of the usual ones played just fine. Some more heavy ones with very high bitrates had some problems as they were glitching while some more rare types refused to play at all. But in general the performance of the built-in player was very good and we have no major gripes about it.
Sony has also added support for both Apple Airplay 2 and HomeKit. With Airplay 2 you can stream content from other Apple devices on your TV while HomeKit lets you control certain aspects of the TV through your mobile device. Also if you are all Apple then keep in mind that the X85J supports Apple TV which is Apple’s online streaming service in order to have the complete Apple’s suite. So in case you favor Apple’s products the X85J will certainly cover you in this respect.
This year all Sony TVs are Calman Ready although to be honest we fail to see how this can benefit some of the lower tier models like this one. To address color variations from the production process, the TV is ready to use Portrait Displays’ high-performance Calman auto-calibration software. This allows an unprecedented level of calibration and the ability to fine-tune adjustments simply not possible through conventional picture settings. It delivers high-fidelity color reproduction that’s true to the original TV signal, and can even adapt to the subtlest changes in color that may occur over time.
One last thing we need to mention is that there is no official app support for controlling the TV. If you want to control the X85J using your mobile device you can use the Android TV app made by Google that supports many of Sony’s TVs the last few years. It’s nothing major but can be a nice alternative to the included remote if you want to have more options.
The X85J comes with the same smart TV platform the other Sony TVs came with in 2021. The new Google TV looks nice although it is very much centralized around giving you personalized suggestions. A few features that were missing in the X85J and were available in the X90J were Netflix Calibrated mode, Sony’s new Bravia Core streaming service and IMAX Enhanced certification. Everything else seems to be available.
The X85J is a very good choice for those that are looking for decent performance on a budget. It has its strengths but certainly has a few notable weaknesses that stop the TV from being the best in its category. The X90J we tested before somewhat disappointed us but the X85J in our opinion fares much better in its respective category.
On the one hand the TV had good upscaling capabilities, nice color reproduction with nice color gradients, very good contrast ratio due to the use of a VA panel and extremely low input lag and with the addition of HDMI 2.1 ports makes it ideal for all cost sensitive gamers. Brightness may not be extraordinary but considering its class it fared good enough which makes HDR viewing more pleasant. The new Google TV feels fresh and will please many with its ease of use.
On the other hand brightness is not so bright for impressive HDR viewing, viewing angles are bad making this less ideal as a family TV, motion performance was so and so while audio was only adequate for casual viewing. Also the new Google TV is missing a few features found in the middle and higher tier offerings although nothing majorly important. The TV is missing HDR10+ as with all Sony releases while the promised VRR feature is unknown when it will be delivered.
Closing our review the Sony X85J left us with good impressions for the class it belongs to. Yes, obviously it has a few problems but considering the price tag it comes with it is an honest proposition for all around use. And with it being the most cheap HDMI 2.1 capable TV in Sony’s arsenal this year we are sure it will find its audience among cost sensitive gamers, either casual or hardcore ones.