Sony remains true to its philosophy and announces a range of televisions aimed at producing an image ever closer to human perception. At the heart of a vast range of 4K and 8K models, there is a new conductor: the Sony XR processor presented on the sidelines of CES 2021.
After LG and Samsung, it is Sony’s turn to present its new TV products at CES 2021 . And what we can already say is that, unlike the two Korean manufacturers who are both betting this year on a Mini LED backlight for their LCD range (find our articles on [19459008 ] LG QNED and the Samsung Neo QLED ), Sony does not yet mention this technology. At least not yet for series production. Asked about this, the French spokesperson confirms that Japanese engineers are obviously working on this technology, but that it is too early to talk about it.
So let’s put that (not that) little disappointment (than that) aside and see what lies ahead at Sony in 2021, in terms of image processing first. We will come back to the Sony ranges in another article and will devote ourselves here to the centerpiece of this new line of LCD and OLED TV: the Sony XR processor, worthy heir to the Sony X1 Ultimate.
Sony Bravia XR promises eXtra Realistic rendering
Bravia XR, this is the new denomination of vintage 2021 televisions from Sony, whether for 4K models (LCD or OLED) like 8K. The bottom line is that this is the first processor with artificial and cognitive intelligence. We take the liberty of referring to an “eXtra Realistic” rendering, because Sony does not give the meaning of XR.
Broadly speaking, the chip is split into two parts. The first, the “ IA ” part of the processor, analyzes the image to apply the various usual treatments (upscalling, tone mapping, etc.). The second brings together the “ cognitive intelligence ” side, which is responsible for making the result even closer to what humans perceive … in real life. And it’s not just about visual perception here, but also hearing.
How does Sony do this? It’s actually quite simple, at least in theory. For example, when you are chatting with someone, some things catch your eye more than others. The skin (its texture, its color, its shine, etc.), the hair (the details, the reflections, etc.) or the eyes (color, shape, etc.).
Thus, human vision naturally takes stock (in the sense of “focus”) on these elements and tends to obscure the rest a little. For comparison, this is a bit like the Bokeh effect that is used in photos and videos to make the character stand out in the image.
Thousands of areas of the image analyzed
To arrive at a result announced as unprecedented, Sony relied on all the data collected over the years in videos and audio tracks, to which it added this notion of “cognitive processing”. Still according to the manufacturer, this “cross-processing” would represent thousands of areas in the image to understand what is happening. Is it a person, an animal, an object? What is its color, its texture, its position in the image? Should the subject be in focus or should it be out of focus, bright and contrasting, or dark? Should a filter be applied to boost the details or, on the contrary, should the portion of the image remain neutral and as realistic as possible? So many questions that arise during the treatment.
The new XR processors therefore promise even more computing power than the current excellent X1 Ultimate processors. Processors which remain in the brand’s catalog since they will equip the most affordable LCD models. In short, what catches your eye in life will be sublimated and highlighted on these screens of tomorrow. We can’t wait to see the result, but also to understand how Sony has integrated its technologies.
Let us recall that the Japanese firm is one of the few manufacturers who do not offer a mode Film Maker (on the other hand there is a Netflix mode), because it considers, based on its experience with Sony Pictures, that these image treatments do not degrade the artistic substance of the teams that make the films and series.
Brightness and details for LCD screens like OLED
OLED and LCD will thus benefit from the technologies mentioned above. In the case of LCD televisions, since they are smarter, the electronics should therefore have better control over brightness and, by association, production of contrast. But as Sony never communicates on the number of backlight zones in its models, we will not dwell more on the phenomenon of light leakage which should be reduced here again.
The 2021 OLED models, on the other hand, will always use WRGB OLED panels. The XR processor would offer much better handling of peak brightness and power. As a result, the image will be more dynamic and the color coverage even greater.
To achieve this improvement, Sony applies a very thin aluminum foil to the back of the OLED panel, which acts as a heat sink for heat dissipation. This principle of heat dissipation also allows the manufacturer to limit the risks of marking specific to OLEDs. Let us recall on this subject that Sony is already integrating pixel shifting principles and automated maintenance mechanisms to limit burn-in .
Finally, a new anti-glare filter should also allow all televisions, OLED as LCD, to benefit from better viewing angles. Be careful, however, Sony tells us that in 2021, there will be different ranges of OLED TVs and that not all will be equipped with such bright panels.
On the other hand, we regret that these televisions, although equipped with an ambient light sensor to adjust the image configuration, are not compatible with Dolby Vision IQ technology.
A name change for technologies
Sony is also taking advantage of the change in the name of the processor to change the name of the in-house technologies accordingly. Here is what is behind the terms (which some qualify as marketing jargons) that you will find on the product data sheets in 2021.
For the image part, four pillars make up the XR Picture:
– XR Color : a set of treatments which includes the XR Triluminos Pro (technology which boosts colors, competing with QLED at Samsung and NanoCell at LG) and XR Smoothing which is the new name of Super Bit Mapping HDR. This manages the increase in light power in HDR content so that very bright areas are not totally burnt while dark areas are underexposed.
– XR Clarity : Consolidates image scaling processes, with XR Upscalling 4K, XR Upscalling 8K and XR Super Resolution.
– XR Contrast : who is therefore interested in improving contrasts with the XR OLED Contrast Pro for the OLED ranges and XR Contrast Booster for the LCD. It is also the latter process which is responsible for controlling the brightness as finely as possible, by intervening in particular on the backlighting areas of the Full Array LED LCD models.
– XR Motion : this technology is responsible for constantly adjusting the fluidity of the image. Notice to all those who fear that, in this escalation to image perfection, Sony abuses this motion compensation engine and that the image becomes too artificial: it will be possible to reduce its intensity.
Audio has not been forgotten with two technology clusters:
– XR Sound Position : which combines the Acoustic Surface Audio and Acoustic Multi-Audio technologies. They allow Sony to produce more immersive sound by exploiting the properties of its chassis and panels. For example, the Acoustic Surface Audio that equips OLED televisions makes use of the fact that the panels are thin to couple actuators that vibrate the facade and thus produce sound directly directed towards the spectators.
Acoustic Multi-Audio is dedicated to LCD TVs. It also offers multi-channel sound, but uses diffusers (sort of plastic tunnels) in the TV frame to direct the sound. The equipment (number of channels: tweeter, midrange and woofer) and the power level then depend on the television itself (more or less high-end). We will only have more information when the datasheets for these 2021 models are released.
– XR Surround Upscalling technology helps, as the name suggests, to give a 3D impression to sound. According to Sony, this technology allows you to use a stereo or 4.1 source to upgrade to 5.1.2. The televisions will be compatible with Dolby Atmos technology.
Good news, the Japanese firm intends to provide the widest possible audience with these new capabilities and this new XR processor will therefore equip a large part of Sony’s 2021 televisions. And to all this is added a strong argument: these products will be the first to work on Google TV in Sony style . We therefore say “Bye-Bye Android TV”, but not with the Sony overlay that we particularly appreciate!