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As a tech reviewer who loves movies and video games, I'm extremely picky about TVs. I've tested and reviewed countless models over the years, with very few delivering the picture quality standards I desire. But this year's Sony X950H is as close as I've come to a TV soulmate. It performs better than the competition in all the right ways — whether I'm watching Blu-rays, playing PlayStation games or just tuning into some broadcast TV.
No TV is perfect, of course. Each offers its own set of tradeoffs. Affordable models like the TCL 6-Series and Vizio M-Series Quantum are remarkably impressive for their price, offering fantastic contrast ratios for deep blacks, high peak brightness for HDR movies and quantum dots for vivid colors. But that price point may also come with quality control challenges (like the "dirty screen effect") or blurrier motion (caused by slower pixel response times). Most people, frankly, don’t tend to notice these things, so they're still usually my go-to recommendations for friends and family.
But higher-end TVs still find ways to distinguish themselves. Their black levels, peak brightness and color performance may be similar to the best midrange models but the improved processing power can enhance the overall picture in ways that go beyond these base specs. And when it comes to processing, there's no one better than Sony.
The X950H is one of Sony's highest-end TVs, only falling below its 8K Z8H LED and A8H OLED models. In other words, it's Sony's highest-end TV that's still somewhat accessible in price. That places it in a great sweet spot between price and performance, with five different sizes to match whatever room you're putting it in: 49-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch, 75-inch and a massive 85-inch monster.
If you want some of the best picture quality you can get in a TV today (without spending thousands), Sony's X950H checks all the right boxes. Its high peak brightness is perfect for HDR movies that "pop" off the screen, its full-array local dimming allows the LEDs to dim down for super-deep blacks and it sports stellar color accuracy out of the box. On top of that, Sony's X1 Ultimate processor provides snappy performance in the Android smart TV software, and it can "clean up" low-quality images from cable TV and streaming services.
You can read all about resolution, HDR performance, and smart TV platforms in our comprehensive buying guide to the best TVs — and the X950H checks all those boxes beautifully. But Sony's processing has always been the highlight of its lineup. While many lower-end TVs present the picture with rudimentary improvements at best, Sony uses more advanced algorithms to ensure the picture looks better than the signal it’s receiving from your streaming or cable box — and often better than competing sets. Here are a few examples of how that applies to a user’s experience:
- Superior upscaling, which allows it to expand 1080p video for its 4K screen with less softening of the image
- Smooth gradation, which cuts down on color banding present in the compressed video streams from web and cable
- Better local dimming, which allows the LEDs to turn down their brightness in dark areas of the screen without flickering or leaving trails behind moving objects
- Improved motion through Sony's Cinemotion and "X-Motion Clarity" technologies, the latter of which which allowing the TV to flicker the backlight in a very controlled fashion for a smoother, clearer image
In other words, Sony's TVs do as much as they can to make your movies and shows clearer and more lifelike, whether you're watching a pristine 4K Blu-ray or a low-quality cable TV broadcast. This does necessitate playing with its many settings (X-Motion Clarity only turns on when the Smoothness and Clearness settings are set to "1" or higher, for example), but the result is well worth it if you're willing to tinker and find that sweet spot.
Other Sony TVs worth considering
All that said, Sony has other great TVs with these same features.
The A8H OLED is, objectively, a better TV if you have more money to spend, thanks to its perfect black levels. This is especially ideal if you watch in a dark room, where the X950H can sometimes show "blooming" around bright highlights due to its full LED array. I prefer the smoother motion and higher peak brightness of LED TVs, though, and I find using a bias light with the X950H helps combat the blooming in a dark room.
If you want to save a bit of money, the step down X900H is also great, albeit with less of that HDR pop and less impressive processing. It's also slated to get some extra gaming features this year through a software update, but they haven't materialized just yet.
Sony also announced its 2021 lineup at CES this year, with a new processor and cutting-edge HDMI 2.1 ports, which offer a few extra features for gamers. We won't know how they perform until we get them in for testing, but I expect they'll be solid, as always, even if their improvements are incremental. That said, the X950H's successor, the X95J, will only come in sizes 65 inches and higher, and will likely be priced higher at launch than the X950H is currently available for. So even though the latest and greatest are coming soon, buying at the end of a product cycle gets you a great product at a discounted price — a proposition that's tough to resist, even for enthusiasts like me.