Despite the PS5 and Xbox Series X being released way back in November 2020, TV options for making the most out of both consoles are still limited. There are very few mainstream, affordable TV sets currently capable of the HDMI 2.1 @ 120Hz standard that enables smooth gameplay and 60FPS on ‘next gen’ titles — and it can also be difficult knowing whether now is the right time to upgrade, or what TV you should purchase.
One of the latest HDMI 2.1 TVs on the market is the new Sony Bravia X90J, a $1,995 mid-range smart TV that’s one of the few entry-level gaming TVs on the market. I recently got to spend an evening with the X90J, and came away impressed by the visual fidelity and contrast of the screen. While it doesn’t hit the heights of the leading HDMI 2.1 TV (the LG CX OLED is still king), it’s a great budget-friendly option for anyone looking to boost their gaming capabilities.
Here’s what you need to know about the new TV.
What’s the big deal about gaming on the Sony Bravia X90J?
As one of the few affordable HDMI 2.1 TVs on the market, the Sony Bravia X90J is an important, budget-friendly option for everyone looking to upgrade their TV set-up in the wake of the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
For the uninitiated, HDMI 2.1 is a new visual standard that enables 4K @ 120Hz and 60FPS — basically, it allows smoother images and uncompressed video quality that reduces picture lag and artifacting while you game.
If you’ve ever noticed text starting to blur or jitter when you’re running around in a game world, you’ve likely run into a phenomenon called ‘screen tearing’, where frames from an image are delayed or out of sync. HDMI 2.1 has a high refresh rate, meaning the image you receive updates frequently, creating smoother visuals and colours that blend seamlessly.
The visuals of the X90J are smooth as butter, and one of the primary reasons you’ll want to upgrade from your existing rig.
As described by representatives from Sony at the event I attended, the TV works with an AI to enhance picture based on a ‘focal point’. Rather than taxing the processor to run the entire screen, the AI selectively focuses on the ‘action’ of the image you’re watching in the same way a human eye would. This way the processor is focusing on enhancing the visuals, colour and depth of specific objects and people, rather than wasting computing power on things ‘out of focus’.
In practical terms, that means whatever you should be focussing on (ie. your player character while gaming) is naturally highlighted, looks more vivid, and moves smoothly throughout the game world.
It also means that as you run, jump and slide through games, there’s no visual artifacting, screen tearing or blur. Instead, action is very consistent with no chopping or jumping, even for in-game text.
This processing technique also enhances the overall picture of the TV. It means darker colours are deeper and blacker, bright colours are more vivid and pop on-screen, there’s minimal colour blurring, and cel-shading is particularly crisp.
I noticed this most in Yakuza: Like a Dragon running on Xbox Series X, which is littered with colourful, pop-art style signs. Each of these were vibrant and clean, and really showed off the great colour palette of the TV. As mentioned, it’s not as crisp or smooth as OLED TVs (the X90J is a standard LED), but it still rocks great visual clarity for its price point and excels when it comes to movement on-screen.
This is aided by impressive directional sound which emanates from the screen where you’d expect it to – i.e. if somebody is speaking from a distance, the sound is naturally ‘far away’; if somebody is speaking to the right of the screen, that’s where the sound comes from. You will need a soundbar to get those really bassy, low-sounding notes, but the TV performs well on its own, and the directional speakers are a great way to make games feel more realistic and engaging.
It is important to note that the TV only has two HDMI 2.1 ports though, particularly because one is an eARC which may be needed for a soundbar. It means if you have a PS5, Xbox Series X and a soundbar, you may have trouble juggling your inputs. It’s a minor issue, but you should consider it if you plan on forking out for the TV.
Despite this quibble, the X90J is still a worthy contender in the HDMI 2.1 market, and a solid TV all-rounder.
How the X90J goes with other forms of entertainment
Beyond gaming, the X90J is a solid performer for all types of content.
Animation looks particularly good on the screen because the TV’s colour range and contrast is solid, and brighter colours are rich and vivid. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War was a blast on the TV because the action was so sharp and snappy, and the cel-shaded artwork looked very neat on the TV. The X90J was also able to handle all the high-speed action very well, making the animation style look dynamic and sleek.
The AI-driven focus that helps reduce stutter in gaming is also great when you’re watching live action entertainment because it gives greater clarity to images in the foreground and reduces jitter between scenes.
There’s also no colour bleeding to speak of, meaning ‘halos’ of light and artifacting on 4K content are practically non-existent. Colour gradients and light glows are consistently smooth without looking blocky, and darker scenes are well-illuminated, meaning the TV picture is steady and reliable even in scenes with minimal lighting.
It makes for a very pleasant viewing experience, and one that looks good in sunlight or darkness thanks to the hearty brightness settings of the TV.
Is it time to upgrade to a HDMI 2.1 TV?
Personally, I don’t see a need to upgrade to a HDMI 2.1 compatible TV just yet, particularly if you’re already gaming on a 4K TV. While a HDMI 2.1 TV will give you an extremely smooth gameplay experience with zero screen-tearing and superbly smooth action, the difference between mainstream HDMI standards and 2.1 isn’t massive.
The main things I noticed while gaming with the Sony X90J were brighter colours, smoother movement and crisper textures — but if you have no direct comparison, it’s hard to feel like you’re missing out on much.
Importantly, it also feels like we’re on the cusp of change for the TV market. There aren’t many HDMI 2.1-compatible TVs currently available, but as manufacturing slowly returns to normal it’s likely we’ll see more options pop up in the coming months. We’re still in a very similar place to where we were in 2020 in regards to new TV technologies. So at this stage, it’s better to wait and see what happens as the funk of coronavirus starts to ease back.
If you do still want to upgrade now, the Sony Bravia X90J is a solid option. At $1,995 it’s one of the cheaper HDMI 2.1 TVs on the market (its nearest rivals being the Samsung Q70T and Q80T) and it performs well as a gaming TV. For anyone currently suffering input lag, screen tearing or colour distortion, it’s a worthy upgrade option — but you should still consider your budget and whether it may stretch for a self-lit OLED like the LG CX or BX, both of which feature a more vibrant colour palette and crisper picture quality.
Smart TVs are becoming more affordable than ever, and the X90J is a step in the right direction.
While it’s not strictly necessary to upgrade right now, the X90J is a solid TV with great performance and features for its price range. Anybody looking to take full advantage of the 4K @ 120Hz / 60FPS output of the PS5 and Xbox Series X will find the X90J is a solid, reliable gaming companion that won’t stretch the budget too much.