Sony's new Bravia XR TVs are all about 'cognitive intelligence'

They aim to deliver a picture closer to what humans see.

Sony's 85-inch Master Series Z9J TV. (Sony)

Image processing has always been at the heart of Sony's TV designs. Sure, its premium Bravia TVs have typically featured the latest and greatest display hardware around, but the company's devotion to image quality has typically set it apart from competitors. This year, Sony is doubling down on that reputation with the Cognitive Processor XR, a new image processor that will focus on bringing "cognitive intelligence" to its upcoming Bravia XR LED and OLED TVs.

I know, that sounds like a marketing buzzword, but it describes a new approach to image processing for Sony. Its previous chips used artificial intelligence to optimize individual elements of the picture, things like brightness, contrast and color. The Cognitive Processor XR goes a step further by surveying the entire frame in real time and breaking down specific zones to concentrate on. According to Sony Electronics President and CEO Mike Fasulo, it's trying to mimic the way our brains process images.

Sony Bravia XR

In a close up shot, for example, the XR chip will focus on delivering realistic skin tone. But if the camera moves behind an actor, it'll look for other elements, like the way a sign is lit up in the background, or smoke wafting up from the street. While I haven't seen any of Sony's new TVs in action personally, the company was able to replay some debug footage over a video call, which showed exactly what the XR processor was focusing on. In a clip from Sully, it seamlessly moved from highlighting Tom Hanks' face to the neon lights of Times Square in another shot. And in a scene La La Land, I could see that the chip automatically detected Emma Stone's visage as the camera panned around her.

The Cognitive Processor XR will also help Sony's 8K performance, according to Kazuo Kii, the company's global display and processor expert. Given the dearth of content in that resolution, Sony's 8K Master Series Z9J TVs (available in 75-inch and 85-inch sizes) will rely on XR upscaling to help HD and 4K content take advantage of those extra pixels. The focus on cognitive intelligence is particularly useful for 8K TVs, Kii says, because it allows Sony to focus processing work on the parts of the image that matters. It'd require an even more powerful processor to optimize an entire 8K screen in real time.

In addition to the Z9J, the Cognitive Processor XR will also power the company's Master Series A90J and A80J 4K OLED TVs, as well as its X95J and X90J 4K LED sets. All of Sony’s sets this year will also feature Google TV as their built-in OS, hands-free Google Assistant, and support for Amazon’s Alexa. You can look forward to HDMI 2.1 as well, which means they’ll support 4K at 120fps for next-generation gaming consoles, as well as eARC and variable refresh rates.

One interesting omission is Mini-LED, a display technology that Samsung and LG are introducing this year, following TCL’s adoption in 2019. It allows for smaller LEDs, which could dramatically improve backlight performance. Kii says Sony is exploring the technology, but it didn’t have anything to announce just yet.

Like most TV announcements during CES, Sony doesn't have any pricing or availability details to share yet, but we expect to hear more this spring.