Having seen other erstwhile brands such as LG, Samsung and (in Europe, anyway) Philips transferring their TV-making talents with some success over to the world of gaming monitors, it was probably inevitable that one day Sony would follow suit. Especially as the Japanese brand actually has decades of skin in the gaming game, as it were, in the shape of its PlayStation consoles.
So it doesn’t feel entirely shocking to report that today Sony has finally officially unveiled its debut ‘Inzone’ range of dedicated gaming monitors (alongside a new Inzone branded range of gaming headphones, the flagship model of which I’ve reviewed here). Full details of these new ranges will be available in a news story I’ll be publishing shortly, but ahead of that I wanted to share my thoughts on a sample of the new flagship U27M90 InZone monitor that Sony sent me a few days ahead of the official launch. Has Sony hit the monitor ground running, or does it still have some catching up to do?
The first thing to say is that the U27M90 is pitched very much at the higher end of the gaming monitor market. Its £999/€1,099/US$TBC price puts it in the same league as typically very large monitors, or monitors that offer such specific gaming-friendly tricks as 32:9 aspect ratios and curved screens. The U27M90, though, is only 27 inches across and resolutely flat. So we’ll have to look elsewhere to justify its price.
It immediately establishes a premium feel with its design. Its white rear panel contrasts handsomely with a black screen surround, and in keeping with the latest trends the rear sports LED lighting you can set to a variety of different colours to a) give you a little background light to make staring at a screen for hours on end less fatiguing, and b) make the monitor look even cooler. Note that you can, of course, turn the LED light off if you find it distracting. And nor is it available as an option if you’ve got the monitor set to Eco mode.
The robustly built screen slots easily but sturdily on to a tiltable plate, which in turn sits on a strikingly angled white neck that reaches right down to your desktop, turning into the front support foot, while an angled-back bar that fastens to the rear of the white neck turns into two rear support feet.
The nifty thing about the design of the desktop support is that it creates much more space than most monitors to left and right of the main front foot for you to tuck your keyboard and mouse mat into.
There’s also cable channelling in the white neck/foot part of the stand, so you can keep your compact gaming space as tidy as possible.
Connectivity includes two v2.1 HDMI with 4K/120Hz and VRR capability, one Display Port 1.4, one USB-C, one USB-B (upstream), three USB-As (downstream) and one 3.5mm audio jack port.
The real heart of the U27M90’s appeal, though, is its screen technology. In particular its use of a full array with local dimming (FALD) panel, where separate zones of the LEDs ranged directly behind the screen can deliver different amounts of light from each other for any given frame, as dictated by the image content. Sony is one of the best proponents of FALD technology in the TV world, so the hope has to be that this LCD panel prowess will translate to its first premium gaming monitor too.
Sony doesn’t state the number of separately controlled dimming zones its monitors support, but I was able to count what appears to be a 12 across by 8 down array, resulting in 96 total zones. That’s a pretty decent amount for a 27-inch screen.
There are OLED and even new Quantum Dot OLED monitors around offering actual pixel level light control now, as well as a new generation of Mini LED models that use much smaller LEDs and more dimming zones to deliver an extra level of light control. But in all these cases you’ll usually have to pay much more than the U27M90’s asking price.
Also a big part of the U27M90’s premium appeal is its native 4K resolution and its claims to deliver 600 nits of brightness, as certified by VESA’s independent DisplayHDR system. This is roughly double the sort of brightness associated with what might be called conventional gaming monitors. In fact, it’s more brightness than you get with a good many mid-range TVs.
Sony claims that the M9 can impressively deliver more 95% of the DCI-P3 HDR colour gamut, while its 10-bit implementation should largely avoid common issues with banding in HDR images by having the potential to deliver 1.07 billion colours.
On top of these basic picture quality attributes, the U27M90 also carries most of the key features gamers are coming to expect from dedicated monitors. So the fastest of three different input lag options can deliver grey to grey response time of just 1ms, for instance, while the native 4K screen can handle 4K-resolution signals at frame rates of up to 144Hz.
Variable refresh rates are also supported, of course, in both the standard HDMI and Nvidia G-Sync flavours. Though it’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t also AMD FreeSync support.
Tucked away in a Gaming Assist menu, meanwhile, are such gaming aids as a Black Equaliser that lets you lift black levels in only the dark areas of the picture; an onscreen frame rate counter; an elapsed game timer; an FPS game picture mode that optimises brightness and contrast for FPS environments and gameplay; and an onscreen crosshair to aid aiming.
Auto KVM Switch, meanwhile, lets you control up to two PCs or 1 PC and one console from a single keyboard/mouse/headset set connected to the monitor, while USB Type C DisplayPort Alternate Mode support lets a USB-C equipped computer connect directly to the monitor and transfer data or video via s single cable.
New Inzone Hub PC software lets you control aspects of both Sony’s Inzone monitors and headphones from your computer, including enabling you to assign specific picture mode and sound profiles to individual games and applications.
As you would hope, the U27M90 supports the ‘Perfect for PS5’ features Sony introduced initially for its latest TVs. So Sony’s console will automatically know when it has been connected to an InZone monitor, and automatically configure its HDR settings so that they’re optimised to the monitor’s capabilities. And the monitor, for its part, will automatically switch between video and gaming presets depending on which sort of content the PS5 is being used to output.
It follows from this that there are both gaming and movie-themed picture presets on the monitor, underlining that it arguably has more gaming/AV ‘all-rounder’ DNA than most monitors do.
Many of the options I’ve just run through will require you to visit the U27M90’s onscreen menus. While these are tidy enough, the lack of a remote control with Sony’s monitor will leave you having to rely for menu navigation on a frustratingly fiddly joystick knob on the back of the monitor’s right hand side. It’s painfully easy to ‘double move’ this joystick, or move it when you meant to press it in to select a highlighted option.
First impressions of the U27M90’s gaming performance are extremely promising. For starters, it’s bright by monitor standards. Particularly when it comes to delivering peak highlights with HDR games, which appear with a combination of intensity and control that’s rarely seen outside of the high-end TV world.
When I said control back there, I meant in particular that provided you’ve run through some sort of HDR calibration system (which happens automatically with the PS5 and can be achieved easily enough with the Xbox Series X) the U27M90’s impressive bright highlights are delivered with impressively little evidence of clipping (detail loss) or distracting ‘glowing’.
Full screen brightness levels are impressive for a monitor too, as is the consistency with which the brightness is sustained seemingly indefinitely. In other words, there’s no noticeable instability in the baseline brightness level as the screen adapts its pictures to changes in the image content, or because the screen needs to ‘protect itself’ from prolonged brightness exposure.
Another string to the U27M90’s bow is its colour performance. The panel’s high brightness joins with some excellent colour processing and management to produce a range and subtlety of colour tones beyond the scope of most monitors. Especially when it comes to the brighter end of the HDR image spectrum.
I only rarely spotted any traces of colour banding or striping either, even in notoriously tricky images such as blue skies or sunsets.
Contributing considerably to both the colour and brightness highlight intensity of the U27M90 is an excellent black level performance by monitor standards, courtesy of the FALD panel design. The sort of contrast that results from this mix of strong lights and darks is again something I’m more accustomed to seeing on a high-end TV than a gaming monitor. Though having said that, I’ll be adding a pretty substantial rider to the U27M90’s contrast performance later.
Sharpness and detailing are again excellent. The tiniest of textures in native 4K game images are rendered with gorgeous clarity and precision, as the exceptional colour range and finesse joins forces with the sort of image purity Sony’s TVs can also usually be relied on to deliver. Shadow detailing is excellent, too – especially if you have the local dimming system engaged.
This control of colour and light all contributes to an excellent sense of depth that both brings first-person landscapes to life and makes it easier to judge distances at speed.
Talking of speed, the screen feels extremely responsive in its Faster input lag setting setting, never leaving you feeling as if the screen’s latency has cost you your life. Unless you’re specifically looking for something other than yourself to blame…
The screen handles 120Hz sources with appropriate fluidity and clarity, and delivers the extra purity and responsiveness you’d hope to get with variable refresh rates.
If you fancy watching a film on the U27M90 from time to time, Sony’s experience in this department is impressively obvious. Using the Cinema preset, the screen adapts its colour profile beautifully to suit video sources, and the striking contrast performance (with local dimming set to High) I noted while gaming is if anything even more impressive with movies.
Colours and detail look as impressive with native 4K video as they do with native 4K gaming, and in another tip of the hat to something Sony TVs are renowned for, the monitor handles 24p motion exceptionally well, leaving it looking clean, sharp and natural.
Gorgeous though the U27M90’s pictures look for most of the time, there are a couple of significant niggles you need to be aware of. First, the sort of angles you can view the screen from before contrast and colour saturation start to take a pretty severe hit are very limited. This is not, therefore, a monitor you’ll probably want to use with a bunch of friends crowded around it.
Second and more problematically, the screen is quite prone to backlight blooming when you’ve got the local dimming system active. So where a bright object appears against a dark background, be it occasionally in an HDR game or potentially quite often in an HDR film, it appears surrounded by a pretty easily noticeable few centimetres of ‘accidental’, uncontrolled light.
The obviousness of this artefact of the FALD lighting system is made more noticeable by the way the blooming sometimes creeps into the black bars above and below wide aspect ratio films/game cinematics, and the fact that the busyness of the local dimming engine in tracking the progress of bright objects around the screen can cause the bloom to keep popping up in different areas from frame to frame.
If you switch the local dimming setting from High to Low, the blooming becomes a little less intense and ‘defined’, but tends to leak into a wider area of the dark imagery around the stand-out bright object. Black level depths are reduced by switching into the Low Local Dimming mode too.
There is a way to remove the blooming: just turn off Local Dimming. Unfortunately, though, doing this drastically reduces the screen’s black level performance for both game and film sources, leaving them looking more washed out and flat than I think really anyone would want to see them looking on such a relatively expensive monitor.
To some extent, then, the local dimming engine has a little “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” vibe. Thankfully, though, if you’re attracted by the many charms Sony’s debut monitor has to offer, you can greatly reduce the impact of the local dimming blooming by maintaining some ambient light in your room, rather than playing in the dark. Though obviously this isn’t an ideal solution.
Turning our attentions, finally, to the U27M90’s built in audio performance, it’s really just a sound option of last resort. With only 2 x 2W of power to play with, it has precious little to offer in terms of dynamics or bass, leaving games sounding thin and brittle. It’s pretty limited in volume terms too, with the best things you can say about it being that it delivers impact sounds with decent attack, and doesn’t succumb to distortion or other signs of speaker breakdown.
Most gamers who play on monitors, though, will be using headphones rather than relying on the U27M90’s speakers. And in most respects, Sony’s new monitor’s talents do just about enough to justify its price even without the speakers adding much to the equation.
Sony Inzone H9 Gaming Headphones Review: Comfortably Awesome