REVIEW: Sony Raises The OLED 4K Bar

Sony may have dabbled with OLED technology in the Noughties, but the KD65A1 is its first serious OLED flatscreen – and it’s a barnstorming debut.

Available in 55-inch (KD-55A1) and 65-inch (KD-65A1) screen sizes, the A1 combines designer flair with innovative engineering. If you’re looking for a screen that redefines the state of the art, from picture processing to audio, then the A1 is it.

The sets ‘one-slate’ design looks minimalist in the extreme. But this simplicity belies conceptual ingenuity. The set doesn’t use a conventional pedestal. Instead, the OLED panel leans back on an angled support, heavily braced for rigidity. This stand accommodates electronics, input board, subwoofer and cable management. The impression is that the A1 is resting casually on its micro-thin bezel, quite a feat for something that weighs the best part of 30kg.

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One consequence of this arrangement is that the TV has a 6 degree recline. While fine if you have low AV furniture, it could look a bit off if you’re not looking down at the set.

An alternative, of course, is to wall mount. The counter balance, which itself weighs some 8kg, detaches from the bottom of the stand, allowing it to lock onto the back of the panel at which point it’ll work with a standard Vesa mount.

Affixed to the rear of the panel is the Bravia Bar. This features a pair of sonic actuators, positioned either side of the screen. These vibrate, creating stereo sound. Sony first used the technology in its glass speaker a few years back, but we’ve never seen it on a TV before. Sony calls it Acoustic Surface technology.

The actuators handle high and mid-range audio, leaving bass to the 8cm sub in the stand. The total audio output is 50W – 2×20 going left and right, and 10W feeding the sub.

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Connections comprise four HDMIs, all HDCP 2.2 compliant for use with 4K content sources like UHD Blu-ray players and games consoles. There’s also a trio of USBs, one of which supports timeshifting onto USB drives up to 2TB, plus an optical digital audio output and Ethernet. Wi-Fi is dual band and there’s Bluetooth too.

The set’s Android smart platform has Chromecast built-in, making it easy to cast content from a compatible mobile phone. Apps include Netflix and YouTube in 4K.

Sony supplements the Android OS with its own feature embellishments. A Discover bar offers On Now thumbnails, On Demand TV and highlights, plus any content from networked storage. The screen doesn’t support 3D though.

Picture quality is sensational. A Triluminos wide colour gamut display, colour vibrancy is high, while a 4K Reality Pro picture processor maximizes image detail. You will go “Wow!”.

Contrast is superb, with rich blacks enhanced by near-black detail. When Alice makes her descent into the pit, during the climax of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (4K UHD Blu-ray), the screen reveals plenty of depth in the doomy landscape.

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The set’s ability to deliver pure black can also have unexpected consequences. Playing Resident Evil Biohazard (PS4) on the A1 becomes far more frightening than playing on a backlit LCD TV. Those pitch black areas of the screen, just outside the narrow beam of your flashlight, become truly terrifying.

Clarity is immense; YouTube 4K looks better than I’ve ever seen it before, seemingly freed from compression artefacts and banding, thanks to an upgrade of Sony’s Super bit-mapping technology. This takes an 8-bit or 10-bit original signal and upconverts it to a 14-bit equivalent gradation. The result is clean, nuanced, textured streamed images.

Key to the set’s image success is Sony’s new 4K HDR X1 Extreme image engine, which analyses incoming signals and matches them to the panel characteristics. This edition handles 40 per cent more real time image processing than the original X1 picture processor, and is responsible for upscaling all content for an HDR effect.

This object-based HDR remastering does a brilliant job selectively boosting peak highlights, yet maintaining detail. If you want to see images without HDR enhancement, you need to use the Cinema Pro mode.

Similarly, when Alice makes her descent into the pit, during the climax of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (4K UHD Blu-ray), the screen reveals plenty of near-dark detail in the landscape.

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While the average picture level is high, there’s still room for realistic HDR glints and highlights. The A1 supports HDR, HLG and Dolby Vision (when a firmware update lands). Using a 10 per cent HDR window, I recording a peak brightness of 776 cd/m2. With a smaller 5 per cent window, this rose to 799 cd/m2. By way of comparison, a full-field white SDR screen measures 173 cd/m2.

While the panel has no problem revealing a full test pattern of 2160p detail, we did notice some image processing on the Standard image preset. This isn’t on the Cinema Pro or Cinema Home viewing modes.

That said, the Standard mode remains the best general viewing option. The set has no problem tone mapping HDR content mastered at 1000 nits.

Motion handling is a mixed bag. Motionflow XR Smooth and Clear settings suffer from obvious artefacts around certain moving objects. The True Cinema mode basically switches Motionflow Off, and looks all the better for it. If you require image interpolation, for sports, use the Custom setting (Smoothness 3, Clearness Low).

And what of that Acoustic Surface technology? To be honest, I was staggered by just how good the A1’s audio performance is. The crossover with the sub is seamless, while the stereo presentation is crisp and precise. The soundstage is also surprisingly wide.

There’s certainly no need for any soundbar augmentation. The only meaningful upgrade would be a full blown home cinema system. What Sony has achieved here is really quite remarkable.

 

Conclusion

In summary, we have no hesitation in declaring the A1 a superb OLED screen. Not only is it a gorgeous example of industrial design, it’s also a top flight performer when it comes to sound and vision. This is could well be the screen to beat in 2017.

5/5 stars

Price: $5,699

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