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Sony A1/ A1E OLED TV Review

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Sony A1/ A1E OLED TV Review

Hello everyone, Vincent Teoh from HDTVTest here. In this video, I’m going to do a professional, scientific review of the Sony Bravia A1 OLED, and show you why it’s the most forgiving OLED TV that flatters all types of content.

Let’s roll! Hello everyone, my name is Vincent Teoh, and I’m a TV reviewer and professional calibrator. Today, we’re going to take a look at the Sony A1 OLED, also known as the A1E in the USA. I’ve tested the 65-inch version.

.. model number KD-65A1… which has a launch price of £5000. There is also a smaller 55-inch version which retails at £3500 at the time this review was filmed, which is June 2017. First, let’s talk about the design.

We all know that OLED TVs can be made very thin, since they don’t require any backlight to generate a picture. But Sony has truly taken it to the next level… they have designed the Bravia A1 in such a way that there are no speakers or stands visible from the front.

What the engineers have done is to place a pair of actuators at the back of the TV, and transmit sound through the screen itself. It sounds bonkers, but it actually works. Obviously it can’t match a dedicated soundbar or home theatre system in terms of volume or bass response, but for a TV, the dialogue clarity, the audio resolution and especially sound localisation are very very impressive.

Going back to the design of the Sony A1, the OLED panel is encased in a gunmetal grey trim. To enhance the minimalistic look, the Sony logo has been relegated to a small inscription at the bottom left corner.

The screen is supported on a kickstand at the back, which also contains the television’s processing, power circuit and a subwoofer. The screen tilts backwards around five degrees… I can see why some people don’t like it, but for me, I quickly got used to it within a few minutes of watching from the front.

I personally don’t think that it is an issue at all. The remote control also slowly grew on me throughout my review period. I still think it is a bit too lightweight and plasticky, compared with, let’s say the remotes supplied with the Loewe bild 7 or Panasonic EZ1000.

But the more I used it, the more I liked it – the front rubber and back faux-metallic dual-textured surfaces, and the gratifying tactile feedback. Note that the active area of the infrared sensor is quite narrow, you need to make sure you’re pointing your remote directly at the illuminated LED in the centre of the screen.

The connection inputs are found on the rear kickstand, mostly facing downwards. Although you can still play 4K Blu-rays in HDR through all four HDMI ports, only HDMI 2 and 3 support 4K@60Hz at higher bit depth and chroma.

To do this, you need to go into the user menu and change [HDMI signal format] from “Standard” to “Enhanced”. A grey fabric cover is supplied to achieve a cleaner look. Before we move on to talk about picture quality, I would like to thank Crampton & Moore Leeds for sponsoring this video.

You probably don’t know this, but they are the retailer which have been helping us with the annual HDTVTest TV shootout event, and from time to time also they loan us TVs to review, TVs which manufacturers don’t want to send to us for review for one reason or another.

So if you’re thinking about buying a television, even if it’s not this Sony Bravia A1 OLED, if you’re thinking about buying any television at all, please consider giving them a call on 0113 244 6607..

. I’ll also put the phone number in the description below. Ask for David Connor, say Vincent from HDTVTest sent you, and he’ll take good care of you with a great price and service. Without their help, I won’t be hosting any public TV shootout event or reviewing certain televisions, so please support us by supporting them, thank you.

Ok, by now, most video enthusiasts should know about OLED’s true blacks, vibrant colours and wide viewing angles granted by the technology’s self-emissive characteristics. In the past, near-black handling on OLED TVs can look noisy and pixellated, even on well-mastered Blu-ray titles such as Skyfall.

The Sony A1 or A1E certainly rendered the area just above black in a cleaner and clearer manner than 2016 OLEDs, but to be fair, all other 2017 OLED TVs including the LG B7, C7 and the Panasonic EZ1002 can do this too.

Where Sony has an advantage is with lower bit rate or more heavily compressed programmes – its [Smooth Gradation] technology worked very effectively to reduce macroblocking and contouring, resulting in a cleaner image than its rivals.

Because of the X1 Extreme chipset, the Sony A1, just like the XE93 and the ZD9 which also use the same processor, produces the best upscaling quality I’ve ever seen on a consumer television. Even on an SMPTE RP-133 test pattern with standard-definition PAL or 576i resolution, and all edge enhancement turned off, the Sony A1 still looked very sharp and detailed without introducing excessive junk pixels, overshoot and fizziness.

All current OLED TVs are sample-and-hold displays, and the Sony A1 is no different. With [Motionflow] switched off, motion resolution came in at the sample-and-hold baseline of 300 lines. Enabling [Motionflow] more than doubled motion resolution to 650 lines.

.. for some reason, this is the highest number we’ve ever obtained from any WRGB OLED TV, including the 2017 sets from LG and Panasonic. Anyway, there are two methods to get 650 lines of motion resolution on the Sony A1.

One is by using motion interpolation… either [Motionflow] “Standard”, “Smooth”, or “Custom” with [Smoothness] set above “Minimum”. This invariably introduces interpolation artefacts or soap opera effect to 24 frames per second movies, so we don’t tend to use it, even though Sony’s motion interpolation is some of the best in the business, resulting in less artefacts and less offensive soap opera effect than other brands’.

The Sony A1 or A1E also offers a black frame insertion or BFI mode, which can be activated by setting [Clearness] to “High”. There are normally two side effects associated with BFI due to how it works, namely a drop in light output, and also flicker, but the great thing about BFI is that motion blur is reduced without introducing interpolation artefacts or soap opera effect.

The maximum light output I can extract from the Sony A1 with black frame insertion on is still one hundred and eighty five nits on a 10% window, which I think it’s enough for all but the brightest rooms.

What will probably dissuade people from using black frame insertion is the flicker. Sending a 60Hz signal to the TV produced the least flicker compared with a 24Hz signal, and a 50Hz video, like the broadcast we get in the UK and Europe, is somewhere in between.

Personally, I can tolerate the 60Hz flicker, but sensitivity vary from one person to another, so you need to check it out yourself to see if BFI is for you. There have been claims that Sony improved its tone-mapping following the Android Nougat 7 update, and I was fortunate enough to receive this firmware update in the UK during my review period.

From my testing, what Sony mainly adjusted is the default [Contrast] value in HDR [Cinema pro] mode. Pre-Android 7, the default [Contrast] value was “Max” in [Cinema pro] mode in HDR, of course, causing the picture to look too bright, and also blowing out specular highlights.

With Android 7 however, the default [Contrast] setting has been lowered to “90”, therefore bringing the EOTF – or electro-optical transfer function – curve closer to the ST.2084 perceptual quantisation standard.

The Sony A1 doesn’t modify its PQ EOTF curve according to static metadata, so while it’s optimised for HDR movies that are graded to 1000 nits, the TV will be throwing away some highlight detail between 1000 nits and 4000 nits.

Here is a frame-by-frame playback of Batman versus Superman, a 4K Blu-ray title that’s mastered to 4000 nits. The Sony A1 is on the left, and on the right is a HDR TV that retains specular highlights to 4000 nits better.

You can see that the A1 is blowing out the lightning bolts, as well as Batfleck’s white shirt on certain frames. And here’s Pan, another 4K Blu-ray that’s graded at 4000 nits. Pay attention to the sun and how it’s blowing out a bit on the Sony A1.

In itself there is nothing wrong with Sony’s tone-mapping approach at all, because there’s no established standard for tone-mapping anyway. When tone-mapping 1000 or 4000 nits content to a display that’s only capable of 750 nits, a decision has to be made to either preserve brightness or detail.

It just so happens that Sony opted to retain brightness and sacrifice some detail. Of course, you can reduce the [Contrast] value even further to bring out more highlight detail, but there are three problems.

First, you’ll be lowering the overall brightness of the picture that it doesn’t even look like HDR. Two, if you decrease [Contrast] for 4000 nit content, 1000-nit content will also be affected, and the Sony A1 is already very well-optimised for 1000-nit HDR.

Last but not least, if you adjust [Contrast] to a specific value in HDR mode, the same value will stay in SDR mode within the same picture preset. It takes a skilled and experienced calibrator who understands the ins and outs of HDR tone-mapping and the behaviour of this TV to achieve the best results.

I wonder who that person can be. Like the Sony ZD9 and XE93 which use the same X1 Extreme chipset, the Bravia A1E or A1 has different input lag depending on whether upscaling is needed. If you send a 4K video signal to the TV, regardless of whether it’s SDR or HDR, the input lag is around 31 miliseconds in [Game] mode.

But if you send a 1080p signal, input lag increases by one frame to 47 miliseconds, presumably because of the processing time needed to upscale the image to fill the 4K screen. If getting the lowest input lag is not that important to you, the Sony A1 has a couple of really nice features that can enhance your gaming experience.

One is [Smooth Gradation] which can smooth out any in-game contouring or posterisation. The other is black frame insertion which can reduce motion blur when you’re playing games, as long as you’re not sensitive to the 60Hz flicker.

[Smooth Gradation] doesn’t add any lag at all, whereas black frame insertion added half a frame lag, around 8 miliseconds. In summary, the Bravia A1 is an OLED masterclass from Sony. We know the Japanese brand has experience in making professional OLED broadcast monitors, but it’s still fascinating to see how the company use their video processing expertise to get the most out of a WRGB OLED panel that is sourced from LG Display.

We’ve compared the 2017 OLEDs from LG, Panasonic and Sony side by side, and after calibration, all of them deliver excellent picture quality, although one might do something than the other two, and vice versa.

The strengths of the Sony A1 are: one, class-leading upscaling thanks to the X1 Extreme chipset, two) great suppression of posterisation with the [Smooth Gradation] super bit-mapping technology, and three) a motion interpolation system that introduces the least interpolation artefacts.

And that’s why I say the Sony A1 or A1E is the most forgiving OLED TV. Even if you feed it lousy, heavily compressed standard-definition content, the X1 Extreme processor will try its best to upscale it, and the [Smooth Gradation] feature will reduce the amount of macroblocking and pixellation.

If you’re in the market for a high-end, big-screen television this year, the Sony A1 is a must-audition. If you’ve found this video useful, please click the like button, and subscribe to the HDTVTest Youtube channel for more videos like this.

Thank you for watching, and I’ll see you the next time.

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