No vis­i­ble stand. No vis­i­ble speak­ers. Just 65 inches of stun­ning OLED pic­ture. Is Sony’s A1 now the world’s best tele­vi­sion?

Sound + Image - - Contents -

Is this OLED TV now the best 65-incher in the world?

The first TV-sized OLED panel we were ever shown — back in 2008 — was from Sony. Only 11 inches di­ag­o­nal it was, and they car­ried it into our of­fice proudly, lift­ing it onto a ta­ble with one hand. Sony still makes OLED pan­els to­day, very good ones, which it sells to the med­i­cal in­dus­try. But for the con­sumer TV mar­ket Sony has stuck with LCD un­til now, or un­til 2017, when it started buy­ing OLED pan­els from LG.Dis­play. It bought 100,000 of them in the first half of 2017 ( Busi­ness Korea fig­ures), it is pro­jected to dou­ble that in the sec­ond half of 2017, and it ap­par­ently hopes to buy 600,000 a year from 2019 when LG.Dis­play’s up­com­ing Guangzhou fac­tory is sched­uled to come on­line (over-op­ti­misti­cally, say some, pre­dict­ing an OLED TV panel sup­ply cri­sis that year).

So Sony is clearly en­thu­si­as­tic about OLED as a TV tech­nol­ogy, and is al­ready suc­cess­ful in its OLED TV ship­ments. Spend­ing time with this 65-incher, well, it is not hard to see why.


For such a tremen­dous screen, set-up was glo­ri­ously trou­ble-free, as­sisted a lit­tle by the sup­plied pic­tograms and very use­fully by an on­line Sony YouTube video. You lift the box to re­veal the TV, pull the in­te­grated stand out to its an­gled po­si­tion, at­tach a pre­vi­ously con­structed sil­ver rod thing, and mirac­u­lously con­struc­tion is fin­ished with­out even re­mov­ing it from the box. You can then lift it (two peo­ple rec­om­mended) from the back and front cor­ners. Clean off fin­ger­prints gen­tly and you’re ready to ad­mire the TV in place.

And what a TV it is. The stand works like it’s a gi­ant pic­ture frame, and leaves the screen at a fixed an­gle fac­ing slightly up­wards. So this will point di­rectly at you only if your table­top is pretty darned low — about 40cm from the floor, we reckon, as­sum­ing you’ll be view­ing from an av­er­age couch height. Even a 60cm bench height (about right for get­ting the screen’s mid­point at eye level) leaves the screen point­ing up­wards rather than the ideal of straight at you. The fur­ther away you sit, the greater the dis­crep­ancy (the

an­gle would be fine from one me­tre away, but that’s a lit­tle close for some peo­ple). Hap­pily OLED per­forms bril­liantly off-axis so this is no great prob­lem, but it’s worth con­sid­er­ing wall-mount­ing if you don’t have such a low cab­i­net. Nor should cab­i­net-top users con­sider a sound­bar, since the Sony A1 has no stand height at all — it sits right on the desk­top.

And this is what makes it such a spec­tac­u­larly pure piece of de­sign. Sony used to put big ele­phant-ear speak­ers on the sides of its pre­mium TVs, while top-tier TVs from ri­vals are get­ting per­ma­nent sound­bars fixed to their stands — re­dun­dant for the many users pre­fer­ring to at­tach a su­pe­rior sound sys­tem. The A1 has none of that — no speak­ers, no sound­bar, no vis­i­ble stand. Just a big slab of glo­ri­ous 16:9 glass. In aes­thetic terms it ban­ishes de­sign to dis­play only its purest pur­pose — the pic­ture. That’s all you can see, with a mere cen­time­tre of black edg­ing around the pic­ture and a few ex­tra mil­lime­tres for the bumper at the bot­tom.

Not only does this re­move clut­ter around the TV, it is the best pos­si­ble so­lu­tion for

Sound+Im­age read­ers, many of whom wouldn’t dream of leav­ing a panel this good with sound of its own mak­ing, and will add a stereo or sur­round sys­tem of qual­ity. The A1 has both op­ti­cal and ana­logue mini­jack out­puts for this.

Talk­ing of in­puts, you get four HDMI, all UHD and HDCP2.2 com­pat­i­ble, and the sec­ond of which is spec­i­fied for send­ing back ARC au­dio if you’re con­nect­ing a re­ceiver or sound­bar. There’s a com­pos­ite AV mini­jack in­put and three USB sock­ets; these can be used for play­back or for adding mem­ory to record. An­tenna and Eth­er­net (Wi-Fi if you pre­fer) con­nected, you’re ready to go.


Let’s start with the sound sys­tem. It’s ex­cit­ing stuff, lit­er­ally. Sony’s gen­uinely in­no­va­tive so­lu­tion here is to use the whole front of the TV as a flat-panel speaker, ex­cited (vi­brated) from be­hind in what Sony calls Acous­tic Sur­face tech­nol­ogy. This is, we gather, patent pend­ing for Sony, although the idea of flat-panel speak­ers are not new — we re­mem­ber the 1990s launch of NXT pan­els out of Mis­sion loud­speak­ers; NXT had hopes of vi­brat­ing every­thing from walls to cars to aero­planes (can­celling in-flight rum­ble as well as de­liv­er­ing au­dio). Some of it worked, and to­day’s BMR (bal­anced mode ra­di­a­tors) speak­ers use the prin­ci­ple to put a flat tweeter on the front of a con­ven­tion­ally pis­tonic cone.

But never do we re­call a TV be­ing sug­gested as a can­di­date for vi­bra­tion. Yet it makes great sense — as TVs get big­ger, even in­te­grated speak­ers get phys­i­cally di­vorced from the screen, whereas here the screen it­self makes the mid and high-fre­quency sound, so the sound comes di­rectly from the im­age, and of course from a far wider area than a hum­ble speaker cone can present, a full 65-inch di­ag­o­nal in­deed! An­other ad­van­tage of flat-panel ra­di­a­tion is lower drop-off of vol­ume level with dis­tance com­pared with con­ven­tional cones, which might be handy if your fam­ily sits at dif­fer­ent dis­tances from the screen, fight­ing over level pref­er­ence.

Here the screen vi­brates in stereo too — there are four ac­tu­a­tors on the back of the A1 lo­cated as two pairs; these vi­brate the OLED panel and its bonded glass (no air gap) di­rectly.

Why doesn’t vi­brat­ing the TV make the im­age vi­brate as well? The higher fre­quen­cies are, ev­i­dently, too rapid for our eyes to per­ceive, in ad­di­tion to be­ing for­ward-back mo­tion any­way, rather than side to side. And fur­ther, the screen doesn’t do the low­est fre­quen­cies — there’s a sep­a­rate sub­woofer be­hind the screen, fir­ing and port­ing through the rear of the stand. Sony Aus­tralia’s Dan Kennedy, who knowl­edge­ably an­swered all our queries in this re­gard, as­sures us that VESA-type wall-mount­ing so­lu­tions will leave enough space be­hind the stand to pre­vent the grille and port from be­ing flush to a wall and thereby muf­fled; in­deed he says it serves to sup­port the bass con­tent bet­ter than when free stand­ing on a cab­i­net.

This ‘in­vis­i­ble’ built-in au­dio proved well up to the level of a sim­ple sound­bar (and rather bet­ter than the Sony sound­bar re­viewed this is­sue), the vi­brat­ing 65-inch de­liv­er­ing a well­bal­anced sound with a nat­u­ral tone and a good level avail­able. There’s no TV-like thin­ness, not even the cut-off-at-the-knees feel­ing of low-price sound­bars. It’s a full sound, with a well-de­signed cross­over be­tween rear sub and the screen’s mids and highs. We won­dered if the 55-incher might sound quite dif­fer­ent, hav­ing a lot less ra­di­at­ing area, but that would af­fect bass more than the high fre­quen­cies han­dled here, and Mr Kennedy as­sures us they sound very sim­i­lar.

And yet… af­ter fin­ish­ing set-up and leav­ing it ready to use, the mis­sus pro­claimed it muf­fled and hard to un­der­stand, hav­ing been up late watch­ing some good mur­der. She has an ex­cel­lent track record in iden­ti­fy­ing au­dio prob­lems, and sure enough when we set­tled down the next day to en­joy some Blu-ray mu­sic, the re­sults were odd. Neil Finn and Paul Kelly’s Opera House con­cert looked mag­nif­i­cent, but Mr Finn’s vo­cal seemed swamped in re­verb, far more than we re­called, with all the close-mik­ing cues seem­ingly lost in the mix. Mov­ing off-axis to lis­ten out for comb dis­tor­tion from the mul­ti­ple ac­tu­a­tors, we in­stead found a weird phase vari­a­tion that seemed to flange white noise as we moved around. We re­called see­ing a sur­round ef­fect in our early fa­mil­iari­sa­tion with the menu op­tions, and sure enough by in­vok­ing the handy ‘Ac­tion Menu’, the sound op­tions showed some­thing called ClearAu­dio+ checked and ac­tive, and this also set the ‘Sur­round’ to Auto. Un­der ad­vanced set­tings the Sur­round could be seen as be­ing up at 6 (out of 10).

We turned off ClearAu­dio+ and every­thing was fixed — no flang­ing, no echo on Neil Finn, no more com­plaints from the mis­sus. Given we could hear no ap­par­ent merit to ClearAu­dio+, we sug­gest you kill it if us­ing the TV’s own speak­ers. You’ll need to do so sep­a­rately for each in­put.

Thus clar­i­fied, the Finn/Kelly con­cert both looked mag­nif­i­cent and sounded en­joy­ably mu­si­cal — well short of hi-fi magic lev­els, but eas­ily lis­ten­able with­out ir­ri­ta­tion, with such de­light­ful in­volve­ment, in­deed, that we played this con­cert from end to end at a fair old level, with only oc­ca­sional nudges down to tame a lit­tle peak­i­ness when over­stretched. And no, we never saw the im­age vi­brat­ing, even right close up.

There is a ‘mu­sic’ EQ op­tion which punches things up un­usu­ally suc­cess­fully for an EQ mode. We en­joyed it, but be­came para­noid that it was in­tro­duc­ing just a slight sync de­lay is­sue, so we went back to good old ‘Stan­dard’.

For the first weeks with the sys­tem we used the TV’s own au­dio de­liv­ery ex­clu­sively, and then we used Naim’s Uniti Atom to lis­ten in higher qual­ity stereo through our ref­er­ence Ger­man stand­moun­ters — the min­i­mum such a mag­nif­i­cent panel de­serves. All worked per­fectly from the op­ti­cal out­put, with the un­usual bonus that the TV re­mote’s mute but­ton si­lenced the op­ti­cal out­put as well as the TV’s own speak­ers. Sync seemed par­tic­u­larly well han­dled by this TV.

So let’s talk about the im­age qual­ity. We’ve never seen bet­ter. The best LED TVs are stun­ning these days, but the best OLEDs are clearly bet­ter. Only fron­te­mis­sive tech­nol­ogy can do blacks so black that you can’t see

where a black im­age ends and the bor­ders be­gin. The colours are bright but nat­u­ral too, so that dur­ing real-world con­tent (as op­posed to pro­mos de­signed to thrust colour gamut and dy­namic range to the fore) the images aren’t so ex­trav­a­gant as to dis­en­fran­chise your im­mer­sion. But we were def­i­nitely go­ing ‘wow’ when­ever bold sharp bright-coloured ti­tles and graph­ics ap­peared on the Sony; it was like watch­ing a master tape. For HDR and wide colour gamut, the ul­ti­mate re­sults are achieved from HDR Blu-ray — mag­nif­i­cent dark de­tails on Ghost

in the Shell, be­yond-cin­e­matic pre­sen­ta­tion for Max Max: Fury Road. But you can also thrill to UHD on YouTube, Net­flix and file-based play­back, while more to the point for many users, stan­dard Blu-rays are gob­s­mack­ingly stun­ning on the A1 OLED, as are 1080i TV broad­casts and PVR record­ings. One ti­tle we rush to view on OLED is the Blu-ray restora­tion of Cecil B DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Com­mand­ments, which bursts from the A1 in a riot of colour, won­drous de­tail and lux­u­ri­ous cos­tume tex­tures in the close-ups, the long-shot scale of the pic­ture well served by this great 65-inch pic­ture sheet — more than 1.14 square me­tres of im­age. Gamers get a low-la­tency mode and can en­joy easy brand-com­pat­i­bil­ity for 4K HDR gam­ing from Sony’s PlaySta­tion 4.

From the ‘stan­dard’ pic­ture mode pre­sets, we did start mak­ing a few ad­just­ments, no­tably bring­ing down sharp­ness and bright­ness to tame the char­ac­ter­is­tic film-grain speck­ling of bright ar­eas that still typ­ify OLED panel re­pro­duc­tion. Film grain is good, of course, but the speck­ling on high bright­ness ar­eas can be dis­tract­ing, and can be use­fully calmed here by bring­ing the sharp­ness well be­low 50.

Our best re­sults came from tweak­ing off the ‘Cin­ema Pro’ set­ting, and we’ll avoid rein­vent­ing the wheel here by point­ing you to the rec­om­mended set­tings at flat­pan­, on which we couldn’t im­prove. Cer­tainly Sony’s Mo­tion­flow smooth­ing is one of the best on the mar­ket, its com­bi­na­tion of in­ter­po­lated and black frames achiev­ing jud­der-free per­for­mance with­out any ap­par­ent im­age ‘gloss­ing’ or halo­ing ef­fect. Ap­plied to the cred­its of Ri­d­ley Scott’s

Prometheus, which at 02:45 have the writ­ers’ credit in fine text dis­played over rush­ing wa­ter, jud­der was ev­i­dent with Mo­tion­Flow off or in TrueCinema mode, but im­me­di­ately smoothed un­der smooth or medium, with smooth (or cus­tom, with a smooth­ness set­ting of 3) do­ing the best job of hold­ing the cred­its steady over smoothly rush­ing wa­ter, a pro­cess­ing night­mare for any sys­tem.

In­deed there are an ex­trav­a­gant num­ber of such pic­ture ad­just­ments, each with sev­eral set­tings or a slider con­trol — you can ad­just Re­al­ity Cre­ation, ran­dom noise re­duc­tion, dig­i­tal noise re­duc­tion, smooth gra­da­tion, Ad­vance con­trast en­hancer, X-tended Dy­namic Range, Black ad­just, plus the usual bright­ness, con­trast, gamma, black level, and colour set­tings (we mul­ti­plied the num­ber of op­tions for each to­gether to find a grand to­tal of pos­si­ble set­tings too big for our cal­cu­la­tor). And that’s for each in­put. Hap­pily Sony’s de­faults seem pretty good, though the light sen­sor didn’t please us, so those who like to fid­dle, in the nicest pos­si­ble way, may pre­fer to set each in­put to a night-time view­ing ideal, then mem­o­rise the best way to pump it for brighter day-time con­di­tions — to Vivid pic­ture mode if you’re lazy (Vivid mode is less of­fen­sive than usual, per­haps partly be­cause the OLED blacks are still black), or a com­bi­na­tion of bright­ness and con­trast and black lev­els if you’re ap­plaud­ably finick­ity.


So a truly mag­nif­i­cent pic­ture, with ex­cel­lent pro­cess­ing, all the ease and util­ity of An­droid, and that clever au­dio so­lu­tion re­mov­ing the need for side speak­ers or a sound­bar. That serves to make the A1 as com­pact a 65-incher as can be in terms of width and height; stand users should note its depth, mind you — your cab­i­net must be at least 35cm deep and a bit more for safety. Wall­mount­ing re­ally does look a good op­tion with this TV.

Is the A1 the best TV on the mar­ket? It’s cer­tainly the best we’ve yet been able to re­view fully in res­i­dence, thereby eek­ing out any im­per­fec­tions, and the A1 proved to have very few im­per­fec­tions in­deed. That Au­dio Sur­face sound is great for starters, while avoid­ing re­dun­dant speak­ers tak­ing up vis­ual space if you at­tach a high qual­ity ex­ter­nal sound sys­tem. And in even­ing ac­tion, the un­adorned A1 is a thing of true beauty, with noth­ing to dis­tract from the ‘wow’ stun­ning OLED im­age. We reckon A1 is a very apt model num­ber in­deed. Jez Ford

Sony KD-65A1 UHD OLED tele­vi­sion

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