Take last year’s spectacular A1 OLED television and make it rather boring? Well, we see the point.
Well, in one respect, this is rather dull. Sony’s A1 OLED last year was a spectacular television, a design statement, a slab of OLED leaning back on a giant picture-frame support. We loved it, gave it our Best Television of the Year award. This A8F — it looks like any other TV, or we should say like any other premium TV, being nice and low, less than a centimetre off the benchtop, its panel just 5mm thick, with another 85mm or so of electronics on the back. But the design itself is not a ‘wow’.
Of course, Sony has done this purposely. The
A1 has been called a ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ design. That lean-back stance made positioning impossible in many homes. This one can go anywhere, and can more easily wallmount. So the A8F is an everyman’s A1.
A spousal wow
Indeed Sony has reinforced this ordinariness by releasing the ‘A9F’ fairly hard on its heels as one of its ‘Master’ Series — “a name Sony reserves exclusively for its highest picture quality TV models”, as the company says, and for that super-premium model (see p97) it has returned to the lean-back A1 slab design. Not that that Master TV seems to gain a huge amount technically over this model — a Pixel Contrast Booster (for a panel with infinite contrast) and an extra actuator for its Acoustic Surface technology (see opposite). Yet all this rather plays down the merits here.
Nevertheless, the A8F did get a spousal ‘wow’. And that’s is a rare proclamation indeed for a television, only the third to our recollection, those being the very first LG OLED, second the Sony A1 OLED last year, and now this one.
But while the Sony A1 had its exterior wow factor, the A8F is, as noted, less flamboyant — just a TV, ma’am, thin from the side and sexily ridged to the rear, sure, but from the bucket seat just a big rectangle of picture. So it was the picture alone which gained that spousal wow, and all the more achievement therefore.
You won’t so much pick it in a daytime lounge, though you may find yourself gazing deeply into some field of green or shirt of orange, so strongly does the light make its impression upon the brain. But of course it’s from sunset that the contrast is made infinite and the brilliance of OLED fully delivered. The finest examples were from UHD sources but it’s the surprise lifting of well-filmed TV shows that can impress all the more by their unexpected glory. The island cutaways in Australian Survivor on TenHD shone like a 4K showreel; the Outback landscapes in the Todd McKenney episode of
Who Do You Think You Are were so spellbinding that we horrified the missus by beginning again our recording of SBS’s The Ghan slow-film doco, which looked simply glorious shining from the A8F. The sharpness of Blu-ray content, let alone UHD Blu-ray, do the wowing for the A8F.
One obvious benefit over the Sony LED TV reviewed last issue was angle of view - the A8F could be seen side on from our kitchen, where the X90F LED could not.
Better still, the default settings are excellent. That’s just as well, given how varied and many are the adjustment parameters, with the ability to customise each input. Sony’s MotionFlow is as good as it gets in low or medium mode (2 or
3 in custom mode). A key choice will be whether to active the Light Sensor option to optimise brightness according to ambient light — doing so messes with any fine calibration, yet it’s a useful auto-adjustment for daytime viewing in particular. For our PVR input we left it on, and worked from the ‘Standard’ picture mode, while for the input receiving UHD Blu-ray inputs we had the Light Sensor off and calibrated more carefully for evening use from the Cinema Pro picture mode, taking www.flatpanelshd.com’s suggestion of dropping red and blue gains under Advanced Colour Settings to -8 and -6, which dragged a slight exaggeration of colours back to realism
(at least when you can find a real scene in these days of heavily graded digital filmmaking). It was not only the colours and contrast of OLED that delighted, but the night-time delivery of details in the dark areas — Blade Runner 2049 on UHD Blu-ray demonstrated this well (less so in hazy scenes), despite the heavy grading and this movie’s non-divisible upscaling to 4K from 3424 × 2202.
The one problem there was that you can’t seem to calibrate an input separately for HDR and SDR material — or at least for HDR10, since Dolby Vision activates a dedicated picture mode. We actually had another Blu-ray player on another input to play standard non-HDR Blu-ray, a rather extravagent workaround. There are four HDMI inputs in all, all 4K and HDCP2.2 compatible, with the third one offering ARC to a connected sound system, with digital output and minijack headphone analogue as fallback options.
We would always recommend a connected sound system for a television like this, even though the A8F’s own sound is the best you’ll find on a TV (except from those with big integrated systems), thanks to its Acoustic Surface. We find this near-miraculous — the whole front of the panel itself is vibrated from two sets of actuators at the back, delivering highfrequency stereo from the screen itself. This is supported by small subwoofers behind, which get a better chance here to contribute through the small bottom gap, whereas the A1 was flat to the table. We reviewed the 55-inch A8F — but the subwoofers on the 65-inch are no bigger so we doubt the sound would grow much. It doesn’t do movie depths or level, but it has enough bass to prevent offence, with output down to around 60Hz in our room, and it can go remarkably high in level. Playing music even moderately loud sounded impressive at first, though once up to high/enjoyable levels the upper mids were getting shouty.
Since this is an Android TV, it has a Chromecast inside, and so our Roon music software could address it directly, delivering music at high-res, indeed, though it noted the 24-bit/192kHz file of Night Train by Antonio Forcione was being dropped down to 24-bit/48kHz. (What happens inside the Sony, of course, we have no idea.)
The Android 7.0 interface was identical to the X90F reviewed last issue, but didn’t seem to suffer the same latency of operation; it wasn’t exactly zippy, but didn’t take so long that you often pressed again and cancelled the command. It has all the catch-up apps and a whole Android TV store of other apps available. Sony has proven good at updating Android on previous TVs (some other brands haven’t), so we can expect this TV to receive an Android 8 update when available.
Note this is also another Sony TV with the exciting-sounding Samba Interactive TV on it, the website of which admits that “Samba has integrated TV data from multiple sources — from smart TVs to set-top boxes to TV apps — to help advertisers and broadcasters understand the TV viewership habits of the modern consumer.” You want that? No.
A brilliant OLED panel with premium processing and excellent built-in sound, the A8F may lack the A1’s design flamboyance but shares its wonderful picture. Jez Ford
Sony A8F 4K OLED TV
▲ The A8F OLED television from behind — the blue bits show the positions of the actuators and ‘subwoofers’ creating the Acoustic Surface audio (you can’t actually see them on the TV). The TVs inputs are split between back left and underneath one of the various removable panels, which include some useful cable-tidying channels.