OLED tele­vi­sion

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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.flat­pan­’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.

Acous­tic Sur­face

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


▲ 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.

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