Sony A9F TV Review: Almost perfect OLED TV

Sony A9F TV Detailed Review

At CES 2018, Sony unveiled the A8F OLED TV which was launched in India earlier this year. The TV came with a new design, but the A1 was originally repackaged for 2018. You can read our review about Sony A8F here The highlight of Sony’s CES 2018 appearance was the new X1 Ultimate chip that will replace scene-based rendering to object-based rendering to make HDR content look more desirable. Sadly, no consumer TV has been shown to demonstrate the power of the X1 Ultimate chip. A few months ago, Fast Forward and Sony announced the master series of their TVs – A9F and Z9D. The A9F is an OLED TV and available in India whereas the Z9D is an LED TV and Sony has not launched it in India.

The A9F we have today for review is a 55-inch variant Is the X1 Ultimate the right move for flagship OLED TVs from Sony?

Key specification at a glance

Panel size: 55-inch (also available 65-inch)
Panel type: OLED
Panel resolution: 3840 x 2160 – 4K
Panel Refresh Rate: 60Hz (for 4K content)
HDR 10 support: Yes
Dolby Vision Support: Yes
Weight (with stand): 30 kg (35.6 kg for 65-inch)
HDMI port: 4
USB port: 3
Bluetooth: Yes, 4.2
Wi-Fi: Yes
Ethernet: Yes
Speaker: Acoustic Surface (actuator + subwoofer)
Built-in storage: 16GB
Price: Rs 429,900 for 55-inch and Rs 579,900 for 65-inch

Construction and design

Put Sony A1 and A9F side by side and you can’t tell from one to the other. Sony has brought back the A1 photo frame design. The TV tilts back about 5-degrees and stands like a picture frame. The tilt is barely noticeable, and the TV is designed to be the focal point of your home’s entertainment system. The TV can be wall mounted, but the design of the stand and the placement of the port is such that you will want to place it on a table.

The TV is tilted back a bit but it does not hinder the viewing experience

When placed on a table, you will only see the screen. Below the display is a small white LED that glows when the TV is on and you can turn it off from the settings if you find it confusing. The bezels around the display are quite thin.

The only downside is that unlike the traditional stand, there is no space between the table and the bottom of the curtain. This means that if you place a soundbar in front of the TV, it will block your view. If you are someone who puts all your gadgets like Blu-ray player, gaming console, etc. under the TV, then you need to reconsider its location.

Coming in connectivity options, these are all neatly arranged and hidden behind the cover of the TV stand. You have a USB port on the right side of the kickstand and an HDMI port on the left. Everything else is hidden. Back to your power in, center speaker (we’ll talk more about this), antenna in, ethernet port, video in, IR blaster port, optical out, 3 HDMI ports, 2 USB ports and headphone out. The ports are neatly arranged and the cable management ensures that all your cables are neatly arranged.

All connections are hidden behind the back panel

Overall, the TV’s build quality is top notch. The panel is thin but the patterned picture frame means it will take up more space on a table. Personally, I’d prefer Sony to take the design of the A8 instead of the A1 for the A9F, but the design they have chosen to do more with the new acoustic surface. We’ll touch on this in the audio section of the review.

Display panel and image quality

The A9F’s panel is exactly the same as the A8F’s and has been improved due to the new chip under the hood. The A9F distinguishes itself from the A8F by its photo settings and photo performance. Now, the A8F X1 was powered by the Extreme chipset and the new A9F X1 is powered by the Ultimate chip. The X1 Ultimate is said to be twice as powerful as the X1 Extreme and brings better image processing with object-based HDR rendering. This means that each individual small object is recognized, and color, contrast, and sharpness are adjusted for each individual object. So, in the past, if there was a bunch of grapes on the screen, the bunch was considered as an object to render. Now, with the X1 Ultimate, each individual grape is a separate object that will be rendered. Theoretically it sounds like a great optimization for HDR implementation. In reality though, there are some really small warnings that we will find in the HDR section.

4K HDR

The beauty of an OLED TV is its infinite contrast ratio, its ability to create true black and deep colors, and everything in the Sony A9F. TV can create Dolby Vision content natively through the Netflix app. If you have a Blu-ray player with Dolby Vision-enabled content, you can really get the most out of this TV. However, there is a problem that I encounter. Some sequences, especially those in the dark, such as Daredevil Season 2 Episode 3 Stair Fight Sequence, seemed a little darker than I liked. I tried to toggle between Dolby Vision Dark Mode, Dolby Vision Bright Mode and Vivid Mode which worked best and they all had some flaws. This is the only sequence where I have encountered this problem so it is safe to say that it is limited to certain content that occurs in pitch darkness. I have not encountered this anywhere else. HDR 10 is said to have any content you want, it looks great with its contrast, color and details. Watching content from Prime Video, Netflix and more was an absolute treat at 4K.

Netflix mode

The TV also boasts a Netflix mode, but it didn’t turn on automatically for me while playing Netflix. I need to manually go to image settings and change it to Netflix mode. I’ve seen the content of Daredevil, Star Trek Discover and some more changes between Dolby Vision and Netflix mode and really, I had trouble finding some differences. I’m sure using content like Lost in Space, Hounting on Hill House and many more will find some differences, but the content looks so good that you won’t bother.

1080p content

I played Blade Runner 2049, Spider-Man Homecoming and Wonder Woman from the Prime Video app and everyone I tested the blind video with on A9F said that the picture was showing 4K. While these titles play at maximum 1080p on the Prime Video app, it’s nice to see how beautiful the 1080p content is on the panel. Of course, there are times when 1080p and 720p videos from YouTube don’t look great, this is an exception. If you watch SD content, content from your set top box or any 1080p content, you will have a very good experience.

One thing you should know before we move on to gaming. All 4 HDMI ports on the TV support HDCP 2.3 full bandwidth which is fantastic. I highly recommend enabling your Apple TV 4K, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, etc. to be enabled by going to the maximum settings of the 4K HDR devices you will be connecting to the TV.

Gaming

We played our standard suite test games on TV using PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. These games range from Battlefield 1 to Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, God of War, Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, and more. Honestly, it looked better than the A8F and LG C8 that we tested earlier this year, but it did look good. Games like Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War with Spider-Man look great for PS4. Gaming on this TV is like looking at a window of graphically heavy content at your disposal and it is something like an experience.

Myth

Speaking of words, the Sony A9F has improved the acoustic surface we’ve seen with the A1 and A8F. Instead of 2 actuators, the TV now has 3 actuators and instead of 1 subwoofer in the back, the TV comes with 2 to enhance the sound experience. We really enjoyed the audio performance from the A8F and the same can be said about the A9F. We can tell how much the sound has improved only when our two TVs are side by side. But what we can say is that the soundtracks of certain movies and games sound good on this TV because the speakers of this TV are for a TV and not a home theater. Blade Runner 2049 is a good example. The opening minutes of the movie are filled with subtle cyberpunkish music mixed with silence and of course Ryan Gosling’s hover car. Other movies like Wonder Woman Spider-Man Homecoming, shows on Netflix and even everyday TV are great to watch, especially when you compare them to other TV speakers in the flagship range.

Subwoofer behind the TV

One feature that is quite impressive and unique to the A9F is the ability to use the TV as the center channel of your home theater. In the back, you will see the option to connect the TV as a center channel with your amplifier. This basically eliminates the need to place the speaker in a center at the bottom of your display and since the actuators work to present the dialogue from the corresponding position on the screen, the setup works quite well.

Remote control

The remote of the A9F is the same as that of the A8F and there is literally no change. As much as I complain about it being too traditional compared to what LG offers with its Magic Remote, the Sony Remote is functional and gets the job done. Remotely, you have a shortcut to Netflix and no other streaming service. If you look at how LG and Samsung have their speed-enabled remote, compact, stylish and convenient to use, then Sony’s remote seems old.

UI

Welcome to Android TV 8, how much we missed you! The UI of the A9F is Android 8 and is different from the UI we saw in the A8F In the beginning, it is smoother, faster and more responsive. It doesn’t take long to press the action button to go to the picture and sound settings. The UI is clean as the top panel is customizable with your favorite apps. From hot picks to trending videos to Netflix recommendations and much more are sorted out.

Voice search works pretty well. You can say something like “Play Daredevil on Netflix” and it will open the Netflix app with Daredevil in front of you. Sadly, you can’t say anything like “Play the first season 3 episode of Daredevil on Netflix.” It will not recognize. From opening the app to preparing the content, in addition to typing your password, there are very few reasons to use your remote to navigate. It works pretty well. Source selection and settings are at the top right of the UI.

The last row

For those looking for an immersive content experience, the Sony A9F is a fantastic TV. The new processor advances in HDR processing, the TV can enhance HD content quite well, and comes with ample connectivity options, including the option to use the TV speaker as the center channel in your home theater. UI is a fluid and native streaming application, meaning you don’t have to use any external device. The TV is also great for 4K gaming. The only downside is that some Dolby Vision content looks a bit dark and the TV is extremely expensive. But if authentic performance is what you are looking for then you can’t go wrong with this TV. If there is one option that you are looking for at a lower price, then you may want to consider the LG C8 OLED TV. The picture quality of the C8 is excellent but it loses the audio quality to the A9F. You can read our review of C8 here. It is much cheaper and almost equal in both OLED functionality.

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