Sony A1 OLED

Review: Sony A1 OLED

21 Apr 2017 | Torben Rasmussen


2017 is an exciting year for TV, but especially one thing makes it special: This will be the year when other manufactures besides LG has OLED in their product line-up. We have had a chance to look at Sony’s latest high-end model - the A1 - which is the company's first take on OLED in respectable sizes (as we don’t count the XEL-1 a TV). Sony A1 is based on the X1 Extreme processor, comes with Android 6.0 onboard, is built on a 2017-generation OLED panel, and has a brand-new sound system.

A1 is available in 55", 65" and will be shipping in 77" later. We have reviewed the 65" version.

Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

65"
OLED panel
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR (HDR10, Dolby Vision to be added later)
DCI-P3 color space
Easel stand
Wall (VESA compatible)
(HxWxD) 83.4 x 145.1 x 8.6/33.9 cm (wall/stand)
29.8 / 36.2 kg (w/wo stand)
HDMI (4x 2.0)
USB (3x)
Ethernet
1x CI+
Optical
HDMI-ARC (1x)
Headphone/Subwoofer (minijack)
5x 10W stereo
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile 2
Android TV 6.0
IR-remote (with bluetooth mic)
Instructions
Remote control
Subscribe to our Newsletter, Facebook, twitter or RSS to receive notice when new reviews are published




First impressions

With A1, Sony has went a bit outside the norms for TV design, which is refreshing. The panel in A1 is still as thin as we have come to expect from OLED, but instead of dumping the surrounding electronics at the bottom in a box, as it has been customary, Sony has gone for an easel stand in which power supply, main boards etc. are placed.

The stand is attached at the top of the TV and can be folded flat if the TV is to be wall mounted or it can act as a supporting leg if the TV is placed on a table top. In the latter case, a heavy metal attachment is added to the bottom to add weight and sturdiness.

When standing, the entire bottom surface of the TV aligns flat with the surface, just as we saw with LG E6. However, A1 doesn’t have speakers on the bottom. The result is that A1 is quite minimalistic in appearance. Sony even toned down the logo. The final touch is to turn off the on/off diode on the bottom, which is possible from the on-screen menus. The easel stand makes the A1 a bit bulky, depth-wise, as it leans a bit backwards, so you need about 34 cm of space on your AV furniture to accomodate A1.




The easel stand also hosts the connections to the outside world and all are pointing downwards and are placed at the very bottom of the stand. As with the other Sony high-end models connections are hidden behind a detachable panel fitted with grey speaker fabric. Only one USB port and the CI port is placed on the side, which seems like a bit odd place to fit the CI port, as you only need to access this slot once. Sony hasn’t dared to completely abandon the analog connections, but they are now melted into one single combo-port.

Besides the mandatory 4 HDMI connections (of which 2 supports 4K HDR) we find a headphone jack that doubles as subwoofer port for an external active sub, connections to antenna signals, USB and LAN ports, and optical SPDIF. Just like X93E and Z9D, cable management is thought into the design, and all cables end out at the bottom backside of the easel stand.

On the backside of the TV panel we found a nifty piece of innovation comprised of 4 actuators placed in sets of 2 at each side of the TV just above the middle. These actuators form the basis of Sony’s patentpending "Acoustic Surface" technology, which is the name for the unique speaker system in A1 - we will take a closer look later on. In addition to the Acoustic Surface system, a subwoofer is integrated at the top of the stand.




The OLED panel has a dark surface with very few reflections and what little reflections remain seem to be rid of most of the red cast that could be seen on previous OLED panels. In general reflections on OLED are the lowest you can get on a TV.

A1 comes bundled with the same remote control as X93E, but the backside has been replaced with the same metallic part that we found on Z9D.


Sony A1 Test


User experience & features

Like the rest of the 2017 line-up Sony A1 comes pre-installed with Android 6.0.

Operating system & smart TV

We have examined Android 6.0 in depth on several occasions, both in our reviews of Sony Z9D, Philips POS901, and Sony X93E The picture on the left is from our X93E review since there really isn’t anything new to report. The app catalog remains the same, menus are identical, and the features are the same.

The Android operating system in A1 is even powered by the same MediaTek processor as Z9D and X93E, which is to say that it isn’t the speediest around. It is easy to bring the system to its knees if you become too eager when navigating - especially if you have USB devices plugged-in, storing multiple media files. During our test, we experienced only one bug that called for a restart of the system. An error message refused to go away and hence got stuck on screen.

For a more thorough examination of Android 6.0 we will refer to our previous Sony TV reviews.

Remote control and operation

As mentioned in the beginning, the remote control looks identical to the one that came bundled with X93E but the backside has been replaced by a metal part similar to the remote control that came bundled with Z9D.

The metal backside adds a bit of weight, which elevates the quality feel, but the tactile feedback of the buttons is still a bit off and feels too firm. The matte surface finish feels nice but will undoubtedly wear off over time, just as you might experience it with your mobile phone. The overall feel simply doesn’t cut it for a TV in this price category.

The voice control function is located at the top of the remote and is the only element using Bluetooth whereas the rest of the buttons beam IR signals. The directional sensitivity of IR is fairly bad compared to the capabilities of e.g. Panasonic’s remotes.

Sony’s SideView app used to rank among the best for controlling a TV from your smartphone, but as of May ‘17 the EPG, scheduled recordings, and several of the other core TV features will be removed, making it somewhat obsolete. We hope that Sony will come up with a remedy. The app is capable of turning on the TV if you allow the TV to "wake-on-LAN", but be aware that it will increase standby power consumption considerably. It takes some time for the TV to enter low power mode once turned on and it still wakes up from time to time for no apparent reason, which can be observed when it starts reading USB drives etc.

TV channels, recording & sound

Navigating the TV channel interface is similar to operating X93E and Z9D, and you’ll find the same EPG, Discover menu etc.

A USB-HDD can be attached to make use of the dual-tuner for recording (cannot be used for PIP). The feature is not as advanced as the one offered by Philips that further allows you to pause and rewind live TV.




The sound system in A1 is an exciting innovation in the field of TV speakers and even though the technology behind the "Acoustic Surface" isn’t new (portable Bluetooth speakers have used this technology in the past), we haven’t seen it employed in a TV before. The technology utilizes actuators placed behind the panel to set the screen surface in vibration and hence transforms the panel itself into a speaker baffle. This is possible due to the physical composition of an OLED panel, which is essentially one single layer and would hence not work on an LCD panel with multiple layers. Sound is emitted from the surface of the TV and you can clearly hear the localized tweeter on the front. The vibrations are sufficiently fast not to be perceptible by the naked eye (remember that the vibrations in speaker tweeter are also imperceptible).

Sony A1


A subwoofer placed at the top of the stand supplements the Acoustic Surface speakers and the combined result is surprisingly pleasant sound. You get decent bass compared to the vast majority of TV speakers out there and even though the Acoustic Surface might seem a bit high-pitched at times the overall impression is that it is definitely a worthy companion to a high-end TV such as A1. If nothing else, at least in terms of innovation. The headphone jack doubles as a subwoofer connection, should you feel the need to add a bit more punch to the low-end frequencies. The output simply accommodates an active subwoofer of your choosing - Sony doesn’t provide one.

On the 2014 and 2015 X series, Sony put its neck out with the dominant side-mounted "elephant ear" speakers but with A1 the company has opted for a more discrete, but just as bold, speaker solution, which we really must applaud. However, one can’t help wondering if one of the many soundbar solutions also offered by Sony may have been a better overall fit, but then what would I marvel about?


Calibration

The ‘Standard’ mode is far too cold for anyone to enjoy the picture so immediately switched to the ‘Cinema Pro’ mode. Sony is aiming for the BT.1886 (gamma 2.4) by default. We aim for gamma 2.2, but you can adjust the gamma to your liking. A gamma setting of 0 corresponds to 2.2 and -2 corresponds to 2.4.

Using only the 2-point adjustment options, we quickly arrived at a dE below 1 and A1 can be tweaked further using the 10-point options, which behave as expected (as opposed to X93E). We need to emphasize that you should refrain from changing the "Bias" settings in the 2-point system (the low end) as changing it will elevate absolute black, disabling complete switch-off at 0 IRE. Our measuring equipment didn’t pick up in this but it was visible to the naked eye in complete darkness so we actually missed this during our first calibration run.

On A1 the "X-tended Dynamic Range" handle acts as step-wise adjustment of the maximum backlight intensity and to get to maximum brightness you have to set it to "High". At "Off" you’ll be marooned below 100 nits of peak brightness, "Low" will give you up to 140 nits, "Medium" about 200 nits and "High" will give you just about 300 nits measured on a 20% APL pattern (SDR). We calibrated using "Medium"

We saw an unexpected shift en dE values for colors, i.e., primary and secondary colors, where red, magenta, and yellow suddenly deviate from our reference. Sony doesn’t provide a CMS to correct these minor errors. The offsets didn’t show up as noticeable errors in e.g. skintones but Sony hasn’t been able to reproduce the reading so we are still waiting for them to look at our raw data.

The OLED panel can manage 140 nits in 100% full-frame white in SDR, which is comparable to the panels from 2016. Calibrating in the "Low" setting of "X-tended dynamic range" should hence prevent the ABL (Automatic Brightness Limiter) circuit from kicking in, regardless of the onscreen APL (Average Picture Level = percentage of screen filled with white/full color). Peak brightness in HDR is slightly higher than on LG E6, but since we are using the "Cinema Pro" mode the increased brightness that the 2017 panels are capable of will not really be available (you have to use the other less-accurate picture modes).

DCI-P3 coverage was measured to 95% just like the 2016 panels and it is still a deficiency in green that is the "issue".




Measurements

In our "measurements" section we include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Please be aware that OLED panels seem to vary too much from panel to panel to allow for the re-use of settings from another set. We suggest that you have a professional calibrate your set in your own living room or simply stick with the "Cinema Pro" profile.


Measurement Out-of-box Calibrated
Black level (ANSI) 0 cd/m2 0 cd/m2
Brightness 200 cd/m2 200 cd/m2
Contrast Infinite Infinite
Max brightness (HDR) 680 cd/m2 (2% APL) 680 (2% APL)
Input lag 103 ms (Cinema 1080p) 47 ms (Game Mode 1080p)

Power consumption Out-of-box Calibrated
SDR 114 W 120 W
HDR 400 W (max brightness) 200 W
Standby 0.3 - 20 W 0.3 - 20 W

Time measurements Time
Startup (before responsive) 9 s
Startup (picture onscreen) 7 s
Netflix app startup 5 s
Youtube startup 3 s

VideofilSpecs Status
Dubai 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 23.976fps – 10 bit colors - BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 51.4 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD (.ts version) HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 2.5 Mbps bitrate – 60fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 60fps - 2.2 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .mkv file Works
Spreed HD HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 29.970fps – 0.9 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .mkv file Works
Jellyfish HD HD (192x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 98.3 Mbps bitrate – AVC - .mkv file Works
LG Arctique 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 8 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 50.0 Mbps bitrate – 29.970fps - AVC - .mp4 file Works

Group Setting Value
Profile Cinema Pro
Brightness Brightness Max
Contrast 90
Gamma 0
Black level 50
Adv contrast enhancer Off
X-tended dynamic range Medium
Color Color 50
Color balance 50
Color temperature Expert 1
Color space Auto
Live Color Fra
Adv. color temp Red gain -8
Green gain Max
Blue gain -6
Red bias 0
Green bias 0
Blue bias 0
Clarity Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manuel
Resolution 20
Mastered in 4K Til
Random noise reduction Fra
Digital noise reduction Fra
Smooth gradation Low
Motion MotionFlow Personal
Smoothness 3
Clarity Low
Film mode Off
Video functions HDR mode Auto
HDMI video Auto
Color space Auto

Note: We only offer calibration settings for SDR, not yet HDR. For our calibration we have not used the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. Use this if you use your TV during the day, too.

Standby power consumption was affected by the TV waking up from time to time, which resulted in peaks of 20 to 50 W even though Wake-on-Lan wasn’t activated. In the "X-tended dynamic range" settings of "High" we measured power consumption above 250 W on SDR video, which compares to plasma televisions.

A1 isn’t fitted with Sony’s "Clear" MotionFlow settings so we opted for the "Personal" setting instead to reduce motion blur. It is possible to activate Black Frame Insertion on A1 but the frequency is too low, making it unpleasant to look at. The effect of activating BFI was far too negligible for us to recommend using it.


Sony A1 test


Picture quality

The 2017 OLED panel inside A1 is - of course - supplied by LG and this generation is what the company refers to as the "tock" year (see our CES article) meaning that it is an optimized version of the 2016-generation panel, but not "a brand new specie". We measured HDR peak brightness to just below 700 nits in the ‘Cinema Pro’ mode and to pump this up further you must switch to one of the more vivid picture modes and give up on color accuracy.

If you avoid changing the "Bias" setting option of the 2-point gray scale you are left with the black level we’ve come to expect from OLED, yielding infinite contrast which is the greatest merit of the OLED technology.

This year we have gotten our hand on the Panasonic DMP-UB700 UHD player and we picked up some brand-new UHD discs for the review, including the newly released BBC Planet Earth II. Once the HDMI port setting has been set to "Improved" mode you are ready to feed the A1 with 4K HDR (on HDMI2 and 3, that is). A1 doesn’t support Dolby Vision yet but should receive a firmware update later to enable it. For now you will you to rely on HDR10. There is not much content available in Dolby Vision yet so will not put too much weight on the shortcoming. Video in HDR10 looks plenty impressive anyway.




A1 delivers the expected and impressive dynamics that we have come to expect from OLED. Combined with Sony’s convincing picture processing you can’t help smiling a little once true 4K HDR unfolds onscreen. HDR is simply meant to be enjoyed on an OLED. End of story. With OLED you don’t have to settle for deteriorated black levels due to backlight bleeding or blooming, which becomes even more pronounced at an angle on high-end LCD such as the Z9D. In terms of peak brightness OLED can’t match Sony’s Z9D, peaking at about half the light output (1 f-stop). In return, A1 can deliver infinite contrast in neighboring pixels, which - in our opinion - more than makes up for the lower peak brightness. Gradients are smooth and free of banding and we were able to distinguish all IRE levels from 0 to 100, i.e., no black crush or clipping.

The deep black levels are of course not limited to HDR and the powerful picture processor in A1 delivers superb picture quality on upscaled video sources. TV broadcasts, Blu-ray, HD streaming etc. is reproduced without issues.



As mentioned, A1 lacks our Sony favorite "Clear" MotionFlow setting, which used to give us maximum motion resolution without introducing excessive artefacts, but it did so using scanning backlight, which isn’t available in A1. Using the MotionFlow setting "Personal" and adjusting "Smoothness" to about 3 (leave "Movie mode" on "Off" to avoid soap opera effects) we get a decent motion resolution, surpassing wthe capabilities of LG E6. Motion resolution is still not as good as on Sony LCDs, but A1 is setting the bar for OLED. We experienced no issues with motion in 4K, Full HD, or SD resolution.

Also read: OLED vs. LCD

A detail worth highlighting, something that applies to all OLED screens, is that response time (i.e. the time it takes to shift from one color to another) is so low that the blurriness we have gotten used to on LCD, which to a certain degree helps give us the illusion of smooth motion, is absent on OLED. The response time is well below 1 ms and as a result video shot at lower frame rates such as 24 fps has a tendency to yield a strobe effect. Some of you may have experienced this while watching very bright scenes on OLED. This is not an isolated issue on A1 but at least something to consider when looking at OLED and arriving at the conclusion that things are stuttering. You could compensate somewhat by adding motion interpolation, but we really can’t recommend that approach.




Moving on to screen homogeneity we have yet to experience an OLED panel completely absent of artefacts once the greyscale drops below 5%. Expectations weren’t high (remember that the 2017 panels are tweaked 2016 panels) and as we dove into the darkness we started to see the same vertical bands that affected LG E6. We have taken some pictures of the low IRE levels at long exposure times where the vertical bands are visible. Unlike Philips POS901, we didn’t spot any image artefacts at low brightness levels, so while POS901 struggled with text on our 1-5 IRE patterns, A1 managed this without difficulty.

The results are very similar to E6 and once again we have to conclude that there are still some minor homogeneity issues. The problem is mostly academic in nature, as we didn’t see the bands while watching movies. Like E6, we noticed faint yellowish tint in the center of the panel on bright backgrounds but again this wasn’t observed during actual use.




We measured input lag to approximately 40 ms in game mode regardless of whether HDR is active or not, which is about twice as high as the fastest TVs out there. We don’t yet have the equipment to upscale our Leo Bodnar lag sensor, so we can’t test input lag in 4K, but others report that lag is actually reduced when the TV doesn’t have to upscale. Lag should allegedly come in at about 20 ms, which is far more acceptable, but in turn it requires a game console capable of delivering 4K resolution (meaning PS4 Pro only). Since we can’t confirm the measurement ourselves we have to leave you hanging on this one.

See how other TV’s compare in guide on the best TV’s for gaming

Input lag performance compares to that of Z9D and X93E. Overall it is a pleasure to play games in HDR on an OLED panel. Read our reviews of Xbox One S and PS4 Pro for a deep-dive into HDR gaming.




When it comes to OLED the elephant in the room is burn-in or retention. It has been a while since we have tested an OLED suffering from burn-in and after three hours of calibration torture only a faint shadow of our test patterns was visible on a light grey backdrop. Power cycling the TV made it disappear. Sony’s A1 is fitted with an orbiter function as well as a screen wipe function, and we didn’t experience burn-in or retention as any issue during our two weeks of testing. Our sample was fresh from the box so we tested A1 during its most sensitive hours.

Viewing angles are a non-issue on A1. As mentioned earlier, the coating of panel has been tweaked meaning that reflections appear less purple compared to LG’s 2016 models. In this regard A1 is excellent at eliminating reflections. A1 should deliver excellent colors, contrast, and brightness regardless of your favorite seating position or environment.


Conclusion

A1 is actually the second OLED TV from Sony but it is the first one that counts. It took 8 years but apparently this is the time required to mature a technology such as OLED. A1 separates itself from the competition in terms of appearance and seems more of a contender to LG W7 design-wise. The collapsible backside that doubles as stand is different in a cool way.

A1 employs an innovative speaker system that utilizes the panel itself as tweeter to deliver sound. The built-in subwoofer cannot go as deep as some soundbars with more units built-in, but as a whole the speaker system in A1 does a decent job.

The implementation of Android is identical to other Sony TVs that we have tested over the past six months (even the SoC). It is possible to bring the system to its knees with simple measures such as feeding it with too many media files on a USB stick. We can’t help but feel that Android has failed to live up to its full potential. Chromecast built-in is a nice band-aid, but it is not a cure for a lacking smart platform.

In the picture department OLED rises above anything else and A1 is no exception. Gray scales are reproduced with conviction and A1 manages to separate even the darkest tones. We measured a slight offset on colors and the lack of a CMS made it impossible for us to correct it. The OLED panel delivers peak brightness only slightly higher than last year’s models and placed side-by-side we suspect that few people would be able to spot the difference on a 100% white background. Where the A1 does move past LG’s E6 is in motion handling and image processing. Upscaling/motion is more convincing on A1 that builds on the same great motion engine that Sony also employed in Z9D and X93E.

Sony A1 underperforms compared to LG E6 in some areas (OS and speed), performs almost identical in others (homogeneity and color reproduction), and outperforms in yet another (image processing and motion). Overall Sony’s A1 is a step up from the highly acclaimed LG E6 mostly because it offers improved motion clarity and processing that some have been asking for. As the first 2017 OLED on our bench, Sony A1 is worthy of our Reference Award. Time will tell if LG and Panasonic’s 2017 OLED TVs can match or even surpass A1.


Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer


Outstanding for HDR
Reference image quality
Great image processing
Best motion system for OLED so far
Good and innovative sound system


Android doesn't live up to full potential
Poor remote
Vertical bands on darker grey tones
Mediocre input lag
High power consumption in standby


Nearest competitors







Share on:


More reviews

Samsung Q9

Review: Samsung Q9

01 Aug 2017 | Torben Rasmussen |
Panasonic EZ950

Review: Panasonic EZ950 OLED

10 Jul 2017 | Torben Rasmussen |
Sonos Playbase review

Review: Sonos Playbase

04 Jul 2017 | Tommy Lindegaard |
LG E7 OLED review

Review: LG E7 OLED

19 Jun 2017 | Torben Rasmussen |