Sony KD-55AF8 (AF8/ A8F) Review
Simplified stand but the same excellent picture
What is the Sony AF8?This is the latest OLED TV from Sony and it will sit just below the A1 from 2017 in their 2018 line-up. We are reviewing the 55-inch version KD-55AF8 (or XBR-55A8F as it is known in North America and other territories) and is priced at £2499 at the time of this review (June 2018).
Although the Sony A1 remains its flagship OLED TV for 2018, this new 4K Ultra HD TV has all the same picture features as the A1 with the X1 Extreme Processor, Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) and support for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 & Hybrid Log-Gamma) out of the box, and on the 24th of May our AF8 received an over the air (OTA) update which included Dolby Vision, more on this later.
It also includes the Android Smart TV platform and the Acoustic Surface, which uses the OLED panel itself as a giant speaker, improving the sound quality and eliminating the need for visible drivers. The only real difference between the A1 and AF8 is in the form factor with the new model dropping the easel stand of the A1 for a simplified chassis that isn't at an incline and using two woofers rather than one large one.
This is a retail sample purchased by AVForums and will form part of our long term testing for the rest of 2018. We intend to keep updating this review as the year goes on with any issues in the owner’s thread investigated and firmware upgrades fully tested and it will be bench marked against 55-inch versions of the LG C8, Panasonic FZ802 and Samsung Q9FN. Updated sections of the review will be in bold text.
So let’s have a closer look…
DesignThe Sony AF8 is the epitome of minimalist design and function. This is a very simple looking TV with a small central stand that has the TV sitting less than 2mm from it and the screen sitting just 5mm from the TV unit or surface you have the TV on. It almost looks like the screen is sitting on your TV rack it is so low. Sony get away with this approach as there are no speakers at the bottom of the screen like some rivals, who have downward firing drivers or soundbar strips under the screen. Instead the entire OLED panel is the speaker here, which again just makes the whole design so simple, clean and elegant. Also unlike the A1 the AF8 sits almost straight up on the stand, whereas the A1 sits flush on the surface and leans back on the easel kickstand, so the screen is sloped backwards. We much prefer the almost straight standing appearance of the AF8.
So what you have is a black monolith when switched off and almost nothing but screen when it is switched on. There are borders to the panel but these are extremely thin. On the top and sides you have 5mm of black border and to the bottom it is slightly larger at 10mm. To the front left is a tiny Sony logo, which has moved from the usual central position. Around the outer edge of the screen is a very thin 1mm grey strip of metal that runs around the entire side edge of the TV and that is it. There is nothing else to see on the front of the TV.
To keep the theme of simple, clean and minimalist the rear of the TV is also a work of art. The way Sony have designed the sound actuators and subwoofers into the rear is very clever and pleasant to look at – if you ever find yourself looking at the back of a TV. The woofers are in a central column that is just under 400mm wide and runs down the entire length of the rear of the TV with the actuators to either side of this, around three quarters of the way up the rear of the panel, which create the stereo sound.
The stand design also allows the neat channelling of cables from the back of the TV and there are plastic covers, which can also be used to hide the connections and other areas of the back panel, keeping everything neat and tidy. This works really well if you have the TV sat in an open area of your room where the rear can be easily seen. It gives it a 360-degree design. Obviously if wall mounted or placed up against a corner or wall, there is less need for the covers, but the cable management options are nice to have when stand mounted.
ConnectivityAround the back the AF8 connections layout looks identical to the recently reviewed XF90, with both sideways and downwards facing options. The sideways facing connections are far enough away from the edge of the screen to allow use of thicker cables without them sticking out from the side of the television. Here you have a CI slot, 3.5mm AV in, and Dual 3.5mm audio out including headphone, an IR blaster slot, two USB ports and the first of four HDMI inputs.
The lower connections include three further HDMI inputs, a USB input for HDD recording, optical digital output as well as digital and satellite tuners. All the HDMI inputs are 4K HDCP 2.2 compliant, but as with other recent Sony displays we find that only HDMI 2 and 3 are full 4K/60P 4:4:4 capable and need to be switched on within the HDMI signal format menu under Enhanced format. We still don’t understand why Sony doesn’t make all four capable of this. There is also Wi-Fi on-board as well as Bluetooth with smartphone connectivity with Chromecast built-in, Miracast for screen mirroring and the TV slideshow app (iOS and Android). The power cord for the TV is detachable and sits at the opposite end of the rear panel, within a recess that can be covered with a plastic blanking plate. The entire rear of the TV and cable management channels can be covered over to hide them.
ControlThe remote offered with the AF8 is the same as last year’s A1 which some may find disappointing. The problems are with the buttons, which are rubberised and just barely stick out above the top surface of the controller. This makes them feel odd to the touch and difficult to find quickly. It takes some time to get used to the feel of the button press and added to the slow response of the Android operating system, sometimes you feel like you didn’t press hard enough to get a response.
The layout of the remote is identical to recent variants with a logical flow to the sections and button clusters. At the top are the source, microphone and power buttons and just below these are options for External box use and analogue and radio selections, with numbered buttons directly under those. We also have dedicated buttons for Google Play and Netflix before the main directional keys with the menu, back, home, guide, apps and TV sections in a circle around those. Again the sunken buttons here make directional keying and confirmation presses a little difficult to judge when you first start using the remote. Below this section are large channel and volume rockers with mute and repeat keys in the middle of those. Finally the bottom section is for use with CEC connected source devices and media players.
Apart from the rubberised feel and low keys, the remote is perfectly functional and allows direct use of the TV in an easy to follow fashion. The disappointment for many though, will be the poor construction, materials and general cheapness of the device, which comes with a flagship status product. We expect more at the price point to be honest.
Sony AF8/ A8F Features and SpecThe Sony KD-55AF8 is an OLED TV which sports an LG display supplied OLED panel married to the Sony X1 Extreme 4k HDR processor. It has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and accepts and displays HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and Dolby Vision HDR standards. The Dolby Vision update was recently applied and works with the 4K Dolby Vision apps on the TV such as Netflix. It will also accept HLG broadcast material and is capable of receiving and showing the BBC trial iPlayer broadcasts in 4K UHD HLG during the World Cup.
As well as the X1 Extreme processor the A8F also uses the 4K X-Reality Pro database to add edge enhancement and sharpening from data in dual databases, it also has live colour technology with precision colour mapping, it’s also a TRILUMINOS capable display and has superbit mapping for 4K HDR signals. There is also Sony’s Object based HDR remaster technology and MotionFlow XR for motion. So it has a wide range of the latest Sony picture processing technology on-board and we will be testing this fully throughout our long term testing of this TV.
Just like the A1E the AF8 uses the OLED screen as the speaker, something Sony calls Acoustic Surface Technology. This uses two sound actuators to create the stereo channels of sound, by vibrating the screen from behind. The actuators run the length of the rear of the screen and are positioned just above centre, so the sound is coming through the screen itself. This takes care of the higher frequencies and the lower levels are provided by subwoofers in the rear of the panel housing just below the actuators. While this technology has been around a long time, it wasn't until the advent of incredibly thin OLED screens that it has been possible to add it to a TV. The result is an excellent solution to the problem of ever-thinner TVs with even thinner sound quality. Here the result is superb with a very nice even sound that doesn’t interfere with picture quality or a screen that is visibly moving or vibrating. We will cover this technology in more detail later in the sound section.
Your every day TV viewing is done via the YouView tuner built-in to the AF8 which also allows for time shifting and catch-up viewing. The smart system is the familiar Android TV and has all the major catch-up services available, including Netflix and Amazon 4K HDR viewing. There is also the Android TV voice command system to supposedly make searching for things to watch easier. You can also add a USB HDD drive to the TV to record programs and watch them back when you desire and using the provided IR blaster you can control set top boxes with your TV remote.
AF8 FunctionalityThe KD-55AF8 uses the Android TV system for its operating system and smart TV platform and it is still a bit of a mess quite frankly. Compared to almost all other manufacturers the Sony interface is the least intuitive and severely laggy system we have used on a modern TV. While the XF90 review sample crashed three times during our time with it, the AF8 has thankfully, up to now, not suffered the same fate. But it is very laggy and it can get quite frustrating using the remote and waiting for what seems like an age for anything to happen. This is most notable on first use of the TV as it generally starts to catch up with itself the more you use it. But even doing simple tasks like flicking through channels on the YouView system can sap all enthusiasm for watching some TV out of you.
Thankfully once you are in apps like Netflix or BBC iPlayer the speed and apparent lag improve a great deal and if you are planning on plugging in all your sources via HDMI, including a set top box, you will escape the pain which is associated with using this Android system. As many people do use a TV as intended and not just as a monitor, we feel it is only right that we keep pointing out the shortcomings in the Sony TV product. And this is a retail unit we purchased so is absolutely representative of the final product you’ll get. This really isn’t the type of performance we expect from a TV brand that considers itself as premium. Time to fix the issues Sony!
Out-of-the-box MeasurementsAs always we start by finding the best settings out of the box, that get as close as possible to the industry standards used by film and TV producers to make their content. This way we are seeing things as they are intended to be seen, with the same intensity of colour and contrast. Sony needs to do this carefully as they do not have many calibration controls within their TVs. The AF8 we are long term testing here was purchased by AVForums and is representative of what you will buy in the shops. We would expect the greyscale to be almost correct out of the box and with low deltaE error numbers, and as there is no Colour Management System (CMS) on-board we also expect saturation tracking and luminance to be very close as well, out of the box. Of course we are also talking about consumer level products here that are mass produced, so getting close to the standards is a tough ask, even at these price points. You only get close to perfection with professional products costing many tens of thousands more, so we need to manage expectations from time to time.
We used the Cinema Pro picture mode as it has most of the backdoor processing tools switched off and gives us the best starting point. We also selected a gamma of -2 and the white balance was set to Expert 1 and everything else at default. We also made sure that all other processing features were disabled.
Looking at the greyscale tracking (top left) we can see that the out of the box tracking is as we would expect and in line with review samples we see from the manufacturer. There is a tad too much blue energy and a lack of red which means that bright whites do look a little cyan or blue in nature, but for the rest of the on-screen viewing we doubt anyone would see any errors and certainly deltaE errors are under 3 from 80ire and down, so the main range used to create an image. Gamma is also tracking around our desired 2.4 reference point and luminance is good with no errors, so overall we are happy with the out of the box greyscale, but with white towards cyan, that will probably impact on the gamut results.
And as we predicted it does affect the gamut graph results (top right). However we doubt any causal viewer would see any errors here with actual viewing material. In the sense of the graphs we would want it looking tidier if selling someone a calibration, but in all reality apart from an under-saturation in red, which eagle eyed viewers might pick up on, for the majority of users the image quality will look very good indeed and without a reference image to compare, would never know there was an issue. For video purists however there are some improvements that will make a slight difference to the rendition of colour saturation, luminance and hue that may be visible. We shall find out.
Calibrated ResultsAs we mentioned above, the Sony AF8 like all of their models only has 2-point and 10-point white balance controls, it doesn’t have a CMS. So we are really relying on the correction to the greyscale with the white balance controls to correct the slight errors we have with the colour gamut out of the box. Of course if Sony were to step up and join all the other manufacturers out there with a full CMS and gamma editor they would be competing on a better, more level playing field rather than being left behind the curve.
As you can see using the 2-point and then the 10-point white balance controls we were able to flatten out the greyscale tracking nicely (top left). DeltaE errors are now well under 1, which makes any errors imperceptible to the eye. We did find the way the 10-point correction works to be confusing and it isn’t intuitive if you have never used the system before. It works in 10 steps, obviously, but less obvious is what those steps equate to in your scale and input level. We also didn’t find it very accurate and the scaling of inputs is quite coarse and also effects results elsewhere in your tracking, so it does take some effort compared to the competition. It should also be noted that once you use the 10-point controls it applies these changes to all picture modes. We also found that gamma didn’t behave in a way that would allow perfect tracking from 60 to 80% although, again, this wasn’t an issue with actual onscreen content. Overall the results here are not going to cause any errors to be seen by even the most eagle-eyed calibrator with on-screen content. We should also now see some changes with the colour gamut results.
Without a CMS we really are at the mercy of the out of the box greyscale results being accurate to give us accurate colour. By fine-tuning the greyscale we can also improve the colour gamut results and this is all fine and well if that is actually the case. Given the likelihood of panel variance and that we are talking about mass-produced consumer goods, it is likely that some AF8 TVs will need more work than others to obtain the same image quality. By having complete calibration controls within the TV including a full CMS and gamma editor, it would at least allow consumers better accuracy from their TV, something all the competition offer. So can we see some movement in future on this point Sony? Can we have a CMS and gamma editor next year?
Even without a CMS the colour gamut results for saturation tracking (top right) are close from 75% and below. These are the important areas of the colour image as we rarely get images in TV or movies where 100% saturation is required. As such the AF8 manages to produce good results on this occasion with just some off-hue greens seen on the graph. However once again with on screen content, like the World Cup football, we didn’t notice any off hue issues. So overall this retail sample AF8 mirrors exactly the same image behaviour we have seen from samples provided by Sony for review in the past. It also gives us a fairly accurate Rec.709 SDR image, but we would still like to see the addition of a CMS and gamma editor to help dial in the results, and allow consumers to get a calibrated image the same as the competition offer.
HDR ResultsHDR is still causing many issues for the industry and even though there are recommended standards for some areas, it is not true that standards are settled upon or indeed work for the consumer level displays out there. What we have seen so far are manufacturers trying hard to map available HDR content to the native capabilities of their specific TVs and in doing so, providing the best possible experience for the viewer of that TV, but not necessarily one which fulfils everything the creator intended you to see. This means that each make and model of HDR TV will present images in slightly different ways that highlight the capability of that set and compromise either shadow details and clip highlights or indeed both. Some tone mapping will also vary luminance levels to highlight strengths and diminish the weaknesses. We have started to see patterns of performance depending on the manufacturer and display type over the last 12 months when it comes to how they approach HDR images with static metadata, i.e. HDR10.
Sony’s approach with their OLED TVs has been to try and keep the average picture luminance consistent and this means some clipping of bright highlights to achieve this. As such there are also occasions when shadow detail will also be clipped, usually in scenes with a strong opposing brightness. So while it is true that some standards do exist for manufacturers to follow, not one of them is able to do so without mapping the content to their TVs strengths and weaknesses, despite what some out there are saying about creator’s intent. As dynamic metadata is used more and more we should start to see a move towards creators intent matching what the products can do towards standards. Until then it is going to be a case of getting as close as the product is capable of and trying to remain consistent.
With the AF8 and most recent Sony TVs when they detect an HDR image they switch to HDR mode and keep the same greyscale values as SDR. As the white point for HDR is the same D65 white point as Rec.709 SDR content, this shouldn’t create any issues. As we can see in the tracking (top left) the greyscale is accurate until the point that the AF8 has to start rolling off image brightness as it reaches its native capabilities. It follows the PQ EOTF as far as it can but it also cannot track luminance precisely so starts deviating from the curve at around 50 nits which means that it is slightly darker than it should be if following the standard curve. However as explained above Sony try to keep a consistent APL and as such this gives a more balanced look to HDR images with a gradual roll off towards its peak brightness levels. This is the case with both 1000nit and 4000nit mastered HDR material.
Moving to the wider colour gamut of HDR and in particular the DCI-P3 gamut within Rec.2020 the Sony AF8 OLED manages a very decent tracking result with just some off hues at 100% saturation, but again this will not affect any onscreen content as we never see 100% primary or secondary colours at that intensity within film and TV content. The 75% and below tracking is very good as is luminance (not shown) with no visible errors being seen within HDR content. DCI-P3 coverage is 97% XY and 99% UV which equates to 72% XY Rec.2020 coverage and 76% UV. Peak brightness at D65 white point and in the Cinema Pro picture mode on a 10% window is 517nit and on a 5% window it is 585nits. Against the measured black level of 0.000nits that gives an on/off and ANSI contrast result of infinity.
Sony KD-55AF8 General Performance
Panel uniformity, banding, image retention and viewing anglesThe AF8 uses an LG Display supplied OLED TV panel, but everything else on this TV is from Sony. There have been issues in the past with OLED panels not being completely uniform and displaying dark edges and vignetting or colour shifts across the panel with a white field displayed, but we are happy to report no such issues with the AF8. As with all OLED TVs there is some mild panel banding at very low luminance levels and this is on all OLED panels produced so far. We didn’t find this a distraction at all and also didn’t see it during viewing of normal material, including images with all one colour like football pitches etc. so while it can be found if you go looking for it, we didn’t consider this an issue at all.
As with all OLED TVs the Sony AF8 has perfect off-axis viewing performance with no visible contrast or colour shifts seen as you view from wider and wider angles. Only at the very limits do you start to notice any shifts and we doubt anyone in their right mind would attempt to view the TV from this angle.
OLED TVs can suffer from image retention if you leave bright static images on screen, in bright picture modes like normal or vivid, and occasionally in the more accurate picture settings as well. This is usually after a long period of time or if feeding these static images in HDR modes, like our test patterns. However the Sony does have an automatic dimming feature, which detects static parts of the image and starts to dim the screen to prevent any image retention. This ABL feature is just a tad too aggressive sometimes and even watching football games that have the scores displayed statically can cause the screen to start dimming. We also found that some video games with a static HUD also caused this to occur and have also seen feedback on the forums from users finding this to be the case as well. It doesn’t happen with every sporting event or game, but we did notice it when calibrating the screen due to the static nature of our image patterns. We would like to see Sony adding the ability to switch this feature off, for those who want to have complete control of their viewing.
We haven’t yet noticed any image retention with normal TV viewing in the most accurate Cinema Pro picture modes. We also have no evidence to suggest that image burn-in would be possible with normal viewing of TV shows, films, sports or gaming in such picture modes. There is also no evidence that using brighter picture modes would also increase the risk of permanent burn-in from happening. I personally have only ever seen one OLED TV with permanent burn in and that was a very early prototype LG that was being used to display bright static images at a trade show. I’ve never seen it, or seen evidence of burn-in, from using an OLED TV in normal consumer conditions.
This is a long-term retail bought test model and we plan to run tests in sensible viewing conditions to see how the AF8 copes for image retention and burn in over a longer test period.
Black levels and contrast performanceAs this is an OLED TV we have no issues with the dynamic range or contrast performance from the Sony AF8. Both on/off and ANSI contrast results are infinity thanks to the absolute black levels. As mentioned above we also don’t have any issues with the panel uniformity or viewing angles. Peak brightness is average for an OLED TV in the most accurate mode, but again we only need peak brightness now and again with HDR material, so what is more important is how that is applied, and with an OLED that is at the pixel level, so incredibly precise.
Black levels and shadow detailing is also incredibly important to the performance of a display with HDR and SDR material. The human eye is better at distinguishing details within dark scenes than judging brightness jumps, so when you get an image full of shadow detail it gives the picture a natural looking depth and dimension. We can pick out those shadow details easier than details on bright whites for example, and with the OLED way of presenting an image that is what gives it the impressive sense of depth and detail. LED LCD TVs still struggle with just above black and shadow details, plus they may be brighter with the highlights, but that light is however large the local dimming zone is, and not at the pixel level. The Sony AF8 comes out of black well, with us only noticing the OLED panel banding on test patterns and not actual content. This is a common trait on all OLED TVs due to how they are manufactured. Overall it is easy to say that the AF8 has no issues with absolute contrast, dynamic range and black levels.
Motion handling and video processing performanceSony is one of the best in the business when it comes to video processing and motion handling and the Sony AF8 comes with MotionFlow XR on board. This includes Black Frame Insertion technology as well as the usual smoothing, frame creation and frame doubling techniques to give users a number of options depending on the content being watched.
First up we have the X1 Extreme processor, which does a fantastic job of scaling and video processing. Everything looks sharp and deinterlacing with 50i material is also top notch. HD broadcast and disc sources look very good indeed with no issues seen at all with no back door edge enhancement or sharpening used in the Cinema Pro preset. We also didn’t find any issues with 50hz playback, which can sometimes be an issue with Sony TVs. Overall, the scaling and deinterlacing was top drawer and all our tests were passed with flying colours.
The MotionFlow XR options include True Cinema, Smooth, Standard, Custom and Off. Black Frame Insertion (BFI) is available in the Custom setting by changing Clearness from Low to High and you still have full control of the Smoothness slider to dial in what suits you and the material you are watching. For me the flicker of the BFI mode is not as obvious as the LG C8 or Panasonic FZ952, but it is still noticeable and I couldn’t use it for long periods of time due to the flicker frequency. This will vary from individual to individual and you may not notice this as much, it is something to check fully if you want this functionality with a demo in person. Image brightness is also affected and while not unwatchable, it is much darker than all other motion settings.
We found that True Cinema (or off) suited us for film and most TV content although you could experiment with video based sports, like the World Cup with the other frame interpolation settings which add Soap Opera Effect (SOE) to varying degrees. It will be a personal preference decision with MotionFlow for such content. With film we would obviously encourage you to stay away from adding SOE as it really does take away from the feeling and motion of film which is supposed to have some motion blur and does so in the capture process when it is filmed at 24fps.
Sony’s MotionFlow XR suite is by far the best we have seen amongst the major brands with excellent results that don’t introduce as much SOE or artefacts as the other manufacturers out there, and even if it is not for you, the way the AF8 handles 24fps material without introducing judder is amongst the best we have seen for some time.
Input lag and power consumptionAs with all Sony models you need to use the Game mode in the picture presets to get the best lag results. With 4K HDR signals in the game mode with all processing switched off the AF8 is identical to the A1 with a response of 29ms. In 1080p with or without HDR it is 47ms of lag, which is a little disappointing for a company who produce a games consoles. We hope that they are able to improve on this going forward. If you have a next generation console that can feed a 4K signal you will be OK at 29ms of lag.
For power consumption the AF8 was generally good at 78watts in Cinema Pro picture mode and with HDR material it was slightly higher at 97watts in that mode.
Sony AF8 sound quality performanceAn area that has suffered as screens have gotten thinner is the sound quality. While many TVs have larger areas towards the bottom of the screen to fit speaker drivers, the laws of physics and moving air mean that they can never get close to a stand alone solution in terms of weighty clear sound. OLED TVs do not sound great on average when it comes to on-board solutions, but Sony have been trying to get around that problem, first with the A1 and now with the AF8. The approach is pretty unique and while Sony didn’t invent the technology or technique, they have made it their own for the OLED sets, with their Acoustic Surface. This basically uses actuators along the length of the screen, three quarters of the way up the back of the panel. There is also a large middle section that goes up the spine of the TV from the bottom to the actuators position and this contains the low frequency drivers for the mid range and bass performance. The actuators vibrate the screen to produce the sound, doing away with any need for traditional speakers or a space at the bottom of the screen for the speakers to fire downwards.
The pay off with this approach is not only a very neat design with no space below the screen and the mounting surface. The sound comes from the TV screen and this is especially effective with movies and dialogue of characters onscreen. Their voice comes from the position where they are onscreen and not from above, the sides or below the screen as it would on a traditional TV. Plus the audio quality is full range and has a really nice mid-range and weight to the bottom end. It can’t compete with a larger audio set up with more power and larger drivers and subwoofers, but as a TV, it sounds exceptionally good. It perform so well that you probably wouldn’t need to add a soundbar as you might with other TVs. This is probably just as well, as there is no room under the TV for a soundbar.
For image quality with SDR content there is not much on the market that can compare with the AF8
Sony AF8/ A8F Picture Performance
Out of the box SDR presetsAs with almost all TVs and displays if you want to see things as they are intended to be seen it means using an accurate picture preset. With the AF8 it’s called Cinema Pro - which will initially look dull and perhaps muted colour wise. This is perfectly normal as almost all other picture presets are too bright with inaccurate colours and blown out detail. Here is a quick run down of how the various presets we would use for film and TV viewing look:
Vivid Mode: As you would expect with this picture setting it is too bright with very blue looking whites and skin tones that are too yellow and sunburnt. Detail in whites and highlights are blown out and clipped with colours looking unnatural. Most processing is also switched on by default causing SOE and artefacts. On an OLED such as the AF8 Vivid doesn’t look as bad as it does on LED LCDs which have more brightness, but it is still best avoided if you want accuracy.
Standard Mode: This is the mode the TV ships in and while not as bright and garish as the Vivid mode, it is still blue in the whites and skin tones are also not perfect. Some highlights and details are blown out in certain content and colours still look a little too saturated and false. Lots of processing options are also switched on by default, which is not ideal for image accuracy.
Game Mode: Use this mode with all processing, including MotionFlow, switched off for the best gaming lag times. It is also neutral out of the box in terms of white balance and colours, making it look natural and accurate without too much saturation or blue in the whites. Image detail is good and this really suits cinematic gaming.
Animation and Sports Modes: We just couldn’t find any difference between these modes and the Standard mode. There are perhaps differences in setting with the processing features, but in terms of colour and whites, it is too blue and saturated a look, with some image detail missing and generally unrealistic colour wise.
Cinema Pro Mode: There are two Cinema modes, but the pro setting is the one to choose to guarantee no back door processing or image tampering. This will look dull and washed out if you are flicking between all the modes at once because our eyes are programmed to pick out the brightest and most colourful images, it’s why those modes are used in shops to sell you a TV. But by sticking with this mode and watching for at least a couple of days without flicking back and forth you will start to see just how realistic, accurate and detailed the Cinema Pro mode is, and you can be confident you are seeing the content as it was intended to be seen. All image assessment going forward in this review is done using this image preset.
In SDR the out of the box performance is excellent with superbly deep black levels, stunning levels of shadow detail and extremely natural colours. Motion is also excellent with no issues whatsoever to report with banding or dirty screen effect. Indeed the Sony is up there with the best OLEDs on the market and out of the box is very accurate. We doubt many users would notice any of the small image errors discussed above which means most will just enjoy the superb image quality on offer. We didn’t notice any instances of panel banding with low light scenes within films, but it is there if you use slides to find them. It is part of the manufacturing process and is present in all current OLED panels, but with normal viewing we didn’t see it and it didn’t bother us at all. Images ooze and drip with stunning levels of dynamic range and pop, which is right up there with the best TVs on sale right now. It’s hard to fault on just image quality, but this Sony is far from perfect in other respects, as discussed elsewhere in this review.
Out of the box HDR 4KWhen you change to a 4K HDR source the picture mode you’re in for SDR doesn’t change and it keeps your image setting for white balance for SDR and uses that for HDR, only changing to map the PQ EOTF and maximising brightness. The AF8 is a little darker than the LG 55 C8 with HDR content as Sony go for a more consistent image brightness to try and give the most balanced, and in their view, accurate representation of the content. We only really found this to be an issue when viewing during the day with strong sunlight entering the room (but not close to the TV screen). In isolation the HDR performance is good and brightness is dark but balanced. Dark scenes and shadow-heavy content looks stunningly good with copious amounts of detail in the shadows adding real depth to the image. Bram Stoker’s Dracula on 4K UHD disc breathes atmosphere with dark interiors and creatures moving around in shadows and the AF8 serves this up with aplomb. Blacks are inky deep with superbly rendered dark greys in the shadows and details normally clipped on lesser displays. Although the palette is muted the blood reds are strong and well saturated with edge detail sharp and grain well produced. The AF8 can look extremely cinematic with film-based content in HDR. It can also look stunningly clean and detailed with digitally shot content also graded in HDR10. The BBC Planet Earth II on disc is a fantastic example of this with the superb detail, saturated colours and plenty of detail in the blacks. Nothing can get close to an OLED with this kind of dynamic range.
However the downside for many will be the brightness, or lack of it, with HDR content. While it is consistent it is also a significant drop down from other competing OLED TVs like the LG C8 and Panasonic FZ952. It is also nowhere close to competing with the latest LED LCDs and even it’s own stable mate the XF90. But in the right environment it is very capable of some stunning HDR images.
This review would have been published much earlier than now (June 2018) had it not been for the Dolby Vision (DV) update landing half way through the testing period. We wanted to make sure we fully explored and tested the capabilities of the AF8 with this update before passing judgement. I have discussed some findings as they happened on the podcast, but I am pleased to report that most of my original misgivings with image quality from the built-in apps in DV have been fixed and for the most part it manages to produce some very nice dynamic metadata images. There are still some instances with raised blacks or black level compression artefacts with the built-in apps, especially Netflix. The first episode of Lost in Space can throw up compression issues in the ice backgrounds and the under water diving sequence. In Cinema Pro mode these are only really noticeable if you go looking for them, but in brighter modes they are more visible. Strangely we don’t see them as often when feeding the AF8 from our Apple TV 4K with the same DV content. We will continue to test and monitor this as we go forward, so come back for updates.
Calibrated image performanceWith the AF8 being as accurate as it was out of the box there wasn’t a huge step up in image quality once calibrated. Although there is a step up, however small, and once again we are impressed with the image quality on offer from the AF8. SDR content looks excellent with exceptional balance to the colour palette that makes everything appear natural and accurate. Everything from HD streaming to 4K HDR be that HDR10 or DV looks sumptuous with inky blacks, excellent shadow detail and exceptional naturalness. The Matrix on 4K UHD disc (in HDR10 as DV update is not there yet for our disc player) looks stunning with bags of detail and dynamic range that brings the image to life. There is a nice natural grain to the image, which adds to the cinematic sheen on offer, with superb depth to the shadows, and natural green and blue tints used, depending on the location we are in. Skin tones look lifelike, which helps, and fine detail is all on show. The only question is if it will be worthwhile getting the AF8 calibrated if the results on our retail sample are representative of all the AF8’s out there.
- Excellent black levels and shadow details
- Excellent above black performance
- Good out of the box picture accuracy in Cinema Pro
- Excellent motion handling
- Excellent scaling and video processing
- Supports HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Works best as a monitor to feed your 4K and HD sources
- Acoustic Surface is excellent
- Well designed
- HDR performance might be too dull for some viewers
- ABL is too aggressive and can dim the screen while watching content
- Android TV operating system is slow and ponderous
- User interface is slow because of the OS
- Smart TV is slow and buggy thanks to the OS
- Not all Dolby Vision external sources supported
- Needs full calibration controls - CMS and gamma editor - added
- Remote control feels cheap and nasty at the price point
- Build quality is still not premium even with nice design
- Only two full-fat HDMI inputs
Sony KD-55AF8 (AF8/ A8F) ReviewThe Sony AF8 produces some of the best SDR images we have seen from an OLED TV with superb black levels, shadow detail and colour. The depth to images thanks to the stunning dynamic range can be quite breath-taking at times and in the right surroundings we can’t think of many TVs that get close to it. The story is not quite the same for the HDR10 and Dolby Vision performance where images are a little more on the dark side compared to it’s rivals as Sony try to get image consistency with HDR which does mean it has a lack of overall brightness and clips highlights as a result. Again the darker tones and shadows are fantastic, adding real depth to images that feast on the natural dynamic range of the AF8 and colours pop with superb accuracy.
So with all this positivity going for it we must be mad to score it at 8/10 right? Well if it was just a monitor for plugging our sources in we would have been scoring it higher, but this is a TV that many users will use day-to-day. That means using the built-in tuner and YouView for TV programmes and streaming services via the Android Smart TV system and generally using it as a TV would be used. It is here that things start to unravel for the AF8 with a slow and ponderous operating system that can see you waiting a number of seconds between button presses and something actually happening on screen. This can get incredibly infuriating using the TV day-in and day-out, especially when you also have an LG and Panasonic OLED next to it that have no issues whatsoever. We also do not like the over aggressive ABL that starts to dim images based on some areas of the picture being static, such as scoreboards or gaming HUDs. We really noticed it when trying to calibrate the TV with our pattern generator, but it was also noticeable on certain content we watched. We understand why this exists, but there should be an option to switch it off completely.
So our marks for the AF8 might not be representative of how you will use the TV. If it is as a monitor only with your own sources, including streaming services from something like the Apple TV in DV, it scores very well for picture quality, gaming and motion handling and is just piped in these areas by the more accurate Panasonic FZ952 and flexible LG C8. It is also exceptionally good sound wise with the inspired acoustic surface, which adds a new way for TVs to produce a better sound performance. However we have to test TVs as an all round product for a wide range of uses and as such it is a shame that the operating system holds it back when compared to its peers. Hopefully this will be fixed in the near future, because if it was, Sony really would be on to a winner if they also added the controls we discussed within the review.
Overall the Sony produces some excellent images that compete with the very best out of the box with SDR material, and also offers a consistent, if slightly darker, HDR performance with both HDR10 and DV content. It has the usual inspired Sony features and image quality, which are sadly held back by a slow and clunky user interface.
This review will be updated throughout the rest of 2018 as we test it side by side against the competing high-end models for the year. Keep checking back for updates as they happen.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,499.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
SDR Picture Quality9
HDR Picture Quality8
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease of Use6
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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