Sony A8 (A8H) 4K OLED TV Review

Now with even better motion handling

by Phil Hinton
SRP: £2,799.00

What is the Sony A8?

The Sony A8 is the company’s latest 4K OLED TV and includes all the features found on last year’s models such as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. New this year is the inclusion of X-Motion Clarity (120Hz variable Black Frame Insertion) for improved motion, and easy connectivity to Apple devices using AirPlay 2 and HomeKit. The A8 also comes in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes and we are reviewing the 65-inch version here. In other territories such as North America, the model number is A8H.

The A8 has a host of Sony specific features such as the X1 Ultimate picture processor, which includes Object-based Super Resolution, Object-based HDR remaster, Super Bit Mapping 4K HDR and Dual Database Processing.

There’s also the Pixel Contrast Booster, which takes advantage of the panel’s eight million self-illuminating pixels by using Sony‘s panel controller for OLED to bring a significantly enriched visual experience with deep blacks, enhanced colours and a wide viewing angle.

The A8/A8H supports 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) with wide colour gamut (DCI-P3/Rec.2020) and high dynamic range (HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma and Dolby Vision). Sadly, Sony still doesn’t support the HDR10+ dynamic metadata format.

The addition of X-Motion Clarity for OLED results in brighter, clearer and more fluid motion than ever before, significantly enhancing sports viewing.

Sony KD-65A8


In terms of accurate to the industry standards image quality, we have Sony's Custom Mode that, along with other calibrated viewing modes, provides various viewing options that faithfully preserve the creator’s intent. To date, Sony has decided not to support the new Filmmaker Mode, which is a shame. The A8 does not fall under the Sony Master Series displays but you do get a Netflix calibrated mode for use with the video-on-demand app and the A8 is also an IMAX Enhanced product. Rounding off the image accuracy stakes is the inclusion of 2020 Calman AutoCal support.

There’s a new Ambient Optimisation feature that uses sensors and microphones to optimise the picture and sound quality in any consumer environment. It will automatically adjust the picture brightness to the ambient light in the room, boosting the brightness in bright rooms and reducing it in dark rooms for a claimed improved viewing experience.

  The A8 also gets a few features that have rolled down from the AG9 flagship

Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio returns to the A8 as well as the new acoustic auto-calibration feature. The Acoustic Surface uses actuators behind the panel and turns the entire screen into a speaker. This results in an enhanced sonic experience, and there are two subwoofers for better bass response.

The A8H/A8 can also decode Dolby Atmos internally, producing an immersive experience through the use of psychoacoustic processing. There is also support for DTS audio onboard the A8 which is nice to see as other manufacturers are dropping this in 2020.

The set also features Android 9.0 Pie with the Google Assistant, Google Play Store and Chromecast built-in, which offers users easy access to content, services and devices via its extensive platform.

Sony’s original user interface menus and voice controls are also enhanced for better daily use, and its voice-activated TVs work alongside Google Assistant to provide a smarter viewing experience.

Design, Connections and Control


The Sony A8 sports a minimalist design that's dominated by the screen because of the use of Acoustic Surface Audio. That means there are no visible speakers, and the panel simply sits on a pair of feet. These offer a choice of a lower standard position or a higher soundbar position (+5cm) that won't block the screen. The fit and finish are excellent and the build quality feels premium with a minimalist design and finish. Sony calls this their one slate design concept.

Cable management has always been good with recent Sony TVs and the A8 provides cable runs around the back of the set and through the stand feet so you don’t see any leads when looking directly at the TV set.

Sony KD-65A8

The connections are at the rear and are split between sideways and downwards facing. Sideways we have a CI slot, 3.5mm audio/AV in, 3.5mm headphone jack, two USB ports and HDMI 1. Downwards facing we have a USB for HDD use, three HDMI 2.0b ports, an optical digital out and LAN, along with one RF and two satellite antenna inputs.

The HDMI 3 input supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel), but Sony still hasn’t embraced HDMI 2.1 or it’s other features such as variable refresh rate (VRR) or Automatic Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which seems strange with the launch of the PS5 later this year. However, we did find that it could playback 1080p/120hz content from our Murideo Seven Generator.

Related: What is HDMI 2.1?

The remote control supplied with the A8/A8H is a disappointment as it is a long plastic affair that doesn’t really fit with the premium nature and price point of the TV. The plastic body doesn’t feel very premium when sat in the hand, but the button layout is intuitive and feedback from presses is also solid.

  The fit and finish are excellent and the build quality feels premium with a minimalist design

You can connect the A8 to Apple devices thanks to support for AirPlay 2, which allows users to stream movies, music, games and photos to their television right from their iPhone, iPad or Mac. In addition, Apple HomeKit technology provides an easy, secure way for users to control their television from their iPhone, iPad or Mac.

In addition, with the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa enabled devices, you may cast and control videos from YouTube with Google Home, or change the channel or volume with Amazon Alexa enabled devices.

Measurements

Out of the Box

As we normally do within our reviews, we measured the out of the box picture presets to find those that get as close as possible to the industry standards. The idea is that a TV must get close to these standards in at least one of its picture modes so end users can see content as it was mastered and intended to be seen. On the Sony A8, that picture preset is Custom Mode as Sony have not joined the rest of the TV industry by adding Filmmaker Mode. We made sure that all video processing and smoothing was switched off.

We use Calman colour calibration software, a Murideo Seven Generator and Klein K-10A meter for measurement and calibration.

Sony KD-65A8

Looking at the greyscale results, we can see that Custom Mode is very accurate to the standards out of the box with just a few small issues with the tracking. Red dips to around 5% low and blue is just under 5% high of the 100% tracking points. However, our DeltaE errors are around two and under, which is well below the visible threshold of three. This means that no errors in the graph are actually seen within TV and Film content viewed on the A8 in Custom mode out of the box. Gamma also tracks well to the BT.1886 standard with zero issues.

Sony KD-65A8

Moving to the Rec.709 HD colour gamut results and, once again, Custom Mode is very good with most of our saturation tracking points lining up to where they should be. The excess of blue within the greyscale results means that the points on the graph are pulled towards cyan/blue slightly, but our DeltaE errors are two and under which is below the visible threshold of three and as such, will be unseen in the vast majority of film and TV content. For an out of the box preset, Custom mode is fairly accurate.

Calibrated

The Sony A8/A8H has a full suite of calibration tools onboard, along with the ability to use Calman AutoCal via the Calman for Bravia app and the Calman software. We used both approaches and obtained identical results with both methods.

Sony KD-65A8

The greyscale results are now excellent but we did find both the AutoCal and manual approach to result in very coarse results from using the available adjustments. This didn’t in any way affect the onscreen image quality, which was reference quality, but it did mean the graphs didn’t look as pretty.

Sony KD-65A8

The Rec.709 HD colour gamut results were also very good with all points from 75% saturation and below being accurate and where they should be. Some 100% points had slight errors in hue and saturation, but this was not visible in any TV or film content as the DeltaE errors were all under one, which is well below the visible threshold. While the graphs are not perfectly flat and nice-looking, the results on the screen are superb.

HDR Results

The Sony A8 has HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and Dolby Vision HDR support on board. We measured peak brightness across window sizes in the most accurate image preset to the standards and D65 white.

Sony KD-65A8

Interestingly, unlike other OLED panels we have measured this year, the Sony A8 does not have a consistent 1 to 10% peak brightness and drop following that, like most panels. Instead, we have high peaks in the small-sized windows up to 640 nits at 1% window size, 675 nits on a 2% window, 620 nits at 5% and then 575 nits at the industry-standard 10% window size. 100% full field is also an impressive 160nits with no aggressive ABL kicking in. This behaviour makes sense once you watch HDR content being mapped where specular highlights do manage to pop and show fine detail, which the 575 nit peak brightness figure wouldn’t tell you from a cursory glance at the numbers. As we say in all our reviews, peak brightness is just one part of what makes up an HDR image.

Sony KD-65A8

The PQ EOTF results are also good and point to a roll-off with HDR content that suits preserving specular highlight details and this tone mapping is the same for 1000 and 4000 nit mastered content playback. Add in the very good brightness with small specular highlight areas and you can see the approach Sony is clearly taking to get the best out of the content while retaining as much detail as possible in the highlights.

Sony KD-65A8

The coverage of DCI-P3 within BT.2020 is also excellent with most of the saturation points in the graph landing close to where they should be, or thereabouts. There’s a slight undersaturation of red and some mild hue errors but, overall, the gamut performance is really good for an OLED. It doesn’t quite reach the full 100% coverage and like all OLEDs, the colour volume is slightly lacking but, ultimately, the HDR performance of the Sony A8 is very good indeed.

Sony KD-65A8

We measured BT.2020 coverage at 70% XY and 75% UV with P3 measuring in at 94% XY and 97% UV.


Sony KD-65A8

Performance

While the Sony KD-65A8 is not a Masters Series model, it is clear to see from our testing that Sony is certainly still aiming for the creator's intent angle, much the same as Panasonic. The A8 also gets a few features that have rolled down from the AG9 flagship, such as IMAX Enhanced certification and the Netflix calibrated mode. It is a shame that Sony has not introduced Filmmaker Mode (FMM), but they will argue that Custom Mode on the A8 is accurate out of the box, and as our results show, that is the case. However, the beauty of FMM is that it is a one-button press preset that defeats all the unnecessary image manipulation features and motion smoothing in one go. We found ourselves having to go through and check/defeat features in Custom Mode.

Related:
What is Filmmaker Mode?

Dolby Vision IQ is also missing on the A8, but it is certainly possible to use DV Dark mode and set the panel luminance for your room, so it is perhaps less of an issue that it is not here on the A8H. We haven’t been overly impressed with the implementation of Dolby Vision IQ so far, so it may be wise of Sony to wait it out while the initial niggles are sorted out.

Related:
What is Dolby Vision IQ?

Panel uniformity was very good at all brightness points with no obvious signs of colour shift, dirty screen effect or banding. On a 5% slide, there was a very faint darkening to the left side of the panel compared to the centre and right, but this was only visible with the slide. There was also some very faint banding, but again this was only visible in completely dark viewing and on the slide only. Watching normal TV and film content on the A8 did not show up the bands seen on the 5% slide.

  ... the fact that the sound comes from behind the screen does add a unique touch only Sony provides

Motion has always been a strong point with Sony TVs and the motion performance along with MotionFlow features this year are also excellent. With MotionFlow off, the pulldown is correct for 24fps material with no induced judder. The Film Mode option defaults to auto. Within MotionFlow we can activate the X-Motion Clarity 120Hz variable Black Frame Insertion (BFI) using the custom setting and the clearness slider. The first two options have duty cycles that do not introduce obvious flicker and while reducing brightness slightly, they work really well and improve the perceived motion. The Highest setting does introduce flicker that is very noticeable and would make for uncomfortable viewing over a long period of time. Make sure that smoothness is at the off position to avoid the Soap Opera Effect (SOE). You should avoid using BFI with HDR content due to the brightness drop. While we would never recommend using motion smoothing technologies with film content, with sports and fast-moving video the Sony offers motion interpolation that has fewer issues with artefacts, false edges and image break up than any other system on the market.

Upscaling and video processing is also first-class on the Sony A8 with no issues seen with 576i/1080i, and 1080p content being upscaled to the native panel resolution. Edges are clean without any ringing and free from any unwanted artefacts, while jaggie suppression is also very, very good.

  One thing that does impress straight away on the A8 is the Custom preset with SDR and HDR content looking incredibly cinematic, with superb colour rendition

The A8 has HDMI 2.0b ports but does support eARC, however, there are no other HDMI 2.1 features available such as VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) or ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode). That doesn’t prevent you from playing games on the A8H from consoles and input lag measured 19ms when fed a 4K/60 4:4:4 HDR10 signal from our Murideo Seven Generator, which is a good result.

One thing that does impress straight away on the A8 is the Custom preset with SDR and HDR content looking incredibly cinematic, with superb colour rendition. This points to image accuracy from Sony and also the desire to produce accurate images to the creator’s intent. Only Panasonic can really match or better the Sony in this respect, the image quality with film content really is superb. Add this to the per-pixel dynamic range possible from OLED and you really do have an excellent TV for critical movie viewing in dim viewing conditions. Blacks are very good with nice just above black details and very good shadow and mid-range performance, which adds depth to the image. We did notice a few small black flashes with bit starved content and within the tricky Stranger Things test clips, but these were rare to see.

The peak brightness figures in the graphs above may suggest that the Sony A8 doesn’t have the brightness available for full-on HDR peak highlights, but a closer look will show that in small areas of the image, typically where we have peak highlights in objects, the Sony is capable of producing enough brightness in these areas that results in a very dynamic HDR10 image. Colours are also very good with HDR content with life-like skin tones and excellent colour gradation of areas like blue skies or sunsets where we see no obvious issues with banding or gradational posterisation.

  ... the Sony offers motion interpolation that has fewer issues with artefacts, false edges and image break up than any other system on the market

In side-by-side testing with the Panasonic HZ1000, the Sony A8 matched in almost all the performance attribute areas with well known SDR and HDR scenes. The only areas where we could see a difference was with the Panasonic whites looking more like video white and without a cyan tint that the Sony had. Plus, the Panasonic had slightly better just above black detailing and stability, however, both of these items are the nitpicking of a video purist. With motion, it was also very close, with the Sony looking just a smidge cleaner with most 24fps material. HDR comparisons also resulted in an almost neck and neck results and the Sony is certainly not any dimmer that the HZ1000 with HDR10 and Dolby Vision content, with the A8, also exhibiting an ABL performance slightly better than the Panasonic, with a slightly brighter full white field performance, but a more cyan tint. The real competitor to the A8H from Panasonic is the HZ1500 with its Atmos sound system, but it also has identical picture performance to the HZ1000, so the comparison from a picture perspective is valid.

Talking about sound systems, we are still big fans of the Acoustic Surface Audio found on the A8 with audio coming directly from the screen thanks to actuators behind the panel and twin subwoofers. The audio performance is excellent for a TV with precise dialogue placement on the screen, mixed with a nice wide sound field for music and effects. There are no upward-firing drivers for Atmos like the Panasonic, but the fact that the sound comes from behind the screen does add a unique touch only Sony provides.

Verdict

The good

  • Excellent out of the box accuracy
  • Superb calibrated performance
  • Excellent motion
  • 120Hz BFI
  • Dolby Vision and HDR performance are excellent
  • Acoustic Surface Audio
  • Dolby Atmos decoding
  • Netflix Calibrated Mode
  • Superb TV for critical movie viewing

The not so good

  • No HDMI 2.1
  • Some just above black posterization/flashing with some low bitrate content

Sony A8 (A8H) 4K OLED TV Review


The Sony A8 is an excellent OLED TV that now has many of the features of the flagship AG9 and offers superb image accuracy towards the industry standards. It is a great choice for those looking for an OLED for critical movie watching in dark surroundings with super cinematic images in both SDR and HDR.

There is no Dolby Vision IQ or Filmmaker Mode included on the A8 this year, but this doesn’t really have any negative impact as the Custom image preset is accurate out of the box and for Dolby Vision you are best suited to set that to dark mode and adjust the panel luminance for your room. Image accuracy and reproducing the creator’s intent are at the forefront of this OLED TVs capabilities.

The audio performance is also excellent with the Acoustic Surface Audio adding the unique feature of sound actually coming from behind the screen, where it should be positioned. The sound stage is nice and wide with excellent dialogue intelligibility that is focussed right on the screen.

The Android TV system used to be a bugbear of users on older Sony models due to a sluggish performance and numerous crashes, but for the last few years we have seen a marked improvement in this area and the A8 is excellent with Android 9 (Pie) installed. Operation is smooth, fast and stable with an excellent range of mainstream VOD apps from Disney+, Prime Video, Netflix, Rakuten and Britbox as well as all the catch-up services for UK terrestrial services including BBC iPlayer. The tuner is not Freeview Play but rather You View. The general menu system has also seen an update with more detailed explanations of what various controls do, using images and text.

Overall, we really couldn’t fault the Sony A8 (or A8H if you are based in the USA), as it provides superb image accuracy, stunning dynamic range and excellent image quality that matches the creator’s intent. It is a very good choice for those looking for an OLED TV to use for critical movie viewing and it comes highly recommended.
Highly Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

10

Screen Uniformity

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
9

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Video Processing

.
9

Picture Quality

.
9

SDR Picture Quality

10

HDR Picture Quality

.
9

Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box

.
.
8

Picture Quality Calibrated

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Smart Features

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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