Sony A90J (BRAVIA XR-65A90J) OLED TV Review

It's bright, but is it a Master?

by Phil Hinton
SRP: £3,499.00
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Sony A90J (BRAVIA XR-65A90J) OLED TV Review

The Sony A90J is one of the best SDR and HDR performers for 2021 with accurate image quality following calibration and some of the most impactful HDR thanks to the new XR OLED Contrast Pro technology. Added to this is the Acoustic Surface Audio+ technology that turns the screen into the speaker as well as Google TV replacing Android as the OS and smart TV system. It is lacking terrestrial apps such as iPlayer at the time of the review, but Sony insists this will be rectified in the near future with a firmware update. If you’re a movie fan looking for some of the best SDR and HDR OLED image quality, you really should demo the Sony BRAVIA XR A90J, which comes highly recommended!

The good

  • Superb HDR brightness from XR OLED Contrast Pro tech
  • Cognitive Processor XR image quality
  • Outstanding SDR image accuracy after calibration
  • Excellent video upscaling and processing
  • Excellent motion with film and TV show content
  • Auto Calibration with Calman
  • Excellent sound quality from Acoustic Surface Pro+
  • Bravia Core

The not so good

  • Only two 48Gbps HDMI 2.1 inputs
  • Some instances of raised blacks with some content
  • Could be more accurate out of the box (no Filmmaker Mode)
  • Missing important terrestrial Apps in the UK
  • Expensive compared to rivals

What Is the Sony A90J?

The Sony A90J is the company’s flagship OLED TV for 2021 and features an aluminium heatsink as part of the XR OLED Contrast Pro technology, which promises higher peak brightness and deep blacks with excellent just above black detail. It’s a Laminate aluminium sheet that is applied to the panel for heat radiation. This is then complemented with temperature distribution helping to cool the panel and produce higher peak brightness thanks to the XR processing and WRGB elements emitting fully. It’s this feature that puts the A90J in direct competition with the LG G1 OLED Evo panel and the Panasonic JZ1500 and JZ2000 sets in 2021. It’s also exciting technology for the enthusiast, as Sony produces some of the most accurate images possible thanks to its professional grading and master monitor experience, which is what the MASTER Series TVs aim to replicate in the home. 

The Sony Bravia XR A90J is available in 55-inch (XR-55A90J at £2699), the 65-inch we are reviewing here (XR-65A90J at £3499) and a massive 83-inch (XR-83A90J at £6999). So the A90J certainly carries a premium over some of the competition for its advanced picture processing and extra brightness performance. 

 

The Sony Bravia XR A90J is a very good looking OLED TV

The A90J introduces the Cognitive Processor XR which Sony claims goes beyond conventional AI and is designed to replicate the way humans see and hear. When we look at objects, our eyes and brain subconsciously focus on certain points to make up an overall picture. Using what Sony calls cognitive intelligence, the XR Processor divides the screen into numerous zones and detects where the ‘focal point’ is in the picture. It then cross-analyses an array of elements at once, just as our brains do and, by doing so, Sony claims that all elements are adjusted in conjunction with each other for the best outcome, so everything in the scene is synchronised and lifelike – something Sony states that conventional AI cannot achieve.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

Sony also states that the Cognitive Processor XR can also analyse the sound position in the signal so the sound matches precisely with the action on the screen. In addition, it upconverts any sound to 3D surround, to deliver an immersive soundscape.

The new processor also contributes to picture processing with other technologies that use Cognitive Processing, such as XR TRILUMINOUS PRO which creates accurate colour gamuts for SDR and HDR content. There’s also XR Upscaling technology that now employs two databases instead of the one used by the X1 Ultimate chip last year. The entire picture processing engine is now optimised within the XR chip, resulting in better picture sharpness, scaling, motion, and more. We certainly put all of that to the test in this review.

The Sony A90J also introduces the new BRAVIA CORE streaming service and Google TV replaces Android as the OS and Smart TV system. The issue with the new Google TV service is the lack of UK catch-up services from all the major terrestrial broadcasters, so we were unable to watch the Euros in 4K HDR through iPlayer, as the TV doesn’t have it. Sony has stated that it is finalising contracts with the providers and will add the apps to the system via firmware updates. However, as always, we would stress to potential purchasers to only buy a TV on what it offers at the time of purchase and not on promises of updates. We hope Sony does manage to sort this issue out as it seriously hampers its competitive edge against rivals in the UK. BRAVIA Core is a subscription service based on your TV model and offers a number of credits for you to watch 4K HDR content at extremely high bitrates. 

 

... you will need to use an external device to get access to these apps

Gaming is also high on Sony’s list of priorities and the A90J comes equipped with two HDMI 2.1 ports which does seem stingy when compared to LG which offers four on its TVs. Both slots are HDMI 2.1 48Gbps and will eventually support Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) (firmware update), along with Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), eARC and 4K 120fps. 

Sony also supports the creator’s intent and as such there is the Custom picture preset (and Custom for Pro 1&2 when you use Calman Autocal) plus the IMAX Enhanced preset that mirrors Custom in almost all aspects. 

So can the Sony BRAVIA XR A90J live up to the hype and produce the goods? Let’s find out…

Video Review

Design, Connections and Control

The Sony Bravia XR A90J is a very good looking OLED TV with a simple, minimalist design and dual-use stand feet. The feet can be positioned in two different ways, with one option leaving the panel flush with the TV rack or unit surface and the other raising the panel 7cm to allow the use of a soundbar. Of course, being a Sony OLED TV the screen is the speaker, so the front of the panel is a clean design with just a small Sony logo on the bottom left side and an almost bezel-less surface. The rear of the panel has the usual OLED thin screen to the top and sides, with a larger area covering three-quarters of the rear which is deeper in order to house the electronics, inputs and woofers. 

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

The connections are to the rear and are sideways and downwards facing. To the side are speaker connections to use the centre speaker in a home cinema system and below these is a CI slot. We then have two 3.5mm jacks, one for AV breakout cables for legacy connections or the S-Centre speaker and below this is the headphone output. There are also two USB slots, an HDMI 2.0b port and a mic on/off switch. The downwards facing inputs include a USB 3.0 slot, one HDMI 2.0b port and two HDMI 2.1 48Gbps slots along with a digital audio out, LAN and two satellite and one RF antenna ports. 

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

Sony carries over the new remote design from last year for the premium models, with a long, slick,  metal-faced front and a textured plastic rear that gives it a high-end feel. It sits neatly in the hand and all the major buttons are within easy thumb reach when held in one hand. It's also backlit which helps with late-night viewing in a dark room. Overall, the remote is very good and fits with the design and price point of the A90J. 

Measurements

Out of the box

As we do with all reviews, we factory reset the Sony A90J and then measured the picture presets to find which is the most accurate to the industry standards out of the box so we can view content as it was mastered and intended to be seen. The best picture preset for this is Custom as it tries to follow the industry standards and produce image quality that replicates a Sony BVM professional monitor. Custom does have some processing such as MotionFlow and Reality Creation active by default but this was switched off before measurements were taken. 

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

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

Looking at the greyscale first and we have a decent track towards the standards but with just a little too much blue in the brighter areas of the image along with a deficit of red. Our DeltaE errors are decent and for the most part, are under the visible threshold of three, but there are errors higher than that at the brightest part of the scale which translate to a slight blue tint to images onscreen, though nothing that is distracting and most normal users would never notice it. Gamma also tracks well towards BT.1886 with just a few small deviations that are not visible with actual viewing content.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

The Rec.709 colour gamut results are also good but the white point towards blue has also pulled the primary and secondary saturation points towards blue, moving them slightly from where they should be in the gamut. Again, this doesn’t translate to any obvious visible errors with actual viewing material, and even trained eyes would struggle to see any issues. By correcting the white point we should have a colour gamut that falls back towards where the saturation points should be. It is a shame that the Custom mode is not quite as accurate as Filmmaker Mode on competing models from the likes of LG and we would encourage Sony to consider this approach in the future.

Calibrated

The Sony Bravia XR A90J has a full suite of calibration controls within the menu system, plus, you can also use the Calman for BRAVIA app to access the full AutoCal system via Calman software, which adds two new picture presets called Custom for Pro 1 and Custom for Pro 2.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

As you can see with the greyscale results, we managed to hit reference levels of accuracy. The track was flat, with DeltaE errors all well under the visible threshold of three at an average of 0.5. Gamma is also tracking BT.1886 and, overall, there are no visible errors within the image which is extremely accurate to the standards.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

Moving to the Rec.709 colour gamut and we also have very good results here with just very minor errors seen within the saturation tracking. These errors are well below the visible threshold and with actual film and TV content, the A90J is very accurate indeed. Overall, it’s an excellent result and the A90J can produce incredibly accurate SDR images.

 

... the differences in most cases were subtle.

HDR Results

With the XR OLED Contrast Pro technology as part of the OLED panel on the A90J, it promises to produce some of the best HDR images yet seen from the technology. So, as always, we measured the peak brightness at various window sizes to see just how well the A90J performs. This was in the most accurate Custom HDR preset with the HDR Tone Mapping set to Gradient Preferred which follows the PQ EOTF standards correctly. Off is too dark and Brightness Preferred is too bright and doesn’t track the PQ EOTF correctly.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

For 2%, 5% and the industry-standard 10% window results, we measured approximately 750 nits as the peak brightness and with a full field 100% white screen the A90J measured 172 nits -  these are excellent results for an OLED panel. Looking at just 750 nits in isolation doesn’t tell the full story, as the 100% result is incredibly impressive at 172 nits, which points to a relaxed Automatic Brightness Limiter (ABL) circuit, increasing the HDR dynamic range and performance. Compared to the LG G1, the Sony manages to turn in the best peak brightness number, but of course, that is just one part of what makes an HDR image.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

As well as peak brightness, another important part of an HDR image is the PQ EOTF tracking to ST.2084 and the tone mapping employed. Looking at the PQ EOTF on the Sony A90J, we can see that it follows the standard correctly with the right brightness. It does however start to roll off around 400 nits up to the peak of 750. It employs the same tone mapping and tracking for 1000 and 4000 nits content and does so in a way that retains peak highlight details.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

Moving to the wide colour gamut DCI-P3 results, we can see that the saturation tracking is very good indeed with just green falling short of the full gamut size at 100% saturation and red 50% saturation is slightly too saturated. Other than those small issues, the result of the gamut coverage is very good for wide colour reproduction.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

We measured BT.2020 at 71% XY and 73% UV with P3 coming in at 98% XY and 98% UV.

Sony Bravia XR-65A90J

Performance

We are reviewing the 65-inch version of the Sony BRAVIA XR A90J, but the general performance should be the same for the other screen sizes.

The Sony A90J is the high-end Master Series OLED TV for 2021 and it offers new image processing and better brightness for more realistic and accurate HDR picture quality. The new panel has a Laminate aluminium heatsink as part of the XR OLED Contrast Pro technology and this helps dissipate heat away from the panel while boosting the brightness capabilities. Added to this is a change to how the pixel emits light and, where other manufacturers use the white pixel to achieve this on its own, the Sony approach also adds the red, green and blue pixels to the white to increase the brightness of the colours at the same time. This helps keep the colours looking purer without wash out at higher peak brightness. The XR processor also adds tone mapping that pushes accuracy to the standards and retains detail in the brighter reaches of the HDR image and it also tries to replicate the master monitors that Sony produces for the professional market, like the BVM-300. 

The A90J supports HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and Dolby Vision. There is no support for HDR10+ or Dolby Vision IQ. There are also movie based picture presets available for watching content as it was intended to be seen and these include the Custom mode, Netflix Calibrated mode for watching Netflix content and the IMAX Enhanced mode. There is no getting away from the fact that Sony believes the A90J is the best possible OLED TV for accurate to the standards movie watching - something I’ve been testing for a solid month.

Looking at the panel uniformity and we didn’t notice any major issues with the A90J at any brightness levels. The 5% brightness test did not show any obvious banding problems and nothing was visible with normal content, including dark scenes in a dark viewing environment. All other brightness levels were clean and without any visible banding or Dirty Screen Effect (DSE), including at 100% brightness which was also free from any obvious colour tinting. The panel in our review sample was excellent and with no issues when viewing normal content.

 

... if you must use interpolation, the Sony approach is certainly the best on the market currently

One potential issue with the panel and its black levels saw slightly raised blacks in some content, which would display a little more shadow detail, raising the black floor ever so slightly and therefore looking compressed and losing some of the solid black gradations you would expect in the lowest video levels. This issue can be tamed by adding Black Frame Insertion (BFI) with SDR content via the MotionFlow settings, as it cannot be fixed by calibration. 

The video processing on the A90J is top class as you would expect with the Sony TV and the new processor certainly helps out here. The motion is excellent, delivering superb 24fps performance with MotionFlow switched off, with correct 5:5 pulldown for film content and no induced judder. 

Using Motionflow can start to introduce Soap Opera Effect (SOE) and some artefacts with fast-moving content as you up the interpolation settings. However, if you must use interpolation, the Sony approach is certainly the best on the market currently, with excellent sharpness and fewer artefacts than almost all other TV manufacturers. Native 4K content looks sublime and with no issues at all with motion or video processing. The A90J scores top marks here.

Upscaling is also first-class on the Sony Bravia XR A90J, displaying excellent image quality with clear edges and superb details. Edges look solid and free from ringing with Reality Creation switched off. When switched on, it does add in some edge enhancement that gives the image a slightly digital but incredibly sharp appearance. 

With SDR TV and movie content, the A90J produces an exceptionally accurate image with superb dynamic range and natural, life-like colours. Skin tones look realistic and the Sony is capable of incredibly cinematic images. Black levels are deep but with excellent just above black shadow details without looking flat or raised in comparison to its peers. The motion was also first-class when tested with a number of SDR sources and materials, from 24fps movies to 50Hz broadcast TV shows. We didn’t notice any instances of judder or frame skipping present with MotionFlow switched off. If you are a film fan looking for an incredibly cinematic experience with SDR movie content on Blu-ray disc or streaming, the A90J is an excellent choice to make. 

 

... audio quality is well above average for a TV of this type and on par with the use of a mid-range soundbar

Moving to HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) and Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, we are greeted by one of the very best OLED HDR images on the market today. Everything that makes the SDR performance outstanding is also true when it comes to HDR sources, with superb dynamic range, deep blacks and stunning shadow details plus realistic colours and skin tones. The extra peak brightness, especially with larger areas of bright whites, looks impactful with superb detail retrieval in the peak highlights. There are a few instances of raised blacks within dark scenes when in comparison to its peers, but nothing that is distracting overall. The A90J is one of the best OLED TVs we have tested so far with HDR content. With Dolby Vision, there is even more performance to be extracted using the dynamic metadata of the format, to make sure that peak highlights and shadows are expressed as the director intended, especially as, while bright, OLED is still not quite capable of displaying 1000 nits content without the use of tone mapping.

We put the Sony A90J up against many of its competitors for 2021, with comparisons versus the LG G1 with the Evo OLED panel, the LG C1, and Panasonic’s JZ1500 with the custom professional OLED panel. We did our usual comparison setups with the TVs next to each other in the best out of the box picture settings and in calibrated modes. We ran the same well-known test clips from TV and films that we use for all display reviews and spent quite a number of hours doing these tests. The results were a little surprising in one respect but they also followed what would be expected when comparing the same display technology side by side in extremely accurate picture modes - the differences in most cases were subtle.

Sony A90J OLED vs Panasonic JZ1500 OLED

So, the surprise was that the A90J was bettered when it comes to peak brightness by the Panasonic JZ1500, which also has a more natural, accurate white point out of the box when compared to the Sony and its Master Series' white point, which is slightly blue. Skin tones look a little more realistic as a result, with a redder hue to faces on the JZ1500 than the Sony which, in comparison, looks pale and slightly cyan as a result. Of course, this is nitpicking as we have both in their best out of the box settings sitting next to each other. I doubt many enthusiasts would be able to point these differences out in isolation, but it is a little more obvious when you can directly compare them.

 

It competes with the G1 from LG and the Panasonic JZ1500 in those terms and offers excellent performance

For black levels and just above black details, as well as how the sets come out of black, the Panasonic is again stronger in this regard with a more dynamic and solid approach to shadow details, whereas the A90J is slightly raised and flat as a result of coming out of black too quickly. However, the Panasonic is a little noisier in the lowest reaches and not as solid as last year's HZ2000. There are more signs of less gradational balance and smoothness coming out of black than we would expect from a Panasonic OLED TV. Readers should keep in mind that, once again, this is nitpicking of the highest order and in isolation it may again be much more difficult to see this issue, but we are trying to be complete in our assessment.

In almost all other aspects both sets were very close to each other for colour accuracy and cinematic prowess, with the slightly brighter overall Panasonic edging things slightly with HDR in my opinion, but the Sony slightly stronger in image processing and motion.

Sony A90J OLED vs LG G1 and C1 OLED

Moving to comparisons with the LG G1 and C1, it was again the white point out of the box which gave the Sony away and had the LG’s looking the more accurate in the Filmmaker Mode with its D65 white. Sony would argue that it is trying to replicate its mastering monitor as the A90J is a Master Series model, and as such it has that slightly cyan look. Once calibrated, with SDR and HDR content the only difference to see was again differences in how the sets come out of black. In all other respects, they were very close to each other once the white point on all was set to D65.

 

... it was a performance trait I preferred with the A90J

Peak brightness on the Sony A90J and LG G1 were very similar and even with slight differences in the tone mapping employed (we tried the G1 with Dynamic Tone Mapping on and off), each set handled HDR10 content incredibly well, with excellent dynamics and accurate looking colours and images. The Sony is just slightly better with the reproduction of colour within HDR content and nitpicking once again, it was a performance trait I preferred with the A90J. The C1 managed to perform incredibly well against the A90J and the G1 - with just the slight decrease in overall peak brightness, especially with full screen white - letting itself down slightly in the side by side testing, but again, I doubt it would be as big an issue in isolation. 

For SDR and HDR movie and TV show viewing the Sony A90J is a superb performer with stunning image quality and impactful HDR brightness and colours.

Gaming Performance

Moving to the gaming performance and with the Xbox Series X and PS5, we didn’t really run into any issues with the A90J picture performance. Game mode allows full chroma, and HDR is also strong with most titles we tried, but that will come down to individual games at times and how you set up the console. We didn’t encounter any major issues with image quality and the input lag came in at 16ms with a 4K 60P signal.

Scratching the Surface

Finally, the sound quality on the A90J is also excellent with the now-familiar Acoustic Surface Audio+ which uses actuators behind the screen that vibrate the panel to create the audio. This has an incredible effect of the audio coming from exactly where it should be on the screen. The sound quality is very convincing, thanks to the panel becoming the speaker and underpinned by bass woofers. You could add it to your AVR as the centre speaker in a multi-channel set-up, but obviously, the timbre and voicing will be different to other speakers in your system. Overall, the audio quality is well above average for a TV of this type and on par with the use of a mid-range soundbar.

Conclusion

Sony A90J (BRAVIA XR-65A90J) OLED TV Review

The Sony A90J is a superb OLED TV that adheres to the Master Series ethos of image accuracy for film and TV viewing. SDR content truly looks exceptional with stunning accuracy for skin tones and natural-looking colours. Blacks are deep, yet detailed with stunning shadow detailing and the dynamic range of OLED shines through with a cinematic flair thanks to Sony’s expertise with professional image quality. While out of the box the image is a little cyan in the white balance, this is because Sony is aiming to make the A90J look like their BVM professional grading monitors, but this can also easily be corrected with calibration to obtain absolute accuracy.

The Sony BRAVIA XR A90J is also one of the best OLED TVs for HDR image quality. The new XR OLED Contrast Pro technology certainly helps Sony achieve this with brighter peak highlights, which add to the incredible dynamic range that OLED is capable of. The tone mapping is superb with HDR10 and Dolby Vision looking sublime, and the full-screen brightness with the relaxed ABL circuit achieves some of the best HDR image quality we have seen from an OLED panel to date. Black levels are also excellent with just the odd instance of a slightly raised out of black performance, but overall, the shadow details and image depth, thanks to the black levels, is incredible. It competes with the G1 from LG and the Panasonic JZ1500 in those terms and offers excellent performance.

The sound quality from the Acoustic Surface Audio+ is still superb on the A90J with sound quality that will rival the use of a mid-range soundbar (without a subwoofer). The effect of sound coming directly from the centre of the screen adds to the experience and with the use of high-quality woofers and the screen actuators vibrating the rest of the panel to turn it into a 65-inch speaker, is still revolutionary in the OLED TV market.

The A90J uses Google TV for the OS and Smart TV system and for the majority of use cases it works well with most of the major apps supported. However, in the UK there are no terrestrial applications available, such as iPlayer and All 4, which means that you will need to use an external device to get access to these apps. This will be a major issue with some users and we can understand the negative feedback regarding spending this much money on a premium screen that doesn’t come with basic terrestrial apps on board. It’s certainly a misstep from Sony which claims it is trying to add the missing apps over time via firmware updates, but as always, don’t buy the TV on the assumption it will have features added that are not there at the time you purchase.

 

... offers some of the best SDR and HDR images we have seen from OLED technology this year.

When compared to its main rivals, the LG 65G1 (£2,999) and Panasonic 65JZ1500 (£2,999), there is very little to separate the three screens, with each having its pros and cons, but overall the Sony 65A90J (£3,499) managed to produce the goods and compete strongly against its rivals. Only the JZ1500 manages to best the A90J in some small image quality comparisons in my opinion, but it is so close that you would likely only notice these in the direct comparisons we performed and not in isolation.

Overall, the Sony A90J is a big step up from the former Master Series AG9 OLED and offers some of the best SDR and HDR images we have seen from OLED technology this year. It is expensive and it is also without some obvious must-have apps but, in terms of a home cinema TV, it certainly performs to an incredibly high standard with image accuracy and the artist's intent is a high priority. If you’re a movie fan looking for some of the best SDR and HDR OLED image quality, you really should demo the Sony BRAVIA XR A90J, which 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

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
9

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The games console used in this review was kindly supplied by our gaming partner Smyths Toys Gaming, the No.1 choice for next-gen Gaming


9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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