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Sony AG8 Review

A step up on last year?

by Phil Hinton
SRP: £2,299.00

What is the Sony AG8?

The Sony KD-55AG8 is the company's entry-level 4K OLED TV and utilises the X1 Extreme picture processor, which includes Object-based HDR Remaster, Super Bit Mapping 4K HDR and Dual Database Processing. The AG8 also supports High Dynamic Range, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

The 55AG8 includes Sony's Acoustic Surface Audio which provides a more immersive sound experience with the sound coming from the entire screen, enveloping viewers. If you want to use a soundbar, you can rotate the stand 180° and it will rise up so you can easily place the soundbar under the TV.

The Sony Android Smart TV platform utilises Google Assistant built-in, the TV will also work with Google Home or Amazon Echo devices. The AG8 will also be compatible with Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit.

This review sample is a retail unit supplied by Crampton and Moore. They have kindly loaned us a brand new sealed TV from their retail stock so we can bring you an honest and in-depth appraisal of the model. Just like manufacturer-supplied units, Crampton and Moore have no input when it comes to the review and no influence on the results, they loan us the TV to support our unbiased reviews. If you want to help support us and are looking at buying a new TV, all we ask is that you consider Crampton and Moore for your purchase. The staff are happy to assist you with whatever products you might be interested in. Call Richard on 01302 365760 or email [email protected]

So, is there enough in the way of new features and performance over the outgoing AF8 OLED to justify the extra cost of the AG8, or are you better grabbing the outgoing TV for less outlay? Let's find out.

Sony AG8 (A8G) OLED Video Review

Watch our full in-depth video review of the Sony A8G/ AG8 OLED TV.

Design, Connections and Control

Sony KD-55AG8
As with all OLED TVs, the actual panel is incredibly thin with a tiny 5mm metal bezel that surrounds the panel’s edge. At the bottom, this is slightly larger at 10mm with a tiny Sony logo to the left-hand edge. There is nothing else to see on the front of the panel. However, the screen surface is very reflective, so make sure you place it away from any direct light sources, such as a window.

The panel sits on a newly designed stand that differs from that seen on the AF8. When in one position it is similar to the older set's design with the screen sitting a few millimetres above the mounting surface. However, this year you can turn the stand around and this raises the height of the panel so you can fit a soundbar underneath the screen.

Around the back of the panel is a large rectangular area that sticks out 20mm from the main panel and houses all the electronics, connections, processors and audio actuators. Once again the AG8 has the Acoustic Surface Audio system that uses two stereo actuators to create the mid and high frequencies with bass drivers in the centre section creating the mid to low tones.

Overall the design is clean and minimalist, which looks contemporary, and build quality is decent for the price point.
Sony KD-55AG8
The connections are located on the rear right of the panel looking from the rear and are familiar to anyone who has used a Sony TV in the last few years. We have both sideways and downwards facing connections within recessed areas of the back panel and the power cable is hardwired to the rear left.

Looking at the sideways connections first we have a common interface slot, followed by a 3.5mm audio input, a 3.5mm audio out and an IR blaster input. Below these are two USB slots and HDMI 1.

Moving to the downwards facing section we have another USB input and three further HDMI slots. All the HDMI inputs are full bandwidth 18Gbps HDCP 2.3 compatible ports with 4K 60P 4:4:4 capabilities and support for HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR standards. We also have a LAN and optical digital input with two satellite and one terrestrial antenna.

The remote control supplied with this £2299 OLED is a cheap plastic Sony model with small-rubberised effect buttons. We have seen this remote on other TV models in the Sony range from 2018 and it is such a shame that Sony couldn’t supply this 2019 OLED with the new remote seen on the XG95.

The buttons are logically laid out and the remote itself is pretty intuitive to use. There are direct keys for Google Play and Netflix and the most used buttons are in the centre with the directional and enter keys. Around these are the action menu which opens up direct access to the picture and sound settings, the Apps button opens your most used apps list and Home opens up the Android smart TV system, eventually. The TV button takes you to the You View tuner and the back key does exactly that.

So, the remote is certainly usable and sits neatly in the hand, but it feels cheap given the cost of the TV and design language used with the rest of the product.
Sony KD-55AG8
The Sony AG8 features the X1 Extreme processor and all the same features as the AF8 that it replaces. We really struggled to find any differences between the two models, with just some cosmetic changes to the stand and rear design of the TV.

The X1 Extreme processor used in the AG8 is the model under the Master Series TVs, which use X1 Ultimate, however, we found that when it comes to picture processing and motion, the AG8 with the Extreme chip has more options and slightly better performance than the Master Series Ultimate X1. This gives us more choices with Motion Flow XR settings, and the upscaling and other picture processing is also first class.

We also get the now familiar HDR Remaster, Super Bit Mapping 4K HDR, TRILUMINOS display, Live Colour and Dual Database Processing and the AG8 also supports HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range signals. The AG8 also uses its own tone mapping and colour mapping for static metadata HDR content.

The AG8 also features the Acoustic Surface Audio system that uses the screen as the speaker. There are two stereo actuators positioned three quarters of the way up the rear panel which vibrate the screen to create the higher frequency range, with drivers also positioned near the centre rear which create the mid and low frequency tones. The effect of voices actually coming from the screen where the characters are positioned, and not from below, adds to the viewing experience.

The AG8 also supports Dolby Digital Plus and DTS digital surround along with simulated S-force surround.
Sony KD-55AG8
The AG8 also has a new stand design this year that can sit the panel flush with the mounting surface, or if fitted in reverse, as we have in the video, gives you room to place a soundbar underneath the screen.

The OS and Smart TV is once again Android TV and the AG8 ships with version 7 of the software, with no over the air version 8 Oreo update due at the time of this review in early July 2019. Using version 7 was a chore with one full-on crash and plenty of instances of hanging and extremely slow responses. Most of the time the system did work as intended, but every now and then it would 'throw a wobbly' and freeze or slow to a crawl.

We did update using the USB method. You download the firmware to a USB drive and then insert this into the TV and run the update. This is fine for users who are confident with things like this, such as most AV enthusiasts. However, we would imagine this is above the level of complexity that most normal consumers would go to, so Sony really needs to hurry with the over the air update to Oreo.

Once loaded, we noticed a slight improvement in speed and actions, but it is not perfect and we still encountered the odd slow down with the system. The competition all do Smart TV better, faster and more stable than Sony.

Measurements

As always, we start by measuring the most accurate to the standards picture mode out of the box and, in this case, that is the Cinema pro mode.
Sony KD-55AG8
Sony KD-55AG8

Remembering that the AG8 is a retail sample from a store, we were happy to see that the greyscale out of the box (top left) was really quite accurate to the standards.

There is a little too much blue in the brightest sections of the image but, overall, the gamma tracks well to BT.1886 and our DetlaE errors are also good with just the brightest section of the image pushing this over the visible threshold of three.

Moving to the out of the box colour gamut measurements to Rec.709 (top right), most of the saturation tracking points are close to where they should be, but the blue error in the greyscale also moves the colour points towards blue slightly. This creates some hue errors in green and magenta, but everything else remains accurate enough and, for an out of the box result, we doubt viewers would notice these small errors without a reference side by side.
Sony KD-55AG8
Sony KD-55AG8

With the calibration controls available for the greyscale we were able to get reference results with a flat track for both the greyscale and gamma meaning that deltaE errors were all well under one, making any error invisible to the eye.

And by fixing the greyscale we also fix the hue issues we had with the colour gamut, although not everything is perfect with the colour saturation tracking, especially at 100% but, as hardly any content has any 100% saturation content, that is not a concern. The other issues are a slight oversaturation of red, which we cannot fix as there is no colour management system on the AG8. However, with actual viewing material, we didn’t notice any obvious errors and even with another OLED side by side, skin tones remained natural and we didn’t see any overly red tones spoiling any content we actually watched.

The first thing we noticed with the AG8, which was the same for the previous AF8 model, was a dim looking HDR image compared to most of its rivals. Using the peak vs. window size automated measurement test, we can see that the peak brightness in the calibrated D65 HDR mode is 599nits on a 5% window and 565nits on a 10% window. Full frame brightness is as expected at 142 nits. You can, of course, go for much brighter settings to achieve higher peaks, but you do so with excessive colour errors and clipping of peak details.
Sony KD-55AG8
Moving to the PQ EOTF results, we can see that the AG8 is set up to tone map and retain image APL consistency up to its peak brightness of around 560nits. This retains blacks, shadow and mid tone detail while also trying to retain highlights without excessive clipping on 1000 and 4000nit masters.
Sony KD-55AG8
Saturation tracking to the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which all 4K HDR content is currently mastered to is very good indeed with almost complete coverage in saturation. Indeed P3 XY coverage is 96% and UV is 98%, which is very good. BT 2020 coverage is 72% XY and 77% UV.

Obviously, as this is an OLED TV, the contrast measurements in SDR and HDR are infinity.

Performance

We should get this out of the way first of all and that is the fact that the Sony AG8 offers exactly the same performance as the outgoing AF8 as it uses the same panel and electronics along with the Android OS platform. As such, the performance is very good for an OLED TV and to benchmark it, we used a Philips OLED+903 which uses the same panel and Android operating system but with Philips picture processing as a comparison partner. Both TVs should offer very similar performance.

With SDR HD images, the Sony has an excellent calibrated colour palette on offer with realistic skin tones and natural hues coming across as a strong point. Blacks are as expected, deep and fluid with excellent contrast and dynamics. Shadows are good and motion is superb. The Philips gets very close to this performance when both are calibrated to the standards, with many of the same strong points.

Subtle differences are seen in the red uniforms on The Orville with the Sony looking more natural and saturated without going too far, but you really need to be looking hard for these subtle differences. Both sets are extremely accurate and similar in performance. Certainly, for SDR content, there is little to separate the sets with the Sony just edging things slightly with colour reproduction, but it is very close indeed.

Motion is a strong point for Sony and, once again, with both SDR and HDR content and low frame rate 24fps film material, it excelled with the motion performance, just edging the Philips in this regard with no interpolation switched on.

Blacks and shadows are extremely impressive with a superb dynamic range even with SDR content from streaming services. Compressed images didn’t turn up any unwanted issues, with upscaling and picture processing making images look sharp but without any obvious edge enhancement or ringing to edges. Film grain was still present, as it should be, with no signs of posterisation or colour banding at any point. Once again, the Sony excels with its natural and film-like colour performance with skin tones being a highlight.

Moving to HDR and, again, the Sony is very good when it comes to colour reproduction and with Dolby Vision content the dynamic metadata approach works best with the AG8, with an incredibly dynamic and detailed image that doesn’t lack overall brightness for the majority of Dolby Vision content we tested. We also noted less posterisation issues in the blacks than on the AF8 and Dolby Vision Dark mode was also decent, and not overly dark as again seen on the AF8. The Dolby Vision performance is a slight step up on last year.

Moving to static metadata HDR content did throw up a common issue with recent Sony OLEDs and that is the fact the main APL is consistent but also dimmer than competing sets. The Philips in side by side testing was slightly better in this respect and looked more colourful and dynamic between scene changes from dark to bright sections. The AG8 is more consistent so there are no major jumps in image brightness, and specular highlights are still there within the superb dynamic range, but the overall image is dimmer as a result.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that OLED is still king when it comes to dynamic range and black levels with SDR and HDR content. It might not have the visual pop of a bright LED LCD TV but, instead, it has pixel accurate dynamics that a FALD backlight and local dimming will never match and, as such, it has the edge with sheer image dynamics from black to white.

That’s not to say it is perfect, far from it, and scenes with bright colours or whites covering most of the screen will trigger the Automatic Brightness Limiter (ABL) which dims the overall image, unlike an LED LCD which can maintain full screen brightness with such images and thus add impact.

The standout from the Sony in all our testing was its blacks, dynamic range and cinematic colour palette which just gave it the edge in side by side testing with the Philips. Both are excellent sets.

IMAX Enhanced material was also tested on the AG8 and we are happy to tell you it looks identical to the same material being played on the non-IMAX Enhanced Philips. We noted no image differences and there is no IMAX picture mode on the Sony, either. The IMAX Enhanced discs looked superb on both OLED screens as you would expect and in DTS surround on the Sony. Note: Sony has confirmed that the AG8 is not IMAX Enhanced.

For those worried about burn-in with an OLED TV, the Sony is susceptible like all OLEDs to this happening if used with high brightness static images or titles, such as news channel graphics, over a long period of time. Likewise, hours of gaming in the brightest picture modes may also lead to some light image retention being seen. However, if treated to normal viewing of differing sources and in the more accurate picture modes, image retention shouldn’t be an issue and we doubt you would ever see permanent retention with such use. As such, we are happy to recommend the Sony and other OLED TVs for normal movie and TV viewing along with moderate gaming sessions.

Input lag for gaming measured 47ms for 1080p signals and 27ms for 4K sources which is identical to the AF8 from last year.

Verdict

The Good

  • Excellent black levels and shadow details
  • Very good above black performance
  • Excellent SDR image quality out of the box in Cinema Pro mode
  • Superb colours especially with SDR content
  • Very good video processing and upscaling
  • Excellent motion
  • Consistant HDR APL performance
  • Improved Dolby Vision performance over previous model

The Bad

  • HDR images appear dim compared to competition
  • Ships with Android version 7
  • Requires manual update to Oreo at time of review
  • OS and Smart TV are slow and buggy, even after update to Oreo
  • Remote control is cheap and nasty on such an expensive TV
  • No CMS

Sony AG8 (KD-55AG8) 4K OLED TV Review

The AG8 is a great OLED TV with decent features, great image quality for SDR and decent HDR performance with Dolby Vision and HDR10. However, it is also very much the same TV as the AF8, which is currently being run out of stock and sold off at least £500-700 cheaper. This is the major issue when it comes to buying the AG8.

Most of the other issues we have with the TV are the same as we had with the AF8. The Android TV system ships with version 7 which is open to crashing and freezing in use and is slow and cumbersome. At the time of this review in July 2019 there is no available over the air update to Android 8 (also known as Oreo). To update you must download the firmware and use the USB port on the TV to complete the process. This will be fine for those technically competent, but for the vast majority of users it will be difficult or they won’t know about it. Sony needs to hurry with the over the air updates. However, even when updated, we still found the system underpowered and slow but free from crashing.

It was great to see that the 2019 XG95 LCD TV from Sony was given a newly designed remote control that fits with the price of the TV and also offered something better than has gone before. Sadly, the 2019 AG8 OLED is left with last year's appallingly cheap and nasty black plastic and rubberised button remote, which shouldn’t be part of a £2200 TV. We are surprised that Sony hasn't updated this.

And in terms of picture quality, the AG8 runs on the X1 Extreme processor, which means there is no advanced calibration controls or a colour management system, which is a shame. However, one plus side of that processor is the more in-depth motion settings, that actually makes the AG8 a very good TV for film and TV motion.

Our only other concern about the AG8 is also the same as the AF8, and that is the dimness of the HDR image, even with Dolby Vision. The Sony is one of the dimmest OLED TVs on the market and this is noticeable when compared to its peers side by side. The image is consistent and the APL is good for the vast majority of content, so only the brightest of highlights are clipped as a result, with blacks, shadows and mid tones remaining strong and detailed. However, this consistency does end up with an HDR image that is detailed, but slightly dark as a result. This is no issue when watching in the dark, but daytime HDR viewing might be compromised and that screen surface is also very reflective in a bright room.

SDR content playback is superb and the AG8 plays on the strengths of OLED with deep blacks, great shadow and mid-tone details along with Sony’s excellent colour reproduction that makes the image look incredibly cinematic. There are no issues with images looking dim as SDR content isn’t that bright to start with and the per-pixel switching makes everything look incredibly dynamic. The AG8 is one of the better OLED TVs for SDR accuracy.

Overall, our feeling is the AG8 is certainly more of the same over the AF8 it replaces and our advice would be to try and get hold of last year's model for cheaper if you can. If not, we do feel there are better OLED offerings from LG, Panasonic and Philips when it comes to overall SDR and HDR performance and the AG8 looks very expensive when assessed against the rest of the market. It doesn’t add anything new for 2019 other than a slight cosmetic and model number change. At the time of this review in July the SRP has dropped to £1999.

However, if you want a Sony OLED model with the unique Acoustic Surface Audio, great SDR performance and are prepared to wait for over the air or manually update the OS system, the AG8 does offer enough to score the same as the previous AF8 model.

Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

10

Screen Uniformity

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
9

Picture Quality

.
9

SDR Picture Quality

.
9

HDR Picture Quality

.
.
8

Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box

.
.
8

Picture Quality Calibrated

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Smart Features

.
.
.
.
6

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Ease of Use

.
.
.
.
6

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
8

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8
AVForumsSCORE
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