What is the Sony A1?
All that would be enough for most companies but Sony haven’t stopped there and the A1 also includes Acoustic Surface technology which actually uses the entire screen as a speaker. It’s an inspired decision that will help differentiate the A1 in what promises be a competitive OLED market this year. The A1 comes in two screen sizes – the 55-inch KD-55A1 which will set you back £3,499 and the 65-inch KD-65A1 which costs £4,999. Both prices are correct at the time of writing (April 2017) and are fairly hefty, so the A1 will need to perform to justify its price tag. We’re reviewing the 65A1, so let’s set it up and see if Sony have delivered.
MORE: What is an OLED TV?
Whilst we doubt anyone will complain about the visual aesthetic of the A1, we suspect that the convoluted easel stand may divide opinion. The main issue that people might have with the A1 is that when mounted on its stand it sits at an incline, so depending on how high you’re sat relative to the screen that may or may not be a problem. Sony will make claims that this slope is designed to optimise the viewing angle of the TV but first of all this is an OLED TV so optimal viewing angles are a non-issue and secondly that would only be true if you're sat at a higher angle than the TV, which we suspect most people won't be. The more obvious answer is that, like Panasonic's DX902, the angled stand is designed to prevent the TV from toppling forward.
The stand itself is composed of a hinged rear section that pulls out and is locked into position before being attached to a weighted base to provide support and stability. We strongly recommend you actually follow the instructions because whilst the A1 is well made, this movable rear section could be accidentally damaged. It’s also very heavy and quite awkward to pick up, making it a two-person lift, although even then it's not the easiest TV to move around and we actually found it rather difficult. The problem is that the screen gets in the way, so unless you have long arms you can't reach the bottom of the rear stand and you obviously can't use the rear actuators as hand holds. To be perfectly honest, if we owned the A1 we'd seriously consider buying a third party VESA stand, just as many people have done with the DX902, to eliminate the angle.
The dimensions of the A1 with the rear section extended and the stand attached are 1451 x 834 x 339mm (WxHxD) and it weighs 36.2kg. The rear section not only has the the VESA holes behind a removable cover but it also contains a subwoofer that works in conjunction with the actuators that minutely vibrate the screen itself to create the audio. You can see the actuators attached to the back of the panel on either side of the rear section. The rear section also includes all the connections, most of which are near the bottom and face downwards for tidier cable management. Overall the A1 is a genuinely striking piece of industrial design and whilst it might not be cheap, it certainly has the build quality to help justify the asking price.
Connections & Control
As far as the downwards facing connections go you get four HDMI inputs but once again Sony seem to be short changing owners when it comes to these connections. All the HDMI inputs support 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2 and one of them (HDMI 3) supports ARC (Audio Return Channel). However only two (HDMI 2 and 3) can support 4K up to 60p, the other two (HDMI 1 and 4) are limited to 30p. This makes absolutely no sense, the savings must be minuscule and on a flagship TV that costs £5,000 we'd expect all the HDMI inputs to support 4K up to 60p.
In terms of the other connections there's an Ethernet port, two more USB ports and terrestrial and twin satellite connectors for the built-in tuners. Along with the LAN port, the A1 also has built-in WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac). There's an optical digital output, a hybrid input for composite video and analogue audio and a hybrid output for analogue audio, headphones and subwoofer out.
However all the buttons you'll need are there, including dedicated keys to take you to Netflix and the Google Play Store. There's also Voice Search on the remote, using a dedicated button and a built-in microphone. The Voice Search feature on Android TV gives you easy access to Google search, allowing you to find content across different services without the hassle of time-consuming text entry. You can also get recommendations, so simply asking for “romantic comedies” for example, will bring up a list of suitable options. The A1 also comes with an infra-red (IR) blaster that lets you control other devices from the TV remote, so you can use it to control your set-top box for example.
If you'd like an alternative to the provided remote control, there is also Sony’s TV SideView remote app, which is available free for both iOS and Android. It's a well designed and effective way of controlling the TV and certainly makes for a viable alternative but we generally find that if we want to quickly change channel, it's always easier just to grab the remote control, even if the little rubber buttons are annoying.
Features & Specs
The A1 supports High Dynamic Range in the form of HDR10 but, via a firmware update later in the year, it will also support Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision. Thanks to Sony’s TRILUMINOS Display technology, Live Colour Technology and Precision Colour Mapping, the A1 promises a wider colour gamut that has been enhanced for greater accuracy with HDR. There's also Motionflow XR for motion enhancement and frame interpolation, along with a new HDR gaming mode. One feature that is missing from the A1 is 3D support because Sony have dropped the format from all their 2017 models.
The other big selling point of the A1 is the use of Acoustic Surface technology to create a 'speaker-less' design that essentially uses the entire screen as a speaker. This is an inspired idea from Sony and completely sets the A1 apart from the competition. Thanks to this approach to delivering sound there are no traditional speakers and all you see is the screen itself. There are dual actuators attached to the rear left and right of the panel and these literally vibrate the screen to generate the sound. There is also a built-in subwoofer in the rear of the stand which is intended to give the audio some much needed low-end presence.
MORE: What is Dolby Vision?
Sony KD-65A1 Recommended TV Settings
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-Box
The only area that was unusual was in regards to the brightness of the A1. There is a OLED brightness control and with X-tended Dynamic Range off we could get our night mode target of 120nits with the control at the maximum setting. This meant that we needed to engage X-tended Dynamic Range (XDR) in order to get a brighter image for a day time setting. Unlike on Sony's LCD TVs, where XDR actually manipulates the image based on the content, on the A1 it appears to just be a low, medium or high brightness setting. In fact to get exactly the same brightness measurement of 120nits, you can use XDR off and a Brightness setting of max, an XDR setting of low and a Brightness setting of 31m, XDR medium and a Brightness setting of 16 and XDR high with a Brightness setting of 6. We're not exactly sure why Sony have taken this approach but it's probably related to using the same firmware on A1 and their high-end LCD TVs.
All our measurements were done with a Klein K-10A colour meter, a Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate calibration software. If you want to set your new TV up correctly then you can follow the steps in our PicturePerfect Guide or watch the video above.
Picture Settings – Calibrated
Picture Settings – High Dynamic Range
We measured the Relative Colour Volume, which takes the display's own peak brightness and measures the colour volume relative to that peak brightness based on the CIE L*a*b* colour graph and 140 data points. For the A1 we got measurements of 125% against Rec. 709, 84% against DCI-P3 and 57% against Rec. 2020 but these measurements aren't taking into account the maximum nits that the content is graded at, which is obviously much higher than the peak brightness of the OLED TV.
Alternatively we can look at the Perceptual Colour Volume, which uses the PQ EOTF out to 10,000nits and the Rec. 2020 colour gamut measured using the ICtCp colour graph which takes into account human visual perception. This measurement uses 393 data points and delivers a number expressed in Millions of Distinguishable Colours (MDC). So a theoretical display that could deliver 10,000nits of peak brightness and 100% of Rec. 2020 would be able to deliver 997 million distinguishable colours or an MDC number of 997 and by comparison the A1 produced an MDC number of 335.
Black Levels and Contrast RatiosSince the A1 uses an OLED panel it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to discover that the black levels and contrast ratios were superb. Using our target peak brightness of 120nits we measured the black level at zero, which equates to an on/off contrast ratio of infinity. The ANSI contrast ratio was equally impressive and measured 957,500:1, resulting in standard dynamic range images that had incredible depth. We were also pleased to see that the A1 was able to deliver better defined details just above black, avoiding unwanted crush and producing excellent shadow detail.
Screen UniformityThe screen uniformity was less straight forward and whilst the A1 did excel in certain areas it also suffered from some of the same issues that we have seen on every other OLED TV we've tested. First of all the good news, the A1 delivered excellent uniformity on a full field grey pattern and was free of any vignetting or dark edges. The Sony was equally as impressive with a full field white pattern, with an image free of any dirty screen effect (DSE). However when using a 5% grey pattern there was visible banding and two bands in particular that were particularly noticeable. This kind of banding has been seen on every OLED panel that we've tested and in the case of the A1 we weren't normally aware of it. However there was some slight banding evident with football as the camera panned across the pitch, although we really had to go looking for this and we suspect most people wouldn't notice.
We had no problems with image retention, even after we had high contrast test patterns up for a while, which is good news for gamers. Unlike LG's OLED TVs, the A1 neither dimmed a static image nor switched to a screen saver after a certain period of time and the only anti-image retention features we could find were a Pixel Shift feature that intermittently shifts the pixels to prevent image retention and a Panel Refresh feature that Sony recommend using once a year. So it would appear that Sony have a slightly more relaxed approach to the issue of image retention and screen burn but since we had no problems with either, it would seem their confidence is justified. One area where OLED is particularly strong is in terms of viewing angles and the A1 delivered perfect images in our tests with no drop-off in contrast or colour, even at extreme angles.
Motion HandlingDespite the fast response times of OLED panels they use a 'sample and hold' approach that results in motion that is more like an LCD TV than a plasma. Thankfully the motion handling on Sony TVs is very good and often one of the main reasons that consumers choose their TVs, especially if they're football fans. We measured the motion resolution at around 400 lines which is about average for an OLED TV and obviously this increases to the full 1080 if you engage the Motionflow frame interpolation. This can introduce a certain degree of smoothing, although that won’t necessarily be an issue with sports content and we would encourage experimentation with the Smooth, Standard and Custom controls to find a setting that you prefer for sports. If you're a fan of black frame insertion (BFI) the A1 doesn't have a Clear mode as on the XE93 but you can set Clearness to High in the Custom mode and that adds BFI. However when it comes to film-based content we would always recommend using the True Cinema mode which increases the frame rate without introducing interpolation, thus improving the motion whilst retaining a nice film-like quality. As an alternative you could set Smoothness to zero and Clearness to High in the Custom mode and see what you think of that, however BFI will lower the brightness so you'll need to compensate for that and although we didn't see any flicker that might be an issue for some people.
Standard Dynamic Range ContentTest patterns are all well and good but it's actual viewing material that really matters and here the A1 certainly delivered the goods. The benefits of OLED were plain to see, with the deep blacks and inherent dynamic range giving images a depth and solidity that LCD TVs just can't achieve. The viewing angles are incredibly wide, the calibrated greyscale, effective gamma and accurate colours all played their part and Sony's X1 Extreme processor was just as impressive, upscaling lower resolution content to match the 4K panel. The result was that whatever the content we were watching was beautifully delivered and even when it came to standard definition broadcasts like Agents of SHIELD the A1 handled the image with great aplomb.
Once we moved on to high definition content the improvements were even more obvious with dramas and documentaries looking particularly impressive. Naturally the kind of high quality documentaries that are on both BBC2 and BBC4 gave the A1 the chance to really shine, producing wonderfully detailed images that retained a natural and realistic appearance. The Sony also handled the video streaming services well, with both Netflix and Amazon delivering marvellous looking images. The third season of Better Call Saul has just started and looked superb, whilst the occasional episode of Chef's Table revelled in the precise and detailed image that the A1 can produce.
When it came to football, as mentioned earlier, there was a hint of banding but the motion handling was excellent. This makes the A1 a great TV for sports fans, especially if they like fast-paced sporting action. The Sony was particularly impressive with Blu-rays and Moana looked simply stunning, with the deep blacks and pixel-precise processing combining with the marvellous greyscale and colour accuracy to deliver incredibly detailed computer animated images that popped off the screen. The Blu-ray release of Rogue One was equally as impressive, with the A1 rendering the detailed picture with remarkable precision and accuracy so that the location work retained its sense realism whilst the various battles remained suitably visceral. The darker scenes had lovely blacks but retained detail in the shadows to ensure an image that had real depth.
High Dynamic Range ContentWhilst an OLED TV is obviously superior to an LCD TV with standard dynamic range content, the situation is less clear cut when it comes to high dynamic range content. Naturally an OLED TV still has incredibly deep blacks, allowing it to deliver more detail in darker scenes thanks to the increased dynamic range of HDR. In addition each pixel is self illuminating and thus the tiny specular highlights in an HDR image, like sunlight glinting on water, can be delivered with far greater precision by an OLED TV. The colour gamut is almost 100% of DCI-P3 and the tracking is also very good, as a result an OLED TV is capable of delivering accurate colours, particularly at lower luminance levels. However where an OLED struggles is in terms of actual peak brightness, with a measurement of 685nits being less than half the luminance levels of Sony's XE93.
The A1 demonstrated all these strengths and weaknesses, with a film like The Revenant looking absolutely stunning in many respects. The level of detail was quite incredible from every pore and hair on Leonardo DiCaprio's face to the vast landscapes that dominate his journey of revenge. The colours were accurate, the black levels and shadow detail superb and the tiniest specular highlights were delivered with precision. As a result the peak highlights still looked bright on a relative basis, even if they don't measure as such on an absolute basis. Yes the HDR images didn't have quite the same impact as they did on the XE93 but at the same time there were no issues with haloing or a loss of contrast off-axis. Our new favourite test disc is Planet Earth II and the images that the A1 delivered were spellbinding with one incredible shot after another.
We ended up watching parts of a number of other discs that we enjoy, including the day-glow Kaiju of Pacific Rim and the trippy images in Lucy. The Ultra HD Blu-ray of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them looked fantastic with the colours of the various beasts being rendered with remarkable subtlety and the nighttime street scenes revealing the bright headlight reflections on the wet roads. The dark often dusty and smokey scenes of 15th century Spain in Assassin's Creed were also effectively reproduced by the A1, whilst the opening scene of Passengers sees the Avalon slowly appear out of an incredibly detailed star field. As is often the case the Sony didn't perform as well with Pan and was unable to properly render the sun setting behind the mountain in the 'Arriving in Neverland', which meant some content was being clipped, but otherwise the A1 produced a superb HDR performance.
Input Lag & Energy Usage
As with the XE93 that we reviewed recently, things improved when we moved to a 4K signal and the lag dropped to 29ms, again for both SDR or HDR signals and regardless of whether those signals were 4:2:2 or 4:4:4. We assume that the higher lag time in 1080p is due to upscaling the image and the increased processing of the X1 Extreme. Whether you're gaming at 1080p or 4K you should always keep the processing to a minimum, that's why it's important to use the Game mode and turn off any unnecessary features. You should also avoid using the Motionflow frame interpolation feature because even in Game mode this will increase the input lag to over 100ms.
In terms of the A1’s energy consumption it proved to be higher than comparable LCD models and using a full window 50% white pattern we measured the Standard picture mode at 114W and our calibrated Cinema Pro mode at 85W. Once we moved on to HDR the level of energy consumption obviously increased and the A1 was drawing 164W with our optimal settings.
How future-proof is this TV?
|4K Ultra HD Resolution|
|Colour Space (percentage of Rec.2020 - 100% best)||71%|
|HDMI 2.0a Inputs|
|HDCP 2.2 Support|
|4K Streaming Services|
|Smart TV Platform|
|Picture Accuracy Out-of-the-Box (score out of 10)||8|
|What do these mean?|
- Superb blacks and contrast ratio
- Fantastic dynamic range
- Impressive colour accuracy
- Excellent video processing
- Wide viewing angles
- Acoustic Surface is inspired
- Beautiful design
- Minor banding just above black
- Screen is at an angle
Sony BRAVIA KD-65A1 HDR 4K OLED TV Review
In terms of its picture quality the A1 is hard to fault with the deep blacks and incredible dynamic range that we expect from OLED. The performance just above black was also impressive and there was excellent shadow detail. The screen uniformity was good, although there was some minor banding just above black, but the viewing angles were incredibly wide and we had no issues with image retention. The A1 delivered a superb performance with standard dynamic range content thanks to its contrast performance, colour accuracy and processing. Images were bursting with detail and the motion handling was effective, although there was some very minor banding on football. The A1 was equally as impressive with high dynamic range content and although not as bright as many LCD TVs, the colour gamut was wide, the images detailed and the peak highlights delivered with wonderful precision. This resulted in some incredible HDR images that revealed the full potential of OLED and often took your breath away. The Sony KD-65A1 certainly delivers an impressive combination of design style, technological innovation and extensive features that shows Sony is a company that has got its swagger back in no uncertain terms.
The only questions left are whether the A1 is worth the asking price and what are the alternatives. Well, price is always relative but there's no denying that the design, build quality, features and performance go a long way towards justifying the £4,999 price tag of the 65A1. As far as the competition is concerned it's still early days but with the LG 65E7 costing the same, the A1 starts to look like better value when you consider that both have similar feature sets but the A1 has a more striking design and the Acoustic Surface sound system. If anything the A1 might find its biggest competitor is its own sister LCD flagship the KD-65ZD9 which at just £3,499 is looking very tempting, especially when you consider the similar features and superior peak brightness. However the KD-65A1 remains another great addition to what is fast becoming an incredibly strong line-up this year.
MORE: Read All OLED TV Reviews
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box
Picture Quality Calibrated
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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