Our First Impressions Of 2022 Key Sony TV Additions, Hands-On
We were recently given an opportunity to see Sony’s key 2022 TV series for Mini LED TVs, 4K WRGB OLED TVs and all-new hybrid 4K QD-OLED TVs, all of which will give shoppers something to consider this year.
Most of the buzz so far has been for Sony’s flagship 4K Bravia A95K QD-OLED TV, which to our eyes presented a brilliantly colorful and realistic appearing image. (Note: We didn’t observe any of the alleged bright imaging artifact problems reported to have been seen in a QD-OLED sample by some European technology news outlets, but we weren’t looking for them at the time, and we didn’t see any glaringly obvious issues. We hope to explore this deeper when review samples are available.)
Also impressive were Sony’s first implementations of Mini-LED LCD back light technology, which presented to our eyes deep black reproduction, very bright HDR specular highlights, and at first glance, minimized blooming, with better off-axis contrast performance compared to competitors’ 2021 models.
Sony has yet to release U.S. pricing and shipping dates on the 2022 lineup, but as usual, we expect both the QD-OLED and Mini-LED models to ring in toward the top of the market price range for their respective categories.
Our preview of the 2022 sets was presented by Sony’s Rob Brennan, Home Entertainment product technology manager and Pablo Espinosa, staff engineer with Sony Electronics America.
All of the demo material and settings were set up for us, so we won’t be able to give any definitive performance assessments until we run our own familar test patterns and real world content sources, but the supplied samples we reviewed at Sony’s New York City headquarters certainly impressed us.
After all, this is the company that’s produced the “King of TV,” according to Value Electronics’ TV Shootout, for the past several years.
The following are notes from our observations:
2022 Sony X95K Series 4K Mini-LED with Back Light Master Drive
Sony’s first implementation of 4K Mini-LED technology was put up against its own 2021 Sony X95J Full-Array LED LCD TV and the 2021 Samsung Neo QLED QN90A 4K Mini-LED.
Brennan explained the Samsung Neo QLED was used not to show up any shortcomings of its competition, but rather served as a stand-in for Mini-LED technology in general that was absent in the 2021 Sony line.
These models were compared against a Sony LCD-based Mastering Monitor — the Sony HX310 Dual Cell LCD Master Monitor — as the control sample closest to the assumed artistic intent of the content creators.
We were told, the primary upgrades in the X95K from last year’s Sony Full-Array with Local Dimming LED version are the following:
- Reduced blooming in general
- Better peak highlights translating to improved contrast
- More overall dynamic color
According to Sony, what was common among Mini-LED TVs in general from other manufacturers in 2021 were images that reduced blooming from traditional LED backlighting through a lowering of APL (Average Pixel Level). This is brightness output through the number of lit pixels expressed as a percent.
The trade-off for this is reduced overall brightness that weakens the dynamic impact of HDR picture enhancements, Brennan explained.
“What we’re really trying to do is to balance the performance of Mini-LED to give you a very high-impact image, especially from HDR content, from everything that you are watching,” Brennan said.
For the first Sony Mini-LED technology demonstration, the Samsung Q90A was placed in out-of-box Filmmaker Mode and the Sony models, which lack an officical Filmmaker Mode, were placed in Custom Picture Mode, that Sony says provides comparable desired creative intent settings.
To start, the Sony product team demonstrated a 10-bit standard dynamic range (SDR) low-luminance ramp pattern ranging from dark center black out to peak luminance of 10,000 nits. The pattern showed where each set reaches its peak luminance level and clips the rest of the luminance pattern ramp, gradually darkening as each set’s tone mapping system attempted to show details at the expense of the extra brightness.
The Samsung QN90A showed shadowed areas that were darker than presented by the Mastering Monitor coming out of black. In real world material this would presumably result in crushing of some shadow detail.
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Switching to a bright HDR ramp pattern designed to show black to white brightness (ranging from 0 nits out to 10,000 nits), the Sony X95K 4K Mini-LED TV clipped at around 1,000 nits, as would be expected for a premium consumer level television, while showing a very smooth ramp and consistent D65 white point.
“Some times directors decide they want to do a 4,000 nit grade, using the contrast controls to turn up details in scenes where they want visible fine shadow detail,” said Espinosa. “We don’t want consumers to be messing with their contrast or anything like that, so we use tone mapping. We don’t hard clip, but we try to reproduce as much as we can the details in the very bright highlights, so that you can see 4,000 nit details are still evident.”
The Samsung QN90A in Filmmaker Mode also showed evidence of clipping around 1,000 nit level, but with some added green and pink color shifts in different zones of the gray ramp pattern. This issue was more pronounced viewing off angle, and was not seen in the Sony Mini-LED TV.
“When you saturate red, green and blue, you need to make sure that they saturate equally, so that they end up in white,” explained Espinosa. “For some reason, maybe there is an imbalance in their saturation so that the blue and green are going first and then the red. This all has to do with processing and backlight control.”
The Sony Mini-LED TV ships with the tone mapping on by default, but it can be turned off to show clipping. (Under Brightness in the picture settings is an HDR Tone Mapping on/off control).
Viewing real-world content, Sony showed a scene from A Quiet Place 2, with the back or a young woman walking toward the entrance of a dark railroad tunnel at the base of a rock-strewn mountain. The scene presents a wide luminance range from black in dark shadows to bright highlight details reflecting off rock structures, and in overhead sun key lighting off the top of the blonde subject’s head.
Last year’s full-array LED set lacked the same degree of localized dimming control to separate the subject as effectively from the surrounding background as the Mini-LED TVs.
The Sony X95K did a competent job of attempting to match the details evident in the picture on the Mastering Monitor. The scene showed the X95K’s ability to accurately present the degree of deep black in shadows cast under the rocky ledges and nooks, as well as how much wasn’t visible coming out of black. From what we saw, the set held onto details in the subject’s sunlit hair very well.
Comparing this year’s Sony Mini-LED set to last year’s full-array LED model, the strength of having many more zones of Mini-LED backlighting was immediately evident.
The Samsung Neo QLED QN90A showed more of a static overall level of brightness, where areas of brightness and darkness didn’t really standout as much in the scene. This tended to limit some of the sense of depth and dimension, comparatively. The Sony Mini-LED model demonstrated a subtly more varied reproduction of brightness and shadow on a level that was closer to the Mastering Monitor.
“When you get the baseline right, then you can build on this almost any other picture mode that you want,” said Brennan. “But you want to get this baseline right, because when the baseline is wrong then there is something else wrong.”
Sony 2022 QD-OLED A95K vs LG C1 OLED vs Sony 2021 A90J flagship OLED
To demonstrate the capability of Sony’s new QD-OLED technology, the team used a Sony BVMX300 4K OLED mastering monitor as a reference for “creative intent”.
The 2021 Sony OLED TV uses a form of WRGB OLED technology that emits a white OLED light along with color filters to generate RGB. The new QD-OLED TV for the first time outside of plasma, presented a direct light sources from a blue OLED light exciting red and green quantum dot converter elements to generate a full wide color gamut.
The approach appeared to improve the color volume and brightness in the QD-OLED implementation.
The first demonstration used a standard dynamic range (SDR) luminance test pattern inside a wide BT-2020 color container that could fit BT-709, DCI-P3, and BT-2020 color spaces.
The pattern indicated that the A95K could reproduce a very wide color space, approaching a good portion of BT-2020, where the 2021 hit its limit and rolled off earlier. Similarly, the reference monitor did not appear to reproduce the BT-2020 space as well since it was designed primarily for film-based content, keyed on DCI-P3.
Espinosa pointed out that the test indicates the A95K offers some degree of future proofing in its ability to handle color spaces above DCI-P3 once reference monitors are available to handle BT-2020 to make that level of content available.
Using a scene from the Disney movie Cruella showing a darkened red gown, the A95K again demonstrated it could handle the difficult picture structure of shade compared to last year’s “King of TV” model (A90J).
The Sony engineers said last year’s A90J (which continues in 2022 in the 83-inch screen size) got as close as any TV could to handling the scene as well as the BVMX300 4K OLED Master Monitor. But the new A95K managed to get even closer.
The QD-OLED A95K series (which will be offered in 55- and 65-inches) also demonstrated that it was better coming out of black (showing fine shadow detail) than the WRGB OLED.
“It’s not just about these intense, extreme reds looking better. It’s that in general, you will get better overall color accuracy because of the use of the primary colors being generated through self-emissive technologies,” said Brennan.
Another benefit demonstrated by the team was even more stable color handling when viewed off axis than last year’s WRGB model.
Brennan pointed out that WRGB was noted as having exceptional off-axis contrast handling, but good, not perfect off-axis color reproduction. The A95K demonstrated that it was capable of maintaining both with aplomb.
Another ancillary benefit demonstrated on the QD-OLED is how additional levels of noise reduction can be achieved through self-emissive RGB lighting.
With the traditional WRGB approach, OLED has the peaks in brightness go up as the picture signal increases the amount of white. This slightly de-saturates the amount of color. So, peaks become whiter, which makes them stand out more from the background.
Where the A95K still presented the peaks, it did not de-saturate the color as it increased the brightness, preserving the desired film grain at the same level with less-distracting background noise, overall.
Brennan explained this is not the result of processing where the grain is typically analyzed and suppressed — the television is designed to do a better job of blending film grain to produce a look that better matched the Mastering Monitor.
Regarding any increased risk of image retention or pre-mature aging of pixels from the blue OLED-emitted light, Brennan said that “at the base level there is not a significant enough difference between the white emitted OLED light and the blue emitted OLED light of QD-OLED to affect color aging to any greater or lesser extent. The primary difference in the technologies is the use of color filters in the WRGB OLED panels up against the QD-OLED quantum dot converters that are positioned close to the surface of the screen.”
In general, “for image retention and longevity, QD-OLED is not better and should be no worse” than WRGB OLED, Brennan said.
For advanced calibration, Espionsa told us that light meters/colorimeters will need to be adjusted differently than for WRGB OLEDs or LCD TVs, though he didn’t say exactly how.
“The spectral output of the panel is going to be different, because the colors are pure,” he explained.
2022 Sony 4K A80K WRGB OLED
Sony also made improvements in its Bravia Processor XR for the 2022 entry 4K WRGB OLED A80K model compared to last year’s A80J equivalent.
The A80K series will be available in 55-, 65- and 77-inches at prices to be announced later.
The Sony team presented demo material graded for “retail mode” (Vivid) as it would typically appear in bright store settings.
Looking at a scene with a bride and groom walking across a red carpet, the A80K showed how it could better independently control color, saturation and lumiance with more localized contrast control than previous implementations.
The set was able to maintain more of a rich, red color that didn’t de-saturate as much as the 2021 A80J OLED.
The 2022 set was also better at maintaining peak highlights in the white sunlit dress and against a contrasted stonework background, which Brennan said demonstrates the A80K’s slightly better localized lighting control.
“It’s not just about crazy peak illumination, it’s also about maintaining gradation that is done through the processor, enabling us to control the panels, whether they are LCD, WRGB OLED or whatever,” Brennan observed.
The Bravia Processor XR also did a nice job of adding texture, depth and detail to objects moving between the foreground, center and background.
2022 Sony A90K 4K WRGB OLED Series
Sony demonstrated its OLED gaming prowess availble to see in new 42- and 48-inch A90K 4K WRGB OLED TVs.
The 42-inch A90K was positioned on a desktop alongside a 27-inch ASUS TUF 4K 144 Hz G-Sync HDR gaming monitor.
Brennan said that for “a couple of hundred dollars more” the A90K models will bring the same level of play, but with improved OLED 4K/120 FPS Variable Refresh Rate performance in a larger size than a monitor, among other benefits.
The Sony OLED sets feature a Game Mode that cuts back on the processing to improve lag performance, but the Game Mode picture settings are very close to Custom Mode. Text remained clear and legable, as the display enabled multi-tasking as needed.
In addition, the Acoustic Surface audio system built into the OLED sets enabled a significantly more immersive surround sound experience without the need to plug in and wear headphones.
To safeguard against image retention while gaming on its OLED sets, Sony builds in a manually triggered pixel-shifting feature to even out any areas of color or grayscale. This effectively erases any sign of burn-in that might result from static Windows desktop menu bars and the like should it develop.
But Espinosa said the feature is intended only to be run occasionally to avoid artificially accelerating screen aging.
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By Greg Tarr
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