Review: Sony 65A9G 4K OLED Scores A Touchdown
We first saw the Sony Master Series Bravia 65A9G 4K OLED TV up close as one of a panel of judges for the annual “TV Shootout” put on by Scarsdale, N.Y. AV retailer Value Electronics, last summer. The television won a close vote for the store’s “King of TV” Award for 2019.
Duely impressed, we’ve been eager to get our meter on one to see how the television performs and what the picture looks like in a typical home setting. We weren’t disappointed. The Sony Bravia A9G Master series is one of the best televisions we’ve ever tested and being just two weeks before Super Bowl LIV, we highly recommend any of the three models in this line for your big-game viewing party.
You’ll have your pick from three screen sizes: 55-inches ($2,498 retail), 65-inches ($3,298) and 77-inches ($5,998). Each offers a beautifully thin cosmetic design placed atop a virtually invisible pedestal stand, or hung on a wall with an optional thin-profile mount. Although this was a 2019 introduction, Sony has opted to carry the A9G Master Series forward into 2020, so there will be a little time to go out and get one.
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The Sony A9G TV series includes Sony’s powerful X1 Ultimate Picture Processor with Pixel Contrast Booster. These all combine to present a virtually infinite range of picture contrast due to OLED’s ability to achieve nearly perfect black, while presenting stunning high dynamic range (HDR) specular highlights and finely detailed shadow elements in the same frame.
Colors proved to be very accurate post calibration, while image artifacts were impressively minimized, even from upconverted sub-4K content sources. For watching the big game, Sony offers a very nice selection of motion clarity options to address the blurring of fast moving objects in live video, like power running backs blasting through defensive lines. For movies, it can be switched off for watching movies without over-sharpening the image, as the content creator intended.
For those not planning to hook the TV up to an outboard surround sound system or soundbar, Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio+ sound system uses the some very slick technology that vibrates the thin-OLED screen to double as a stereo speaker. This delivers clear dialog and dynamic sound effects that seem to come directly from the picture and follow objects around the screen. The on-board sound system also supports internal Dolby Atmos decoding that offers a nice wide sound stage with acceptable bass support.
Best of all, this television uses OLED display technology with self-emissive white light offering highly localized pixel brightness control for pure black and subtle shadow detail, ranging up to points of bright white specular highlight details in HDR content. These effects seem to stand out in the image providing 3-D qualities to images. OLED technology also affords very wide viewing angles without loss of color or contrast, making it an ideal selection for wall-mounted applications. Just keep in mind that OLED screens can have issues with image retention when bright static images are left on screen too long. In most typical consumer use cases this shouldn’t be an issue, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you have a tendency to pause the picture for long-periods, watch channels with stationary stock or news tickers at the bottom of the frame for most of the day, or play video games with backgrounds that don’t change frequently.
In 2019, Sony changed the A9G OLED TV design from an easle-backed stand that gave the screen a slight backward tilt to a flat minimalist gun metal-gray pedestal stand that keeps the screen completely upright. This keeps the screen stable although there is a slight wobble when nudged with a finger from the top. The only portion of the stand visible from the front of the screen is a thin rounded pad that juts out 3.75 inches and allows just over a quarter inch of clearance between the base of the screen bezel and the table surface.
The overall cosmetic of the TV uses a simple, gloss black, ultra-thin metal trim ringing the perimeter of the screen. This blends in with a 0.3-inch black border around all four sides of the picture. A dark gray strip measuring .25 inches runs along the chin of the set, accented by a white LED indicator in the center of the base of the screen. A subtle Sony logo is positioned in the bottom left corner of the frame. From typical seating distances, the picture appears to hover just above the surface of the entertainment center or credenza.
The depth of the OLED screen measures just over a quarter of an inch at its thinnest part, expanding by another 1.8 inches in the back three-quarters of the screen. This thicker section houses most of the set’s electronics including the package of inputs, which are positioned outward from the left side of the screen and facing down toward the bottom.
Sony continues to use the Android TV platform and this is one of the best implementations of it in the market. Accessing apps is snappy, and Sony provides support for most of the major streaming services including Disney+, but sadly not Apple TV+ at this time. Android TV also supports Google Cast to stream video from a smartphone or a Chrome browser on a laptop.
Voice control is possible via either Google Assistant, or Amazon’s “works with Alexa” AI voice assistance via an Echo or Dot smart speaker. Sony offers two ways of using Google Assistant. One is to use the microphone built-into the remote by first pressing a push-to-talk mic button, or it can be accessed hands-free, using built-in far-field mics in the TV that can be triggered by the phrase “Hey, Google”. Users can use any of the Google Assistant features as well as control basic TV functions and operate compatible smart home devices.
The remote design isn’t anything special. It just works and feels nicely balanced in the hand. Sony has made the remote feel more substantial with a gun metal-gray metallic face plate over a textured mat-black plastic backing case. The whole assembly measures 9-inches long. Buttons are rubber and clearly marked, although there is no back lighting to help see the layout in darkened rooms. A circular navigation pad is positioned in the center of the button layout and adjacent to menu and input buttons. The number (channel) keys are placed at the top of the remote, under which Sony places two fast access buttons for Google Play and Netflix. Below them are four color function buttons to perform various tasks.
Sony offers the widest range of calibration options in the market with both a Netflix Mode and AutoCal for Portrait Displays’ CalMan Home software, the latter of which is intended for home enthusiasts who want to dial up the best settings for their viewing environment by themselves. (The purchase of a light meter, CalMan Home calibration software and a test pattern generator is required). For our calibration we ran Portrait Displays’ AutoCal for Sony Bravia TVs on CalMan for Business software using a Portrait Displays C6-2000 Colorimeter for the light meter and a Murideo Six-G test pattern generator. Sony’s implementation of AutoCal was smooth and rapid. We could make adjustments that are more exacting with a manual calibration, but we find the quality of the pictures dialed in by AutoCal are as close as needed to make a decisive evaluation of picture performance in the least amount of time. For the A9G, Sony recommends calibrating for BT.709 SDR first, and the television uses this as the basis for presenting HDR.
Like LG, Sony offers a wide range of options for presenting HDR, including support for the baseline HDR10 (static), Dolby Vision (dynamic) and Hybrid Log-Gamma (live broadcast) profiles. The Sony Bravia 65A9G doesn’t have as bright a picture as the also excellent LG 65E9 4K OLED TV we recently reviewed, but it isn’t far off, with a peak brightness of just under 600 nits as measured inside a 10% D65 (6500 degrees Kelvin color temperature) white window pattern. After calibration, the set made effective use of specular highlights; objects like camp fires in the dim forest scenes from The Revenant burn brightly with rich orange/yellow color tones. This is significantly dimmer than premium 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TVs, like Sony’s Z9F or Samsung’s Q90R, but when presented in the context of a panel with near infinite contrast performance due its pure black reproduction, images looked significantly brighter and richer than in standard dynamic range. And as we saw in the shoot out, the A9G does this without the blooming, flashing or light bleed-through into letter box borders seen to varying degrees on the Z9F and Q90R. The 65A9G presented scenes like the star-field background in deep space scenes from 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Martian very well. More stars are visible than on LCD screens and we saw no signs of haloing or smoke-like shadows covering up light details inside LED back light zones. This can be annoying on some LED-LCD TVs out there. Of course the tradeoff is peak brightness surpassing 1,000 nits, when the industry strives to reach levels of 4,000 nits and higher. But so far, the sacrifice isn’t that dramatic.
The 65A9G has excellent wide color gamut performance, measuring in at just under 98% coverage (uv) of the P3 color gamut, using Ultra HD Alliance criteria for HDR material. Similarly, after calibration, the set’s coverage of the BT.709 color space for standard dynamic range was very accurate. In real world viewing, images appear rich, deep and well saturated. The HDR coral reef scenes from the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of the BBC’s Blue Planet II were simply captivating. Colors were vibrant and highlights seemed to glow out of the scene into the room. Dark scenes were deeply black without completely crushing all of the shadow detail.
The Sony Bravia 65A9G does an excellent job handling background noise, color banding and jaggies. When Reality Creation noise reduction is turned off, more visible film grain can be seen in certain content like the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Mission Impossible Fallout. But turning this on again, the image can be fine tuned just enough to soften the moving background distractions, while keeping faces and objects in the focus area clear and sharp. It also keeps the look of film grain in place enough to preserve the theatrical experience without ruining the artistic intent.
Gray screen patterns showed no signs of smudging or shadowing, and a black screen presented uniformly deep pure black across the screen without any visible hot zones. This is excellent and presented no problem with visible background blotches during camera pans.
The Sony Bravia 65A9G has a total of four HDMI 2.0b connectors split into two sets, one set is side facing and the other three are positioned downward. The side facing jack connections on the back of the set also include two USB 2.0 ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm composite video input, a 3.5mm infrared receiver port, and speaker wire connectors. Joining the three bottom-positioned HDMI ports are a USB 3.0 port, an Ethernet port, an optical audio output, an RS-232C port, and an antenna/cable connection.
The Sony Bravia 65A9G isn’t among the best gaming TVs we tested this year, but it’s still pretty good. The 65A9G showed a 27.3 ms lag time for both 4K/60 Hz and 1080p/60 Hz input in game mode. This is higher than LG’s 2019 OLED TVs and most of Samsung’s 2019 QLED LED-LCD lines, but still plenty fast enough for competitive game play. However, the TVs do not support Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which is one of the new HDMI 2.1 features, so you’ll have to manually place the set into game mode. Similarly, the series doesn’t show support for FreeSync, G-Sync or Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). Whether or not that will be an issue for next-generation video game consoles like the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X remains to be seen.
As mentioned, sound from the Acoustic Surface Audio+ system is remarkably clear and punchy for built-in TV speakers. This replaces thin, tinny sounding speakers found in many other flat-panel TVs with a pair of 10-watt actuators that cause the OLED panel to vibrate to produce stereo effects. Along with this, Sony adds a pair of 20-watt “woofer” drivers for bass support. Throw in support for Dolby Atmos on compatible content, and this all produces a nice wide sound stage that is as good as some entry or mid-level soundbars.
The Sony Bravia 65A9G Master Series 4K Ultra HD OLED TV is one of our favorite televisions of the year. The state of the art in TV development is getting better and better, with Sony, Samsung, LG and others churning out premium level performance that is excellent all around. This makes selecting the premium-level 4K TV set that’s right for you and your viewing environment truly a matter of personal preference. Sony’s OLED TVs are great for viewing a wide range of content — like the Super Bowl — but it’s masterful for movie watching, especially in dark room environments. One of the biggest differences this year between the similar LG C9/E9 series OLEDs and the Sony E9G series is design, and that’s a matter for individual taste. Both Sony and LG’s OLED TVs this year are expensive compared to some of the LED-LCD TVs out there but we think many people today will be compelled by the perfect black reproduction that makes OLED pictures stand out. These models also avoid the light-handling issues that LCDs continue to be challenged to address. Meanwhile, Sony makes a strong case stronger behind some of the best picture processing, sound processing and motion handling systems in the business. This model even supports IMAX Enhanced Certification for those champing at the bit for a really big-screen IMAX theater-like experience at home. If you can swing the extra money, we think you’ll be well pleased with the purchase.
We therefore award the Sony Bravia 65A9G 4K OLED TV five out of five hearts.
By Greg Tarr
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