Sony KD-65A1 4K UHD HDR OLED TV review

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posted on Monday, 3rd July 2017 by Steve May

4K  AWE Europe  OLED  HDR  Invision UK 

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With the A1, Sony has elevated OLED to flagship status in its display roster. Available in both 55-inch (KD-55A1) and 65-inch screen guises (the latter reviewed here), this screen effectively pushes the boundaries in both 4K image quality, industrial design and acoustic engineering. If you’re looking for a premium TV experience, it delivers on all counts.

Sony KD-65A1 OLED 4K HDR TV: Design and specification
The A1’s one-slate design is minimalist in the extreme. At first glance there appears to be nothing to it but panel, but this simplicity belies the A1’s conceptual ingenuity.

There's no traditional pedestal stand. Instead the OLED panel leans back on an angled support, braced for rigidity, which accommodates electronics, input board, subwoofer and cable management. It creates the impression that the set is resting casually on its micro-thin bezel. In point of fact, the lean-back stand arrangement is incredibly fiddly to implement, but once done is very solid.

KA_65 Bezel

KD-65A1 A 1rear

Perhaps contentiously, this means the panel has a 6 degree recline by default. While this may be fine for chic, lower than seating position AV furniture, it will doubtless present problems with other install locations. 

The good news is that the set can be wall-mounted. The counter balance weight, which itself weighs some 8kg,  detaches from the bottom of the stand, allowing it to lock to the back of the panel and work with a standard Vesa mount. If you don’t want to wall mount the A1, but still want an up-right orientation, then a third party pedestal which utilises the Vesa mount is an option.

A peak at the rear panel reveals the so-called Bravia Bar. This features a pair of actuators, positioned either side of the screen. These vibrate the panel, creating stereo sound. The technology isn’t new. Indeed, Sony first used a derivation of it in its glass speaker line. But it’s never been applied to a TV panel before.

The actuators, of which there are four, handle high and mid-range signals, while lows are routed to the 8cm sub in the stand. The total audio output of the set is 50W – 2x20 for left and right apiece, with an additional 10W going to the sub. 

Connections include four HDMIs, all HDCP 2.2 compliant, plus a trio of USBs, one of which supports timeshifting onto USB drives up to 2TB. There’s a single composite video input, optical digital audio output and Ethernet. Wi-Fi is dual band and there’s Bluetooth too.

The A1 has twin terrestrial tuners, plus two HD satellite. The set also ships with an IR blaster. On its stand, it measures 145.1 x 83.2 x 33.9cm, and weighs 36.2kg.

Backpanel A1 Inputs

Menu Picture Mode

Sony KD-65A1 OLED 4K HDR TV: Features
The TV uses the familiar Android TV OS, here in its 6.0 iteration, with an overlay of YouView. This means we get a full complement of usable apps, including Netflix in 4K HDR, YouTube and Amazon in 4K, BBC iPlayer, All4, Demand 5, ITV, Wuaki.tv and Google Play.

Sony supplements this with some bespoke usability: Its Discover bar offers On Now thumbnails, On Demand TV and movies, Netflix and YouTube highlights, plus user video content from networked devices. The set also has Chromecast built-in, making it a doddle to cast content from a compatible mobile phone.

There’s a couple of debit points though. There is no support for 3D. And that awful Live Football mode is still pre-eminent in the menus.

Sony KD-65A1 OLED 4K HDR TV: Picture performance
In a word: breathtaking. Sony is back on top of its game here. Images pop, almost regardless of content. The set’s X1 Extreme engine applies an HDR-like boost to all and sundry, and it's not shy about doing it.

Object-based HDR remastering magically extracts detail from an expanded contrast range. Any fear that this might be too aggressive for normal content, proves unfounded. While psuedo HDR upscaling is on by default, you can disengage it by viewing via the Cinema Pro mode.

All the classic OLED characteristics are here – superb black level depth, dramatic colour vibrancy, with fine detail aplenty.

The average picture level is high, but there's still headroom for luscious glints and luminous highlights. The set handles skin tones with utter believability.

The A1 supports HDR, HLG and Dolby Vision (firmware updates not withstanding), and does an excellent job recreating spectral highlights. Using a 10 per cent HDR window, we recording a peak brightness of 776 cd/m2. With a smaller 5 per cent window, this rose to 799 cd/m2. Some way off the ZD9 LED, but an excellent performance for OLED. By way of comparison, a full-field white SDR screen measures 173 cd/m2.

Of course, chatter about contrast and the relative benefits of peak luminosity on OLED versus LED LCD don’t actually count for much when you’re playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PS4). Here OLED’s ability to resolve real black has a transformative effect on the gameplay. It’s simply far more frightening on OLED. Those pitch black areas of the screen, just outside the narrow beam of your flashlight, become truly terrifying.

Similarly, 4K footage from new God of War (PS4 Pro) is a visual feast: dragons have realistic scales, nostrils dribble with convincing gloop, magical battleaxes sparkle with energy. This is eye candy of the highest order.

While the panel has no problem revealing a full fist of 2160p detail, image processing is evident on the Standard preset. It isn’t on the Cinema Pro or Cinema Home viewing modes.

That said, the Standard mode is a good all round viewing option, and provides the basis for most of our assessment. The set tone maps beyond 1000 nits, but there's some low level black level clipping, intimating that some near black detail will be lost.

However I never felt I was losing out on anything. When Alice and crew make their descent into the pit, during the climax of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (4K UHD Blu-ray), the set finds near-dark detail in the landscape; when the Cerberus pack attacks, they're more than just shadow killers. 

Discovery Bar

Backpanel Woofer

Motion resolution is a mixed bag. Motionflow XR Smooth and Clear setting are ripe with artefacts and should be given short shift. True Cinema basically switches everything Off, and looks all the better for it. If you require image interpolation, for sports or studio TV, opt for the Custom setting (Smoothness 3, Clearness Low).

Sony KD-65A1 OLED 4K HDR TV: Audio performance
The A1’s big party trick is, of course, the Acoustic Surface audio system. Any suspicion that this might be a gimmick is dispelled as soon as you listen in earnest. While we’ve seen glass vibrators like this before, this implementation is a revelation.

Audio is crisp, and well rounded. The set has none of the thinness so typical of conventional TV audio systems. The crossover with the sub (pictured above) is seamless, resulting in a  full-bodied listening experience. Stereo presentation is pronounced - and because the audio is literally coming from the panel itself, directionality and localization appear spot on. The soundstage is also surprisingly wide.

Sony KD-65A1 OLED 4K HDR TV: Verdict
The A1 is a stunning OLED offering. As a design piece, it wins without really trying. This is minimalism done right. The set’s audio visual performance is similarly fabulous. The Acoustic Surface technology is incredible, and image quality and picture processing top notch. Highly recommended.

Available now
Price: £5,000
The Sony A1 OLED TV is distributed by Invision UK and AWE.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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