Sony A9F TV detailed review
At CES 2018, Sony showed off the A8F OLED TV that launched in India earlier this year. The TV brought with it a new design, but was essentially the A1 repackaged for 2018. You can read our review of the Sony A8F here. The highlight of Sony’s CES 2018 presence was the new X1 Ultimate chip that would replace scene-based rendering with object-based rendering, making HDR content look even more appealing. Unfortunately, no consumer TVs were shown showing the power of the X1 Ultimate chip. Fast forward a few months and Sony announced their Master Series TVs – the A9F and the Z9D. The A9F is an OLED TV and is available in India while the Z9D is an LED TV and Sony has not launched it in India.
The A9F that we have with us today for review is a 55-inch variant. Is the X1 Ultimate the right choice for Sony’s flagship OLED TVs?
Key specs at a glance
Panel Size: 55″ (also available in 65″)
Panel Type: OLED
Panel Resolution: 3840 x 2160 – 4K
Panel refresh rate: 60 Hz (for 4K content)
HDR 10 support: Yes
Dolby Vision Support: Yes
Weight (with stand): 30 kg (35.6 kg for the 65-inch)
HDMI ports: 4
USB ports: 3
Bluetooth: Yes, 4.2
Speakers: acoustic surface (actuator + subwoofer)
Built-in storage: 16 GB
Price: Rs 429,900 for 55-inch & Rs 579,900 for 65-inch
Build and design
Put the Sony A1 and the A9F next to each other and you can’t distinguish one from the other. Sony has brought back the picture frame design of the A1. The TV tilts back about 5 degrees and stands as a picture frame should be. The tilt is barely noticeable and the TV is designed to be the centerpiece of your home entertainment system. The TV can be mounted on the wall, but the design of the stand and the placement of the ports are such that you’ll want to put it on a table.
The TV tilts back a bit, but it doesn’t hinder the viewing experience
When you place it on a table, all you see is the screen. There is a small white LED at the bottom of the display that lights up when the TV is on and if you find this distracting you can turn it off in the settings. The bezels around the screen are quite thin.
The only drawback is that, unlike traditional stands, there is no space between the table and the bottom of the screen. This means that if you place a soundbar in front of the TV, it will obstruct your view. If you are someone who puts all your gadgets like Blu-ray player, game console, etc. under the TV, you should reconsider its placement.
As for the connectivity options, they’re all neatly laid out and hidden behind the cover on the TV’s stand. On the right side of the stand you have one USB port, while on the left you have one HDMI port. Everything else is hidden behind the lid. On the back you have the power in, center speaker (we’ll talk more about that later), antenna in, ethernet port, video in, IR blaster port, optical out, 3 HDMI ports, 2 USB ports and the headphones out. The ports are very neatly laid out and the cable management ensures that all your wires are neatly organized.
All connectivity is hidden behind the back panel
Overall, the build quality of the TV is top notch. The panel is slim, but the picture frame-like design means it takes up more space on a table. Personally, I’d prefer Sony to go with the A8 design rather than the A1 for the A9F, but the design they’ve chosen has more to do with the new acoustic surface. We’ll discuss this in the audio portion of the review.
Display panel and image quality
The panel on the A9F is the same as on the A8F, with the improvements coming thanks to the new chip under the hood. It is with the picture settings and the picture performance that the A9F sets itself apart from the A8F. Now the A8F was powered by the X1 Extreme chipset and the new A9F is powered by the X1 Ultimate chip. The X1 Ultimate is said to be twice as powerful as the X1 Extreme and also brings better image processing along with object-based HDR rendering. This means that each individual small object is recognized and the color, contrast and sharpness are adjusted for each individual object. So in the past, if there was a bunch of grapes on the screen, the bunch was considered one object to display. Now, with the X1 Ultimate, each individual grape is a separate object on display. In theory, this sounds like a fantastic optimization for HDR implementations. In reality, however, there are some very minor caveats that we will discuss in the HDR section.
The beauty of an OLED TV is its ability to produce an infinite contrast ratio, true blacks and deep colors and it’s all there in the Sony A9F. The TV can natively produce Dolby Vision content through the built-in Netflix app. If you have a Blu-ray player and content with Dolby Vision support on it, you can really get the most out of this TV. However, there is one problem that I have encountered. Some of the sequences, especially the ones in the dark, like the Daredevil Season 2 Episode 3 stair fights, looked a little darker than I’d like. I tried switching between Dolby vision dark mode, Dolby vision bright mode and vivid mode to see which one worked best and they all had some kind of error. This is the only series I’ve encountered this issue in so it’s safe to say it’s limited to certain content that takes place in pitch darkness. I haven’t come across this anywhere else. That said, any content you have in HDR 10 looks fantastic with its contrast, colors and details. Watching content from Prime Videos, Netflix and more was an absolute treat in 4K.
The TV also features a Netflix mode, but it didn’t automatically start for me when playing Netflix. I had to manually go into the picture settings and change it to Netflix mode. I looked at content from Daredevil, Star Trek Discover and some more switching between Dolby Vision and Netflix mode and honestly, I struggled to find any difference. I’m sure consuming more content like Lost in Space, Haunting on Hill House and more would lead me to find some differences, but anyway the content looks so good you wouldn’t bother with it. to have.
I played Blade Runner 2049, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Wonder Woman from the Prime Videos app, and everyone I blind-tested the video with on the A9F said the photo looked 4K. While these titles play at up to 1080p in the Prime video app, it’s commendable how beautiful 1080p content looks on the panel. Sure, there are times when 1080p and 720p videos from YouTube don’t look that great, but that’s an exception. Watching SD content, content from your set-top box or 1080p content will give you a very good experience.
Before we get to gaming, there’s one thing you need to know. All 4 HDMI ports in the TV support the full bandwidth of HDCP 2.3, which is fantastic. I highly recommend going into the settings and enabling them to get the most out of the 4K HDR devices you connect to the TV, such as your Apple TV 4K, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, etc.
We played our standard set of test games with a PS4 Pro and Xbox One X on the TV. These games range from Battlefield 1 to Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, God of War, Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, and more. Honestly, it looked just as good, if not better, than what we’ve seen on the A8F and LG C8 we tested earlier this year. Games like Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War along with Spider-man for the PS4 look fantastic. Gaming on this TV is like staring into a window of the graphically heavy content at your disposal and that’s something worth experiencing.
Speaking of sound, the Sony A9F has improved over the acoustic surface we saw with the A1 and A8F. instead of 2 actuators, the TV now comes with 3 actuators and instead of 1 subwoofer on the back, the TV comes with 2 to enhance the TV’s sound experience. We really enjoyed the audio performance of the A8F and the same can be said about the A9F. We can’t say how well the sound has improved until we have the two TVs side by side. But what we can say is that soundtracks from certain movies and games sound pretty good on this TV, as the speakers on this TV are for a TV and not a home theater. Blade Runner 2049 is a good example of this. The first minutes of the film are filled with subtle cyberpunk-like music mixed with silence and of course Ryan Gosling’s hovercar. Other movies, be it Wonder Woman Spider-Man Homecoming, shows on Netflix, and even everyday TV watching sound pretty good, especially when you compare it to other TV speakers in the flagship range.
Subwoofer on the back of the TV
One feature that is quite impressive and unique to the A9F is the ability to use the TV as the center channel of your home theater. At the back you see the option to connect the TV to your amplifier as a center channel. This essentially eliminates the need for you to have a center speaker below the screen and since the actuators work to display the dialogue from the respective position on the screen the setup works quite well.
The A9F’s remote is the same as on the A8F and there are literally no changes here. As much as I complain that it’s too traditional compared to what LG offers with its Magic remote, the Sony remote is functional and gets the job done. On the remote you have a shortcut for Netflix and not for any other streaming service. When you see how LG and Samsung have their motion-activated remotes, minimalist, stylish and convenient to use, Sony’s remote feels outdated.
Welcome Android TV 8, we’ve missed you! The UI on the A9F is Android 8 and is different from the one we’ve seen on the A8F. For starters, it’s smoother, faster and more responsive. Pressing the action button to get to the picture and sound settings doesn’t take long anymore. The UI is clean and the top panel can be customized with the apps you want. Everything else is arranged in rows, from popular picks to trending videos to Netflix recommendations and more.
The voice search works quite well. You can say things like “dare to play on Netflix” and it will open the Netflix app with Daredevil for you. Unfortunately, you can’t say things like “play season 3 episode one of daredevil on Netflix”. It won’t recognize that. From opening apps to preparing content, other than typing in your password, there’s little reason for you to use the remote to navigate. It works pretty well. The source selection and setting are located at the top right of the user interface.
The Sony A9F is a fantastic TV for those looking for an immersive content consumption experience. The new processor brings improvements in HDR processing, the TV can upscale HD content quite well, comes with plenty of connectivity options, including the option to use the TV speakers as the center channel in your home theater. The user interface is fluid and thanks to native streaming apps, you don’t need to use an external device. The TV is also great for 4K gaming. The only downside is that some Dolby Vision content looks a bit dark and the TV is extremely expensive. But if you’re looking for pure performance, you can’t go wrong with this TV. If you are looking for an alternative at a lower price, consider the LG C8 OLED TV. The picture quality of the C8 is fantastic, but loses to the A9F with audio quality. You can read our review of the C8 here. It is much cheaper and the OLED performance is almost on the same level.