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Sony A8F 4K OLED TV review: A gorgeous, vibrant TV

Posted: 6 July 2018 1:53 pm
News
Quick Verdict
An exceptional, cinematic Ultra-HD viewing experience, but at this price point, you’d expect a more innovative experience.

Strengths

  • Incredibly vivid colour and crisp blacks
  • Excellent upscaling and 4K playback
  • Innovative "Acoustic Surface" sound engineering

Could be better

  • Interface regularly sluggish
  • Processor compares poorly
  • The remote feels cheap and looks outdated


Having recently had a few weeks to test (and enjoy) Sony’s new A8F 4K 65-inch monster of a TV, I can say that it’s a brilliant, crisp ultra-HD future we’re headed to.

While Sony promotes its flashy Bravia flagship in its TV line-up, most consumers probably aren’t aware Sony is using LG technology under the hood. The resulting OLED panel, a technology considered superior to the more widespread LCD cousin, is nothing short of gorgeous. Organic Light Emitting Diode TVs distinguish themselves by individually controlling each pixel – meaning they turn off completely when dark scenes require the blackest of blacks.

The A8F has a remarkably slim, lightweight profile, which is both perplexing on such a large unit and attractive in one’s living room. This is one of the gifts of having OLED technology behind that massive panel. Since each pixel powers on and off itself, there’s no need for a chunky backlight.

From the side, it has a very low profile, and from the front, it’s downright impressive. There’s a single discreet indicator light in the centre of the thin lower bezel which I almost didn’t notice, even in a dark room. For those who want zero distractions, you can turn it off via the Android TV settings and be totally immersed.

Sony A8F 65

Sony A8F 65"(164cm) OLED UHD Smart TV from Sony

Jump straight into the 4K HDR future. Enjoy streaming ultra-high-definition content with the Sony A8F's smart TV apps.

View details

The remote is a different story. It’s a soft-plastic topped, button-dense affair. It doesn’t really hold a candle to the slick designs of Samsung’s One Remote or LG’s options. It works, but felt very cheap and flimsy. For their flagship OLED TV, I’d expect Sony to put a little more effort in. As it’s their only remote across their entire range of smart TVs, it’s downright lazy that they market a high-end product without matching accessories.

Installation and setup

The installation process was smooth. The A8F is deceptively heavy for such a sleek unit, so you’ll definitely need two people getting it out of the box. I didn’t wall mount it, so I spent a minute or so screwing the stand together. Cables leading to the side-facing ports are gathered nicely by a port cover than blends in with the rear of the panel. This can be annoying if you need to swap cables regularly, but looks great.

There’s an Ethernet port if you prefer, but the wireless setup was flawless. I followed a link displayed on screen via my phone, and so long as you’re on the same network, it connected almost immediately.

The preset picture settings are decent, but to be sure you’re getting the best experience for 4K content, check that these settings are selected:

SettingChange to:
MotionflowCinemotion
True CinemaHigh
SettingChange to:
HDR modeAuto
HDMI video rangeAuto
Colour spaceAuto

Additionally, if you’re connecting a device that will be using the full HDMI bandwidth (that is, 4K 60fps or similar), you’ll need to use HDMI ports 2 or 3. “HDMI signal format” will need to be set to “Enhanced format” under the “External inputs” settings.

Sony has, perhaps for the better, ditched the tablet-stand-esque leaning leg of their 2017 A1 OLED. Instead of the 5-10 degrees of subtle lean that was sometimes noticeable, it’s now sensibly sitting on a small but reasonably sturdy traditional stand. All ports and cables are hidden behind a sleek cover.

The subwoofer surprisingly takes up very little space above the guts of the panel. Sony has utilised the space vacated by virtue of using OLED rather well, and overall it’s a very attractive unit. I tested the unit on its stand, but also inspected it at a Sony PR event mounted on a wall.

Performance

Loading up some 4K content to put the A8F through its paces, I checked out Attenborough’s Planet Earth II and The Martian. Ultra-high definition content is increasingly available these days, especially in the streaming world. Netflix has a pretty expansive list of titles available in 4K which keeps growing at a decent pace. However, streaming 4K can take a huge bite out of your bandwidth and data allocation (if you’re on a capped broadband plan), and it is really only smoothly watchable on the fastest connections.

Stan has a decent collection of UHD movies available as well, but Netflix is forging ahead with a select few titles in 4K with HDR. High-dynamic-range-imaging (HDR) is essentially an advanced imaging technique used to reproduce a much brighter range of luminance than can be achieved otherwise. It’s the format that gives high-end TVs their time to shine – literally. Planet Earth II presented such a riot of vivid colours and bright, crisp detail that some scenes looked more colourful and inspiring than the real world. This is due to Sony's Triluminos colour processing. It's remarkable both for the infinitely subtle colour range it processes and for the lack of an “X” appended to the brand name that the people at Sony seem to love so much.

The blacks, as expected of a flagship OLED unit, are very black. The lack of a backlight bleeding light into the edges of dark sections of the screen was very noticeable, particularly when the lights were turned off. Dark scenes with volcanic activity during the documentary really highlighted how superior that individual pixel control is.

True darkness on the TV was indistinguishable from my pitch-black living room. Typical consumers, used to the LCD TVs of the last 10 or so years, will see a marked difference here as the technology’s immersive effect can’t be ignored.

However, the white end of the spectrum isn’t as dazzling as Sony’s competitors. Most people watch TV in soft to medium lighting conditions, and as such, the brightness or luminosity of the colours displayed by the panel is a battleground for the big brands.

Similar to other high-end OLEDs, watching standard television without tweaking the settings resulted in some over-processed visuals. The out-of-the-box “Cinema” preset makes 4K content absolutely gorgeous, but renders more mundane content unrealistic. The colours are just slightly off, and the TV didn’t handle fast-moving scenes well at low resolutions. Once I’d switched the picture mode to “Standard”, content at 480p or less, it looked much better. For HD/4K/HDR content, definitely switch it back to “Cinema”, though – you’ll appreciate the difference.

The A8F’s operating system isn’t as crisp or smooth as the visuals. Sony has stuck with Android TV, which to its credit is integrated with Google Cast and has a good deal of Google Home compatibility. It was easy to set up with my Android phone, but the software really isn’t par for the course at this price range.

I found the interface regularly sluggish, which was particularly grating when you need to pause to change one setting. The layout of apps and categories on the Home page does a good job of using the whole screen, but includes annoyances like Google Play’s promoted videos. On the plus side, you get access to the entire Google Play app experience. Netflix, YouTube, Stan and basically every on-demand streaming platform you can think of is available.

Attempting a comparison with other 2018 flagship TVs is a little awkward since the X1 Extreme processor under the A8F’s hood is slightly dated. Sony has already shown off demo units with the X1 Ultimate, which has support for 8K and more sophisticated image processing. The brightness is consistent with last year’s A1 OLED, which isn’t worth writing home about either.

Sony has featured their innovating “Acoustic Surface” technology with their 4K OLED units since day one. It’s an intriguing innovation in that the A8F, like its predecessors, actually has no speakers. Instead, Sony has placed four actuators attached to the back of the panel, turning the whole screen into a vibrating rectangular sound-emitting wonder.

This allows the TV to project sound from the visual, on-screen sources – creating a directional, immersive audio experience. It’s very impressive, especially since Sony seems confident this won’t shorten the lifespan of the delicate OLED array. The vibrations are definitely too subtle to be seen with the naked eye, and the subwoofer handles the lower range.

This feature was most impressive when hearing distinct treble-range sounds, such as birds warbling in one corner of the screen or a shot fired across your view. The bass tended to get a bit more directionally jumbled, especially in loud action scenes or anything with low rumbling.

Pricing

At the time of writing, Sony has dropped the price of the 55” A8F from $3999 to $3399, and the 65” model I reviewed from $5999 to $5099. These are indicative prices and are subject to change – definitely shop around to find the best price.

If you’re keen on checking out the competition, the LG E8 2018 OLED is a similar 4K beast.

Specifications

55" XBR-55A8F65" XBR-65A8F
Screen size55" / 139cm65" / 164cm
Dimensions1226 x 712 x 55 mm1447 x 836 x 55 mm
Weight22kg28kg
Display typeOLEDOLED
Resolution3840 x 21603840 x 2160
Operating systemAndroid TVAndroid TV
Wi-FiCertified 802.11a/b/g/n/acCertified 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Chromecast built-inYesYes
Bluetooth profileVersion 4.1Version 4.1
Ethernet ports11
HDMI ports44
Power consumption264 kWh/year325 kWh/Year

Verdict

If you’re dropping thousands of dollars on a top-of-the-line TV, it’s got to impress in a big way. The features, performance and, to a lesser extent, design have got to be phenomenal for the outlay. Particularly since most consumers are opting for cheaper 4K units as the price of mid-range performance becomes increasingly affordable.

There’s no doubt that it’s a fantastic piece of entertainment technology, but to really be recommended at this price range, Sony needs to tweak the A8F to match what competitors produce or lessen the hurt on 99% of customer’s wallets.


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