No stranger to setting benchmarks when it comes to display technologies, Sony has been there and done that. But no, it wants to keep doing it again and again and the latest OLED TV in their Bravia range, the A8H is equipped to rewrite the rulebooks. Sorry for the spoiler, but there’s no other way to say it in a thousand words. Or maybe, that’s what I get paid for, so there is!
Now, we already know that Sony wasn’t the first one to get into the OLED TV space, it was LG. And Sony still prefers to use LG OLED panels as its OEM but the secret to Sony’s supremacy has been its processing and control of the said OLED panel. The A8H may not be the brand’s flagship, which still remain the A9G Master series, but it now gets the same X1 Ultimate processor from the A9G so things are bound to get pretty. Our test sample was the 65in model and a 55in variant should be coming soon.
Covering every base
Even by OLED standards, the A8H is incredibly thin around the bezels and build quality is of the highest order, in part also because of the Acoustic Surface Audio tech that’s built into the TV which uses the entire screen surface area as a speaker via actuators mounted to the back of the panel. This forces the engineers to build a more rigid frame than otherwise would be necessary for a thin, flat-panel TV. Around the back, a wedge-shaped protrusion conceals the innards and connectors, of which there are a few. 4 x HDMI, 3 x USB, ethernet port and digital out amongst the headliners and of course WiFi and Bluetooth as well.
Based on the Android 9 Pie, it’s a certified Android TV in mostly stock form that works well, though my personal favourite still remains LG’s WebOS for clarity of information, ease of use and the Magic remote.
Anyway, back to the Sony and it comes well equipped to handle the smartest of homes without breaking a sweat. Support for Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, built-in Google Chromecast and also Alexa ready, there is no phone it won’t talk to and no digital assistant it can upset. While app support via the Google Play Store is fantastic, it might be worth mentioning that the Play Store still doesn’t host Apple TV+ as an app, so if any of your favourite shows reside there, you might have to make do with an external device or cast your phone screen content. Smartly, even the stand can be set-up in two steps so it can either sit close to the table or you could open up a few inches of gap for a soundbar to fit in.
Sound is usually an afterthought for most panels of this thinness but the A8H innovatively integrates actuators that “excite” the entire glass area to create a much larger soundfield while bass is handled by twin down-firing dynamic drivers, making it a potent sounding system overall. There is support for Dolby Atmos and the effect certainly isn’t close to a dedicated multi-speaker system, but it does extend well beyond the physical boundaries of the TV itself and should suffice for all everyday purposes. There’s also an acoustic calibration mode available via the remote that takes into account your specific room reflectivity and size to shape the final output. It’s not perfect but hey, neither is any 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos home-theatre system.
The real reason why anyone should consider buying the A8H should be its brains though and the X1 Ultimate inside here is the finest of the breed. Packing in more than twice the processing power of the next in line X1 Extreme, it really uses the A8H’s panel to show off its skills. Object-based HDR remaster, Super Bit Mapping, X-Reality Pro, X-Motion Clarity and Pixel Contrast Booster may all sound like heavy marketing jargon but they all actually contribute to the A8H’s outstanding picture quality in both obvious and subtle ways. As opposed to frame-based HDR offered by most other implementations, Sony digs into its AI+ML database and ensures that HDR is selectively applied to objects in varying degrees. Mind you, there is no HDR 10+ support here so Dolby Vision comes in handy if you want frame-by-frame implementation of HDR, or there is good old HLG and HDR 10 available too. But Sony’s enhancement sits on top of it all and while 480p content doesn’t fare well with it, any signal 720p and above looks absolutely drool-worthy. Watching the IND vs AUS cricket match without a clue about the proceedings, I just found myself gazing at the colours of the Aussie team uniform against the perfectly manicured ground. The dynamic range, tone and textural quality, clarity from the 4K upscaling and the perfectly judged motion processing, all of it just comes together to make watching even the Indian side lose, a lot of fun!
Even the dreaded “soap opera effect” caused by aggressive motion processing is a thing of the past now thankfully. With the amount of fine-tuning control the A8H offers, you can dial in just the right amount of frame interpolation that looks best to your eyes, with the right amount of de-judder. Shift gears to native 4K content and the legendary black levels of OLED just blow you away on the A8H. Watching Tiny World on Apple TV+ via the Apple TV 4K streaming box, the close-up shots of some of the smallest creatures on the planet takes your breath away with its sharp detailing and clarity in the darker areas of the image too. It’s almost inviting enough to touch and is the best streaming image quality I’ve seen.
Using Pixel Contrast Booster, even the deepest blacks aren’t affected when sharing screen space with the brightest of whites and it’s this dynamic contrast that really catapults this panel into the top tier. Human skin tones, shades of evening sky and scenes from The Dark Knight, all set new benchmarks in what you thought was possible even after you’ve seen it all. The plethora of settings honestly is overwhelming and it can take you days to find your preferred combination, or you could call in a professional calibrator and put its Calman-ready claim to the test. If you’re looking for something quicker, the Netflix calibrated mode takes away the guesswork, at least from Netflix, and ensures you get the picture that is better than the Vivid setting. It’s not ideal but it’s better than watching it in the showroom mode all the time. If you’re investing in a set like this, my advice would be to spend a few days making adjustments and watching content and repeating the process. The only downside to Sony’s interface is that every time you bring up the picture setting menu, it takes up half the screen space and the other half that displays content is automatically dimmed. This makes it impossible to assess the changes you make in real-time and is deeply infuriating if you’re an advanced user. Make a minor change in contrast setting for example and you have to press Back on the remote five times until the screen is cleared of the on-screen menu and you can see the results of your change...really, who designed this interface? Definitely not the cinema loving engineer in charge of the display.
Brightness has been one of the weak links of OLED panels and while the A8H peaks out at 800 nits, it always seemed more than sufficient even in a brightly lit room. Viewing angles are stupendous and even sitting completely to one side of the TV doesn’t cause discolouration or patchiness. There are a couple of caveats here for those who value gaming over cinema. The A8H doesn’t support 4K at 120Hz nor does it have variable refresh rate, which you will find on LG’s OLED TVs so gamers who’ve got their hands on the Xbox Series X already might be a bit disappointed. It does have a game mode though that drops input lag to 18ms and optimises picture quality to be less than Vivid and more than Cinema.
It’s not every day when I consider putting my own money on a review gadget but the Sony A8H is one of those moments where I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is predominantly a movie lover. It breathes new life into dark scenes, astounds you with its colour accuracy and mesmerises you with the sheer detail it unearths from even movies you’ve seen before. It’s not exactly cheap but when you consider that it’s one of the best TVs ever made, it starts looking like great value!