When it comes to OLED TVs, LG currently rules the roost. That’s all set to change this year when Sony unleashes its new Bravia A1 set upon the world. More than being the manufacturer’s first proper OLED telly, the 4K and HDR compatible A1 is also a big deal for sound.
Unlike practically every other flatscreen in the world, into which ever tinier speakers are crammed, the A1 has resonators that vibrate the screen itself in order to produce audio.
That probably sounds like a ridiculous idea, but having now heard the thing in action, we're pretty darn impressed.
Additional words by Tom Parsons
Sony Bravia A1 OLED design: business at the front, party in the back
As you’d expect from an OLED set, Sony’s A1 TVs are extremely handsome indeed. They’re super-thin and futuristic, just like all those LG OLEDs we’ve come to know and love.
While the two manufacturers’ sets might not look all that different face-on, Sony’s A1s have a particularly eye-catching rump. Their behinds are shaped like a picture frame stand, so will lie flush at a slant on the table or cabinet of your choosing. That’s instead of sitting on top of a pair of feet or a stand.
It’s a novel TV design that we’re big fans of. The only thing we’re worried about? Sticking a soundbar in front of your new Bravia will block off half its screen.
Sony Bravia A1 OLED sound: a speakerless marvel
But according to Sony, you shouldn’t need a soundbar, or any other external speakers for that matter. Thanks to its Acoustic Surface technology, this OLED will make a load of noise via its vibrating screen. So the necessity to buy an extra soundbar or surround sound setup is negated.
As concepts go, it sounds utterly bonkers. You imagine that the picture will constantly wobble or crack. That the sound will be tinny and horrible. That the TV will vibrate itself off your shelf or rattle against the surface.
Of course, Sony wouldn't launch a TV that did any of those things, and having now heard the A1 in action, it seems as though the company's actually struck upon something rather special.
First and foremost; there's no discernible impact on image quality. This is precisely the super-sharp, super-colourful, super dynamic image we've come to expect from OLED, with no visible wobble, distortion or blur introduced by the audio, even at nearly full volume. Sony also says that its extensive testing proves the resonators cause no damage to the OLED panel.
Secondly, it actually sounds pretty good. There's a weight and scale to the audio that standard flatscreens can't match, and it goes loud without distortion. It's a proper stereo presentation, too, so as an effect moves across the screen there's a clear, audible shift from right to centre to left. There's also a sense that the sound is emanating directly from the image, which makes sense really - because it is.
All of this praise has to be tempered with a little perspective, though. Yes, it seems that the Sony A1 sounds significantly better than the average flatscreen, but will it be a match for LG's rival Wallpaper OLED set, which comes with a separate, Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar? Or any serious soundbar for that matter?
We'll have to wait until we get the A1 in for testing to find out for sure, but our suspicion is that a proper external sound setup will still sound better. Don't want to clutter your lounge up with extra kit? That's fair, and the A1 will impress your ears far better than most.
Sony Bravia A1 OLED picture: as good as an LG OLED?
When it comes to picture quality, we have plenty of faith in this 4K HDR OLED. Not only did the test footage of sweeping vistas and luminous close-ups look great on the set we saw, but we also know that the Bravia A1 uses an LG OLED panel, which stands it in very good stead indeed.
Don’t know what makes OLED sets so stunning? Where LCD TVs - such as those made by Samsung - rely on a backlight to be illuminated, each individual pixel in an OLED is self-illuminating. This allows for ridiculous contrast in images, where you can place a white and red pixel next to each other without them bleeding into one another.
This kind of wizardry is especially important when you’re watching content in High Dynamic Range, which ensures expert contrast and colour accuracy. To that end, the Sony Bravia A1 supports both the HDR10 format and the more advanced Dolby Vision version, future-proofing it for the TV you’ll be streaming over the next five years or so. And it also features Sony’s top-end X1 Extreme chipset for intelligent upscaling of HD sources onto its Ultra HD display.