You know you’re in for a bit of a ride when the courier delivering the television you’ve been sent to review complains about the weight of the box. His complaint was fair — Sony’s A1 OLED, contrary to most modern panels, weighs an absolute ton. But is it worth its weight in picture quality?
There’s so much I like about this TV and almost as much that I don’t. It’s a TV that feels, from concept to execution, like it’s kind of all over the place. As a result, and perhaps fitting, this review might feel like it’s a bit all over the place too.
The reason for the TV’s exceptional heft is its rather odd construction. Rather than having a conventional stand beneath the screen, the A1 uses a large strut at the rear to prop the screen up. Onto the bottom of this prop clamps a substantial weight to keep the TV from moving around. Between the screen, the prop and counterweight, the total tonnage of the assembled unit comes to a whopping 36.2 kilograms. The carton, before you even take the TV out of the box, weighs 50 kilos.
One would think, given its value as a load bearing structure, that the prop wouldn’t be a vital part of the television’s design in any other way. But it is. All of the TV’s inputs and electronics are built into the prop. Four HDMI ports, optical audio, USB, all the connective bells and whistles one comes to expect from a modern panel, all built into this board that could be quite easily broken if you attempt to attach the weight to it in the wrong order.
Indeed, the panel comes with very large, insistent, detailed instructions for its assembly as not following almost any step on the list to the letter could result in you breaking the TV before you ever get to turn it on. Given that you may have just spent $7,000 AUD on this panel, I would urge you to follow the instructions to the letter because that’s quite obviously a lot of money.
The reason for putting all the bits and pieces into the prop itself is to allow the panel itself to remain as thin as possible and still leave room for its Acoustic Surface technology (which I’ll go into a little later in this review). The screen is lovely and thin, and the bezel is almost non-existent and there’s no buttress below the TV to hold it up giving the unit the appearance of being a single massive screen perched directly on your entertainment unit. The downside is that you’ll also need an entertainment unit with a bit of girth to it to properly stand the TV up as the angle between it and the prop is quite wide. You’ll also find that for all the litheness of the screen’s build, the prop itself is a bit of a beef bus, thick and heavy. Ultimately, I come away from the A1’s design feeling like it was one that sounded great on paper but in practice is rather situational. For such a thin screen, it takes up a lot of room.
Image-wise, the A1 provides everything you could want from an OLED panel. The blacks are the sort of gorgeous, deep, inky black that film enthusiasts dream of. The colours pop, the motion is smooth and the suite of post-processing features covers all the usual bases (though, if you’re anything like me, it will all be turned off minutes after powering the TV up for the first time).
I watched several films on this panel in 4K HDR to see how they would track and was pleasantly surprised each time. Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s 4K treatment is a visual feast and Planet Earth II uses the full power of the OLED panel to swallow you whole.
Where I felt the TV faltered a little was for games. This is where I get extremely nitpicky about picture and colour. I review quite a lot of games in my line of work and I own both a PlayStation 4 Pro and an Xbox One X. The point of these higher end consoles is the greater graphical horsepower available. They both output in 4K HDR, specifically HDR 10 something the A1 OLED is more than capable of. What owners of these consoles and 4K HDR panels know is that there is often only one or two HDMI ports on a given TV that properly support HDR input. To my great disappointment and bewilderment, there is only one HDMI port on the KD-65A1 that supports full 4K HDR, and that’s the HDMI 3 ARC channel. The other three ports support 4K without HDR. On a screen that retails for over $7,500 AUD, this narrow functionality seems outrageous to me.
Contrast this with my regular 2016 Sony Android 4K HDR panel. Cost me $999 from the Sony store on clearance last year. Two HDR channels. How can my TV, orders of magnitude less impressive in both price and technology, have the HDR one up on a panel with an RRP of nearly 7.5K? This TV is worth more than my car. It should have HDR compatibility on more than one port.
What this meant was that every time I wanted to play a game on either system, I would have to go around the back of the TV and change the cord over. Not that big of a deal, #firstworldproblems, but I spend a lot of time playing games for work and I’m always hopping between systems. I’m also a huge pedant about image quality — I have these ridiculous consoles attached to a ridiculous TV, I want the best performance, dammit. This meant I was changing the cable over multiple times per day which can’t be good for the health of the port.
For most people, this won’t be an issue at all. Most people will plug in their blu ray player or their Xbox One and be perfectly happy with the image. I’m just saying, if this sounds like something that will bug you, then take it into serious consideration.
The A1 uses the same Android operating system as my older, lower end model. This puts all your smart TV features on front street, from streaming services like Netflix, Stan, Twitch and YouTube to more complicated fare like games. You can run Asphalt on this thing. You have to play it with your TV remote but you can play it.
Soundwise, like most TV’s of any size or price range, the sound feels like a bit of an afterthought. This is surprising given all the ballyhoo the TV makes about its “Acoustic Surface,” a series of woofers and actuators behind the screen designed to create a wall of awesome sound. It still doesn’t quite get there in my opinion. At 65″, this is still a TV designed with a home theatre in mind and so the TV’s own sound quality doesn’t have to be the most amazing you’ve ever heard. It’ll sound fine but for most people, step two of setting this television up will be connecting to a better set of speakers. The A1 itself supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Pulse and DTS Digital Surround so you’re covered no matter what you end up pairing it with.
All told, this unit is a bit of a weird one. Its design is functional, if a bit idiosyncratic, and is asking for a lot of factory returns due to not understanding how to put it all together. In full flight, with all the bells and whistles ringing, the A1 OLED is a thing of beauty, but it will frustrate gamers by making them jump from port to port. Its uncommon heft, even without the counterweight, will make wall mounting the unit a challenge but it’ll look amazing once it’s up there. An inventive and interesting experiment from Sony. If there’s a home out there that this odd duck of a television fits perfectly into, I’d love to see it. I’m sure it would be just as idiosyncratic.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Wonderful image; Vast array of options and features
Lowlights: Heavy; Odd design; HDR 10 situation may annoy gamers
Price: $7,499 AUD RRP
Review conducted using a loaned retail review unit provided by the manufacturer. This device is currently on sale via the Sony Store for $5,998 AUD.