Review: Sony A8F (AF8) OLED

16 Apr 2018 | Torben Rasmussen


Sony’s new OLED TV – A8F in the US and AF8 in Europe – uses the latest 2018 OLED panel and comes with a refreshed design compared to last year’s A1 that won our Reference Award. A8F features the ’X1 Extreme’ video processor as well as Sony’s Acoustic Surface speaker. It comes pre-installed with Android 7 and will later be updated to Android 8.

A8F is available in 55 and 65 inches. We haved reviewed the 65-inch version.

Also read: Sony 2018 TV line-up


Price and retailers:

US retailer
DE retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

65"
OLED panel
4K Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR (HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision coming later)
DCI-P3 color space
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA compatible)
(HxWxD) 83.6 x 145.1 x 5.5/25.5 cm (wall/stand)
24.4/28 kg (with/without stand)
HDMI (4x 2.0, only 2 support 4K60)
USB (3x)
Ethernet
1x CI+
Analog (combo mini-jack)
Optical
HDMI-ARC (1x)
Headphones/Subwoofer (mini-jack)
5x 10W stereo
DVB T/T2/C/S2
WiFi (ac standard)
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile 2
Android TV 7.0
IR remote control (with bluetooth microphone)
Manual
Remote control
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First impressions


The A8F expands Sony’s line-up of OLED TVs as last year’s A1 model will carry over into 2018. Unlike A1, A8F is designed to be wall-mounted. The easel stand has been sacrificed in favor of a new, flatter rear section. As such, A8F looks more like OLED TVs from competing brands than A1.

The standard electronics box that most OLED TVs carry on the back looks somewhat different on A8F as it also accommodates part of the speaker system that takes up some extra space. It makes the top of the box looks slightly out of place because this is where the subwoofer is found. All connection ports point either down or to the side, and as we have come accustomed to, Sony has fitted it with small panels, or compartments, that can be removed to access connections. The plastic feels rattling – like on Panasonic EZ950 – and considering the price class, we think it is fair to expect more. Part of the reason is that fairly large plastic panels cover most of the compartments with little or few components behind, which leaves a lot of free space that makes it feel cheap. Like EZ950 we do not consider it a major concern since you rarely need to connect cables, especially if you wall-mount the TV, but it takes away some of the magic.




The frame around the bezel has a metallic finish and the OLED panel is of course extremely thin. The electronics box on the back is in fact not much deeper than the one fitted onto LG’s OLED TVs but A8F nevertheless looks a bit thicker. Both are around 5 centimeters in depth.

The level of reflections in the OLED panel is largely comparable to last year’s models. Samsung recently demonstrated in a side-by-side comparison test how it has managed to further reduce reflections.

In the box we found a remote control that has the same button layout as the one that comes bundled with X900F but a different finish that is identical to the remote control for the A1 model. More on this later.

Sony AF8 test




User experience & features


Sony AF8 comes pre-installed with Android 7.0 and Sony has promised to roll out Android 8.0 later. Sony is one of the few manufacturers who upgrade older models and the 2015-series has just recently been bumped to version 7.0 as well. Sadly this is far from the norm and other manufacturers might want to pick up the pace and follow Sony's lead.

Operating system & smart-TV

Still no Android 8.0
Android 7.0 on A8F is identical to Android 7.0 on Sony X900F that we recently reviewed. And because A8F is based on the same SoC (MediaTek MT5891) it delivers identical performance. We refer to our Sony XF90 review for more information.

There are a few added options in the menus since A8F has some extra built-in measures to handle the risk of burn-in such as a panel refresher and a pixel shifting mechanism that, respectively, serve to reset or level out tiny variations in pixels and to move the picture to avoid having channel logos get stuck on the panel.

Another "feature" that Sony added for this years models is the "Samba Interactive TV", which is simply a clever name for an algorithm that analyze your TV behavior and use it to serve targeted advertisements where the UI allows for it. Disable it.

We noticed that the TV still spontaneously wakes up from standby to do... something. The screen stays off but standby consumption jumps to almost 20W. We did some further testing on the issue and can conclude that it happens regardless of whether a USB hard drive is connected, regardless of whether ‘quick start’ is activated or not, and regardless of any other settings we could find. This has been an issue on every single Sony Android TV that we have tested to date. Other manufacturers are capable of controlling standby consumption so Sony should surely manage, too. This is something that Sony must address.

Operation

Sony must feel that a soft plastic coating is more exclusive than the coating used on the remote control that comes bundled with X900F because A8F once again has a remote control with a top side made from soft plastic (same as A1). In our opinion, the buttons are too hard to press down and personally I prefer the X900F’s remote control to this one. Both versions of the remote are poor but having to make a choice between two evils I choose the one with the best buttons.

The remote control is a chaotic mess and has changed very little over the years. The navigation wheel in the center is packed with strange buttons that lead to shortcuts that you simply do not need.

2018 is status quo for Sony. The company badly needs to reimagine its remote control and certain other aspects of TV operation. Last year, Samsung introduced an entirely reimagined remote control – something it has done before – but the contrast to Sony’s remote control is striking, and we hope that Sony soon realizes that a TV in 2018 is very different from a TV in the pre-streaming era.


Sony AF8 test



The only button on the remote control that communicates via Bluetooth is the microphone button on the top that is dedicated to voice commands. Sony has yet to roll out Google Assistant in Europe so we cannot comment on the new features yet.


TV channels, recording & sound

TV guide, channel operating in general, and info bars are unchanged compared to X900F. We refer to our Sony X900F review for more information. The European AF8 is also equipped with a twin tuner.




A8F offers the same unique speaker system that defined last year’s A1, namely the Acoustic Surface. By using actuators on the back of the OLED panel, Sony can turn the actual screen into a speaker membrane, or more specifically a tweeter. There are two of these actuators on each side for left/right stereo perspective.

Inside the strange hump on the back are two smaller subwoofer units rather than one subwoofer in the A1 model with the easel stand. Sony says that it should deliver more or less the same performance. And the effect is great! The way that Sony has positioned the two tweeter units result in very direct sound that emanate from the actual panel rather than a separate location, which is usually the case with TVs. For casual and mixed TV use the subwoofer delivers enough power for a decent sound experience. The Acoustic Surface is optimized mainly for high-frequency sound and it lacks some mid-tone, so it has a tendency to, at times, sound a little shrill – at least compared to soundbars in the $800 or above price range, which is of course a step up.

Compared to other TVs, for example X900F that we most recently reviewed, A8F delivers significantly better sound. During the review, I listened to music, too, and with the exception of mid-tones, A8F delivers very decent performance. However, the subwoofer is not powerful enough to make explosions or intense action scenes truly impactful so movie lovers may need to add external units.

Once again, we are impressed with how well this technology works and by implementing Acoustic Surface in a different way in A8F, Sony has managed to create a thinner TV that still matches last year’s A1 in performance. Sony has yet to support Dolby Atmos processing – LG is still alone in this area.


Calibration


The ’Standard’ picture mode is, as usual, too cold and bluish, so we use the ‘Cinema Pro’ mode as a starting point for our calibration. Sony has decided to optimize for gamma 2.4 / BT.1886, whereas we prefer a slightly brighter picture closer to gamma 2.2. The graphs below show Cinema Pro before and after calibration and it should be fairly obvious that even modest adjustments can improve things on high-end TVs – mainly in the brightest tones. Manufacturers are doing more and more to ensure good factory calibration but most consumer TVs still have some deviations in color and grey tones.

It did not require a lot of effort to get dE (color differences) below 1 but as you can see on the color gamut graph the TV lacks a little bit of saturation in magenta and red that are not fully saturated. Sony does not offer CMS adjustment so we could not fix these minor issues. Brightness hits 210 after calibration but note that we use a 10% window for measuring / calibrating so full-screen brightness is lower due to OLED panels’ ABL mechanism. An LCD TV is different in this regards since it relies on a backlight.

As for HDR pictures, we recommend that you use the ‘Cinema’ mode that delivers acceptable performance up to the EOTF roll-off, which represents A8F’s peak brightness. We measured DCI-P3 coverage to 94%, which is slightly below last year’s A1 but it is not significant and can probably be attributed to panel variation. Unfortunately, Sony has designed its TVs in such a way that the respective HDR picture mode adopts settings from the same picture mode in SDR, meaning that you cannot tweak HDR settings separately without also affecting SDR pictures for the same picture mode. The work-around is to simply use two different color modes when watching HDR and SDR but it can be a little cumbersome since the picture modes are tied to inputs (HDMI1, HDMI2 etc), meaning that you must change between mode manually.





Measurements


In our "measurements" section we include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Measurements Out-of-boxCalibrated
Black level 0.00 cd/m2 0.00 cd/m2
Black level (HDR) 0.00 cd/m2 0.00 cd/m2
Brightness 234 cd/m2 210 cd/m2
Peak brightness (HDR) 760 cd/m2 (5% window)
660 cd/m2 (10% window)
Contrast Infinite Infinite
Contrast (HDR) Infinite Infinite
Input lag 110 ms (Cinema) 49 ms (Game Mode)
DCI-P3 94% -
Rec.2020 68% -

Power consumptionOut-of-box Calibrated
SDR 180 W 140 W
HDR 210 W (mixed content) 210 W (mixed content)
Standby 0.3 W (20 W at times) 0.3 W (20 W at times)

Group SettingValue
Profile Cinema Pro
Brightness Brightness Max
Contrast 90
Gamma 0
Black level 50
Black adjust Off
Adv contrast enhancer Off
Peak luminance Medium
Color Color 50
Color balance 50
Color temperature Expert 1
Color space Auto
Live Color Off
Adv. color temp Red gain -8
Green gain Max
Blue gain -6
Red bias 0
Green bias 0
Blue bias 0
Clarity Sharpness 50
Reality creation Manuel
Resolution 20
Mastered in 4K On
Random noise reduction Off
Digital noise reduction Off
Smooth gradation Low
Motion MotionFlow Personal: 3
Clarity Low
Film mode Off
Video functions HDR mode Auto
HDMI video range Auto
Color space Auto
Operation Time
Start-up (until responsive) 5 s
Start-up (until responsive) 4 s
Netflix app start-up 5 s
Amazon app start-up 13 s
Youtube app start-up 10 s
Video file / sourceSpecs Status
Amazon 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC Works
Netflix 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC Works
YouTube 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – VP9 Profile2 4K Works
HDR Fails
Dubai 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 23.976fps – 10 bit colors - BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 51.4 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Works
Costa Rica 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 12.71 Mbps bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Terrifying Pyroclast 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – variable bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD (.ts version) HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 2.5 Mbps bitrate – 60fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 60fps - 2.2 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .mkv file Works
LG Arctique 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 8 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 50.0 Mbps bitrate – 29.970fps - AVC - .mp4 file Works
Eutelsat 4K demo 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.1 Mbps bitrate – 50fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
TravelXP HLG 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 50fps frame rate – 10 bit colors – BT.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – HEVC – HLG – .ts file Works
Ghost Towns 8K 8K (7680x4320 pixels) – variable frame rate – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – AVC - .mp4 file Fails
HFR (100fps) test file 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 100fps – 10 bit colors – Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.7 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Fails

Note: We only offer calibration settings for SDR, not yet HDR. For our calibration we have not used the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. Use this if you use your TV during the day, too.


Sony AF8 test


Picture quality


Last year’s Sony A1 became our reference TV so we obviously had high expectations for A8F. This year, LG Display has not made any significant improvements to its OLED panel that is used in all OLED TVs on the market, regardless of brand, so to spot any differences you need to pull out the magnifying glass. As we have reported, LG Display has made a modification to the sub-pixel structure by making the red sub-pixel larger to further reduce the risk of burn-in.

You can see the pixel structure in the picture to the right. Unfortunately, we do not have a high-resolution picture of a 2017 panel since we did not have the equipment at the time. It can be difficult to ascertain the effect of the change but what we can say is that our intense 2-hour HDR calibration patterns caused some mild retention to appear. Luckily, it completely disappeared after only a couple of minutes and we did not spot retention again throughout the review.

It is hard to say if Sony has made changes to the ABL (Average Brightness Level) circuit this year, or if it is the work of LG Display, before we get our hands on one of LG’s new OLED TVs, but we spotted some differences compared to last year’s A1. It is also possible that Sony has changed its tone-mapping approach for the brightest tones. Whatever the case, we measured peak brightness to above 750 nits on A8F compared to 660 nits on A1 last year. As usual, brightness will drop if you expand the white pattern to take up more space on the OLED panel and at 25% coverage it is around 500 nits. You can see the luminance in nits at different window sizes from 5% to 100% (fullscreen) below.


Sony AF8 test


OLED continues to trail the best LCD TVs in terms of peak brightness but because OLED has far superior control (on a pixel level) of luminance and color, it wins whenever there are both bright and dark areas in a movie scene. HDR video on OLED looks nothing less than stunning and beat any LCD TV out there, which is further cemented by the fact that HDR looks great even when watching the OLED TV off-axis. HDR performance on LCDs suffers significantly when moving away from the sweet spot.

Also read: The best HDR TV

Remember that in order to use HDR on any of the two HDR-compatible HDMI inputs, you must switch the respective HDMI port’s setting to ‘HDMI Enhanced’ in the picture menu. Also be aware that A8F supports full 4K60 only on 2 of the HDMI ports, which is a little cheap considering that LG and Samsung support in on all 4 HDMI ports.




Sony’s ‘X1 Extreme’ video processor, which is found in A8F, delivers excellent video processing from SD to 4K and from SDR to HDR. There is not much new to report in this area. Unfortunately, the Dolby Vision update for the 2018 models is still pending, despite it rolling out for the 2017 models. At CES 2018, Sony demonstrated a more powerful ‘X1 Ultimate’ video processor and we have a hunch that the company will launch a new flagship TV later this year based on the new processor.

As we switch our attention to color performance, we are pleased to say that Sony’s latest TV delivers smooth color gradients without banding. Sony has also implemented the ‘Smooth gradation’ setting option that can reduce banding from poor video sources.




We usually recommend that you use the MotionFlow ‘Clear’ setting with Sony’s TVs but if you read our X900F review you may have noticed that we changed our recommendation to ‘Personal’ due to X900F’s new X-Motion system. And once again, we have to conclude that ‘Clear’ is not optimal on A8F due to the fact that it employs black frame insertion (BFI), which runs at a far too low frequency that causes it to visibly flicker. It does nothing good for the viewing experience.

Motion on OLED takes another step forward
Instead, we tweaked the MotionFlow ‘Personal’ mode on A8F to achieve even better motion than last year’s A1 was capable of. We are still not in the same league as Sony’s X900F LCD that employs the quite clever X-Motion system but it is nevertheless a good result for A8F. With the MotionFlow set to “3” we achieved high motion resolution with a minimum of motion artefacts. This setting also significantly reduced the infamous stroboscope effect that often shows up with low frame rate video content (such as 24fps movies) on OLED TVs. All in all, this is a very convincing result and without doubt the best motion performance that we have seen on any OLED TV to date. Motion on OLED takes another step forward.

The 2018 OLED-panel in conjunction with Sonys X1 processor does seem to have provided a winning combination that makes you forget e.g. the somewhat annoying remote and just want to watch your entire movie collection all over again.

Since have already addressed retention / burn-in, image quality, and motion, there is only one major concern remaining. Since introduction, OLED TVs have struggled with image homogeneity, specifically “vertical banding” and “color tint”. Our regular readers will know that there are many reported cases and also know that the problem varies from one sample to the next. If you are not familiar with this issue think of it as seeing vertical bands on same-colored surfaces such as dark grey or having a slightly yellow or red tint in certain areas of the OLED panel. LCD TVs also suffer from lots of homogeneity issues but as OLED TVs are sold as high-end products buyers naturally have high expectations.

Also read: OLED vs. LCD

So we were eager to see if Sony / LG.Display have managed to address the issues with this year’s OLED panel. I set up my camera to have a long shutter time because banding is usually most visible on dark grey tones. And let’s start with banding. In the pictures below, you can see that banding on A8F has been significantly reduced compared to any OLED panel we have examined in the past. Our 5% grey tone pattern (that I have actually edited in Adobe Lightroom to make the artefacts more visible) you can spot some very faint vertical bands but these are significantly less visible than anything we have seen in the past. You may also notice the light spot in the center of the panel on the 2% pattern at 13 seconds exposure (with added exposure editing in Lightroom) but it is simply for the sake of example. It was not visible to the naked eye during actual use. We have included it only to show that the banding issue is greatly improved but OLED panel homogeneity is not yet perfect.

Switching our attention to the bright tones, we were able to spot a faint yellow glow in the OLED panel’s left side and in the center but again; it was not visible at any time during actual use. Based on our sample, A8F delivers the best panel homogeneity that we have seen on any OLED TV to date but of course we cannot rule out that we got lucky with our sample.




We measured input lag to just below 50 ms in Game Mode (SDR and HDR), which is too high by modern standards. Our testing equipment (Leo Bodnar) is currently limited to measuring 1080p signals and we are aware that 4K signals produce lower input lag so we assume that it also applies to Sony A8F (since it applies to other Sony TVs). To feed the TV with 4K you currently need either PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One X, so opt for these consoles for the lowest input lag. Cinema mode has over 100 ms input lag, which affects even casual gaming so try not to use this picture mode with your game console. Sony should further improve input lag especially considering that most console owners still use a 1080p console.

Also read: The best gaming TVs

Long stretches of gaming in SDR or HDR on OLED appears to be largely unproblematic, judging from our own experience and other review sites doing burn-in testing. Despite input lag being a bit on the high side, A8F is a good choice for console gaming – or a quick round of Fortnite. And if you have yet to experience HDR console gaming, you are missing out.

The viewing angles are very wide and colors / contrast do not change materially even from extreme angles. The fact that HDR pictures remain fully saturated and pure even off-axis means that you get full advantage of an OLED TV from any seating position. If you have multiple seating positions in your living room, OLED is a fairly obvious choice.





Conclusion


Sony A8F (AF8 in Europe) joins the much-acclaimed A1 in Sony’s line-up for 2018. It offers a slimmer design, an updated 2018 OLED panel, and the same innovative Acoustic Surface speaker system that delivers the same good audio performance as A1, despite taking up less space.

The TV comes pre-installed with Android 7.0 and uses the same MediaTek SoC so there is not much new to report here. The user experience is still not great. The clunky and cheap remote control is also largely unchanged. Sony has promised to roll out Android 8.0 later. The next version of Android TV will introduce a revamped user interface.

On the other hand A8F excels in the area of picture quality. We found the 2018 OLED panel to have reduced banding, overall great panel homogeneity, and higher peak brightness than last year’s Sony A1. Sony’s video processing is great and the company has further improved motion performance, meaning that A8F sets a new bar for OLED motion performance. The Dolby Vision update is still pending for the 2018 models but it must be near considering that it is currently rolling out for the 2017 models.

This is the first 2018 OLED TV that we have had in for review but because A8F matches or tops last year’s A1 model in all picture related areas, A8F is hereby awarded our Reference Award anno 2018.

!
We have put a date label on our Reference Award as this is one of the first 2018 models on our test bench. Over the coming weeks, we will receive a number of high-end TVs so it is possibly that another will top it.


Price and retailers:

US retailer
DE retailer
UK retailer



Excellent HDR
Reference picture quality
Best motion system on an OLED
Innovative & good audio system


Android TV not living up to potential
Poorly designed remote
Mediocre input lag (HD)
Plastic on the back
Spikes in standby consumption



Nearest competitors






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