This year, Sony is launching two new OLED TVs, A9G (AG9 in Europe) and A8G (AG8 in Europe). A9G represents Sony's flagship 4K OLED and replaces A9F that only lasted half a year. It builds on the same technical platform with an 4K OLED panel from LG Display, 'Acoustic Surface' speakers, Google's Android TV, and the 'X1 Ultimate' video processor. In addition, it will support Dolby Atmos and will get Apple's TV app, AirPlay 2 and HomeKit via a software update later this year. It also has a new, thinner design and the 77-inch size will return.
Is A9G another tweaked OLED TV or has Sony managed to take OLED TV performance to the next level? Let us find out.
Price and retailers:
Sony has abandoned the easel-like stand this year and A9G looks more like a conventional OLED TV. One benefit of this approach is that it can be mounted closer to the wall, which was one complaint with the previous flagship Sony OLED TVs. On the other hand A9G no longer oozes exclusivity, if you ask me. This is obviously personal but Sony previously offered two design options. A8G and A9G now look largely similar.
Last year, Sony did not offer a 77-inch version of its OLED TVs. A9G exists in 55, 65, and 77-inch sizes. We have the 65-inch model, which is an elegant TV. Sony has managed to significantly reduce the size of the electronics box + subwoofer system on the back. It is still not a pretty sight but it is much improved compared to previous Sony OLED TVs. It is divided into segments, some of which can be removed to reveal ports, cable management etc. As you can see, some of the segments also include bass ports and cooling grills.
The cable management system is simple yet effective. The power cable routes directly into it and other cable can easily be routed around the bend. Input/output ports all face either down or to the side. There are two 'center speaker in' terminals near the top. We will get back to those in a minute. Around the electronics box the TV has a matte coating.
From the front A9G looks like a one large glass pane with a very thin bezel at the bottom. Like other OLED TVs, the panel will reflect bright lights and lamps in your environment but it can easily be used as your main TV in a bright living room environment. The panel is bright enough to compensate. Because the stand is so flat and clean, with its metal surface and rounded corners, it looks very minimalistic and almost fades in with furniture when looking at the TV from a distance. Overall, this is a step forward for Sony OLED but despite the improvements the electronics box remains unsightly.
User experience & features
Sony A9G runs Android version 8 (Oreo) and has the same MediaTek SoC as the X950G (XG95). Compared to last year's A9F OLED flagship it is actually a downgrade on the MediaTek hardware. It has the same MediaTek chip but with less RAM (2.5GB vs. 4GB). Why Sony has decided to downgrade the chip in its flagship TVs for spring 2019 is not clear but the same is true for the 8K Z9G. Sony Android TVs are already underpowered so reducing RAM is obviously the wrong trajectory.
As such, the Android part (and TV tuner functionality) of A9G is similar to X950G and we will not be examining it in depth here. We refer to our Sony X950G review as well as our previous reviews of Sony Android TVs.
A few things that are worth pointing out. A9G comes with Sony's new remote control, which is an upgrade over the old cheap plastic/rubber remote. It is a decent remote control but not a great one. Apple's TV app, AirPlay 2, and HomeKit will be added to A9G via a later software update. There is no beta program so we were unable to test the functionality. Samsung is first to add the TV app and AirPlay 2 and we will be examining the TV implementation in our upcoming review of Samsung Q70R. We expect AirPlay 2 and the TV app in Sony's TVs to be largely similar. As for HomeKit, the full scope of functionality remains a little unclear but we know that you will be able to control certain aspects of the TV from an iPhone/iPad.
The speaker system in A9G is the 'Acoustic Surface' that uses the actual OLED panel as a speaker membrane. Here, again, Sony has downgraded the system compared to A9F, going from a 3.2-channel audio system to a 2.2-channel audio system. On the other hand, Sony says that the actuators behind the OLED panel have been upgraded to deliver a wider sound field between bass and treble. A9G can still be used as a center channel in a surround setup by connecting it to a receiver via the built-in speaker terminals.
The 'Acoustic Surface' speaker system is significantly better than average TV speakers. As said before, it sounds as if voices are coming directly from the actor's mouth rather than a speaker unit below the TV. Together with the built-in subwoofer system it helps elevate sound. It is curious that Sony has downgraded the system to 2.2 but overall the difference is not significant. A9G still delivers powerful TV sound and flexibility to use it as a center speaker. As always, for the best possible movie and game experience you should use an external audio system.
Like last year's A9F, A9G has support for HDMI eARC. Unfortunately, we did not have an HDMI eARC audio system available at the time of testing. We are considering adding one permanently to our test bench but we do not want a first generation product so we will wait a little longer. Sorry guys.
Sony TVs will also support Dolby Atmos pending a software update. The speakers in A9G are obviously not equipped for a rich Atmos experience but you will be able to output Atmos to an external soundbar or receiver via the HDMI eARC port.
We have included measurements of the pre-configured picture modes in Sony A9G. As mentioned in our last few Sony TV reviews, Cinema mode no longer represents Sony's most accurate picture mode. It now uses an extended color space (the TV's native space) instead of respecting the creator's intent. Sony says that Cinema has been optimized for a bright viewing environment and that it is therefore brighter and more saturated in order to compensate for light pollution in a bright viewing environment. You should select Custom mode if you want the most accurate picture quality. The Game mode is - for a Game mode - actually quite good, while Standard and Vivid are - as always - terrible.
If Sony wants its "true to the creator's intent" slogan to resonate, I think it should eliminate some of these picture modes that have little to do with good picture quality and pick another picture default picture mode. Many TV buyers never venture into the picture menus so the default mode should represent Sony's vision - not the retailer's sales tactics. Sony has done more to remove complexity in its picture settings as, say, LG, but it could still do more.
With very tweaks we managed to improve color accuracy (using Custom mode as the foundation). Considering how little effort it took, we think the result is quite outstanding and it is a testament to the effort Sony has put into delivering accurate colors. You can improve things further with the advanced settings but potential improvements will be small and probably indistinguishable to the human eye.
As for the HDR modes, these are - as you may now - derived from the SDR modes. As such, changes to the SDR mode will carry over to the HDR modes. Again, pick Custom mode if you want the most accurate HDR picture quality. It is not perfect but should satisfy most user's needs. As can be seen on the Custom mode's HDR luminance graph, Sony has decided to let it roll off as it approaches peak brightness in order to preserve more highlight detail.
We measured DCI-P3 / Rec.2020 (xy) color space coverage to 93% / 67%, which is roughly in line with previous Sony OLED TVs. As before, it is slightly below other OLED TVs and Sony seems to sacrifize some saturation to achieve better accuracy across the board.
Note: We include calibration settings only for SDR, not HDR. For our calibration we have deactivated the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. You may prefer to have it enabled.
We have already in detail covered the important picture quality aspects of Sony OLED TVs in previous reviews. We have retested the full spectrum but in this text we will not go into minute details in all areas unless there are important or significant changes.
Just to sum up before we start to examine HDR. Sony's OLED TVs deliver excellent SDR (SD, HD and 4K resolution) picture quality. It has great processing, which handles upscaling, de-interlacing and other areas as expected. Sony's MotionFlow system for motion is also one of the best out there, if not the best. We did not observe anything that has forced us to reconsider any of our previous findings in the area of SDR picture quality.
Switching our attention to HDR, there were a couple of things that we were curious to reexamine. First of all, Sony's mis-configured dimming algorithm that inadvertently starts dimming the full picture in some specific instances where small static elements appear on-screen, for example a scoreboard during a sports match or a on-screen HUD in a console game. The purpose of the dimming algorithm is to dim the picture only if you leave the room with the TV showing a static image. The problem was introduced on the A1 through a firmware update in 2018. A later firmware update reduced the effect but did not eliminate it. The updated algorithm is also used in A8F/AF8 and A9F/AF9 so these also suffer from it, although to much lesser extent than A1 did initially. Some viewers never notice it, at least not consciously, but it also depends a lot on your usage patterns. If you never watch sports or play any console games with a HUD, it is unlikely that you will spot it. You can learn more about the case in our article here.
So we reexamined the issue and can conclude that A9G still suffers from the issue. The dimming algorithm appears to be unchanged or largely similar. We used an HDR scene with a very bright, static element but it can also affect SDR content, although it will be harder to spot here. As you can see on our graph, the bright element (that the meter was place on) starts at its initial brightness level and then starts to drop to around half as time passes (x axis = time). We can then "reset" the picture by calling up a menu and the process starts all over. Please focus on the slow and steady drops and ignore the sudden drop between cycles (it was a black screen that briefly appeared as we opened the menu). Also ignore the spike between the first two cycles as it was merely a brighter menu element that briefly appeared as we pressed the wrong button on the remote.
While we think that the issue is much alleviated compared to the initial issue on A1 and while we think that most users will never notice it, it is a little frustrating to conclude that Sony is not addressing the issue. It is clear what problem is: the algorithm focuses only on the static element while ignoring what else is going on in the picture. It should not be that hard to fix considering that TV makers have advanced video processing engines that can analyze small objects in the picture. The challenge is probably that this system is not integrated into the video processor.
In our previous Sony A9F review we included these photos that illustrate the effect. Depending on the type of scene, it may be more - or less - visible.
Nevertheless, Sony A9G can deliver impressive HDR picture quality. In 'Standard' mode it peaks at 860 nits, which is actually higher than the LG C9 sample we had next it. In 'Movie' mode it sacrifices some brightness near the peak to bring out more detail in highlights. In Movie mode it hits 650 nits peak brightness on a 2% window (2% of the screen is white, while the rest is black) and 572 nits with a 10% window. As such the TV's ABL (Automatic Brightness Limiter) is more aggressive than LG's. You can see our full peak brightness measurements in the measurements table.
In this context, it is important to note that unless a very large portion of the screen is bathed in strong light you will actually experience these peak brightness levels while enjoying a movie or game in HDR because OLED can control the full luminance range on the pixel level. That is in contrast to LCD TVs with a limited number of dimming zones (usually a few hundreds spread thin across millions of pixels). Even the brightest LCD TVs that can hit 4000 nits on theoretical test patterns are unlikely to go beyond 1000 nits in many movie and game scenes, and will hit levels far below OLED when it comes to illuminating small bright objects such as stars, lamps, reflections in surfaces etc.
To give you some pratical examples of the size of objects in a picture consider the photos below (but remember that these picture objects are not necessarily 100% peak white).
The small bright spots behind the lady each make up far less than 1% of the picture area.
The bright sky in the nature scene makes up around 6-7% of the picture area but is not full and peak white.
These percentage number can be compared to our measurements in the measurement section.
We had a chance to compare Sony A9G and LG C9 side-by-side and in terms of HDR both deliver an impressive, and very consistent, HDR experience that overall surpass the best HDR-capable LCD TVs right now. In Movie mode the LG C9 does appears slightly brighter in some segments, which can be attributed to its less aggressive ABL system, but the difference is hard to notice and you may not ever spot it unless you have the two TVs side-by-side.
Ultimately though there are no improvements in terms of HDR to speak of. LG Display's OLED panel has had the same picture characteristics for a few years now. This includes a peak brightness level of around 700 nits +/- 150 nits and some color desaturation at the brightest levels. Sony TV support the HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision HDR formats but not HDR10+.
Moving on to color and grey tones, A9G can reproduce all steps on the grey scale and does not crush shadow details. We did not spot panel banding issues. Heavily compressed video will often exhibit banding in challenging parts of the picture but Sony's 'smooth gradation' can quite effectively reduce it.
Comparing it to LG C9, it produces a smoother black to white gradient (at the low end near black), mostly as a result of LG's new pixel dithering to prevent the brightness pops that have been reported. Sony appears to be doing something with the pixels in the darkest grey tones, too (see pixel pattern on dark grey in the photo on the right), but it is not similar to LG's approach and it does not seem to negatively affect resolution in dark grey tones. We were not able to provoke brightness pops on A9G.
In terms of motion, Sony's 'MotionFlow' system remains one of the best. LG took a very large step last year and has made further tweaks to its 'TruMotion' system this year. Comparing the two it is hard to point out a definite winner in this area, which probably says more about LG's TV than Sony's. We continue to recommend using MotionFlow at low setting to reduce the stroboscope-like effect that can occur mainly in the brightest areas of the picture when playing back low frame rate video content (24fps) on an ultra-fast panel. To overcome this issue the content industry must move beyond 24fps but seeing how Hollywood fights for 24fps like it was a religion, it will probably take many years. Using MotionFlow at high settings will produce the, to many viewers intolerable, soap opera effect.
A9G also features the Netflix Calibrated mode but it can only be used with the built-in Netflix app. In addition, it is 'IMAX Enhanced' but unfortunately IMAX Enhanced has not expanded to our part of the world so we cannot examine it.
It has been interesting to observe the TV industry this year. Most years, it is business as usual but some years we witness these transitions to new platforms or formats. In 2019, companies are starting to transition to 8K and HDMI 2.1 that are intertwined in some ways. Sony's first 8K TV will feature a single HDMI 2.1 port but none of its 4K TVs are equipped with HDMI 2.1 ports. The TVs have a single optional HDMI 2.1 feature that can be implemented on HDMI 2.0 ports, namely HDMI eARC, but the Sony TV do not feature VRR, ALLM or QMS. The same is true for other leading TV makers, except LG who - as the only TV maker - has implemented no less than four HDMI 2.1 ports, along with most optional HDMI 2.1 features, in all of its high-end 4K TVs.
While one can argue about the immediate benefits of HDMI 2.1 bandwidth and features as well as the benefits of having these ports in 4K TVs, it is important to keep in mind that many buyers will most likely keep their TV for years to come, and in that timeframe several HDMI 2.1 devices should emerge, including next-generation game consoles. We already know that Sony's PlayStation 5 will support 8K, which implies that it will have HDMI 2.1 and do 4K120, too. Of course, this is speculation but it is worth taking into account considering that we are probably only 1-2 years away from the next console generation.
As for the discussion about HDMI 2.1 in 4K TVs, I personally believe that HDMI 2.1 ports in a 4K TV in the immediate term has more value than HDMI 2.1 in an 8K TV, simply because it takes 4K to the next level while serving "only" as a requisite for an 8K TV. In a 4K TV, it enables HFR (4K120) and VRR. The first 8K TVs with HDMI 2.1 are limited to 8K60 (HDMI 2.1 supports 8K120 with DSC) and will not do VRR at 8K - and are of course often much more expensive than the equivalent 4K model.
We are bringing it up here because LG's decision to include HDMI 2.1 in all of its 2019 OLED TVs, most of which are considerably cheaper than Sony's OLED TVs, puts pressure on Sony's value proposition. Sony A9G is built on the same OLED panel and while there are differences between Sony and LG's OLED TVs, LG closed some of the gaps last year, as documented in our TV reviews, and are now moving past Sony in other areas.
Below you see Sony A9G and LG C9. Can you guess which one is which?
One of the areas where LG has raced past Sony is in gaming performance, which is ironic considering that Sony is the PlayStation company. On Sony A9F we measured input lag to 80-100 ms outside of Game mode and to 26.6 ms in Game mode (1080p and 4K, with and without HDR), which is double compared to LG C9 that hits 13ms. It is not a huge difference but when you add in the fact that LG C9 supports HDMI VRR and Sony A9G does not, LG's 2019 OLED line-up has the edge. Of course, you will not be able to use VRR with PlayStation 4 but it is already compatible with Xbox One.
Another gaming related feature is HDMI ALLM (Auto low latency mode), which automatically switches into game mode when a console game is initiated. Sony 2019 TVs do not support ALLM but Sony has implemented a custom solution that signals via the HDMI EDID that a game console is connected. However, unlike ALLM, Sony's custom implementation switches into game mode as soon as PlayStation 4 is detected, regardless of whether you are playing a game or watching Netflix. ALLM can distinguish the two scenarios and we see no reason why anyone would want to use a custom solution that is subpar. ALLM is supported on Xbox One.
Our sample suffered from some issues with panel inhomogeneity. As you can see on the 4% grey pattern below, dark areas extend in from the two sides. Panel homogeneity will vary from one sample to the next so we may have been unlucky.
We did not observe it during actual use. We did not observe color tint issues either.
We did not see retention or burn-in on A9G but we do not carry out long-term testing for burn-in either. Like other manufacturers, Sony has implemented mechanisms to reduce the risk, including the not-optimal dimming algorithm discussed in the beginning.
Viewing angles are exactly as wide as other OLED TVs'. You can enjoy great picture quality, including HDR and perfect black levels, from any angle.
What defines Sony's new flagship OLED TV? Well, in some areas it is downgrade compared to last year's A9F (AF9). The already-underpowered MediaTek SoC has less RAM and the speaker system has been downgraded from 3.2 to 2.2 channels, although the actuators have been upgraded. The differences are not significant in any way but it is a curious decision. In other areas it represents a step forward such as the overall thinner design and a less clunky electronics box. It also comes bundled with Sony's new remote control. Apple's TV app, AirPlay 2 and HomeKit will be added through a later software update.
In terms of picture quality, it is really hard to pinpoint noteworthy improvements compared to last year's Sony OLED TVs. It feels like Sony has repackaged and rebranded the same TV panel for a third time now. In this area Sony is dependent on OLED development at LG Display who appears to have hit a roadblock. A9G still delivers excellent SDR picture quality and some of the best HDR picture quality out there. We also prefer A9G's HDR picture quality over Sony's 8K Z9G's, despite the latter having much higher peak brightness. We believe that perfect black and pixel-level luminance control are two of the most important ingredients in HDR. One the other hand Sony's dimming algorithm remains unfixed.
We had a chance to compare Sony A9G (AG9) and LG C9 side-by-side. It is clear that LG has caught up in key areas while surpassing Sony in others. Sony A9G is considerably more expensive than LG C9 but it is not justified, if you ask us. Picture quality is so similar that it is hard to justify even before adding in the fact that LG's OLED TVs feature four full-fat HDMI 2.1 ports, several HDMI 2.1 features, and better gaming performance. The speakers in Sony A9G are better and some may prefer Android over webOS but are you willing to pay a significant premium for that?
In the end, A9G feels like a repackaged Sony OLED TV with a new artificially high price tag. We like A9G a lot and we believe that it offers some of the best picture quality on the market right now but the competition is fierce.
Price and retailers:
Excellent HD, 4K & HDR Great motion system Better-than-average TV sound Improved remote control
Too aggressive dimming algorithm MediaTek Soc has less RAM Premium price harder to justify in 2019