Sony A1E 4K OLED HDR TV Review (XBR55A1E, XBR65A1E, XBR77A1E): Sony’s Best Ever HDR TV?
- Stunning perfect OLED contrast and black levels
- Superbly good color delivery, SDR and HDR especially
- Fantastic design
- Good native audio power
- Great motion handling
- Still way more expensive than it could be
- LG’s 2017 and even 2016 OLED TVs perform just as well but cost less
- Very weak display brightness for SDR content
- Slightly limited 24p content playback (oddly, the same in all 2017 Sony TVs)
- OLED image retention
The Bottom Line
Sony’s first ever OLED 4K TV uses one of LG’s own OLED display panels but with processing and other key technologies from Sony’s best for 4K TVs. In other words, you’re getting the same OLED performance that you would with an LG television but in a Sony build if that’s the brand you’ve always preferred. With that said, we love the A1E OLED TV, like almost all newer OLED TVs we’ve ever reviewed to date, it performs fantastically well and excepting peak brightness, better than even the best LCD 4K HDR TVs. However, ultimately we think that LG’s OLED TVs offer a much more value with their far lower prices and nearly identical performance.
After building some of the best LCD 4K and 4K HDR TVs we’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing (the 2017 X940E in particular is maybe the single best LCD TV in existence right now), Sony finally took the plunge into the OLED market with a panel that comes from LG but is surrounded by pure Sony technology and features. The result of this has been one truly excellent 4K HDR television by any standard and a model that in all of its performance metrics gives any of LG’s OLED televisions a serious bit of competition on quality and prestige. In other words, the A1E is a superb 4K TV for almost anything you could throw at it. Movies look great on this model, your favorite streaming TV programs will display in stunning quality and even non-4K, non-HDR content from other sources like cable TV or DVDs will play back really well on the A1E. Like any OLED TV, it performs really well in almost all major categories of TV performance quality.
That said, the Sony A1E isn’t using any fundamentally different type of OLED design that’s unique to Sony and this is something that any user who’s thinking of this TV should bear in mind –namely, it performs almost exactly as well as anything by LG (with some exceptions we’ll cover below) but at a much higher price.
There are so many great things about the Sony A1E that it’s hard to decide where to start. Quite simply, like so many other OLED TVs from LG that we’ve reviewed for 2016 and 2017, this television simply nails its performance out of the ballpark almost cross the board compared to what an average 4K TV would achieve. The following are the aspects of the A1E that we like the most:
OLED Black Levels, Dimming and Contrast
First and foremost for any OLED 4K TV and especially for an HDR 4K model like the Sony A1E, we need to mention the sheer perfection of their black level performance, dimming ad contrast. These are the absolute most important and notable selling points of OLED and damn doe they make a difference in terms of picture quality. All three are features of OLED TV quality that no existing LCD TV can come close to matching. With the A1E’s (and any OLED 4K TV’s) Organic Light Emitting Diode display, the 8.29 million pixels on the screen themselves are the sources of light and can be activated to different levels of brightness individually as needed for onscreen content. When they’re not activated, the pixels emit no light at all. This affects black level, contrast and local dimming (more correctly called OLED dimming) in extremely important ways.
Namely, with such a technology, the black levels of the TV can be total and perfect, with absolutely no backlight bleed-through because there is no backlight in the first place. Consequently, contrast in the A1E can be made infinite and essentially perfect. Then, finally, because the OLEDs inside each pixel can be lit up or turned off individually, the A1E is able to “locally” dim down to the level of even a single pixel, or illuminate at the same level as well. Even the absolute best full-array LED 4K HDR TVs with hundreds of local dimming zones come nowhere near to pulling something like this off. The bottom line here is that the A1E does black levels, contrast and local dimming stunningly well.
Fantastic Color Delivery
In general, OLED TVs deliver color exceptionally well due to the way in which OLED displays filter pixel colors through their internal diode light sources so it’s pretty much a given that any OLED 4K TV you get your hands on will be a great performer on color vibrancy and accuracy. The Sony A1E however takes this to an even higher level due to its capacity for a very high level of wide color gamut delivery, 10-bit color display and support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range color management standards. Sony I particularly known for being very good at making its 4K TVs of all kinds into color creating machines and the A1E, with the help of its LG OLED display and Sony processing engine does a fantastic job of this, with vibrant, highly accurate colors for a wide range of content sources, but especially for HDR video.
Superb Motion Handling
Once again, OLED technology is masterful at handling motion in onscreen video action, mainly because the much greater responsiveness of OLED pixels means that they can transition from displaying one color to another extremely quickly, much more rapidly than LCD TV pixels and their backlights. As a result, motion blur is extremely limited in the A1E, with very smooth, clean movement of objects during video playback. Motion interpolation technology through Sony’ Processing engine also means that the A1E can very smoothly stretch out lower frame rate content to fit the refresh rate of 120Hz that’s native to this 4K HDR TV’s screen. As a result, most lower frame rate content plays back nicely and with little soap opera effect unless you activate motion interpolation to its highest setting. Overall, the A1E is thus a fantastic TV for any kinds of action video, including movies from streaming sources and discs, TV content and console gaming action (more on this further down)
Remarkably Good Native Sound Performance
Now we come down to a characteristic of the Sony A1E that is truly unique to this model among all of its OLED 4K TV rivals from LG (which in most ways perform just as well as the A1E does). Namely, Son has designed this television and its sound system in an extremely unique way by which the very robust speakers are built right into the TV screen itself. Thus, not only are the A1E’s speakers particularly strong in their audio performance relative to those of most other 4K TVs we’ve reviewed so far, they also deliver audio from a much more direct source, the display itself. This means a quality of sound delivery that just feels a lot more natural and realistic. One basic example: the voice of a character talking on the screen actually sounds as if it’s coming right from the characters mouth.
Excellent HDR Performance
As we mentioned above, Sony’s first ever OLED 4K TV comes with OLED-perfect black levels, local dimming and contrast ratios, and it also features the full range of HDR color delivery performance with support for three different major HDR standards: HDR10, the much more refined Dolby Vision and the new HLG broadcast HDR standard. This means that first of all, this particular television really plays back HDR Blu-ray or streaming content beautifully no matter how said content has been mastered, and secondly, that the A1E is very much future-proofed and ready for the growing selection of HDR TV, movie and other high dynamic range entertainment sources from all sources.
Great TV For Movies, TV and Console Games
All of the above sum up to mean that Sony’s A1E OLED 4K HDR television is one fantastically good or at least excellent performer for a huge range of content sources and entertainment options. It does an extremely strong job of playing regular non-4K TV content, all kinds of decently mastered non-HDR content, movies from any normal source and most stunningly of all, 4K HDR movie content sources. These last types of content play back with breathtaking quality on this flagship Sony television. As for console gaming video sources, the A1E also delivers decently (but not excellently, check our connectivity section below for specific details), allowing users to play their favorite games through the PS4, PS4 Pro, all the newer Xbox models and with other consoles with reasonable levels of input lag and broad support for gaming in 4K resolution or 1080p signals with HDR and with high quality color sampling formats.
One other extremely lovely aspect of the Sony A1E’s quality is the design nthat Sony gave this television. We love the way it looks, like a thin piece of canvas resting slightly reclined against a sort of “easel” stand which is positioned behind the TV screen itself. This design means that the A1E only presents its nearly bezel-free screen space to the viewer even when its resting on a flat surface. Furthermore, because this is an OLED TV with no need for any kind of backlight array, the television comes with an extremely thin display that’s perfectly built for mounting to a wall or other vertical space.
Android TV Smart Platform
On a final note, we also greatly like Sony’s newest version of the Android TV smart platform. Android TV is admittedly a bit more difficult to use than other platforms like LG’s excellent webOS 3.5 or Samsung’s Tizen system but it’s easy to get the hang of and because Android TV runs off the Google OS, it delivers built-in access to Google’s enormous Play Store, which offers more media apps and other types of apps than almost any other smart platform. The A1E’s remote control is also great for navigation due to its “Action Menu” button, which provides a quick list of commonly used settings. There’s also voice search integration for the Android TV platform and this model’s mart remote control.
4.7 – 4 Reviews
As wonderful as the Sony A1E OLED 4K television truly is, it does come with its little share of flaws that we need to mention here. Two of the following are directly related and the only ones that might be deal breakers for this Sony OLED TV though they have nothing to do with its otherwise generally excellent quality. In all other “bad” aspects, this Sony TV disappoints only marginally and with its good qualities far outweighing its weaknesses. Here are the 4 main problems we found with this 4K HDR television model:
This is it, the single biggest problem that Sony gave their A1E model without even needing to, because it has nothing to do with the TV’s intrinsic qualities. Quite simply, the A1E is much more expensive than it needs to be, and by a major margin. To drive home how sure we are of this, let’s summarize in this way: In virtually all regards, the Sony A1E OLED 4 HDR TV performs almost exactly as well as and similarly to rival OLED models like the C7 and E7 from LG and even performs very similarly to 2016 4K OLED TVs like the excellent LG B6 –which we also reviewed here and considered to be the single best overall 4K TV of last year. However, despite this extreme similarity of performance, the Sony OLED model is almost ridiculously more expensive than these LG rivals.
The 55 inch model of this Sony OLED television costs nearly $1000 more than its C7 LG OLED rival and the same goes for the 65 inch versions of both 4K TVs. The 55 inch A1E is even more expensive than LG’s 65 inch C7 and this is somewhat ridiculous to us. These price differences and corresponding lack of serious performance superiority in the Sony OLED are nearly deal breakers: In other words unless you’re a very serious fan of Sony’ brand in particular, you’d save a lot of money while getting virtually identical quality if you simply go for an OLED TV like LG’s C7. The A1E’s one major superiority to its LG rivals is a high level of built-in audio performance but even this doesn’t justify paying more than $1000 extra for this model; You could just as easily buy an LG C7 and a very good external sound bar for less than $250 to get the same overall home entertainment quality.
Cheaper LG OLED TVs Perform Equally Well
The core part of our complaint about the A1E’s seriously elevated price tag revolves around the crucial fact that the Sony OLED model doesn’t really perform better than its cheapest 2017 LG counterpart, the C7. This is worth going into further here because it’s so important as far as price and consumer value go: If the A1E was an OLED TV with drastically better peak brightness or some other major features which made it a genuinely “greater” OLED 4K HDR model than those of LG, we’d say it’s worth spending a fair bit extra for, but this isn’t the case. LG’s nearly $1000 cheaper C7 4K HDR model delivers almost identical peak brightness, contrast, OLED display (the panels are from the same brand after all), color performance and ever so slightly BETTER motion handling and for so much less money. We just can’t see how to justify getting the A1E over the C7 when so little is different but the Sony TV costs over a thousand more, unless you’re one very serious Sony fan that is.
Weak SDR Brightness
The most serious charge we can level against the Sony A1E’s actual technical performance is that this is an OLED 4K HDR TV with a slightly weaker than normal range of sustained and peak SDR brightness specs. These are the measurements of how bright the TV can get when being used to view non-HDR content and they’re a little bit on the disappointing side. LG’ C7, E7 and 2016 B6 models (which all cost much less) performed notably better in this range of brightness measurements for the majority of content that isn’t of the high dynamic range kind. The difference isn’t huge but is there. The A1E does compensate for this weakness with its OLED perfect black levels and decent brightness during HDR content playback but it’s also nowhere near as bright as your typical LCD TV. This however is normal for OLED displays of all kinds and this model still outperforms almost all average LCD 4K HDR televisions on its HDR brightness capabilities while still delivering those perfect OLED black levels.
Motion Handling & Image Retention Issues
Just two other very minor aspects of the Sony A1E’s performance are worth mentioning as defects here, one of them is also common to all OLED TVs in general. This first defect is one of image retention during content changes on the screen. The A1E tends to retain very faint, almost ghostly but technically visible outlines of visual imagery on featureless (grey, black or white for example) areas of the display for up to 2 or 3 minutes after those images have changed to something else.
In our final opinion of the Sony OLED HDR 4K A1E television, we obviously like this model a lot and consider it to be one heck of a good 4K TV in almost every measurable way. It is after all an OLED 4K TV that’s performs almost identically to its LG OLED cousins and all of these TVs (especially among the 2016 and 2017 models) are some of the best overall 4K televisions in existence today. Our only issue with the Sony version is its unjustifiably large price. The A1E is also an exceptionally beautiful piece of technology.
Key TV Specs
- Screen size:55, 65 and 75 diagonal inches (XBR55A1E, XBR65A1E, XBR75A1E)
- Smart TV: Android TV with Apps and Full Web Browser
- HEVC (H.265) Included: Yes
- VP9 Included. Yes
- HD to UHD upscaling: Yes
- HDCP 2.2 Compliance: Yes
- HDR Support: Yes, HDR10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log Gamma
- Refresh Rate: 120Hz native refresh rate
- Screen Lighting: OLED with OLED dimming
- Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160 pixels UHD
- Wireless Connectivity: Yes, includes both built-in WiFi and Ethernet port
- Remotes: Sony button remote with voice recognition
- Connectivity: 4 HDMI (all with HDCP 2.2, ports 2 & 3 with HDMI 2.0a) ports, 3 USB ports, 1 Ethernet port, 1 Digital Audio Out
- Sound: 10 W + 10 W + 10 W + 10 W + 10 W acoustic surface speakers with actuator + subwoofer and Dolby™ Digital, Dolby™ Digital Plus, Dolby™ Pulse
- Contrast Ratio: Essentially infinite due to perfect OLED black level
- Black Level maximum: total
- 3D Technology: N/A
- TV dimensions without and with stand
- (55 inch model): 48 3/8 x 28 x 3 1/2 inch
- 48 3/8 x 28 x 13 3/8 inch
- (65 inch model): 57 1/4 x 32 7/8 x 3 1/2 inch
- 57 1/4 x 32 7/8 x 13 3/8 inch
- (75 inch model): 67 7/8 x 39 3/8 x 4″ inch
- 67 7/8 x 39 1/8 x 15 3/4″
- TV weight (55 inch model): 55.1 lb (25.0 kg), 63.5 lb (28.8 kg) with stand
- Processor: 4K HDR Processor X1™ Extreme
Some Important Highlights
Android TV Improvements: Android TV isn’t our favorite Smart TV platform but it is one of the better options out there. For the 2017 A1E and its Sony cousins, improvements have been made to refine it even further. The new Action Menu is one particular option which enhances usability and access to specific popular settings that a user is frequently visiting. Then there’s the excellent Google Play Store which comes with Android TV and allow for access to a very broad range of apps for extended TV functionality. The A1E also offers up access to Chromecast, for streaming of content from smartphones and tablets right to the TV screen itself. And of course, all the main content streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Spotify and Hulu come pre-installed. The main Android TV platform in the A1E is completely ad-free as far as we could see in our review model.
Expanded HDR Capabilities: For 2017 Sony has expanded the HDR functionality of its high dynamic range TVs to include both Dolby Vision and the new HLG broadcast high dynamic range standard. Dolby Vision inclusion means access to a wider range of HDR entertainment sources through an arguably superior format to the HDR10 that was the only dynamic range standard of Sony’s 2016 4K TVs. As for HLG, it’s not yet really available in any commercial broadcast 4K content but there is wide expectation that it will be and the A1E is future-proofed for that possibility.
4.7 – 4 Reviews
Key Display Specs
The following are the key display performance metrics of the Sony A1E in all of its versions. They’re based off the 55 inch model and barring slight variations between individual televisions, the following specs will stay close to these exact numbers across most functioning units.
To briefly give a summary of how well the A1E performs, this is an OLED 4K HDR TV and you can thus expect stellar performance pretty much across the board of all display specs except for brightness, which is also very, very good but not quite as high as what you’ll get with the very best LCD 4K HDR TVs. In all other display specs, the Sony A1E impresses tremendously. Here is a breakdown of details.
Black Level, Local Dimming and Contrast:
As we’d explained above, As an OLED TV, the XBR55A1E 55 inch model and its 65 and 77 inch cousins all essentially deliver perfect infinite contrast, total perfect black levels and uniformity and OLED dimming, which is basically local dimming taken to the extreme precision of each individual pixel being capable of illumination or total darkness. Even the best LED LCD 4K TVs like the stunning Sony Z9D, which comes with full-array LED backlighting and nearly 1000 local dimming zones can’t match this.
The following are the brightness specs for the Sony XBR55A1E measured at different percentages of the display illuminated to full power briefly or for a sustained period. They apply equally or almost equally to the larger XBR65A1E and the largest XBR77A1E television models as well. There’s also a measurement for overall average brightness for ordinary viewing of both SDR and HDR content. As you can clearly see below, HDR content shines much brighter and brightness tends to increase as percentage of display that’s shining shrinks. The opposite is sometimes the case in LCD/ LED 4K TVs but rarely in OLED models.
Also, to clarify, peak brightness is the maximum possible spot HDR or SDR luminosity of the display or a section of it measured in nits (or cd/m2, which is the same measurement unit) under different conditions. Sustained brightness is the highest possible sustained HDR or SDR brightness that the TV screen can manage over different conditions or areas of illuminated display.
- Overall SDR peak brightness for normal movie/TV content: 284 nits
- Peak 2% display area display SDR brightness: 383 nits
- Peak 10% display area SDR brightness: 384 nits
- Peak 100% display area SDR brightness: 133 nits
- Sustained 10% SDR Brightness: 376 nits
- Sustained 100% SDR brightness: 131 nits
- Overall HDR peak brightness for normal movie/TV content: 602 nits
- Peak 2% display area display HDR brightness: 698 nits
- Peak 10% display area HDR brightness: 679 nits
- Peak 50% display area HDR brightness: 245 nits
- Peak 100% display area HDR brightness: 155 nits
- Sustained 10% HDR Brightness: 648 nits
- Sustained 100% HDR brightness: 141 nits
The color delivery of Sony’s OLED television is superb by all SDR color and especially HDR color measurements. This 4K TV delivers full 10-bit color support with virtually no banding between gradations of 1.07 billion RGB values and it manages an extremely high delivery of 96.9% of the DCI-P3 wide color gamut spectrum, which is downright excellent and better than we saw in the 2016 OLED HDR TVs from LG. Overall color volume in this TV is also very good but not fantastic as some colors tend to dim excessively and lose vibrancy in scenes of low brightness. The TV doesn’t get bright enough for colors to wash out due to high luminosity in the display, so this won’t be a problem. We should also mention that the overall SDR and HDR color accuracy of the A1E are very good, with a post-calibration wide balance delta E (inaccuracy of grey tones) of just 0.4, a color delta E of only 1.45 and a gamma rating of 2.15. These are all very good figures and the color delta E(inaccuracy of rendered colors) in particular is high-end in this model, though, oddly, we’ve seen slightly better calibrated color accuracy performance in much cheaper LCD 4K HDR TV models, such as the TCL P607, which also supports Dolby Vision, HDR10 high dynamic range specs.
Motion Handling & Upscaling:
Finally, for motion handling, the P607 delivers fantastically good results. Its response time sits at an amazingly low 0.3 milliseconds. This is typical for the much more responsive pixels of an OLED 4K TV and it means some superbly low motion blur. The A1E also supports judder-free playback of 24p content from sources like its built-in streaming media apps and from external media players such as Blu-ray drives. However, like all 2017 Sony TVs, the A1E oddly enough doesn’t support judder-free 24p content playback from TV or cable box sources. Additionally, while motion interpolation in this model is excellent, the sheer speed of its response time causes some sources of low frame rate content (many movies) to play back with a bit of stutter, though this can be fixed by activating Motionflow in Sony’s picture settings and setting the level to a high smoothness as needed for stutter elimination.
The connectivity specs of the Sony A1E OLED 4K TV lineup are fairly standard and the same as those of all other Sony TVs we’ve reviewed for this year, This TV comes with full [email protected] pass-through with HDR10, Dolby Vision and HEVC supported in HDMI ports 2 and 3, and HDCP 2.2 along with HEVC and VP9 in all of its four HDMI ports.
In terms of gaming connectivity, the Sony A1E is a good but not excellent 4K TV, with decently low input lag for 4K resolution under game mode, with support for multiple color, HDR and resolution settings. Input lag for 1080p gaming is oddly crappy though as you can see below. Here are some key input lag metrics under different settings, we have to note that Samsung’s Vizio’s and especially TCL’s 4K HDR TVs for 2017 perform far better in this area of TV performance:
- 4k @ 60Hz: 30 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz: 45.6 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz + HDR: 45 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz + HDR: 46.5 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz Outside Game Mode : 93.2 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: 45.6 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: 48.1 ms
- HDMI : 4 (All come with HDCP 2.2 and 2,3 come with full HDMI 2.0a capacity)
- USB : 3 (USB 3.0)
- Digital Optical Audio Out : 1
- Analog Audio Out 3.5mm : 1
- Tuner (Cable/Ant) : 1
- Ethernet : 1
The P607 TV models also offer audio connectivity in the following audio types
- 5.1 Passthrough ARC Dolby Digital
- 5.1 Passthrough ARC DTS
- 5.1 Passthrough Optical Dolby Digital
- 5.1 Passthrough Optical DTS
Sony is selling the XBRA1E OLED 4K HDR TV for the following prices at the time of this writing. Bear in mind that these are subject to sometimes frequent downward change and it’s a good idea to click the following Amazon link(s) for real-time pricing and all available discounts on this excellent OLED TV model.
XBR65A1E OLED: $3,998.00
4.7 – 4 Reviews