It has been over five years since I wrote my last review for Home Theater Review, and in that time, we've not only seen the rise of 4K/Ultra HD but also the further integration of smart technology--even voice-controlled AI (artificial intelligence)--into our everyday lives. Five years ago, OLED was but a trade show promise, a design exercise meant to drum up headlines and rack up industry design awards while never actually coming to fruition. The future, five years ago, seemed far off indeed, and yet here I sit before you writing not about the future, but about the present. A present that feels decidedly futuristic as I gawk at Sony's new flagship-adjacent OLED display, the XBR-65A8F.
The XBR-65A8F (you're forgiven if the name doesn't tickle your giblets) is Sony's next to top of the line OLED display boasting Ultra HD resolution, complete with HLG, HRR10, and Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability, along with Smart TV functionality thanks to Android TV. While the XBR-65A8F may seem more like a NASCAR on paper, what with all of its licensed tech and whatnot, its physical appearance is the epitome of sophistication through subtlety. Einstein has been quoted as saying "everything should be made as simple as possible and no simpler."
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While Einstein may have been trying his best to distill the concepts surrounding Occam's Razor, the quote definitely applies to Sony's approach to the XBR-65A8F's design language, in that the display itself seems to be nothing but a pane of glass when viewed from the front. One can walk nearly 180-degrees around the front of the XBR-65A8F and discover little in the way of visual cues that would clue you in to the fact that you were, in fact, looking at a modern TV. There are two diagonal sizes available in Sony's A8F Series--55 and 65 inches--with the latter being reviewed here. Prices start at a reasonable $2,799 for the 55-inch model, with the 65-inch model carrying a slightly higher MSRP of $3,799.
Sony sent along the larger 65-inch display for review, which arrived neatly and securely packed in the same type of box that flat panel displays have been shipping in for years. Unpacking a display such as this is always a job for two people, and this is especially true of OLED displays, for their supermodel thinness may make them beauties to behold but they are also decidedly fragile. My brother helped me with the unboxing procedures, and in moving the display from its container to a blanket laid out on a nearby table we could feel the OLED panel actually flex and bow towards the center. Needless to say, this is a display that should be carried upright (aka vertically) whenever possible to avoid any accidental damage.
Placing the XBR-65A8F on its face (screen side down), I was able to take stock of its backside, which, if I'm being completely honest, isn't as sexy as its front. Around back the XBR-65A8F features a lot more plastic, not to mention strangely shaped extrusions that keep the display from being truly flat. At its thickest point, the XBR-65A8F is two and a quarter inches deep, hardly what anyone would call "fat". However, given that the top third of the display is less than a quarter-inch thick, anything girthier than that does come across as a little obese.
At first blush, these extrusions look like the byproducts of the XBR-65A8F's need for an I/O board and power supply, to which you'd be partially correct. But they serve another purpose; they house the XBR-65A8F's unique and rather ingenious built-in speaker system--more on that in a little bit.
Dispensing with the hyperbole for a moment, the XBR-65A8F, in its 65-inch form, measures 57 inches across and 33 inches tall, with a previously stated depth of two and a quarter inches (without its included table stand). Adding the table stand takes the XBR-65A8F's depth to a little over 10 inches, though that is just around the display's base and not a true mark of its razor thin profile. Weight is surprising, tipping the scales at roughly 54 pounds. While the XBR-65A8F is lighter than the two other 65-inch displays I have on hand for review, its weight is still deceiving, a byproduct of its glass front façade--something we haven't really seen since the days of plasma (open can of worms here).
As far as inputs and outputs go, the XBR-65A8F sports four HDMI inputs, one located along the side, with the remaining three pointing downward along the bottom of the display's backplate. All four HDMI inputs are HDCP 2.2, so you needn't worry about what you plug into what for the best performance--something I liked very much, as I hate having to play the "which input is best?" game. Yes, there is HDMI-CEC too, for those of you who like that sort of thing, and there is even ARC located on the third HDMI input. Other inputs and outputs include a bottom mounted RF antenna input, Ethernet port, optical audio out, RS-232C control port, and USB.
Moving up the side, you get two more USB ports, an IR Blaster port, an analog audio out (presumably for headphones), and an analog video in complete with analog audio inputs--albeit in 3.5mm form. Needless to say, the XBR-65A8F's connection options, while comprehensive, are aimed at today's all-HDMI world. Other, non-physical, connection options include Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) as well as Bluetooth 4.1.
When it comes to control, there are several ways with which you can command the XBR-65A8F to do your bidding. The XBR-65A8F is at its core an Android TV, complete with Chromecast built-in as well as Google Assistant support. Before we get into all of that, I need to pause for a moment to address one of my biggest gripes about the XBR-65A8F at this stage: its remote.
For a near-as-makes-no-difference flagship product, the XBR-65A8F's remote is decidedly uninspiring. Moreover, it isn't even different from the remote that comes packaged with Sony's more cost effective or budget model LED displays. It is all plastic and not backlit to any degree. Hell, it doesn't even have glow-in-the-dark keys. It's easy enough to understand and navigate, mind you, and I do like the tactile feel of the buttons themselves. But for a statement product, the XBR-65A8F's remote simply ran out of "the best words" it would seem.
Peering behind the physical veil, so to speak, the XBR-65A8F possesses a TRILUMINOS equipped OLED panel with a native resolution of 3,840 pixels across by 2,160 pixels vertically. For those of you who may not be as familiar with the difference(s) between OLED and LED backlit LCD displays, please read Home Theater Review's easy-to-understand wiki page on the topic.
Moving on, while the native resolution of the XBR-65A8F may be Ultra HD, it should be noted that it can accept Cinema 4K resolution (4,096 x 2,160 24p/60Hz) on down to standard definition and just about everything in between. Anything that you feed it that isn't in its native Ultra HD resolution gets scaled using Sony's latest "4K HDR Processor X1 Extreme" to near UHD quality. I (and Sony) say "near UHD" because no non-native signal can be made as good as a native signal, of course. That is to say you cannot make SD look as good as UHD, though you can definitely make it look better, hence the "near" caveat.
The XBR-65A8F has HDR support in the form of HDR10, as well as Hybrid Log Gamma and Dolby Vision. So, while the industry (and enthusiasts) debate over which format will reign supreme, Sony has you covered in the HDR department--for now. For a complete listing of the XBR-65A8F's features and format compatibility, check out its product page on the Sony website.
As far as setup is concerned, the XBR-65A8F is pretty straightforward. If you've setup an Apple or Google product in the past few years, the step-by-step process by which you get the Sony up and running is largely the same. Upon power-up you'll be treated to a series of on-screen prompts asking you to identify your home's Wi-Fi network, etc., which is all part and parcel of the Android TV operating system that serves as the display's "brain," if you will.
Once setup is done, you'll be taken to the Android TV home screen, which is not unlike home screens you're likely familiar with from the likes of AppleTV, Roku, and the like. I adore TVs with built-in Apps and such, especially if I can customize them to my liking, which I can with the XBR-65A8F, as it makes third party streaming devices like an AppleTV or Roku (largely) irrelevant, assuming you're fine with the standard library of apps and don't need more esoteric offerings. The fewer devices connected to my display the better, I say.
Where the XBR-65A8F falters a little is in how sluggish the whole OS--and display itself--is to commands. Now, I'm used to a mild delay when relying on voice commands via Google Assistant, but up to a full three second delay when simply trying to access basic menu commands? C'mon, man. I know delays of this kind can be filed under the hashtag FirstWorldProblems, but if we're going to discuss a premium product such as the XBR-65A8F, one has a reasonable expectation for the entire user experience to be, well, premium. The XBR-65A8F is definitely cool, well equipped and feature-full when it comes to built-in content access, it's just that the access is slow--painfully so.
In this instance I believe the XBR-65A8F's sluggish response time is actually aided or easily overlooked if you choose to utilize the remote's Google Assistant voice command button, or better yet, pair the display to your existing Google Home ecosystem, whereby a simple, "OK, Google, (insert command here)" can have the Sony doing proverbial backflips. While I did utilize the Google Assistant button on the XBR-65A8F's remote a lot, I also liked the control I had over the display's playback functionality via my Google Home products located throughout my home. There's nothing cooler than being in the bedroom, telling your Google Home Mini to pull up MSNBC on YouTube, and walk into the living room/kitchen to find the XBR-65A8F ready and waiting with the previous night's Rachel Maddow.
As for the XBR-65A8F's picture accuracy out of the box, well... it isn't very. The XBR-65A8F ships with its "Standard" picture profile engaged, which by default measures 571 Nits when displaying a 100 percent white pattern. Blue is the color of the day, be it in the XBR-65A8F's greyscale or RGB color accuracy out of the box. Thankfully, simply selecting the XBR-65A8F's "Custom" picture profile and making zero adjustments to it improves your visual experience quite a bit; so much so that one could be forgiven for simply engaging the custom profile and leaving well enough alone. But for those who value accuracy over all else (I count myself among you), the XBR-65A8F can be calibrated to achieve that nth degree of performance, and easily.
Using SpectraCal's CalMan software, I was able to reign in the XBR-65A8F's image, working with the already more accurate custom profile as my starting point. When all was said and done, the XBR-65A8F was able to achieve near textbook grayscale, gamma, and RGB color accuracy, with Delta E (errors) at or under the human perceivable limits for margin of error. I was able to do all of this without sacrificing much (if any) of the XBR-65A8F's brightness, as post calibration I was still able to maintain 495 Nits, which is plenty bright for an OLED display.
While the XBR-65A8F may appear near perfect on paper, none of it means squat if the picture doesn't look right when watching our favorite films or television content. The first thing that struck me about the XBR-65A8F's visual performance was its rendering of black. That is to say, the XBR-65A8F's OLED panel is capable of displaying absolute black--something not many of us have ever seen when viewing a display.
Wanting to see just how good the XBR-65A8F's black level detail and rendering was, I opted for an oldie but a goodie: David Fincher's noir thriller, Se7en (New Line Cinema). I chaptered ahead to the scenes dealing with the gluttony murder scene, as they still represent some of the most chilling visuals ever committed to celluloid. First off, Se7en was filmed using anamorphic lenses, meaning on a 16:9 aspect ratio display like the XBR-65A8F, you're going to be treated to black bars top and bottom in order to preserve the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The black bars were indistinguishable from the physical, eighth-inch thick black border around the edge of the glass itself. Indistinguishable. Even in a lit room I could not tell where the display ended and the nearly non-existent outer edge of the XBR-65A8F's frame began, which not only made the non-black visuals contained within the bars pop, but they appeared to quite literally float in space. Turn the lights off and that is exactly what they did.
Within the scene itself, the presence of absolute black did wonders for the film's contrast and dimensionality, in that there seemed to be a palpable physicality to the characters depicted on the flat surface before me. I truly was not prepared for the sense of depth and dimension the presence of absolute black imparts to a scene, even one as dark and dank as the gluttony scene in Se7en. The presence of absolute black also allows colors--what little there were in this case--to pop and take on newfound importance. Likewise, highlights such as the beams from the detective's flashlights cut through the scene like knives, making their presence rather jarring--almost violent. In comparison, playing the same scene on a fairly well-to-do 65-inch LED-backlit LCD display right next to the Sony OLED showcased not only the difference in contrast but also the real-world difference in overall quality. The LED backlit LCD appeared decidedly washed out, milky and almost standard-definition in comparison to the same image being rendered on the XBR-65A8F. Yes, there was that big of a difference, and yes, even untrained eyes were able to notice it easily.
While Se7en isn't what I'd call a masterclass in color reproduction, Peter Jackson's remake of the classic B-movie of the same name, King Kong (Universal), is. Looking past the XBR-65A8F's class-leading black level performance, I noticed just how rich and vibrant the display's colors were--not to mention accurate. Skin tones were especially natural, with all the requisite texture and subtlety needed to make them appear organic rather than waxy or overtly digital.
The close-up shots of actors Jack Black and Naomi Watts were lifelike--enhanced, but lifelike nevertheless. Nothing appeared to escape the XBR-65A8F in terms of fine detail, either, be it an eyelash or individual wisp of hair. Everything was sharp, rife with contrast, and rendered without a hint of artifacting (apart from standard compression) or aliasing. In fact, the XBR-65A8F's picture was so clean, so crisp, and so sharp that certain CGI effects appeared more cut out than I remembered--but this isn't the fault of Sony. As we push display and image capture technology, we do run the risk of exposing or outright ruining the magic of older CGI effects that had the benefit of hiding their tricks in plain sight thanks to lesser resolutions of their day. Well, let this be a warning to future filmmakers and effects artists, if the XBR-65A8F's ability to render fine details, contrast, and color with such aplomb are indicative of the future of display technology, y'all going to have to step it up.
I ended my evaluation of the XBR-65A8F with Transformers: The Last Knight (Paramount), which is a film I absolutely loathe, but one that's rife with imagery perfect for torture testing displays of any ilk. Straightaway, the colors--vivid in their rendering (by design)--leapt from the screen. Bay doesn't believe in subtlety, and his use of primary and secondary colors, mainly blue and orange, was on full and brilliant display. I've never seen color reproduction like this. Never. It was so vibrant and rich that, while being artificially saturated by the colorist, the image never came across via the XBR-65A8F as anything but true to Bay's intent. Nowhere in life do colors like this exist, and yet, within the context of the film, they appeared natural and imparted an almost childish fancy, which I get is likely the point.
Motion was smooth and free of any ghosting or artifacts, which is to say the OLED panel was more than up to the task of keeping motion and movement feeling organic. The same "cut-out" feeling I got from some of the effects sequences in King Kong occurred with Transformers, only I remember seeing these very distinctly in the theater too, so to see them again on the XBR-65A8F was not as alarming, and it does speak to the display's faithfulness to the source material.
Before I move on to the downside, I do want to take a moment to talk about the XBR-65A8F's very unique internal speakers. Instead of putting wafer thin, under-powered drivers in either the back or sides of the panel's casing, Sony has opted for something different, something they've dubbed "Acoustic Surface." In a nutshell, the transducers themselves are butted up directly to the back of the panel itself. Since OLED panels are wafer thin, this effectively puts them (the transducers) right up against the back of the glass, turning the entire surface area of the display into one large speaker so to speak--not wholly unlike the Sonance Invisible in-wall speakers that Jerry Del Colliano wrote about some months ago.
Now, I've always found many TV manufacturer's claims about "surround sound" from a TV rather dubious, but I have to say, if you're one who only needs (or wants) their display mated with a soundbar, the Acoustic Surface system may be enough for you to ditch your soundbar for a truly all-in-one AV solution. I'm not going to suggest that the Acoustic Surface system rivals that of a discrete 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound setup--much less an object-based surround system--because it doesn't. But for casual viewing, or even not-so-casual viewing in small- to medium-sized rooms, it's pretty damn effective and enjoyable. I know I ditched my soundbar for the duration of this review because I was so enamored by the sound the XBR-65A8F put out on its own. Moreover, the fact that the XBR-65A8F also packs a shallow powered subwoofer into the back housing just above its I/O panel is nothing short of remarkable, not to mention giving you something you've never heard from a flat panel display: bass.
The XBR-65A8F is an Ultra HD display that is nearly without fault, but no product is perfect. The Sony's Achilles heel really is its Android TV backend, for whether you plan on using its built-in streaming Apps as I did, or third party connected devices, I really do feel that the processor or OS inside the XBR-65A8F just isn't up to the task. Command response of any kind is sluggish at best, and outright maddening at times. While I worked around this by relying almost solely on voice control thanks to its Google Assistant integration, traditional users that just want to hit a button or two and have the TV respond in kind will likely be annoyed (at first) by the lag.
Also, and this isn't a knock specifically against the XBR-65A8F, but all OLEDs: I worry about their longevity with respect to wear and tear. Just taking the XBR-65A8F out of the box, my brother and I could see the panel flex and bow, which cannot be good. Extra care must be taken when installing, moving, or otherwise physically interacting with this set, as it does appear to be quite fragile. If you plan on hanging it on your wall and forgetting about it for the next three to five years, I'd say you're likely going to be just fine. But mount it on a table within arm's reach of children or pets and you may find yourself shopping for a wall mount (or a new TV) sooner than later.
Lastly, I've heard reports that OLED displays can suffer burn-in effects not unlike plasma displays of old. While I did not have the XBR-65A8F in my possession long enough to witness if this is true, I feel it is important to mention, should it be an issue down the road for long term users. Gamers or avid watchers of news channels should definitely take note.
Comparison and Competition
The only other brand offering OLED displays at the moment is LG, which isn't surprising given that they're the OEM of the panel used in the XBR-65A8F reviewed here. There are a number of different models of OLED offered by LG at the moment, but the one that (likely) competes directly with the XBR-65A8F is the LG OLED65C8P.
Retailing for about the same as the XBR-65A8F, the LG sports a similar thin form factor and Android-centric OS, but that is pretty much where the similarities stop. The LG does not possess the XBR-65A8F's Acoustic Surface technology, nor does it use any of Sony's proprietary color tech, such as TRILUMINOS.
Now, what does that mean with respect to performance? I cannot say for certain, as I have not yet put hands on the LG. On paper, I imagine the LG and Sony to be worthy if not equally impressive competitors, but at this juncture I cannot say with any accuracy which is best.
The other fly in Sony's OLED ointment is Samsung's new-ish, Quantum Dot based or QLED displays, which claim OLED-like colors and contrast while being even brighter. I do have one such display in house for review and can attest to Samsung's brightness claims, as it, the Q9FN I have for review, is likely the brightest set I've ever seen. As for the other claims--well, the jury is still out. Also, the Q9FN lacks the super-thin form factor of the Sony and LG OLED displays.
At a retail price of $3,799, the Sony XBR-65A8F isn't the least expensive 65-inch, Ultra HD display on the market today, but it's far from the most expensive. Yes, you can find it less expensive online and even in some stores, but it will still be slightly more than the competition in most instances. Is it worth it? My short answer: yes. My long answer: hell yes.
I love this display. I love everything about it, from the picture quality to its sound--yes, I said sound. I believe the XBR-65A8F is one of the finest displays I've ever had the pleasure to test, let alone watch and enjoy. While the XBR-65A8F isn't perfect, what with its fragile build and sluggish OS, it still managed to ingratiate itself into my daily life and lifestyle like no display has before, which is the best compliment I can pay it. I simply enjoyed having it around. I loved that for every day viewing, the only thing it required of me was power, and the only thing I needed to enjoy it was, well, it. It was the most minimalist home entertainment experience of my professional career, and now having had it, I'm not sure I want to go without.
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•Sony Announces New OLED and LED/LCD TVs at HomeTheaterReview.com.