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."
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.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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