Technology moves pretty fast. Just a few short months ago I reviewed Sony's A8F, which was at the time the company's flagship-adjacent OLED Ultra HD display. Between the time the review was written and published, though, Sony announced its new flagship displays, the MASTER Series (yes, Sony insists upon such capitalization). This announcement of course meant that my review of the A8F was now shockingly out of date, and all my findings and opinions within now considered yesterday's news (at least according to some of our commentariat). This is the plight of an AV journalist: it's difficult, if not impossible, to move at the speed of innovation these days. Thankfully, the good people at Sony didn't want you (or me) left out in the cold, and they sent me a 65-inch MASTER Series OLED for review shortly after CEDIA.
The Sony XBR-65A9F OLED Ultra HD display (A9F) is Sony's new best-of-the-best-with-honors display. The new moniker it carries--MASTER Series--is reserved for only its finest displays, which at the moment stands at two. Inspired by the reference displays used in many post production facilities the world over, the A9F is touted as having the most accurate picture of any Sony consumer TV ever made.
In truth the Sony A9F isn't that radically different from the A8F it surpasses. It's not so much a huge leap forward as it is a refinement of what was already great. Sony has been known to do this throughout their product lines for years. The company makes a wonderful mirrorless camera in the A7, which like the A8F is enough for 95 percent of users, but that a didn't stop its engineers from developing the A7R camera, which looks and feels the same as the A7, but is juiced for that user that needs that last five percent. The same could be said of the A9F MASTER Series.
The A9F comes in two variants, 55- and 65-inch models, the former of which sells for $3,499.99, with the 65-inch model reviewed here coming in at $4,499.99. The XBR-65A9F measures roughly 57 inches wide by 33 inches tall and a little over three inches deep at its thickest point. It tips the scales at an even 60 pounds, which makes it substantial but not ungodly. The A9F can be table or wall mounted, though instead of using a traditional platform or foot-based stand, the A9F comes equipped with a rear kickstand. Not unlike the back of a traditional picture frame, the kickstand juts out and holds the display at a near vertical angle. It's pretty cool and does help to disguise the bottom girth of the display and its other party trick: built-in subwoofers. If you choose to use the included kickstand, the total depth you'll need for it to rest safely grows from roughly three inches to nearly 13 inches. Admittedly, as cool as I thought the kickstand to be, I still opted to mount the A9F to my wall.
With the display turned off, there is little to distinguish the A9F from a single pane of tinted glass. Even sitting off-axis doesn't really give you any clues that you're looking at a traditional, flat panel display--especially when wall mounted. Only when viewing the display in profile do you see that it is not wafer thin and more than just a single sheet of glass. Around back you'll find an oddly shaped molding of plastic, one designed to house the A9F's IO ports as well as internal speakers (more on that later) and kickstand support.
As far as inputs and outputs go, the A9F has a good compliment of options lead by its four HDMI 2.1 ports, all of which are HDCP 2.3 and one of which supports eARC. Other inputs include an RS-232 port, three USB inputs, a composite video in, RF antenna, and Ethernet input as well. There is a digital audio output, as well as a single pair of five-way speaker binding posts--a bit of an oddity that I'll discuss later.
That is pretty much it for the A9F's physical input and output options. Non-hardwired connection options include built-in WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth (version 4.2) and Google Assistant/Chromecast as well. The latter allows for other functionality like screen mirroring and Video & TV SideView courtesy of iOS/Android. And yes, like the A8F I reviewed earlier in the year, the A9F does still rely on the Android TV operating system, though in this case it's Android Oreo instead of Nougat.
Internally, the A9F utilizes an Ultra HD OLED panel with a native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. It is compatible with all three commonly available HDR formats: HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision. The A9F is also IMAX Enhanced, which is to say as the fledgling standard (?) begins to take shape, the Sony won't find itself on the outside looking in, though as of this writing there really isn't much more to say about IMAX Enhanced other than that its picture quality meets IMAX certification, whereas other TVs currently do not.
The A9F uses an X1 Ultimate processor opposed to the A8F's X1 Extreme. Two other improvements over the A8F include Object-based Super Resolution and Pixel Contrast Booster, two items that help to enhance the image's fidelity by utilizing real time contrast and object-based edge enhancements. For more on the ins and outs of the Sony A9F's myriad other features please visit its product page.
A carryover from the A8F is Sony's unique Acoustic Surface Audio, though the A9F now ups the ante with Acoustic Surface Audio Plus. The A9F possesses three unique drivers that Sony calls actuators, along with two small subwoofers. The actuators basically turn the entire front facia of the A9F into a large speaker, which in small- to medium-sized rooms has proven sufficient for a more realistic home theater-like performance. In my tests with the A8F, albeit in my bedroom setup, the Acoustic Surface Audio's performance was more than enough to negate the need for a third-party soundbar. The A9F's Acoustic Surface Audio Plus takes things a step further by allowing those same internal speakers to be wired as a center speaker in an existing multi-channel audio setup via your receiver or AV processor. That's cool as shit.
Which brings me to the remote. It's the same remote that comes with the A8F OLED, as well as the X900F LED UltraHD display. It's Sony's remote. It's long, black, and plastic fantastic. I don't mind it when paired with a thousand-dollar display, but for a reference product carrying with it the moniker "MASTER Series," the remote simply doesn't do it for me. There is nothing MASTERful about it.
I took delivery of the A9F right after CEDIA 2018, where the coverage surrounding the MASTER Series was at a fever pitch. I had already begun writing an end-of-year TV buyers guide, in which the A8F was my best-of pick--that is how much I liked it. To be honest, as great as the A9F's press coverage was at launch and during CEDIA, I was skeptical, for the A8F was so good I honestly didn't see that much room for improvement.
I installed the A9F on my wall, replacing the Vizio P-Series Quantum as my main living room display. The A9F, like the A8F, is thin, and must be handled delicately and preferably by two people when taking it out of the box and installing it, whether you choose to install it on a wall or using the included kickstand. I didn't have help on the day the A9F arrived so I did it myself, which went better than expected, although I still recommend enlisting the help of a friend or family member if possible.
Once on the wall I connected the A9F to my Marantz NR1509 AV receiver via a single HDMI cable from the Marantz's monitor out to the A9F's sARC enabled HDMI input. I also connected the Marantz's center channel output to the A9F's single pair of five-way binding posts, for I wanted to utilize the display's internal speakers as my center speaker for the duration of the review. The rest of my equipment was pretty basic--a Roku Ultra and a pair of Davone Audio Studio loudspeakers--giving me a minimal but effective 3.0-channel home theater setup.
The A9F has an auto calibration feature courtesy of CalMan, which is the software I use to calibrate all of my displays, both personally and professionally. I had to download an app from the Google Play store via the Sony's built-in Android TV OS first, which wasn't difficult. Once it was installed, I was able to connect CalMan to the A9F via my home WiFi network, which allowed the software to take control of the display and adjust its professional CMS controls without me ever having to reach for the remote.
Out of the box, the Sony A9F measured surprisingly well: not LG good, but very close. In fact, one could buy the A9F and put it into the Cinema or Custom picture profile and leave well enough alone. While not 100 percent calibrated, the A9F's grey scale measured an average DeltaE (error) of 1.8, with color coming in at 4.8 out of the box. A DeltaE under three in either category is considered "calibrated," so while the A9F's greyscale and white balance may have been within the margin of error, its color wasn't--though it wasn't far off the mark. Post calibration the A9F had an average DeltaE of 0.8 for its grey scale, and 2.2 for its color. I reset the display twice and ran the calibration procedure twice more to ensure that the results were accurate and repeatable, which they were on both accounts. Satisfied, I pressed on.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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