Sony A95K review: A masterful performance (XR-65A95K) - MrLiambi's blog

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Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Sony A95K review: A masterful performance (XR-65A95K)

For some time, the flagship TV world has been divided into two main camps - OLED and QLED, or quantum dot LCD. However, for the indecisive among you, 2022 has brought about the perfect resolution, in the form of QD-OLED. 

This new panel technology, developed by Samsung and also seen in the S95B, blends the two technologies to capitalise on the best bits of both, while also trying to do away with their shortcomings. Throw in some of Sony's signature tweakery, and the A95K could be one of the best TVs we've ever seen.

Design and connections

  • 55in or 65in 
  • Dual Style stand design
  • Inputs: 4 x HDMI (2 x HDMI 2.1), 2 x USB, 1 x composite video, 1 x optical digital

The design of the A95K is bold, yet minimalistic. It's something of a calling card of all of Sony's Master Series TVs, ever since the launch of the company's A1 OLED in 2017.

In many ways, the A95K takes us back to that design. It comes with a flat stand for the TV to sit on, which can be placed behind the TV - so you're struck by nothing but a slab of picture when you look at it - or in front of it, to allow you to shimmy it as close to a wall as you like. In the former, the TV has an ever-so-slight lean to it, to help with viewing angles, very much reminiscent of the A1.

As the stand is flat, you will need a TV rack as wide as the full width of the TV, and also as deep, which is pretty sizable in the 65in version we tested. It's not a dealbreaker, of course, but something to consider before it arrives at your home. You'll need around 144cm of width and 30cm of depth for the 65in version, or 123cm and 28cm for the 55in version.

Sitting flush to the rack without the 'lift' of traditional stands also offers up some issues in terms of accommodating additional kit, like a soundbar. If you're not wall mounting, you'll need to have a shelf to house that below the screen, as you'll block a chunk of it - and the IR sensor for the remote for that matter - by placing anything in front of it.

It's perhaps not the super skinny OLED panel that we might have become accustomed to with LG's TVs but it's still slim enough to sit nicely on a wall if you wish. All the inputs are hidden behind a criss-cross design back panel, and this chunkier section covers about three quarters of the reverse, with a more slender edge along the very top.

Those connections are relatively plentiful with four HDMIs, two of which are HDMI 2.1 for 4K 120Hz gaming and eARC support, two USB inputs, one composite video port and a digital audio out. TV connections are handled by one cable and two satellite inputs, plus there is ethernet on board to support the on-board Wi-Fi. Wireless connections are handled by AirPlay 2, Bluetooth and Chromecast.

Features

  • QD-OLED panel technology
  • Support for Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG
  • Comes with Sony Bravia Cam 
  • Support for ALLM/VRR

Of course one of the biggest talking points of the A95K is its screen and the tech behind it. As we mentioned above, new technology developed by Samsung has blended OLED and quantum dot displays to create the QD-OLED display that the A95K uses. 

This essentially sees an OLED panel being used to shine a blue light through pixels with red and green quantum dots, creating three subpixels for each one. The result gives the pixel-level light control of OLED alongside QLED-level colour volume, all without the use of brightness-sapping LCD filtering. 

You can read more about the technology in our What is QD-OLED? feature but ultimately the result is a brighter screen than traditional OLED can muster. It's still not as bright as the very best QLED, and arguably there's not much in it when compared to LG's brighter C2 OLED evo, but it's how Sony uses the tech that counts.

Because, really, the panel is only the opening paragraph in the story of the A95K. What really puts the meat on its bones is Sony's processing - as handled here by the Cognitive Processor XR. 

Sony's processing prowess has long been its ace card, and it's no different here. The Cognitive Processor XR uses advanced AI to understand an image on screen in greater detail than ever, and tweak it so it is the very best it can be. That includes considering colour, clarity, contrast, depth and even the focal point on screen, and then making subtle adjustments so the end result is as realistic as possible.

In combination with this processor and the QD-OLED screen, Sony says the A95K has the widest palette of colours in any of its TVs to date. So that's exciting. 

Of course, HDR is on board here with support for HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision, and should benefit from the extra brightness from the QD-OLED screen. As usual, there's no HDR10+ support, as you'll see used inAmazon Prime shows and supported on Samsung sets and the HDR-agnostic TVs from LG and Philips. However, with Dolby Vision the Netflix and Disney+ format of choice, you're on the right side of the format fence for anything you want to watch over there. 

In the box you'll find two remotes - the bog standard plastic-y one, and a brushed silver posher looking option. It's slimmer and has fewer buttons for main function, but not forgetting the all-important shortcuts to the main streaming services - Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, as well as Bravia Core, Sony's own streaming service. 

You get 10 free credits for its IMAX Enhanced movies when you buy the TV so it's worth checking out, particularly its claims to stream at up to 80Mbps - near to 4K HDR Blu-ray quality. The TV even has its own Bravia Core Calibrated mode (as well as a few others) that will tweak the settings automatically for the best results.

Also in the box is Sony's Bravia Cam, which plugs into the back of the TV and sits peeking over the top - and for us, the jury is out on this one.

As you might expect, there's video calling here, should you decide your TV is better for that than your phone or tablet, as well as a handful of other features, including telling you when kids are too close to the TV (this reviewer's children's default viewing position), some gesture controls and Ambient Optimisation Pro, which adjusts sound and brightness depending on the viewers it detects in the room. The results for the latter are subtle but there if you want to try them, with more features to come in future firmware updates. 

Of course, if the idea of having a camera attached to your TV isn't for you, you can just simply not attach it, or there's a physical switch to turn it off too. 

Finally, gamers should find most of their boxes ticked with support for VRR and ALLM, alongside some PlayStation 5 special features in the shape of Auto HDR Tone Mapping and Auto Genre Picture Mode. The former automatically selects the correct HDR settings for the game and TV in question, while the latter works similarly to ALLM by knowing when you're gaming and automatically switching to the low-latency games mode.

We've already mentioned the support for 4K/120Hz support on two out of the four HDMIs (inputs 3 and 4). That's not bad, but getting the full bandwidth across all four à la LG wouldn't have gone amiss - particularly when one of those 2.1 ports also offers eARC, meaning it may very well be taken up by a soundbar or amplifier.

Smart TV system

  • Google TV, with Chromecast and Google Assistant built in
  • Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, as well as country specific apps 
  • Intuitive user interface with good recommendations 

Sony once again turns to Google TV for its smart system, which is really quite good these days. The interface has been vastly improved from its Android TV days and is now much more intuitive to move through, with a good selection of content recommendations surfaced for you to watch - all presented on horizontal scrollable rails. As you scroll down you'll get more choices, including a 'Continue watching' option that pulls down some recent shows you've been watching in your favourite apps to allow you to jump straight back in.

All the apps you'd expect are here - Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Apple TV+, plus HBO Max, CBS All Access, Sling and Peacock for those in the US, and for those in the UK, all the UK TV catch up services

However, it's worth noting that only a handful of these services will display in the Google TV pretty 'For You' recommendation screen, as well as the Continue Watching rail, and Netflix isn't one of them. That's a bit of a shame, but we were still served up great suggestions from Disney+ and Amazon Prime, as well as free services like BBC iPlayer, YouTube and ITV Player. 

Of course, as part of Google's infrastructure, Chromecast is built in, as is Google Assistant voice control. If you have the Bravia Cam installed and have allowed the microphone, you can summon this completely hands free, but if not, you'll need to press the microphone button on the remote before you let rip on your requests. 

Overall, there's plenty to love here, and Google TV finally feels like a worthy smart companion for Sony TVs.

Performance

Sony TVs rarely miss at this level, and the A95K is a shining example of what's possible when you bring superb hardware, excellent software and outstanding processing together into a TV that is hell bent on delivering. There are next to no moments that leave you wanting when you watch this TV, and it won't take you a long time to get it looking its best either.

If you want to calibrate this professionally, all the tools are there for you to do it, but by just selecting 'custom' as your picture mode of choice you're going to get a really accurate picture across SDR and HDR sources. We chose to switch most additional processing off or to low, though Reality Creation is one to enable if you're ever watching lower resolution content that needs a bit of cleaning up.

As always you should play around with things like brightness to suit your room conditions, and bear in mind there are a couple of settings that will actually affect how bright your TV looks - the brightness setting itself (which controls the TV's backlight) and peak luminance (which will push highlights brighter). There's also controls for the other end of proceedings, with black level control, but be careful with pushing this too low or you could start to lose shadow detail. 

With HDR content, custom is still the best preset to go for, though it of course comes with tweaks to its settings to make the most of what you're watching. Again, very little adjustment is needed - just make sure HDR Mode is set to auto so it will switch on automatically when it recognises an HDR signal.

All set up, it's time to settle down to a movie. Call us predictable but Mad Max: Fury Road is the first one we reach for, and it's everything you would want it to be. The detail up for grabs in this film is one of the reasons that it's such a popular one with reviewers and the A95K laps up every last bit of it, giving everything over to the viewer with cinematic aplomb.

This only adds to the realism of the picture, which is what Sony's processing is so well known for. Of course, we're dealing with a rich, apocalyptic desert scene, for the most part, so to say colours are natural in this particular film may be pushing the truth slightly, but they feel like what the director would've wanted. That means rich orange hues of the desert sand pack a punch against the ombre blue sky, while the glisten of the sunlight on vehicles or the flash of fire from weapons take full advantage of the extra brightness on offer here. 

However, that brightness isn't simply brighter then before - it's better. There's real depth in colour with subtlety and tonality that goes beyond the wow factor to tell you more about a highlight other than the fact it's really bright. The very brightest picture probably still sits with QLED sets, but you are not left wanting here. 

Switching to something a little different and a viewing of Spiderman: No Way Home shows how adept the Sony A95K is with a more natural palette. Sony has absolutely nailed colour balance here - skintones are spot on but but there is still enough richness to deliver the depth of colour in Spiderman's outfit with punch and vibrancy. Detail is again a strong suit here, with crisp lines expertly drawn and almost palpable depth and texture surfaced in landscapes, faces and clothing. It's just a gorgeous picture to watch.

At the other end of the spectrum, when Peter Parker goes to visit Dr Strange at Sanctum Sanctorum, the dark scenes show off just how well the A95K handles black level too. Of course, with OLED technology behind it, the A95K can manage the deepest, darkest blacks without breaking a sweat - but it does so without losing shadow detail in the murkiness. Then, as Dr Strange swirls a glowing orange spell around himself and Parker, the pop of contrast against the darkness around them is lushiously rendered with pinpoint accuracy, showing just how strongly this TV can do it all. 

Motion is another long-standing strength of Sony TVs, and the A95K could be among the most stable and controlled motion performances from any 2022 TV we've seen. Even with all motion processing turned off, there's very little judder or blur of note, and the majority of people will not need to go looking. If you do feel like you need a little tweak, MotionFlow does offer a custom option for making very gentle adjustments, so you don't get the dreaded soap opera effect from being too heavy handed.

No matter the content, the A95K will make the most of it too, thanks to its processor being a master upscaler when it's needed. HD content gets a boost with next to no downsides - there are no noise or artefacts of note - while SD content is still handled with relative confidence, if a little softer around the edges.

Sound

As we've been used to from Sony TVs at this level in the past few years, the A95K uses Acoustic Surface Audio+ technology, which uses actuators that sit behind the screen and vibrate it in order to create sound. 

This year there are two larger actuators developed for the QD-OLED panel, alongside two subwoofers to help give the sound some oomph - and the results are pretty good as far as built-in sound gets in 2022. 

The first thing that we notice is how direct and clear the sound is, and the midrange in particular is delivered with more airy detail and precision than we are used to from TV sound. 

It's powerful too, and there is volume to spare, with lots of bass thump on hand to tackle action scenes with confidence and control usually only seen from a soundbar. There is next to no distortion - and nothing of note creeps in until you hit the upper limits of the volume control. Unless you dislike your neighbours, you really won't need to reach that high very often, if at all.

As has long been the case with this technology, the sound feels more integral to the action on screen too, since it is coming from directly behind the screen. There's a decently wide soundstage too, so it's quite an involved listen and is among the most impressive audio performances from a TV we've heard. We recommend a separate sound system or soundbar for most TVs, but with the A95K, you're going to need to invest in something more premium to make an improvement here. 



Source : https://www.pocket-lint.com/tv/reviews/sony/163406-sony-a95-4k-oled-review

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