Sit close and immerse yourself with this television’s incredible images driven by the highest quality content you can throw at it. With the help of Sony’s 4K HDR Picture Processor X1 Ultimate – tuned specifically for OLED technology – you can be sure that no fine detail will be missed. As always, I highly recommend a companion Ultra HD Blu-ray player for your most deserving content as it can be played through one of the four HDMI 2.0b inputs. Using Oreo 8.0, Google Play delivers a seemingly endless choice of apps and streamed content.
Sony XBR-65A9F OLED Ultra HD TV
- Extremely accurate grayscale and color with CalMAN AutoCal
- High Dynamic Range to 700+ nits
- Wide Color Gamut covering UHD-P3
- HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma, Dolby Vision, IMAX Enhanced
- Bright and accurate image
- HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.2 and eARC
- Plenty of streaming options
Sony’s OLED and LCD Master Series televisions build on its years of success with Trinitron, WEGA, and Bravia lines. The Master Series is also inspired by Sony’s expertise in content creation and film post-production. Sony intends to continue with its reputation for delivering the filmmaker’s intent as accurately as possible for the end viewer – you! These values coupled with Ultra HD 4K HDR technology result in an image nothing short of amazing from the Sony Master Series XBR-65A9F. The XBR-65A9F is Sony’s OLED and is not to be confused with their excellent LCD model, an almost similarly named XBR-65Z9F. My review of that television can be found here. The two displays are similar in name only. The XBR-65Z9F creates its light from LEDs behind the LCD layer and achieves its black levels by reducing that light in dimmable zones. It’s capable of extremely bright highlights of up to 1800 nits but that light can’t be fully blocked. Displaying the darkest scenes are always challenging for any LCD TV. An OLED panel, however, can turn off any or all of its individual pixels creating a perfect black, edge to edge, with no light leakage. Add in an impressive peak output of 750 nits and Sony has concocted a recipe for some true eye-candy.
10-bits native with 12-bit processing
High Dynamic Range:
HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma, Dolby Vision
65” (55” also available)
Input Signal Compatibility:
18GB, 3840x2160p @ 60Hz
4x HDMI 2.0b, all HDCP 2.2, composite A/V, RF antenna
optical out, headphone out, internal speakers
3x USB, RJ-45, built-in Wi-Fi, IR blaster
Dimensions with Stand:
W57.05” x H32.76” x D12.60”
Dimensions without Stand:
W57.05” x H32.76” x D3.39”
75.5lbs with stand, 60lbs without
sony, xbr-65a9f, oled television, ultra hd television, hdr, dolby vision, Tv Review 2019
The most distinguishing feature of this TV is its design. When installed on an AV bench, it leans like a picture in a frame without any visible mounting hardware from the front. All you see is picture. The included heavyweight support is attached to the rear of the panel and acts as an anchor to balance the weight. I’d never ever suggest trying this assembly alone. Lifting it out of the box as a solo move would likely be your last as you’d risk cracking the TV. The rear panel is quite clean and simple; four HDMI 2.0b inputs, one with eARC to transfer DTS:X and Dolby Atmos audio from a UHD Blu-ray player to a surround receiver or preamp. Three USB ports and an ethernet input accompanies the HDMI. Wi-Fi is built into the TV. There is a composite video input via mini jack, just in case you’ve got a retro gaming system on hand. There’s also a set of upscale binding posts which leads to the most curious of designs on a television: the front of the TV’s surface acts as a speaker by means of three actuators and two subwoofers built into the panel. Yes, the sound comes from the vibrating panel! Acoustic Surface Audio+ is a successfully tweaked carry-over feature from last year’s Sony’s OLED and will continue with the next generation models. So not only does the TV not require paper cone drivers or soft dome tweeters to deliver the sound, but the rear binding posts also makes the TV function as a home theater center channel. If you’re strapped for cash or want to save some space (hard to imagine when purchasing a $4500 TV, Ed.), the XBR-65A9F is a full-range speaker with built-in subwoofers controlled by Sony’s frequency smoothing Clear Phase Audio circuitry. This should satisfy many people with a decent receiver-driven home theater system in moderately sized rooms.
Unlike the bulkier Full-Array Local Dimming (FALD) chassis of Sony’s LCD, the OLED imaging part of the panel is very thin, a small fraction of an inch to be exact. The bottom of the panel containing the video circuitry and power supply adds a few inches of depth. Since every pixel on the screen is an independent light source, there’s no need for the thickness created by dimming zones. The result is a very deep black level. There are no halos around bright objects and no cloudy patches on different parts of the screen. You can even watch the panel from any angle without a loss in light or color detail. All of these are drawbacks of LCD technology. The OLED’s screen surface also has an ambient light rejector which reflects incoming light to the sides rather than directly back at the viewer.
Like its LCD brother, the XBR-65A9F gets a huge video processing update from Picture Processing X1 Ultimate. But this one is optimized for the OLED panel and reacts very quickly as video images change. It’s twice as powerful than the previous generation as it analyzes hundreds of objects from the input signal to objects referenced within the processor (e.g. shapes, beaches, sky, faces, video noise, etc.). Sony claims the resulting image is much more refined than any other TV regardless of signal source or bitrate. The dual database works in two processes: first, it applies the noise removal and then it provides upscaling to 4K with X-Reality Pro.
The processor manages several features that help improve the picture. Some can be turned on or off by the user, but it’s important to note them here. Pixel Contrast Booster brightens the colors and increases output to further improve contrast. Sony has touted for many years now that their Triluminos display can help deliver all that extra color brilliance. Combine all of this with 4K X-Reality PRO upscaling technology and all resolutions below 2160p can have some degree of improvement with an auto/manual sharpening adjustment. Tweak to your heart’s desire or use test patterns to determine your personal sweet spot. X-Motion Clarity applies picture motion processing for those who want to customize levels of smoothness in the image versus watching the natural judder of 24 or 30fps video.
The remote control is not backlit or very fancy, although I do like the slightly fuzzy texture of it and feel of the keys. The buttons are completely sealed from Dorito dust and the handset is smooth for easy cleaning. All menu access and direction controls are in the center. I appreciate its traditional format compared to the multitude of wands and swiping remotes included with many other TVs.
The XBR-65A9F’s on-screen menu is very similar to the rest of Sony’s televisions. As I mentioned in the other Master Series review, I’m bothered by seemingly repetitive menu functions, an endless labyrinth of icons, and oddly placed menu settings. The location of some functions has always been questionable. For example, the energy saving mode and aspect ratio options are both in separate submenus and not in the main picture adjustments menu, even though they directly affect picture adjustment. The user also must find the external input menu to activate the deep color functionality of each HDMI input. Again, tough for novices and much running around for advanced users.
Turning on the TV for the first time requires some initial setup. It doesn’t take too long, but it’ll help customize the TV to your location, internet settings, and get you set up with the Google Play store to use the TV’s apps. It uses Android 8.0 and some time is needed to become familiar with the location of apps. Some of the most frequently used ones like Netflix and YouTube are easy to find, but the rest will need a little flexing of the memory. For example, I needed to download the CalMAN for BRAVIA app to calibrate with precision using my instruments (more on this later). It took me quite a while to find it, but once I did, adding it was a breeze. Although if I tried to find the app again after exiting the Smart TV home screen, I long forgot the sequence of keystrokes in the submenus to find where the app was downloaded to. Since your Smart TV comfort level may be different than mine, this may all be a non-issue.
The 65A9F can be controlled with a variety of devices including Alexa and Google Home/Chromecast. A software update includes Apple’s Airplay 2 and Homekit control through Siri. Sony wanted to include all three as to not leave any users out. The panel employs a far-field mic rather than burying it in the remote. It can be turned off if one is concerned about privacy.
All viewing was done with the XBR-65A9F calibrated correctly to video standards. UHD-HDR was set with a grayscale of D65, color adjustments made to UHD-P3 within the BT.2020 color gamut, and gamma set tightly to ST.2084. Peak white was approximately 700 nits. HD content was calibrated to D65 gray, BT.709 color, and 2.4 gamma, with reference white set to 100 nits (although you could artificially stretch the video out further to compete with ambient light).
When reviewing a TV, I tend to watch titles that are in my viewing queue rather than pulling the same old reference titles out of the review hat. Don’t get me wrong, consistency with reference titles is good, but I also want to enjoy my time with the television as I would if it were my own and watch what I’d naturally want to watch. With that said, the recent 4K UHD Blu-ray release of Schindler’s List was up first. It’s been a decade since I’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning WWII masterpiece about a German businessman saving Polish Jews from the atrocities and brutality of Nazi Germany.
Shot in black and white by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski on various stocks of 35mm film, it’s a beautiful affair of classic cinema and high-resolution technology. The black and white film demonstrates the Sony XBR-65A9F’s superior uniformity of grayscale and luminance across the face of the panel. From one side to the other, there is no visible change in the color of white or gray, nor is there any change in brightness. From a technical perspective, uniformity is important on a panel because panels that are less uniform show inconsistent patches across the face of the screen. Competing OLEDs from LG seem to have slightly less-uniform images when challenged with this sort of material. It varies from panel to panel as I’ve calibrated and evaluated countless numbers of them. My best guess is that Sony sources the best and most consistent panels available compared to the competitors that may not get the same level of precision. It assures Sony’s buyers that the purchase of a Master Series television is some very serious business.
I also watched the Lionsgate 4K UHD-HDR Blu-ray release of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, the sequel to the early ’80s horror blood fest. I saw some appreciable improvements with the first film on 4K Blu-ray while reviewing Sony’s LCD television, but I wasn’t prepared for the huge improvements I’d see from the 4K scan of this 35mm film from the original camera negative! The Sony OLED XBR-65A9F displayed a remarkable image. Neither my blood-red laserdisc, Book of the Dead DVD, or plain old Blu-ray edition are any match for this release!
What caught me by surprise was how good this Sony OLED contrasted the deep blacks with all the bright colors of blood and guts. Each scene was illuminated much more realistically than I’ve ever seen before and the uptick in resolution is truly awesome. There’s so much fine and colorful detail in this film that I’ve never seen before. I cross-referenced this title with another television and it just didn’t seem to have the same effect. I concluded that this must be a result of the Picture Processor X1 Ultimate. Since the image is always being referenced to the processor’s database of colors and lifelike images, I believe it’s really doing what it’s intended to do.
Now for the standard reference content; Blue Planet II is BBC’s follow up to Blue Planet with gorgeous shots of underwater creatures in mostly native 4K. Blue Planet II is great demo material to wow your family and friends, as well a great lesson on what’s happening beneath the deadly waters that cover the earth. I watched the disheartening episode that shows human influence on our seas because of garbage filling up our waters.
It’s a real pity that the whole world doesn’t understand that garbage doesn’t go away. A few years back I visited an Asian country for a little over a month and was appalled to see how the general population wasn’t educated to understand that throwing garbage on the ground around them and in their waters won’t make it go away. City streets and the countryside had become a walking landfill. And so much of this goes into our seas as explained here in this episode. This 4K Blu-ray’s water shimmered in sunlight and displayed the depths of the water with mighty contrast. The XBR-65A9F’s ability to show images of sea life engulfed in our waste – from the biggest creatures to the smallest plankton – created a burning desire to reduce my own carbon footprint. I’m proud to say that I’ve made some substantial changes since. Thank you, BBC and Sony.
This TV has both a Netflix image mode and an IMAX Enhanced picture mode. The Netflix mode sets the TV at the requirement for Netflix studio monitors. It’s like a calibrated image mode but many may find it too dim if watching TV with lights on. Otherwise, with proper grayscale calibration, it’s a studio reference mode.
I couldn’t test the IMAX Enhanced picture mode because there were no titles available when I had this TV. I have IMAX titles on hand, but they are of the regular 4K UHD-HDR variety. Just to see if this TV differed much from the Sony LCD I tested last month, I tested its smooth gradation feature using the IMAX title Rocky Mountain Express. Not only is it an engaging documentary on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway through Western Canada and challenges of such a feat, it’s also an early UHD title of a 70mm IMAX film that has some visible gradations of light to dark. I wanted to see if Sony’s Smooth Gradation feature would smooth it out, but like the LCD, it didn’t, so the problem is inherent in the content. Using test patterns of HD 8-bit video, I was able to smooth out some fine steps, but the result with moving video, as when viewing the black and white portraits of those who spearheaded the railway, introduced some artifacts. I’d leave this feature off for UHD content and on the low setting for 8-bit HD content.
Viewing 1080p material upconverted to 4K exhibited a lot of detail as there are now four times as many pixels reproducing the video. The result is reduced stepping on diagonals, and the X1 Processor likely contributes to a virtually artifact-free upconversion. Gone is the ringing found along fine details that were ever slightly present on previous Sony 4K TVs. Watching the same films above in their respective HD versions shows the limits of 100 nit HD material. Once we are treated to the dynamic quality of UHD-HDR content, HD video becomes second rate. Thankfully the Picture Processor X1 Ultimate ensures that the Sony 65A9F does a remarkable job delivering the 1080p goods.
After watching all those great images on the calibrated XBR-65A9F, I’ll share with you the measurements taken. For all tests, I used a Konica-Minolta CS-1000A spectroradiometer with CalMAN software, using the CalMAN for Bravia workflow and the downloaded app in the television. HD/UHD-HDR test patterns came from a Murideo FRESCO SIX-G pattern generator cross-referenced with the R. Masciola UHD test disc played by an OPPO UDP-205 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player.
XBR-65A9F and XBR-65Z9F have similar calibration procedures. Unlike other TVs that have fully independent image memories, Sony uses some of the same picture settings for both HD and UHD modes. Some of those settings can be set differently for each source input. They’ve designed the TV so that the calibrated grayscale and gamma for HD also functions for UHD – and it works very well. These settings are also used for multiple inputs and picture modes and can’t be customized separately. For example, grayscale within the Expert modes will be the same for all picture modes and inputs, but the LED Brightness can be set independently. When calibrating for one HDMI input for HD, UHD-HDR10, and Dolby Vision, I needed to ensure all my settings were appropriately selected as I verified them on the other inputs, including the streaming image mode. If using just one HDMI input with all sources connected to an external HDMI switcher in a receiver, this isn’t a concern. But for people who have all sources connected directly to the TV, take some notes of your calibration settings and ensure they are copied over. I’d like to see a “copy all” function in the future.
For this review, I jumped right into the CalMAN for BRAVIA software provided by SpectraCal’s CalMAN. I didn’t calibrate this TV with just the user menu controls because I wanted to maximize its potential. Sony TVs are typically good to start once all unnecessary and/or extra processing has been defeated.
But how much better can it get? Quite a bit actually, especially in the darkest parts of the picture. Once the software is running, your calibrator needs to follow a few rules before the AutoCal takes place. I chose to calibrate in Custom for Pro 1 picture mode (designed to replicate Sony’s BVM broadcast monitors) using Expert 1 grayscale settings. Prior to calibration, the image is too blue, and the gamma is slightly darker than 2.2.
Sony XBR-65A9F Grayscale and Color before calibration, Custom for Pro 1 picture mode.
During calibration, it’s recommended to set the gamma to 2.2 for correct HDR calibration. Gamma for HD can be readjusted after the calibration to one’s preference. SpectraCal has a PDF available if you need some explanations, otherwise, just follow the workflow.
Depending on the AutoCal and meter settings it can take up to an hour and a half just for just the AutoCal processes. That’s significantly longer than what others will experience as I set my Konica-Minolta meter at its highest sensitivity and most thorough option. I also chose not to profile one of my other meters for this process because I prefer the precision of using my reference meter all the time, and the results spoke for themselves.
Sony XBR-65A9F Grayscale & Gamma after calibration, Custom for Pro 1 picture mode
The AutoCal calibration measures and adjusts at 75% color saturation levels. Even though there are options to measure at different points (as all CalMAN’s options show up in the workflow), don’t be tempted to do it. The results will be very wrong. Sony has included color management settings this year and the AutoCal does the adjustment for you. But unlike the grayscale settings, it’s not universal to all inputs and picture modes. Since there’s no “copy to all” function, you’ll need to manually move over your settings if you want to use them on each input, the forced Netflix Picture mode, or for HDR content. Some might find this a bit of a pain, but it works well for UHD-HDR since you’ll need different color calibration settings for UHD even though grayscale stays the same.
Sony XBR-65A9F, BT.709 color gamut, post-calibration
Like Sony’s LCD model, the XBR-65A9F OLED’s HDR signal settings use slightly different image parameters than with HD signals. Sony maintains that most of the calibrated settings set for HD during AutoCal (as well as manual calibration) are also good for UHD. It’s near perfect in the grayscale areas that were calibrated for HD (codes 108-504) and the HDR highlights beyond code 504 measure slightly blue. It’s important to determine the placement of the contrast control with HDR prior to all calibrations because this setting is shared for HD calibration settings. I used the contrast control to set the output of code values respective of their input luminance target (using 504 as my reference) and the result was a tightly displayed UHD gamma (the calibrated white line hugs the yellow target line). This is excellent performance for a TV as it will display most HDR content without missing out on things that sparkle. The Sony will display white intensity perfectly up to about 600 nits and from that point it begins to tone map the rest (the white line roll-off) until its calibrated peak just above 700 nits (a higher peak output is achievable but at the expense of raising the luminance of each code, which is wrong).
Sony XBR-65A9F Custom for Pro 1, HDR grayscale and gamma, post-calibration
The SONY XBR-65A9F OLED ULTRA HD TV stands ahead of the competition. While priced higher at $4500, it provides reference-level accuracy after calibration guaranteeing Sony’s seal of quality.
- Excellent HD color and grayscale
- Very sharp 4K resolution
- Excellent upconversion of 1080p signals
- Very bright and accurate HDR up to 700 nits
- Acoustic Surface audio technology
- Airplay 2, HomeKit, Alexa, Google Chromecast control
- Traditional remote
- “Copy to all Inputs” option for picture adjustments, and then customize if needed
- Less cluttered Smart TV screen
- Streamlined menu system from one access point
In a strange move, Sony has decided to change the model code on this set from an XBR-65A9F to XBR-65A9G not too long after its release to coincide with the nomenclature of the upcoming 8K televisions. This XBR-65A9F has only been out for a few months, so as of this reading, some markets may have the “G” available. It’s likely you’ll find both televisions available until all the boxes with the “F” code are gone. I was informed of this by Sony when they sent me the TV and they wanted to clarify it. The image quality and the processing are all 100% the same – absolutely no difference. They did make a tweak to the audio configuration, but other than that, they’re the same. If this change is causing dealers near you to cut the prices on the XBR-65A9F, then I highly suggest taking a very close look at this television to save the dent in your wallet. I applaud Sony for their dedication to continue improving their products year after year. I solidly recommend this OLED television (and the Master Series LCD). I’m always happy with the post-calibration results and just how good they look with any content that’s displayed. Faithful and true; I can’t think of any two better words to describe the Sony XBR-65A9F.