Sony refines its flagship Master Series OLED TV
The Sony A9G/AG9 Master Series OLED is the new flagship of Sony’s TV fleet. It embraces a distinctly minimalist design that hosts a host of state-of-the-art features such as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, plus Netflix Calibrated Mode (of interest to many), and IMAX Enhanced certification (of interest to some).
A direct replacement for 2018’s Sony A9F/AF9 OLED, the AG9 is available in 55-, 65- and 77-inch screen sizes—and when it retails at an eye-watering figure, $2,900 at 55-inches / Starts at £2,800. Size, and after doubling that cost to a 77-inch size, it’s dropped down to a more manageable quantity, where you can find it at all.
We’ve seen a series of semi-successors and new iterations in Sony’s OLED TV range, including the Sony A9S/A9 (a 48-inch OLED TV), or last year’s A8H/A8 OLED (a more mid-priced option). is. screen reviewed here). Any of these would be smart to keep an eye on for Amazon Prime Day 2021 sales. The A9G is a bit long in the tooth these days, so we won’t get your hopes up about it being readily available during the sales event, though – and the 2021 Sony A90J successor will likely beat them all if you can front one – Launch price.
By the side of the pond you buy it from, however, this model sits firmly in the high end of the OLED market and is well worth the exorbitant sticker price.
The flagship Master Series TV’s design can be described with less confidence: adopting the more traditional stance of previous Sony range-toppers, the panel is held in an unobtrusive frame that sits almost flat thanks to a central pedestal stand.
That means there’s no room to put a soundbar in front, but that shouldn’t be a problem, as this flatscreen has Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio+ technology. With no traditional down-facing drivers, the vibrating actuators on the panel are used to produce audio and, while this is a slight downgrade from the A9F/AF9, still creates a dynamic and immersive sound.
Connectivity options include four 4K HDMI inputs, all of which will support 4:2:0, 10-bit 4:4:4 and 4:2:2, plus HDCP 2.3 at 2160p to 60Hz. There’s an AV minijack, headphone socket, optical digital audio output, a trio of USB (named for HDD recording) plus Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Users can choose from terrestrial or satellite tuners – but don’t expect support for Freeview Play by any means.
The central stand is ideal for regular AV furniture and flat pack TV benches. The set can be mounted to the wall with the optional swivel bracket; Sony sells the SU-WL850 for this purpose. This allows the panel to sit only 50mm from the wall; If you’re going to do this, make sure you’re thinking of a power plug, which can protrude when placed on the back of the set. Of course, it’s also compatible with regular VESA mounts.
Last but not least, the TV comes with a single remote control. It’s a nice stick with a smart aluminum face, dedicated buttons for Netflix and Google Play, and an integrated microphone.
Design tl; Dr: The A9G/AG9 is effortlessly cool with its minimalist bezel and wraparound frame. Connectivity is extremely good, with a quartet of full-spec 4K HDMI inputs.
Smart TV (Android Oreo)
We’ve struggled to love the Android TV OS in the past, but its latest Oreo iteration is a tasty step in the right direction: The menu structure has been simplified, and Sony has tweaked its quick setting overlays to make access to elements easier. Like picture mode, not to mention the addition of Amazon Prime Video that hasn’t been on Android since a dispute between Google and Amazon two years ago.
Not only does it use Google’s TV OS, but it also supports Chromecast built-in. The screen can also be used with Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices, as well as Sony’s own LF-S50G and SRS-XB501G smart speakers. Support for Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit are planned, but they didn’t arrive in time for our testing.
Smart TL; Dr: Android Oreo is shaping up to be a solid, versatile smart platform, supported by Chromecast built-in. All the major streaming services are onboard, and you can use voice controls as well.
The image doesn’t need much change for this TV to shine: straight out of the box, the A9G/AG9 looks remarkable with HD/SDR content.
That said, it’s surprising how crisp and color-rich HD/SDR images look, with a lot of contrast. There is a clear synergy between the picture processor and the panel. Object based HDR remastering with dynamic contrast enhancement delivers a well-justified boost, without ever cranking over.
Image presets include Vivid, Standard, Cinema, Game, Custom, Graphics and Photo – each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For everyday materials seen in rooms with specific ambient light levels, the Standard proves to be the best option. The custom image has been tuned to match Sony’s Pro OLED Mastering Monitor, the BVM-X300, and is extremely effective in complete dark room conditions. Vivid is also worth a look, especially with the animation (don’t lecture us on naturalism, have you ever seen a minion in real life?).
The gaming performance of the set can also be considered very good. This is an area where the brand has lagged behind rivals (see what we did there), but on the A9G/AG9, as was the earlier A9F/AF9, it’s perfectly acceptable. Using the dedicated game mode, we recorded an input lag of 26.5ms, which is fast enough for a decent FPS TV gaming experience.
HD/SDR performance TL; Dr: Sony continues to do an exceptional job with regular HD/SDR content. Object-based remastering ensures daytime TV benefits from the full potential of this OLED panel.
As you’d expect from an OLED, the A9G/AG9 apparently goes all-black, but shadow details aren’t sold down the river either.
One of the characteristics of Sony’s image processing silicon is that each implementation is designed to exactly match the characteristics of any participating panel; This is a boon when it comes to dynamic tone mapping for HDR, and probably explains why HDR here feels so easy to handle. Gradations are smooth, detail high and bit-noise notable only by its absence. We noted that there’s no banding issue, even with UHD content. It is 4K UHD as it is to be seen.
We measured peak HDR brightness at about 750 cd/m2 (aka nits) in standard mode, with a standard 10% HDR measurement window. However, it does not tell the complete picture. The panel can go higher than that with real-world HDR highlights like glowing lamps and dazzling reflections, fireworks, and scene FX. This is evidenced by a peak HDR performance close to 900 nits when the measurement window is reduced to a 5% window.
It’s worth noting that you won’t see the panel at its best if you opt to watch in Sony’s studio-style Custom Mode. Here our sample did not get more than 650 nits.
HDR support includes HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision. With DV content, pictures are converted to the presets Dolby Vision Light, Dolby Vision Dark, and Vivid.
Dolby Vision Dark generally undercuts the AG9’s qualities. Eighties wrestling drama Glow (Netflix Dolby Vision) looks downright blurry (at least more than intended), with almost black detail slammed into it. The image gets a respite when you switch to Dolby Vision Bright (something of the wrong name, because it doesn’t have abundant illumination).
Netflix Calibrated Mode does an impressive job with Netflix original content. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix) is a spectacular visual feast packed with presets. The detail in color depth and grades is exceptional, and it does a stellar job showcasing both the lush hues and sophisticated lighting techniques used during the Sony show.
Sony’s 4K X-Reality Pro Image Enhancement brings additional subjective detail and depth to both HD and UHD images. This generally works well, highlighting subtle definition in shaded areas and textures, though it can also promote grain. Generally though, we preferred to turn it on rather than turn it off.
Motion handling is fine with the caveat. The brand’s MotionFlow XR processor is available in Auto and Custom modes. On, it’s a boon for sports and fast-paced action. However, this can result in unwanted image artifacts with film content. For the movies, we’ll shut it down and take the judge.
4K/HDR display TL; DR: Sony is constantly looking for ways to write bonus details and contrast from the best sources. Its custom setting is remarkably authentic if you want a studio style viewing experience, while the standard ensures crisp vibrant pictures in rooms with high ambient lighting.
Compared to the version we heard on the A9F/AF9, Sony has made some changes to its Acoustic Surface Audio+ system. And in some ways, it’s a downgrade.
The A9G/AG9 is a two-channel implementation, as opposed to the 3.2 system on its predecessor, and also features a redesigned enhancement to the redesigned twin woofers at the rear.
The good news is that the audio remains full-bodied and exciting. There’s definite stereophonic image placement, and a real sense of dynamism. If you’d like to, the soundstage isn’t as wide as you can get from a separate soundbar, but the dialogue is closed entirely for onscreen action.
Other panels to consider…
There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to OLED champions, and choosing between rival brands can ultimately boil down to small preferences.
An obvious rival is the LG E9 OLED. It’s a great display, and though not as adept with HDR/SDR content, it has a similar level of HDR performance. It’s also Dolby Vision compatible, and likewise unlike HDR10+.
But, perhaps the biggest challenge is the Panasonic TX-65GZ1000. It is much cheaper than Sony A9G/AG9, still offers…