Hands on: Sony Bravia A1E OLED review

Sony's brand-new TV for 2017 is returning to OLED

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

Sony has impressed with its new Bravia A1E with interesting sound tech, great form factor and a stunning picture quality.

For

  • Beautiful picture quality
  • Smart sound idea
  • Sony X1 Extreme Processor

Against

  • Highly expensive
  • Wall-mounting blocks subwoofer

Updated: We finally have pricing confirmation for Sony's flagship OLED. The 55-inch version will retail for $4,999.99 (around £4,100 / AU$6,600), while the 65-inch model will cost $6,500 (around £5,300 / AU$8,600). While that doesn't quite make the set the most expensive of the year - LG's W7 costs $7,999 for example - it's still a lot of money. 

Original review continues below:

After a brief experimentation with the technology almost ten years ago, Sony is bringing back OLED in a big way this year with the Sony Bravia A1E.

However, with the likes of LG and Panasonic having firmly established themselves as the ones to beat in the OLED space in the intervening years, Sony's got its work cut out if it wants to play catch-up. 

First shown off at CES 2017, the A1E has a couple of interesting tricks up its sleeve, not least an audio solution that literally turns its screen into a speaker as well as the company's proven X1 Extreme Processor. 

The set will be available from April in the US at $4,999.99 for the 55-inch version, while the 65-inch model will cost $6,500. Worldwide pricing and availability is yet to be confirmed. 

Sony's team has highlighted three main aspects that separated the A1E from the competition: sound quality, its new X1 Extreme Processor that produces absolute black and the new 'One Slate' design. 

Design

Let's start first with the TV's 'One Slate' design, arguably one of the most features of the screen at a show where most other TV manufacturers touted wall-mounting. 

What Sony means by 'One Slate' is that the TV is composed of two parts, the panel itself – the so-called One Slate – and a dual function kickstand that tucks all the inputs and outputs into the back. 

Sony tells us that the decision to ditch a traditional stand that sits underneath the TV and instead opt for a kickstand was to help viewers focus on the picture by eliminating the gap between the bottom of the panel and the surface its stood on. 

We're not convinced this is a solution that's going to work for everyone. No stand means you're going to have to make sure your TV cabinet is completely free of surface clutter because any consoles or set-top boxes that currently sit between your TV and its perch are going to get in the way of the Bravia A1E's screen.

Form-factor qualms aside the Sony Bravia A1E's combination of an OLED panel  with Sony's X1 Extreme Processor (borrowed from the Z-Series that released last summer) is a sight to behold, and really shows what the X1 is capable of when it's unshackled from the drawbacks of LCD. 

The Extreme Processor is capable of some very nifty features, such as having the ability to focus on pockets on color on an image-by-image basis, and color correct on the fly. 

Sony calls the technology "object-based HDR remastering" and what it's capable of is if it sees a blue sky, for example, it will know to make that a richer more vibrant blue based on the data it's getting from the signal. And while this sounds more like science-fiction than fact, Sony's A1E did have some truly astonishing colors that looked vibrant without being oversaturated.

Beyond color correction, however, the Processor X1 Extreme ensures higher levels of brightness and, of course, 4K HDR performance – both of which have quickly become a requirement on any flagship TV released in 2017. 

The three HDR technologies Sony's OLED will support are HDR10, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma, with support for the latter two being added in a firmware update. Advanced HDR by Technicolor, an HDR format currently being pushed by LG on its sets, is absent from the A1E, but with support for the format looking thin, we think this is an acceptable omission.

Performance

As far as performance was concerned, we were particularly impressed with the sets contrast. The blacks on this set particularly are great – it's an OLED after all – but the TV we saw was actually a fair bit brighter than any OLED on the market currently. We couldn't squeeze an exact nit rating out of Sony during the demo, but odds are good that it's closer to LED's recommended 1,000-nit specification than it is to OLED's 500-nit recommended specification.

The panel also has good viewing angles as well, meaning if you have a complicated living room set up you’ll be able to watch this screen from anywhere in the room.


For sound, the Sony OLED A1E has a very interesting idea called Acoustic Surface where the display itself transmits the sound through vibrations rather than a discrete set of speakers. 

What the Acoustic Surface does differently is that it pushes the sound through the screen rather than the edges of the display – which Sony claims helps sound sync up to the video. 

The kickstand in the back also houses an integrated subwoofer, perfect for hitting the low-end in explosion-laden action movies. Unfortunately, however, because the subwoofer comes integrated into the stand, some of that functionality becomes diminished when you choose to wall-mount the OLED instead of using the kickstand.

Of course all of this comes on top of the Android TV operating system that Sony has been using for the last few years. What's new this year is Google Home integration for those lucky enough to have the voice controlled box in their home. 

Just like you can with Chromecast, Google Home integration will mean you'll be able to send video directly to your TV using only your voice. Want to watch the latest clip from the TechRadar YouTube channel? All you need to do is ask and the Home can send it directly to your new OLED.

Early verdict

The Sony A1E includes a trio of new ideas to make a genuinely interesting update to the Sony TV range.

The picture quality is great thanks to the X1 Extreme Processor, the new Acoustic Surface is interesting and the One Slate design of the set makes it both ultra-thin and reduces the trim compared to some other LED TVs. 

It might be missing the wallpaper-thin design of the new LG set or the new mounting ideas of the Samsung QLED range, but there's a very good chance Sony A1E can still hold its own against tough competition in 2017 thanks to its best-in-class picture quality.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James is Phones, Wearables and Tablets writer for TechRadar and covers all the big announcements from the best manufacturers making gadgets for your palms, wrists and face. Based in London, James is often testing out the latest and greatest phones, smartwatches, VR headsets and - when he can be motivated to go outside - fitness bands. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all the latest from the mobile world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Pino is the senior home entertainment editor at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He also occasionally writes about Pokemon when no one is watching.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Porter is Techradar's UK Home Technology Writer covering everything from TVs to Hi-Fi, gaming and home automation. He's also super into keyboards, and I think we can all agree that the obsession has gone a little too far at this point.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.