Sony’s 2017 TV range has returned to using OLED screens for the first time since 2008 and marks a different direction for the TV brand. But despite being away from OLED for the last nine years, Sony hasn't lost its touch in creating some of the sleekest, contrast-rich televisions in the industry.
Sony's new OLED screen, dubbed the A1E, was one of the best TVs shown off during CES 2017 and it's easy to see why. There's stunning picture quality, obviously, which does inky blacks even better than LG, but Sony's OLED is also paired with some innovative new ideas in speaker tech that might make this an even better buy for some folks than LG's new W7 OLED.
During a closed-door demo with Sony's ambitious OLED, the team 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.
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. Instead of seeing a giant gap in between your home entertainment stand and the television, the kickstand creates a seamless transition from one to the next.
The other aspect that's worth talking about is slimness. Both the surrounding bezel of the screen and the screen itself are razor-thin. These decisions were made intentionally to reduce the visibility of the frame and pull your attention to the jaw-dropping picture.
That being said, the Sony Bravia A1E combines an OLED panel with HDR for second-to-none picture quality. As soon as you see the screen you'll likely be in awe. That's due to two key points: Sony's X1 Extreme Processor that's been borrowed from the Z-Series that released over the summer, and the swapping out of an LED screen for an OLED one.
Sony told us that the Extreme Processor is capable of things that its competition can only dream of. When asked for an example, Sony says that the X1 can 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 are almost a requirement on any flagship TV.
The two main HDR technologies Sony's OLED will support are HDR10 and Dolby Vision. There was no mention of HLG support or Advanced HDR by Technicolor, but in Sony's defense these are more future-focused formats that don't have any content available on them yet.
As far as contrast was concerned, 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 says 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.
The Sony A1E includes a trio of new ideas to make a genuinely interesting update to the Sony TV range.
The picture quality is flawless 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.