Although Sony’s new Master Series Z9G 8K LCD TV grabbed most of the brand’s headlines at CES 2019, it was kind of expected, in truth.
Much more surprising was Sony’s unveiling of the new A9G (AG9 in Europe) ‘Master Series’ OLED TVs – after all, Sony only just launched its current A9F (AF9) OLED TVs as recently as September. The A9G, the sequel to the now six-month old A9F, is definitely happening, though.
What’s more, according to Sony, they’re actually replacing the A9Fs, rather than appearing alongside them. So what is it about the A9Gs that Sony thinks will make them a potentially more attractive option than the A9F?
The answer, predominantly, is design: The A9G OLED looks different than the A9F in a number of significant ways. For starters, the 77-inch, 65-inch, and 55-inch models all stand bolt upright rather than leaning back slightly like the A9F does. This immediately makes the A9G a much more ‘mainstream’ proposition.
It also looks much slimmer, chiefly because they ditch the A9Fs ‘lean on’ leg and stand instead on a more conventional, centrally mounted metal stand.
Sony has developed a new hanging bracket for the A9G, too, that lets the TV fit pretty much flush to your wall. This bracket even swivels, so you can adjust the viewing angle.
All those little details may not matter much if you’re spending a few hundred on a new TV – but when it’s a screen that costs thousands, these seemingly inconsequential design choices make a world of difference.
While the design has enjoyed a serious overhaul, when it comes to picture quality, the A9G uses the same core OLED panel as its predecessor, as well as, more importantly, the same superbly powerful X1 Ultimate processor.
These two pieces of tech help to offer improved colour performance, better upscaling of sub-4K sources, better near-black light management, anti-colour banding processing, and many more features besides, all designed with the intention of creating a picture that gets as close as Sony can manage to the performance of its own BVM-X300 professional OLED mastering monitor.
Demonstrations of the A9G in a dark room away from the main CES floor quickly revealed that the pictures of Sony’s new OLED surprise appear every bit as good as those of the A9F. Black levels, for instance, are beautifully rich and deep, yet also contain subtle details and colours that elude many OLED rivals.
Colours appeared both beautifully rich and full of the sort of subtle nuance and refinement that always separates the heroes from the zeroes in the TV world. There’s zero sign of the banding issues that affect many TVs with high dynamic range content too – even during very dark scenes and fade to blacks, where such problems tend to be particularly common.
The precision of the A9G’s pictures was also spectacularly evident in the way bright image highlights stand out beautifully against the screen’s gorgeous black levels. The A9G doesn’t necessarily look brighter than the A9F – which would mean it’s also slightly less bright than other OLEDs tend to be. But the precision it brings to its light and colour control compensates for this superbly.
Detail levels are high, and remain that way when there’s motion in the frame. Viewing angles are outstanding, as usual with OLED TVs, and a variety of test patterns and live video feeds showed the A9G to be completely free of the vertical light banding and colour inconsistencies sometimes (often, actually) present to some extent on other OLED TVs.
Sony attributes this impressive uniformity to the way it calibrates each and every Master Series OLED TV at the panel hardware level before it leaves the factory.
While the A9G seems pretty much identical to the A9F on the picture front, though, its sound is, potentially at least, rather different – doing away with the lean-on leg and making the screen slimmer has required Sony to change the speaker configuration.
In particular, Sony’s unique approach of exciting the screen itself to produce the TV’s sound has gone from a three-channel implementation in the A9F to a two-channel one, which it now calls Acoustic Surface Audio+.
Sony has also redesigned its bass drivers for the A9G, to try and deliver the same sort of dynamic range despite having less physical bodywork to play with.
While we’ll need to listen to a much wider range of source material to be sure, from the limited content available to us at the CES we’d say the A9G is still sounding very good. Clips of lighting strikes and back and forth dialogue revealed that the localisation of the sound – as in, the uncanny and immersive way sound effects seem to be appearing from the exact part of the picture they should be coming from, rather than from some dislocated speaker below the screen – still works brilliantly.
Given that they don’t really move OLED technology on from where it was before, it’s hard not to question the wisdom of Sony’s decision to launch its new OLED TVs at a place as focused on next-gen tech as CES.
However, you could just as easily argue that it’s rather nice to find such a ‘real’ product on the CES floor – especially when that product looks as lovely and promising as the Sony A9G OLED does.