On July 31, 2018, I attended the launch of Sony’s Master Series flagship series TVs, the A9F OLED and Z9F LCD TVs in New York City. Both displays are powered by the new X1 Ultimate video processing.
During the press conference, Sony also announced a new Netflix Calibrated Mode on the sets that is designed to call up a calibrated preset that has been enhanced for Netflix content viewing.
Sony said at CES 2018 earlier this year that X1 Ultimate is twice as powerful as the X1 Extreme video processing that it is supplanting.
“The Picture Processor X1 Ultimate can intelligently detect and analyze each object in the picture through Sony’s new Object-based Super Resolution for exceptional accuracy and detail,” says the company. “Also, the Object-based HDR remaster has been notably updated and now allows each object to be remastered individually for better depth, accurate texture, and all-in-all more realistic picture.”
Launching before the end of this calendar year in Canada, the models will run Android Oreo and support both Google Assistant and Alexa digital assistants for voice control. The A9F OLED has Sony’s new Acoustic Surface Audio technology, which was first introduced last year with the A1 series. Here, the system gets an additional actuator in the centre of the screen and an extra subwoofer channel, making it a 3.2 channel sound system.
That additional centre actuator is meant to act like centre speakers hidden behind the acoustically transparent screens found in cinemas. The A9F also has a centre speaker mode that allows the Acoustic Surface Audio to be used as the centre speaker of a home theatre system, connected from your receiver’s centre channel speaker output using a binding post behind the TV. From the demo I heard, it is perfect as a replacement for a centre channel when being used in a small home theatre. I don’t know yet how the Centre Channel Mode will translate in a larger room. But the performance in a larger room should be more than acceptable with the inclusion of 98W of class D amplification (as opposed to 50W on A1E and A8F).
The Netflix Calibrated Mode, available exclusively on the new TVs (for now), apparently “ensures cinematic fidelity for the viewing experience on Netflix.” Developed by Sony picture quality engineers in collaboration with Netflix colour scientists, the new mode supposedly delivers a picture quality approaching that of a master monitor used for standard reference in motion picture production studios. The Netflix mode will also look at true motion aiming to combat the “soap opera effect.”
The Z9F LCD TV has a new X-Wide Angle system that is geared towards retaining picture quality from all viewing angles.
Basically, it’s a better view from a wider viewing angle that combats colour shifts when viewing the screen off-axis. Furthermore, every TV will be uniformity-calibrated at the factory to eliminate any panel uniformity problems. The X-Wide Angle system is an optical/hardware enhancement, not merely electronic manipulation.
As for colour calibration, these TVs are “Ready for CalMan,” which allows the user to download a free CalMan colour calibration app from the Google store for the TV. Coupled with a Calman C6 colorimeter (sold separately), video calibration can be done via either Wi-Fi or Ethernet (but not remotely) using 2, 10, or 20 calibration points with accuracy as great as 0.2 (anything below 0.5 is considered studio-grade accuracy).
This couples with Sony’s X-Motion Clarity, to cut motion blur but without introducing much of a soap opera effect, and should help the Z9F overcome the usual challenges LCD panels face.
As usual, Sony refuses to share specific details regarding the zone count and peak brightness. At CES 2018, the company showcased a “full-spec” 8K HDR TV capable of reaching 10,000 nits peak brightness. It was a prototype, and rumours at the time had pointed to Sony aiming for 4,000 nits peak brightness for the consumer TV model. But I simply do not know at this point.
The Sony A9F 55″ will sell in stateside for US$3,999; the 65″ for $5,499 (there’s no 77″ model). It boasts the Sony X1 Ultimate Chip, and offers 60% faster Android TV loading, 50% faster YouTube opening, 50% faster Netflix opening, and up to 30% faster Home screen navigation. With the Android Oreo skinned OS, it also includes Pixel Contrast Booster, a new image processing feature for contrast boost on HDR. 900 nits peak; Auto Calibration using Calman eARC; upgraded speakers; and Acoustic Surface Audio Plus. Speaker power has increased from 50 Watts to 98 Watts; and the 3.2 channel audio with new centre channel speaker offers better dialogue. The centre speaker mode also allows you to run centre channel output from a receiver to gold-plated binding posts on the TV. It has a 10-bit panel.
The Z9F, meanwhile, will come in 65″ (US$3,499) and 75″ (US$4,999) sizes with 10-bit Full Array with around 1,500 zones; Sony X1 Ultimate Chip; 4,000 Nits; an improved image processing feature for HDR X-Motion Clarity to smooth out judder; Glossy Screen X-Wide Angle for an improved viewing angle; Netflix Calibration Mode; Studio Picture Mastering with content creators; and Auto Calibration using a Calman eARC 10-bit panel.