Sony XR-65A80J OLED Ultra HDTV Review Page 2

After a few days of use, however, the set's audio suddenly quit for all connected inputs, including streaming from Google TV apps. Turning the TV off and on again didn't help but unplugging it from the wall and then plugging it back in did restore the sound.

Sony's more upscale A90J models let you connect the TV to your AVR for use as a center-channel speaker, but this feature isn't offered on the A80J. When I used the A80J's HDMI eARC link, it routed both Dolby Atmos and multichannel DTS 5.1 Master Audio soundtracks back to a Denon AVR-X6700h for lossless (where available) playback. But I was unable to get it to reliably send anything higher than two-channel audio over an optical digital audio link to the Denon.

HD/SDR Performance
All SDR and HDR source material used in this review was from discs played on an Oppo UDP-203 player.

I saw no false contouring (posterization) on the Sony with either movies/TV programs or test patterns. Uniformity was also consistently excellent when viewing full-screen white or gray test patterns, with no streaking or dirty screen effect. As expected from an OLED display, off-center viewing produced no change in picture quality.

I can't say exactly how much Sony's new Cognitive Processor XR adds to the A80J's stunning image quality, but I'd wager that its contribution is significant. Watching the documentary Samsara, the scenes in Versailles, and the making of a mandala in a Hindu monastery looked even more strikingly vivid than usual. Costume dramas profited as well, with Victoria & Abdul offering a rich tapestry of Victorian decor, particularly in the banquet hall scene with its brilliant red highlights. Director David Lean's magnificently photographed A Passage to India offers a flood of detail to work with, and the Sony delivered on that front.

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Paddington 2 may seem like an odd duck...er...bear to demonstrate the A80J's capabilities, but its excellent photography includes a nighttime carnival full of rich colors, a prison scene with very peculiar uniforms, an action-heavy train-chase finale, and a hilarious end-credit sequence (don't stop watching too early!). Altogether, the Sony's SDR performance was stellar.

Ultra HD/HDR Performance
You may have noticed that I made only a passing reference in the above section to the A80J's black level and overall contrast. That's because OLED TVs in general offer the best blacks available, with other display technologies still racing to catch up (with limited success so far).

The Sony's HDR black level performance was more complicated. When viewing very dark scenes or fades to total black in a fully darkened room, the A80J's image sometimes dropped to a very dim, but still visible, dark gray. There's an almost totally black scene at 34:19 in Prometheus that's interrupted by a glimmer of flashlights in the far distance. Viewed in SDR, this scene appeared as a fully deep black for the most part, but in HDR the same black appeared as a dark gray. Similarly, at 1:33 in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the same grayness briefly appears as the scene faded to black from a shot of Professor Snape.

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At 26:32 during Deathly Hallows Part 2, Harry and his friends navigate a tunnel from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts. As the perspective shifts from a close-up of the group to a longer shot, with the characters encompassed by darkness, the surrounding gloom appeared as a dark gray in HDR as opposed to the full black I saw in the SDR version. Similar issues were also visible when watching Oblivion and Thor.

(This issue was also observed on a Samsung LCD TV in the early stages of its review (not yet fully calibrated), but only on the Prometheus scenes. The Harry Potter clips performed better in this regard on the LCD. This suggests that at least some (but not all) of the lightening effects seen in near-black scenes on the Sony might be inherent to some sources, or that the problem present on those sources isn't triggered on all TVs.)

On the plus side, those fades to gray—rather than the black we usually expect from OLED—were visible only in a fully darkened room, and will be a distraction only if, like me, you prefer watching movies in an environment as free of stray light as can be managed. But with a little room lighting (or a bias lamp behind the screen), your pupils will compensate as they close down slightly in response to the added light. There's nothing trickier in TV design than determining how the set will transition from the barest hint of darkest gray to full black. Come out of black too slowly and you will crush shadow detail, but come out too fast and you see what I've described here—the only reason I've rated the A80J's overall performance as 4.5 rather than 5 stars.


The Sony's overall shadow detail, however, was superb with both SDR and HDR. A dimly lit Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 scene of Aberforth Dumbledor's hovel just before a tunnel-passage to Hogwarts looked consistently impressive, with every shade and shadow clearly visible.

Bright scenes also looked impressive. Toy Story 4 began conventionally enough, but once I got to the scenes at the carnival and in the antique shop, the results were dazzling. A brief shot of illuminated chandeliers in the shop was so startlingly vivid that I involuntarily gasped.

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The Sony's HDR peak white level measured 515 nits as calibrated in the Cinema picture mode on a 10 percent full white window. This was the lowest I've yet measured for an OLED, but you'd never know it from subjective viewing. HDR highlights also never looked less than crisp and punchy.

The A80J's Dolby Vision HDR settings differ somewhat from its HDR10 ones. The set offers three modes: Dolby Vision Bright, Dolby Vision Dark, and Vivid. (The default HDR Tone Mapping option is Brightness, unlike my preferred Gradation option for HDR10.) I found that the default Dolby Vision settings worked best (apart from turning off a few of the extraneous adjustments such as Reality Creation, Smooth Gradation, and Cinemotion). And as noted elsewhere, the color calibration settings derived in SDR are automatically modified by Sony's internal look-up tables to be correct for Dolby Vision HDR.

Dolby Vision looked every bit as superb as HDR10, and perhaps even better in some ways depending on the source. A shot of horses feeding in the snow from the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark test disc showed a bit less clipping when the disc's Dolby Vision option was selected than its HDR10 one. The new 4K/Dolby Vision disc release of My Fair Lady also looked stunning on the Sony, with crisp detail and outstanding color—vivid enough to make the film look like it was shot today instead of during the early 1960s.

Conclusion
OLED TVs continue to astonish viewers and Sony's new XR-65A80J is no exception. I may have come down a bit hard on the A80J's few shortcomings, but these pale when you take into consideration the overall experience it offers. Will Sony's A90J OLED perform better? Possibly by a bit, but at $2,299 the A80J offers viewing thrills no other TV could achieve at its price, or even higher, just one or two years ago.

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COMMENTS
3ddavey13's picture

I don't know if this has been addressed in the newer models, but in some Sony 4K TVs (including the Z9D) if you send the set a Dolby Vision signal without first selecting your HDR setting for that input, the set locks into Dolby Vision mode which doesn't allow you to change any picture settings.

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