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Sony XBR-A1E series review: Unique style and incredible OLED picture, but there's a 'Sony tax'

Features and connections

Key TV features

Display technology OLED
LED backlight N/A
Resolution 4K
HDR compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Screen shape Flat
Smart TV Android TV
Remote Standard

OLED's basic tech is closer to late, lamented plasma than to the LED LCD (QLED or otherwise) technology used in the vast majority of today's TVs. Where LCD relies on a backlight shining through a liquid crystal panel to create the picture, with OLED and plasma, each individual sub-pixel is responsible for creating illumination. That's why OLED and plasma are known as "emissive" and LED LCD are called "transmissive" displays, and a big reason why OLED's picture quality is so good.

Unlike Samsung TVs, high-end Sony sets like the A1E will support both major current types of HDR video: Dolby Vision and HDR10. It handles HDR10 today, and a software update coming later this year will enable Dolby Vision.


Several of the ports on this TV.

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • 4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0b, HDCP 2.2
  • 3x USB ports
  • 1x composite video input
  • Ethernet (LAN) port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • 1x RF (antenna) input
  • RS-232 port (minijack)

The selection of connections, all located on the kickstand, is top-notch. Unlike many of Samsung's sets, the Sony actually has an analog video input for legacy (non-HDMI) devices, although it no longer supports analog component video. All of the inputs will work with 4K and HDR devices, but for best results Sony recommends using input 2 or 3 (which have higher bandwidth than the others) with 4K Blu-ray players and making sure to engage "HDMI enhanced" mode. Click here for details.

Picture quality

The three 2017 OLED TVs I've tested -- the Sony A1E, the LG C7 and the LG E7 -- are essentially tied for picture quality. And it's the best I've ever tested. If I personally had to pick one and money wasn't a consideration, I'd base my choice on other considerations (style or features). That's how close they are.

Sony claims better video processing in its demos, but in my tests any advantage is minor, and LG actually handled sone processing tests better than Sony. The color on my Sony review sample was a bit more accurate, but the LGs were so close it again doesn't amount to a real advantage. Black and white levels, the building blocks of picture quality, are essentially the same. And it should come as no surprise that all three OLED TVs outperform any of the LCD-based TVs I've tested.

Click here to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Dim lighting: Anybody serious about image quality should dim the lights to appreciate the best quality sources, and when they do, they'll find that OLED is king. Watching "The Revenant" Blu-ray, the perfect black levels and unparalleled contrast of OLED made the Sony's image pop in a way that easily outclassed the LCD-based Samsung and Vizio.

Compared to the two LG OLED TVs, however, the Sony didn't show any advantage in a dim room, and the three looked almost identical. In Chapter 15 for example, as the fire plays over the faces and clothing of John and Bridger, the highlights, shadows and colors all looked superb. There was very little difference between the three in one of my favorite dark room torture tests, the assault on Hogwarts from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."

Bright lighting: The A1E measured somewhat dimmer than the LG OLEDs in its brightest picture settings for standard material, although with HDR sources brightness was comparable. As usual with OLED, overall peak light output was lower than LCD according to test patterns.

Watching TV shows and movies, I found all three OLEDs plenty bright for just about any lighting environment. They're not the blinding light cannons that newer LCD-based displays can be however, especially when bright content occupies a majority of the screen. That said, even in the most snowbound scenes from "The Revenant," the OLEDs' full-field white disadvantage was tough to spot.

Light output comparison

Light output in nits

TV Mode (SDR) 10% window (SDR) Full screen (SDR) Mode (HDR) 10% window (HDR)
Sony XBR-65X930D Vivid 926 492 HDR Video 923
Samsung QN65Q7F Dynamic 923 588 Dynamic 1781
Samsung UN65KS8000 Dynamic 618 480 Movie 1346
LG 55UH8500 Vivid 610 403 HDR Bright 601
LG OLED65E7P Vivid 473 152 Vivid 728
LG OLED55C7P Vivid 433 145 Vivid 715
Sony XBR-65XA1E Vivid 308 112 HDR Vivid 712

The Sony was essentially identical to the LG OLEDs at preserving black levels and reducing reflections -- a bit better than the Vizio and a bit worse than the Samsung, whose handling of reflections is among the best I've ever seen. Both 2017 OLEDs showed less of a purplish tinge to reflections than did the 2016 B6.

Color accuracy: Prior to calibration, the Sony was superb in the best picture mode, Cinema Pro, and afterward it was nearly perfect. "The Revenant" is resplendent with beautiful, natural color -- lots of green forests, blue skies and spectacular mountain vistas -- and the Sony reproduced them all faithfully. As I saw with black levels, however, its advantage in my measurements over the other TVs was tough to spot. All of them can get exceedingly accurate.

Video processing: With my motion tests the A1E didn't fare quite as well as the LG OLED sets. It had no issues delivering proper 1080p/24 material in its TruCinema MotionFlow setting, which is the (proper) default in the Cinema Pro picture mode, but can't deliver the TV's full motion resolution without introducing some smoothness, or soap opera effect. The Samsung and LG sets in my comparison can.

I tried tinkering with the Custom MotionFlow setting but its adjustments were quite coarse, and as soon as a setting registered the Sony's full motion resolution, at a Smoothness of 2 or higher, it looked too smooth and lost proper 1080p/24 cadence. Sticklers for blurring will note that the Samsung beat the Sony (and the LGs) with a score of 1,200 lines of motion resolution.

Input lag was measured 47 milliseconds in Game mode -- decent, but worse than either the LGs or the Samsung Q7. I didn't measure 4K or HDR lag this time around, but I plan to soon, and I'll update this review when it happens.

Sony touts its video processing, especially for lower-quality sources, but as usual I didn't find the effects all that impressive. Its Reality Creation settings added artificial-looking sharpness to my Fios TV feed, and while some viewers might like the effect, I didn't. The Sony's processing couldn't help the poor look of the YouTube videos I watched either. As usual, cruddy source material will look bad bad no matter how good the TV's processing is.

Off-angle and uniformity: One big OLED advantage over LCD is its superb image when viewed from off-angle, in positions other than the sweet spot directly in front of the screen. The OLEDs maintained black level fidelity and color accuracy much better than any of the LED LCDs I've tested, all of which (including the Vizio and Samsung in this lineup) wash out in comparison. The LGs and the Sony performed the same from off-angle.

Screen uniformity on the Sony sets was solid but not perfect, with dark, full-field patterns showing faint vertical banding, very similar to the LG E7. It wasn't visible in program material I watched however, for example the dark "Harry Potter" scene. The LCDs, in particular the Samsung, showed much more noticeable uniformity issues, for example brightness variations across the screen.

HDR and 4K video: The Sony is a superb performer with HDR material too, but from what I saw it's not substantially better, or worse, than the LG sets.

I compared the TVs side-by-side using their best default HDR modes -- Cinema Pro for the Sony -- beginning with "The Revenant" 4K Blu-ray. The gloriously HDR-ified parts, like the brilliant sun and skies of the first Indian attack in Chapter 3, looked great on all three OLED sets, and markedly better than the two LCDs in my comparison.

Watching the scene unfold, the LGs did appear slightly brighter than the Sony in many areas. Spot measurements of highlights, for example of the sun peaking through the shack at 10:12, confirmed that impression. The difference wasn't massive (73 versus 93 nits between the two 65-inch OLEDs in that example) but it was visible side-by-side, and contributed to a slightly more impactful look on the LGs.

I kept an eye out for other differences between the OLEDs, in particular details in the clouds that some HDR TVs can cut off, but didn't see any in "The Revenant." So I popped in the "Mad Max: Fury Road" disc and hunted some more. The OLEDs all looked very similar with this film, and highlights measured closer to one another than on "The Revenant," although to my eye the LG E7 still has a slight brightness and impact advantage over the Sony. Highlight details in the clouds also looked identical, as did the brilliant reds during the storm chase in Chapter 3.

The Sony did show one minor advantage over the LG and the other sets in its reduction of the minor false contouring seen on some material. The skies in "The Martian" 4K Blu-ray, for example, occasionally showed exceedingly faint bands of color (at 46:37 for example) on the other sets, while the Sony with its Smooth gradation setting at Low or higher did not. I had to hunt for awhile to find an example, however, because the effect was so subtle.

HDR and 4K streaming worked as expected, and all of the differences were similar to what I saw on 4K Blu-ray. I didn't compare the LG's Dolby Vision to the Sony's HDR10 since the Sony is getting DV itself this year. I'll update this section with further testing when that happens.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0 Good
Peak white luminance (100%) 308 Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.34 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.624 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.589 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.292 Good
Avg. color error 1.043 Good
Red error 1.977 Good
Green error 0.765 Good
Blue error 0.806 Good
Cyan error 0.568 Good
Magenta error 1.347 Good
Yellow error 0.793 Good
Avg. saturations error 0.56 Good
Avg. luminance error 1.06 Good
Avg. color checker error 0.56 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 600 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 47.4 Average

HDR default

Black luminance 0 Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 712 Average
Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976) 98.3 Good
Avg. saturations error 5 Average
Avg. color checker error 3.3 Average

Sony XBR-65A1E CNET review calibration results by David Katzmaier on Scribd

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