Sony TVs get brighter OLED, cognitive processing, Google TV streaming at CES 2021
The high-end TV specialist goes all-in with new 100-inch LCD and 83-inch OLED sizes and scads of picture quality upgrades.
David KatzmaierEditorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
ExpertiseA 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.Credentials
Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
Sony is probably the most storied TV brand still standing and while it's no longer a top 5 seller, it remains a powerhouse among high-end models -- aka TVs that cost a lot of money. Its 2021 lineup of new sets, announced in advance of CES, includes lots of impressive technology and will likely cost a pretty penny too.
The highest-end new Sony has 8K resolution, but the most interesting TV to video quality nerds (like, um, me) is the new Master Series A90J OLED TV with higher peak brightness -- marking the first time in years an OLED TV maker has touted brighter panels. Brightness is important for HDR and for making an image pop in bright rooms, and it's the one major area where OLED traditionally lags LCD. While I don't expect the new Sony to outshine the brightest LCD-based TVs, particularly new models powered by Mini-LED like the Samsung Neo QLED, any extra light is a good thing.
Watch this: Sony debuts OLED and 8K TVs with cognitive processing
Less exciting (to me) than bigger, brighter TVs is something Sony calls "cognitive" processing, available on all of its 2021 TVs. In a video demo, company reps used histograms to demonstrate how the algorithm enhances different areas of the picture it thinks you'll focus on most (like faces). It was tough to get a sense of how it works without seeing it in person, and tellingly Sony won't engage the processing in its Custom picture mode, which is the one designed to preserve the director's intent. In short, I'll have to wait to see how it performs.
More welcome was the news that all of the models detailed below include HDMI 2.1 gaming extras, namely 4K/120fps input and variable refresh rate (the latter available via a firmware update), which were previously reserved for just one 2020 model, the X900H. Sony was also the first TV maker to confirm Google TV streaming in its smart TVs, an improvement on Android TV currently featured only on the new Chromecast streamer. Hands-free "Hey Google" functionality is on-board (as it was in 2020) and Sony has a new streaming service called Bravia Core that delivers Sony Pictures and some Imax movies in "UHD BD equivalent quality with streaming up to 80Mbps." Lastly, all of the TVs below have built-in NextGen TV (ATSC 3.0) tuners.
Here's how the new TVs break down, starting with the highest-end.
Master Series Z9J, 8K LCD (85- and 75-inch): Sony's best non-OLED TV is differentiated from its lesser siblings by 8K resolution, improved processing and Sony's best, brightest full-array local dimming, which it's calling "Contrast Booster 15."
Master Series A90J 4K OLED (83-, 65- and 55-inch): Sony says the A90J's "peak luminance is significantly improved" compared to the 2020 A9G and other OLED TVs, but company reps would not specify further. A new aluminum sheet helps with heat radiation and all four of the WRGB OLED elements emit fully during peak brightness -- as opposed to only the W element in current designs.
A80J 4K OLED (77-, 65- and 55-inch): Sony's step-down OLED isn't any brighter than current models but does have upgraded processing and HDMI 2.1, including 4K/120fps, variable refresh rate, Auto Low Latency Mode (aka auto game mode) and e-ARC.
X95J 4K LCD (85-, 75-, 65-inch): The company's best non-8K, non-OLED TV is likely to still cost quite a bit. Its local dimming, "Contrast Booster 10," slides between the other two LCD models in terms of brightness and precision, although as usual Sony isn't sharing the actual number of dimming zones, or any light output specs (reps did mention that the 15, 10 and 5 numbers aren't proportional, however; so the brightness of the X95J isn't necessarily double that of the X90J, for example). Another differentiator is a single-pane-of-glass design with a "Seamless Edge bezel."
X90J 4K LCD (100-, 75-, 65-, 55- and 50-inch): The successor to 2020's excellent X900H as Sony's mainstream-priced TV, this one skips the 85-inch size and goes right to 100, a size I don't expect to be mainstream-priced at all. It includes Contrast Booster 5 full-array local dimming, which is less precise and bright than the step-up models, but still better than no local dimming at all.
Pricing and availability for Sony's 2021 TVs will be announced in the spring.
Best TVs of CES 2021: Brighter OLED, Mini-LED QLED, 8K and HDMI 2.1