They are finally here: Sony just announced its latest flagship television, the master series Z9F LED and A8F OLED. The televisions pack Sony's X1 Extreme processor, which brings some benefits, but the intent of this TV is right there in the name: Master Series. With its latest flagship products, Sony aims to provide the same image quality that professional studio masters envision. This is not a new idea, but it is easier said than done. Is Sony successful?
Two years ago, Sony unveiled the venerable Z9D television, considered by many to be the best LED / LCD TV ever. With Sony abandoning the industry-wide tradition of annual replacement, television critics and enthusiasts wonder when we can see the replacement of the Z9D and what it might look like. Today our questions were answered.
"The Master Series takes the 4K HDR home viewing experience to a whole new level … Sony's approach differs from any other in our industry," said Mike Fasulo, COO of Sony Electronics North America. "Our engineers designed [the Master Series] specifically for inspiration from the creative community."
In fact, the Z9F reads after the fever dream of a TV enthusiast: thousands of nits with maximum brightness, hundreds of individual zones locally dimmed LED backlight, industry's best black levels and of course the Android TV operating system (we'll be there for the last give).
But what does all this mean?
Z9F 4K HDR LED TV
In a market dominated by two competing TV panel technologies, such as LCD and OLED, the Z9F seeks to outperform the deep blacks and contrast of OLEDs and every facet of the LCD To beat: high brightness, punchy HDR and a massive color palette that benefits those who sit away from TV in a room other than a dark room. In fact, the Z9F seems to be successful at this goal. And then some.
Sony has introduced two important new features in Z9F TV. The first is a so-called X-wide-angle technology, which, as the name implies, solves the angling that has been common in LCD panels. The Samsung QLED TV series promises a similar improvement, and at first glance, Sony's efforts seem to meet or exceed QLED in this regard. Viewed from extreme angles, colors appear almost as saturated as right from the front. No doubt, with this TV, there are more "sweet spot" seats than any other LCD-based set available today.
The Z9F runs on Sony's new X1
This X1 Extreme chip opens up a world of possibilities for Sony, and in the case of the new Master series, the benefits of brighter images with more intense HDR highlights, refined details with object-based analysis, an automatic calibration system with CalMan software and support for a brand new feature called Netflix Calibrated Mode. More to the last in a moment.
The Z9F TV is aimed directly at Samsung's QLED TV series, specifically the Samsung Q9FN, as it is the only television that can compete remotely with the new Z9F. We look forward to having the two compete against each other soon. It should be quite a fight.
A8F 4K HDR OLED TV
The latest addition to Sony's OLED TV range, the A8F also runs on the new X1 Extreme processor, refining outstanding image quality. The new OLED TV also expands Sony's Acoustic Surface technology with a third, center-mounted actuator. Wait … say what?
If you are unfamiliar, Sony uses its OLED panels as speakers. You have read this correctly: The screen is the speaker. With small actuators behind the OLED panel Sony can bring the screen itself to the sound. This sound is amplified by a subwoofer, which is attached to the back of the TV. With left and right actuators, previous OLED televisions from Sony were able to provide stereo sound. With the additional centrally mounted actuator, there is now a central channel to anchor the dialogue as needed from the center of the screen. A second subwoofer promises even more bass.
In addition, the TV can be used as a center channel in a multi-channel home theater speaker system, so there is no need to place a single speaker above or below the TV. This means that dialogues and effects emanate from the picture, not from above or below.
The HDR highlights on the A8F appeared subjectively much more penetrating than those of previous OLED TVs from Sony, and Sony's new X-Motion Clarity engine shines very noticeable without introducing the so-called "soap opera" effect. This is a big deal for would-be OLED owners.
Netflix Calibrated Mode
Also new to the Sony Master Series TV series is a feature developed in conjunction with Netflix's Netflix Calibrated Mode. The idea is to restore Netflix's compressed 4K HDR video to near-master quality with a combination of Sony's X1 Extreme processor and a dedicated image preset mode. Without doing anything at all, viewers will get Netflix content with an image quality approaching Ultra HD Blu-ray levels – great news for most of us who buy streams for a dedicated player rather than buy.
We are in the process of obtaining a technical briefing that will provide a little more light and specific details about the new Master Series TV sets. Therefore, we will update this article later today. Above all, details of sizes and prices are not yet known. For now, it's safe to say that Sony has done a great job pushing the envelope of what's possible with consumer TVs. In the coming weeks, we will examine the TV sets in detail and see how well they prevail against the competition. However, if the first impressions are an indication, they will do very well.