If you take price out of the equation, the Sony A95K was probably the best TV of 2022. One of the two first QD-OLED TVs launched, it trumped its Samsung S95B rival by deploying its brightness-boosting, vibrancy-adding Quantum Dots in a more considered and authentic fashion – and by offering a far superior sound system to boot.
There is, then, considerable interest in its replacement, the just-revealed A95L, and despite the freshness of its announcement to the world, we’ve already been treated to a demo of it in action.
As ever, we won’t be delivering a final verdict on this or any other TV until we’ve had it into our labs for comprehensive, comparative testing, but we can use this hands-on time along with a deep-dive into the specs to gauge how good Sony’s second-gen QD-OLED might be.
So with no further ado, here are our first impressions of the Sony A95L.
Price and availability
The Sony A95L hasn’t yet been given a price or release date, with the company saying that those details will be announced "later in 2023". However, there’s little evidence of Sony positioning it any differently to the super-premium A95K, so it seems likely that it will be priced similarly.
For reference, the A95K launched at £2699 / $3000 for the 55-inch model (which wasn’t released in Australia) and £3499 / $4000 / AU$5995 for the 65-inch version. The A95L will also be available in a 77-inch size, but there’s never before been a 77-inch QD-OLED so it’s very hard to predict how much it might cost. What we would say is that the price gaps tend to be disproportionately large when you get to these sorts of sizes, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the 77-inch A95L turned out to cost at least £5499 / $6000 / AU$10,000.
Last year’s A95K is a great-looking TV, mostly because of its innovative stand, which can be placed in front of the TV so that it can sit flush against a wall, or behind it so that you can’t see it at all from the front. The problem with the stand is that it’s extremely heavy, which makes setup a pain and can’t be good for shipping, either from a cost to Sony or ecological point of you.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Sony has opted for a simpler design consisting of two aluminium feet for the A95L. These feet sit at the extremes of the bottom edge of the TV so as not to create reflections on the screen, but this also gives the set a massive footprint. The 77-inch model includes the option of having the feet installed more centrally so that the TV can have a narrower footprint, and we wish the 55- and 65-inch models did, too. All models do support a “soundbar stand position” that raises the TV up a few centimetres so that a soundbar can be slotted underneath.
As is the norm for a modern, flagship OLED TV, the pure black bezel is super-thin and flush with the display area of the screen. Unlike many OLED TVs but in keeping with Sony’s designs, the A95L isn’t exactly gob-smackingly thin, but its extra thickness is largely down to it housing an advanced heatsink and an unusual, actuator-based sound system as well as all of the usual processing hardware and connections.
Sony also puts more effort than most into making the sides and rears of its sets interesting to look at, and the A95L continues that with its chequerboard pattern. Sony says it’s also increased its use of SORPLAS – a unique material made from primarily recycled plastics.
Not only is this Sony’s second-generation QD-OLED TV, it also appears to feature a second-generation QD-OLED panel. I say “appears” because Sony, like most of its rivals, is very coy about the components it uses in its TVs, but we know that there is now a new, brighter QD-OLED panel being manufactured by the only QD-OLED TV panel manufacturer in the world – Samsung Display – and that this is the only feasible way that Sony could be providing its claim that the A95L is able to achieve an “up to 200 per cent peak brightness increase from the A95K from 2022”.
A 200 per cent increase sounds ridiculously huge and would put the A95L in 3000-nit territory. It seems likely that Sony has made a mathematical error here and that what it means is that the A95L can go up to twice as bright as the A95K, but I've requested clarification.
Of course, performance is about more than the panel itself, and Sony has confirmed that to the QD-OLED panel it’s added its own heat diffusion sheet (the heatsink mentioned above) and bespoke thermal analysis via the set’s Cognitive Processor XR.
The Cognitive Processor XR is also responsible for Sony’s broader picture processing, which is arguably the best in the business. The key picture processing upgrade coming in 2023 is a new feature called XR Clear Image. Sony says this is an adaptive technology that cleans and clears up source material to optimise it for the TV’s 4K resolution.
What’s most interesting about this is that Sony claims it understands what the resolution of the source material really is, even if it’s being upscaled by a device (a Blu-ray player, for example) before being sent to the TV. It also, seemingly, can process 4K content, presumably because it apparently looks not only at the resolution of the signal, but also things such as the encoding parameters and the bit rate. It can then apply Adaptive Noise Reduction and Adaptive Super Resolution as appropriate, and get rid of noise and/or blur.
There are upgrades on the gaming side, too, but they don’t go as far as some people will have hoped. The good news is that Dolby Vision gaming is finally supported. In fact, the A95L is the only model in Sony’s new TV range that supports it. We understand that’s because it’s the only model that features the new MediaTek Pentonic 1000 HDMI chipset (Sony obviously won’t confirm), but it has to be said that other manufacturers have been offering Dolby Vision gaming at up to 60Hz even on previous MediaTek chips. For what it’s worth, we believe that the A95L’s support of Dolby Vision gaming does stretch right up to 4K/120Hz, but I’ve asked Sony to clarify.
The company has already confirmed that the A95L supports 4K/120Hz gaming in general, as well as VRR and ALLM. And Sony has finally joined its rivals in offering a dedicated game menu that gives quick and fairly stylish access to a number of game-specific features such as motion blur reduction and a black equaliser that’s designed to reveal more shadow detail. There’s also an option to add a bold crosshair to the centre of the screen, which sounds even more like cheating than the black equaliser, but each to their own.
One cool feature of Sony’s game menu that I’ve not seen elsewhere is the option to reduce the image size so that your game essentially becomes a smaller window on the screen. Why would you want to do that? Competitive gamers often like to play on relatively small screens that require less eye movement so that action can be responded to more quickly. This feature would allow them to watch movies and TV shows in full screen, but reduce the size of the image for hardcore gaming. The size of the window can be reduced from 100 per cent right down to 30 per cent and anything in between.
The A95L is also alone in the Sony lineup in getting a feature called Multi View, which allows you to split the screen into two windows so you can, for example, play a game in one while simultaneously following a YouTube tutorial in the other.
One last A95L exclusive is that it’s the only model in the new range that comes bundled with the Bravia CAM camera (it's an optional accessory for the other TVs in the range). This clips to the TV's top edge and unlocks a host of smart features, including video calling, automatic power saving and picture and sound optimisation based on the specific spot in the room that you're sitting in. We weren't entirely convinced by Bravia CAM last year, but we're intrigued to give it another go when we test this year's new models.
As with last year’s models, Sony’s 2023 TVs run the Google TV operating system. There are no major changes to this year’s version of the OS that I'm aware of, but Sony has built microphones into the chassis of the A95L (and most of its 2023 sets) so that the TV can be operated completely hands-free.
During Sony’s launch event, I was treated to a brief demonstration of an early prototype of the A95L in action. The prototype nature of the set meant that it could only be run in its Vivid picture mode, which isn’t the sort of mode you’d want to use at home but is useful for demonstrating the performance extremes of the set. Provided for comparison were last year’s Sony A95K and the Samsung S95B, also a 2022 model.
To get straight to the point, the A95L looked awesome. Significantly brighter and more dynamic than the A95K, but not in a retina-searing, turned-up-to-11 way, despite the Vivid preset. That isn’t to say it looked cinematically authentic – far too cool blue for that – but it certainly didn’t look as unnaturally vivid as you might imagine.
The brightness increase over the S95B was less dramatic but clearly noticeable, and what most struck me was how much subtler it looked in terms of colour balance. The extra saturation offered by the Quantum Dots was clear in both sets, particularly in the brightest parts of the picture, but the A95L looked clearly more believable to my eyes.
The A95L also looked more crisply defined than the other two sets, with sharper edges and better detail recovery. Combined with that extra punch and dynamism, the end result was a deeper, more three-dimensional image.
In all, I had about 5 minutes with the A95L and, as mentioned, it was an early prototype, so even by the standards of hands-on sessions, this one must be taken with a hefty dose of salt, but we’re certainly chomping at the bit to get a final, production model into our test rooms for independent testing.
The A95L was muted during the demo, so I genuinely don’t know how it sounds, but it’s interesting that Sony isn’t flagging any big upgrades here over the A95K. In all likelihood, that’s because there aren’t any, but that would be no bad thing – the A95K is already one of the best-sounding TVs you can buy.
It has been confirmed that the A95L uses a 2.2-channel system that consists of two actuators that vibrate the whole screen in order to make sound, backed up by two more regular woofers that add bass. The goal of the actuator-based system is to ensure that the sound and picture are spatially connected, and it’s an approach that’s worked well for Sony for years now. It seems unlikely that this is about to change, but we’ll thoroughly test the TV’s sound before passing judgement on it.
Again, no hands-on demo is ever suitable for drawing firm conclusions on a product, and this A95L demo was more limited than most, not least because of the early prototype nature of the sample used. That said, this is a TV that’s being built on supremely solid foundations – those of the A95K – so it would be of little surprise if it turned out to be an excellent TV.
Certainly, I saw nothing during the demo to suggest that Sony has made a horrible mistake here, but we’ll find out for sure when we conduct our full and frank review. The A95L’s price and the performances of its rivals will have to be factored in before we can deliver our final verdict, too.
All of that is still to come, but there’s no denying that Sony’s second-gen QD-OLED makes a very fine first impression.
Can the A95L beat the Samsung S95C with which it (almost certainly) shares a panel?
And don't forget the new MLA-boosted LG G3
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It's all very well producing an amazing TV if placing it on the furniture in your room is going to be a problem.... :confused: