Our initial impressions of the ZF9 LCD model will be coming soon, but we’re ready to deliver our early thoughts on the AF9 OLED.
First, if you’ve not yet read our news story from the event, you may well be wondering what this Master Series is all about.
The idea is that these are professional-grade TVs that get as close to the content creator’s intention as is currently possible. Sony’s in a unique position to deliver this, as it manufactures many of the cameras used by filmmakers and the reference display used by practically every movie studio.
You may be, as we are, confused by the logic of starting with the goal of creating the most accurate picture possible and ending up with not one but two reference models utilising very different display technologies.
Sony didn’t immediately have an explanation for the approach, and wouldn’t answer our question about which of the two it considers to be the more accurate. Instead the company says it’s simply offering choice to consumers.
While there was no opportunity to see the AF9 and the ZF9 running the same content side-by-side, we can surmise the choice will largely be between the perfect blacks of OLED and the brighter, punchier approach of a direct-backlit LCD.
For what it’s worth, at this early juncture it’s the former approach that seems the more agreeable to us.
While the AF9 isn’t necessarily a replacement for the A1 (Sony has suggested that the two models will run concurrently, at least in the short term), it’s clear from first glance it’s a development of that model’s approach.
That’s because the AF9, like the A1, has an easel-like stance, with the extremely thin main panel leaning against a chunkier stand section. In fact, the AF9’s lean-to stand is much chunkier than that of the A1, and is shaped more like a half-hexagon than a rectangle.
The reason for the larger design is presumably because it contains two subwoofers, rather than the A1's single sub. They fire to the side, too, rather than backwards - Sony says this improves performance when the TV is wall-mounted.
The extra woofer isn’t the only change made to the built-in sound system. As the A1 did, the AF9 relies on actuators that vibrant the entire screen in order to make a sound, but it also adds a third, central actuator to those on the left and right. The result is a 3.2 speaker system rated to 98W that’s invisible when the TV is viewed from the front.
Besides tweaking the configuration of the speaker system, Sony’s also enhanced both the actuators themselves and the entire structure of the panel that they vibrate.
The transducers are mounted on a metal, rather than plastic, body with six mounting points instead of the four of before. Add a brass reinforcement plate between them and you’ve got a far more rigid design, one Sony says improves performance dramatically.
One peculiar discovery is a pair of speaker terminals on the rear of the television. They’re there so that you can use the TV as the centre speaker in a surround sound system, with your home cinema amp sending audio via standard speaker cable. It’s an ingenious idea, one that says a lot about the confidence Sony has in the AF9’s sound quality.
The finer details of the AF9’s finish are harder for us to discern on account of Sony’s event space and demo rooms being dimmer than the Batcave. What we can confirm is its bezels are very thin and very dark, and they enable to the TV to effectively vanish in a dark room.
More after the break
At the heart of the AF9 (and ZF9) is the X1 Ultimate processor.
This upgrade over the X1 Extreme of the A1 (and XF9005) brings with it two key features: 'Object-based Super Resolution' (“for exceptional accuracy and detail”), and an enhanced version of the company’s 'Object-based HDR Remaster'.
The X1 Ultimate also (presumably) plays a part in another new feature: the 'Pixel Contrast Booster', which “maximises the dynamic range by widening the area of colour reproduction at high brightness”.
It’s always hard to draw firm conclusions from a manufacturer-controlled demo, but the AF9 certainly looks impressive.
For an OLED this is bright and punchy - potentially more so than any current rival that uses the same tech - but with a level of accuracy made clear through comparisons to the BVM-X300 studio reference monitor. It’s not identical - nothing is - but it delivers the core image more faithfully than anything we’ve seen before.
Blacks are obviously as deep as they get and, when combined with that extra level of brightness, make for stunning contrast. But there’s lots of detail in the depth, too - as there is in the light.
In short, it's an exceptionally natural picture, one requiring no tweaking to achieve - Sony asserts our demos were done using the 'Custom' preset with no additional calibration.
Just how exceptional will only become truly clear once we have a sample to test against the competition in our own, independent fashion.
One feature we weren’t able to see in action but that certainly sounds intriguing, is one called Netflix Calibrated Mode. This single menu setting allows viewers to watch Netflix Originals exactly as intended, automatically tweaking dynamic contrast and colour settings, and sharpening up motion without (apparently) introducing the dreaded ‘soap opera’ effect. If Netflix Calibrated Mode delivers on its promise, we can see it being very popular indeed.
So having outlined the ways in which Sony has enhanced its invisible speaker system, how does it actually sound? For a TV, it's very good indeed.
A demo of The Greatest Showman proves instantly impressive. This is a very open and spacious sound, but one with real directness - and, it seems, much improved focus for voices. There’s real weight, too, but it integrates with the mid-range to deliver a presentation that’s rich and warm by television standards.
Even played at 70% volume this will fill most rooms, and there is no evidence of brightness or harshness at the top end. When really pushed, though, we do get a sense of the speaker system running out of steam a bit.
It sounds just a touch flat when fed the grandest dynamic shifts and a little lacking in sparkle at the top end. Still, we have little doubt this will be one of, if not the, best-sounding TV available when it launches.
We’re yet to be convinced of its suitability as a centre speaker, though. In Sony’s demos it didn’t seem to integrate well enough with the front-left and front-right speakers, sounding tonally and rhythmically disconnected somewhat.
It’s a clever idea and a neat solution, to be sure, but our suspicion at this early stage is that a traditional centre speaker will serve your home cinema better.
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It's impossible to draw firm conclusions from manufacturer-controlled demonstrations at an event such as this. But on first acquaintance the AF9 is very impressive, and almost certainly a step up from the much-loved A1.
But whether it could take the LG C8 in a straight fight is another matter, and price could play a huge factor - we’re expecting the AF9 to be an expensive telly whether you go for the 65in or 55in model.
While a release date is also yet to be confirmed, we’re hopeful Sony will get both the AF9 and ZF9 to us in time to be considered for our 2018 Awards.