When it comes to OLED TVs, LG has ruled the roost so far. That’s all set to change this year when Sony unleashes its new Bravia A1 Series sets into the world. More than being the manufacturer’s first proper OLED teles, the 4K and HDR compatible A1 Series is a big deal for their sound.
Rather than working like every other TV in existence, these Bravias don’t actually feature a speaker. Instead they make audio by vibrating their screens, which - let’s face it - is absolutely amazing.
We’ve seen the thing in action at CES 2017 and here’s how it works.
BUSINESS AT THE FRONT, PARTY IN THE BACK
As you’d expect from an OLED set, Sony’s A1 TVs are extremely handsome indeed. They’re super-thin and futuristic, just like all those LG OLEDs we’ve come to know and love.
While the two manufacturers’ sets might not look all that different face-on, Sony’s A1s have a particularly eye-catching rump. Their behinds are shaped like a picture frame stand, so will lie flush at a slant on the table or cabinet of your choosing. That’s instead of sitting on top of a pair of feet or a stand.
It’s a novel TV design that we’re big fans of. The only thing we’re worried about? Sticking a soundbar in front of your new Bravia will block off half its screen.
A SPEAKERLESS MARVEL
According to Sony, you shouldn’t need one of those. Thanks to its Acoustic Surface technology, this OLED will make a load of noise via its vibrating screen. So the necessity to buy an extra soundbar or surround sound setup is negated.
As to whether that’s actually the case in practice… we’re a little bit skeptical. We weren’t able to hear the Bravia A1 in action at CES - it’s a busy convention with thousands of attendees, in fairness - but this is an experimental technology we’re talking about here and those are tough to get right first time. Because the screen is vibrating to create sound, we also wonder whether that’ll lead to any image blur.
In theory at least, the Bravia A1 OLED’s sound could prove super-immersive. Imagine an explosion rippling across a TV screen or jet fighter coming into land, you should be able to hear that noise as it darts across the TV.
AS GOOD AS AN LG OLED?
When it comes to picture quality, we have plenty of faith in this 4K HDR OLED. Not only did the test footage of sweeping vistas and luminous close-ups look great on the set we saw, but the Bravia A1 is strongly rumoured to be made from LG’s panel tech that Sony has bought for itself. If that’s the case, then that takes a lot of the trial and error out of making this TV a success.
Don’t know what makes OLED sets so stunning? Where LCD TVs - such as those made by Samsung - rely on a backlight to be illuminated, each individual pixel in an OLED is self-illuminating. This allows for ridiculously sharp contrast in images, where you can place a white and red pixel next to each other without them bleeding into each other.
This kind of wizardry is especially important when you’re watching content in High Dynamic Range, which ensures expert contrast and colour accuracy. To that end, the Sony Bravia A1 supports both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR formats, future-proofing it for the TV you’ll be streaming over the next five years or so. And it also features Sony’s top-end X1 Extreme chipset for intelligent upscaling of HD sources onto its Ultra HD display.
ANDROID TV AGAIN
For all it’s promise, Android TV isn’t yet on the same par as Samsung’s Tizen-based Smart Hub or LG’s webOS. It’s had a tendency to slow down Sony’s previous teles and can hobble them with lengthy updates when all you wanna do is skip straight into a new episode of The OA. That said, there’s a fairly decent selection of apps available for download - including Netflix and BBC iPlayer - from Google’s Play Store, and Chromecast support comes built-in as well.
SONY BRAVIA A1 OLED INITIAL VERDICT
With LG’s OLED reign having gone unchallenged over the past few years, we’re glad to see Sony’s Bravia A1 come in with some serious competition. Not only does this OLED look the business, but its Acoustic Surface tech is something we’ve never seen before in a tele. While pricing details are yet to be announced, we do know the A1 will be available in 55, 65, and 77-inch sizes this spring. We can’t wait to get it in for testing then.