OLED Remastered
Sound & Vision|October - November 2020
The XBR-65A8H rests on legs positioned 40 inches apart for a tabletop setup, allowing it to sit securely on any solid piece of furniture you might reasonably choose for a 65-inch diagonal (57-inch wide) television.
Thomas J. Norton

WE PREVIOUSLY reviewed Sony’s XBR-65A9G OLED, a member of the company’s Master Series Ultra HDTV family, in our October/ November 2019 issue (also available at soundandvision.com). While that set is still available and remains a first-class option, the only advantages it appears to offer over the new XBR-65A8H OLED reviewed here are slightly more sophisticated sound features plus an ability to serve as a center channel in an outboard multichannel audio setup.

The XBR-65A8H, meanwhile, is priced considerably lower than its Master Series predecessor at $2,800.

FEATURES AND SETUP

The XBR-65A8H rests on legs positioned 40 inches apart for a tabletop setup, allowing it to sit securely on any solid piece of furniture you might reasonably choose for a 65-inch diagonal (57-inch wide) television.

Sony uses Google’s Android TV as its smart TV platform. Chromecast built-in lets the set play files streamed over your home network, mirror programs displayed on a portable device or computer screen and respond to limited vocal commands using Google Assistant. The XBR-65A8H is also compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

Sony’s Acoustic Surface technology in the XBR-65A8H uses left and right audio actuators attached to the back of the OLED panel that vibrate the screen itself to produce sound. There’s also a separate woofer radiating from the back of the set. I heard no deep bass to speak of, but the overall sound was well-balanced and listenable, and better than what you get with most flat-panel TVs. Sony claims that the XBR-65A8H supports Dolby Atmos, though none of the speakers contained within the set itself fire upward to create steered sound from overhead—the whole point of Atmos.

The XBR-65A8H supports the HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+ high dynamic range formats. Its HDMI inputs are version 2.0, with eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) being the only supported HDMI 2.1 feature. No future upgrade path to full HDMI 2.1 is planned, though all four of the set’s HDMI inputs do support the full 18 Gbps bandwidth required to pass today’s Ultra HD 4K HDR sources in 10-bit color. (Eight-bit color is standard for all SD and HD video sources.)

If an HDR source has been mastered with a higher peak white level than a given HDR display can handle (which is commonly the case), the signal must be “tone mapped” to prevent visible white clipping. Metadata encoded into all HDR sources tells a display how to do this. This source metadata is “static” for HDR10 material; that is, it provides a fixed correction from the beginning of a source to the end. But many modern Ultra HD sets use internal processing to analyze the program material and create their own dynamic metadata on the fly, generating corrections frame by frame. The Sony performs this through its most advanced processor, the X1 Ultimate, which also serves to upscale lower-resolution sources to 4K.

The 65A8H offers seven picture modes for either SDR or HDR10. Of these, I chose Custom. While there’s a Game mode, the set offers no specialized gaming features such as VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode).

There are three dedicated Dolby Vision Picture Modes: Dolby Vision Dark, Dolby Vision Bright, and Vivid. I preferred to use Dolby Vision Bright. There’s also a Netflix calibrated mode. No visible indication of this appears in the menus when watching a Netflix source, though it can be accessed from Sony's control app. Both 2-point and 10-point white balance calibration controls are provided in the Adv. color temperature menu, plus a full-color management system.

Sony’s Motionflow motion smoothing feature offers both Auto and Custom active modes. Custom allows the user to manually adjust the balance between frame interpolation (the Smoothness control) and black frame insertion (the Clearness adjustment). While Motionflow works somewhat better than competing motion blur solutions, I chose to leave it off. Neither Auto nor the other settings I tried offered smoother motion without adding a film as-video look (the infamous “soap-opera effect”), darkening the image, or both.

The Reality Creation feature found in the set’s Clarity menu is Sony’s sophisticated take on resolution enhancement and noise reduction. I never felt a need to use it with good-quality source material, though noise reduction did help somewhat when viewing one particularly poor-looking YouTube video.

Not only does the 65A8H not require separate calibrations for SDR and HDR, but you can’t even manually enter separate SDR/HDR color settings. Once an SDR calibration is completed, the set’s processing automatically applies corrections, in the background, to the color settings as needed to produce a correct calibration for all flavors of HDR.

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