Sony’s top of the line OLED for 2021, the BRAVIA Master Series A90J, is an incredible TV, in fact the best TV I have ever reviewed. It is a technological wonder, thin and stylish and powerful, packed with features that offer a state-of-the-art user experience plus incredible picture quality. It is a TV that delivers on the promise of OLED, with superb color, contrast, motion and 4K detail.

By now, the benefits of OLED are well-known to video enthusiasts, and especially cinema fans. The self-emissive pixels provide a level of native contrast that has thus far alluded LED-lit LCD TVs, with the ability to reproduce essentially perfect blacks. Under ideal conditions, including controlled lighting and appropriate viewing distance, the picture quality achieved by OLED remains unchallenged in the consumer TV realm. The result is a viewing experience that draws you into the movie, or video game, or show. And among OLEDs, the A90J stands for offering next-generation features like the Cognitive Processor XR, XR sound, HDMI 2.1 and eARC that ensure whatever format of 4K video you feed it, you’ll get the best possible quality.

For this hands-on review, we’ll look at how the A90J performs with streaming, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, video games, as well as live TV.


Features and Specifications

This is a 4K OLED offering broad support for video and audio formats, thanks to two HDMI 2.1 inputs. Early adopters will have to wait for VRR (variable refresh rate) support, but right out-of-the-box this TV is able to handle 4K at 120 Hz. It is an IMAX Enhanced display, and it is capable of streaming 4K at Ultra HD Blu-ray bitrates through Sony’s Bravia Core app. You even get a voucher for movie 10 titles on Bravia Core, when you buy an A90J.

A major feature for 2021 is an improved OLED panel that achieves higher levels of brightness. This is achieved through the addition of an aluminum layer that facilitates heat dissipation. The result is that (according to rtings.com) an A90J can achieve a peak luminance of >800 nits (in a small window).

This is Sony's flagship OLED model, equipped with the Cognitive Processor XR, which Sony states is capable of identifying different types of content and applying optimal processing. With its increased processing power combined with an OLED panel, the A90J delivers top-tier image quality across the board, from upscaling to motion processing to noise reduction. This processing power is put to good use by the wide variety of video formats and resolutions supported by this TV, ranging from standard definition HD broadcast television, to IMAX Enhanced 4K HDR, plus Dolby Vision and HLG. The Sony A90J is available in three screen sizes: 55", 65 and a new 83” option (replacing 77”). This review focuses on the 65" model, but you can expect similar performance and the same features in all three sizes.

The TV itself impresses with its modern good looks. As is expected from OLED, it is incredibly thin—Sony calls it “Seamless Edge”. And, the bezel has been reduced to practically nothing, so when you turn it on, the picture goes almost right to the edge of the TV itself.

This OLED has four HDMI inputs, two of which (HDMI 3 and 4) offer eARC, 120 Hz 4K, variable refresh rate (VRR), and auto low latency mode (ALLM). eARC delivers lossless sound and 3D immersive audio to a sound system through a single HDMI connection, while VRR allows the TV to match the fluctuating frame rates of game consoles and PCs and goes hand-in-hand with ALLM, which reduces input lag when you are gaming.

One of the most intriguing features of this TV is nothing to do with picture, but everything to do with the screen. XR Sound is a Sony technology that allows sound to come from the screen itself, instead of from separate speakers. This has the explicit advantage of making sound appear to come from the screen itself, and this TV takes the concept one step further by allowing you to use it as a center channel speaker in an AVR-based surround-sound system (it has a speaker cable connection to facilitate this). Yes, you can even run the room correction on your AVR, and include the center-channel TV in the process. For anyone interested in this feature, the TV's low frequency extension reaches to roughly 100 Hz, so the usual 80 Hz crossover is a too low. Go for 100 Hz instead.

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You can connect the A90J to your AVR's speaker output and it'll serve as a center channel speaker.

Of course, you can also watch the A90J with XR sound all on its own, where its performance is an audible cut above what comes with many other TVs. It even offers its own Acoustic Audio Calibration function, which provides room correction for the built-in sound. The result, audio that is competitive with the fidelity of good soundbars (albeit lacking a subwoofer) while offering the specific advantage of having the sound come from the screen, instead of below it.

The A90J runs on the Google TV platform, which has supplanted Android TV. In this iteration, it is a fast and easy interface that includes easy access to the Google Voice assistant (via a dedicated button on the remote). Google TV boasts the ability to browse over 700,000 movies and TV episodes, over various supported streaming services, all organized by topic and genre. You can also use this TV with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Additional network connectivity includes Chromecast built-in and support for Apple AirPlay.

The remote is notable for being full-sized, backlit, and incorporating a numeric keypad for direct channel entry. You also get dedicated buttons for YouTube, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime video as well as playback controls, a d-pad, and buttons for direct access to power, voice assistant, settings, input, home screen, mute, volume and of course channel. It’s a great remote, it feels good in the hand, and comes with clearly marked buttons that are easy to read day or night.

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The remote is full featured and includes a number pad for direct channel entry, as well as voice control.

Usually a TV’s stand, be it feet or a pedestal, are barely worth a mention. But the A90J sports an intriguing design for its stand, it can be configured three different ways: A wide stance, which puts the feed at the edges of the screen, a narrow stance, which allows the TV to rest on a small stand to that is not as wide as the TV itself, and the position that lifts the TV so that you can use it in conjunction with a soundbar.

To see the full, extensive feature list of the A90J, check out the specifications on Sony.com


Hands-On

I love watching this TV. Every time I do, it reminds me of why OLED owners can be so fanatical about their TVs, and also of what’s possible when you design a display around the idea of matching a content creator’s vision. Which is to say, we’re well into the 4K HDR era, content is no longer scarce, so there’s plenty of eye-popping content to appreciate on a reference-quality display like the A90J.

Before getting into comments on content, a quick note. If you seek a technical review, this is not it. I’ve hung up my meters, in the sense that I do not perform custom calibrations on TVs anymore. I recommend checking rtings.com if you are looking for a variety of technical measurements that are performed consistently, and can be compared easily to many other TVs. There certainly is value to this approach, and I appreciate the reviewers who put in the legwork to do in-depth measurements. As for the A90J, you’ll find it performs well from an objective viewpoint, backed up by measurements. So, it’s not a huge surprise that subjectively speaking, it looks awesome.

I watched the A90J daily for several weeks, with the following content mix: Philadelphia 76ers basketball in 1080p via YouTube TV, 4K streaming movies with the Bravia Core app, 4K Movies in HDR with Dolby Atmos using a Kaleidescape Strato, self-produced 4K video via YouTube, plus 4K streaming with Netflix and HBO Max. I also played some GTA 5 Online using my PS4 Pro.

It’s almost beside the point to discuss how this TV does with regular TV, like sports. Except, the effect of the rich colors and high contrast is a reminder that OLED picture quality benefits all content, even if it’s not 4K. That, and Sony’s savvy upscaling and noise processing allow it to output a picture that looks very natural, and detailed, that does not fall apart with fast pans and heavy action. I could not help but smile at how the A90J makes the players look so realistic, and adds a sense of depth to the image, while lesser TVs look flat in comparison. It may not be using the TV to its full capabilities, but no question I’d rather watch the Sixers win on an A90J.

The pinnacle experience I had with this TV were my two viewings of Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This is one of the most beautifully animated, deeply textured, kinetic, finely-detailed movies and the A90J looked absolutely stunning. The first viewing, via the Bravia Core app, looked practically perfect. Bravia Core has a feature called PureStream that offers up to 80MBPS bandwidth. The result is what you’d call “Ultra HD Blu-ray quality”, 100%. Of course, you need a reliable and fast Internet connection to take full advantage. But the reward video-on-demand streaming that is home theater quality. My second viewing was through a Kaleidescape Strato 4K player, which works with downloaded data, as opposed to streaming.

Kaleidescape is—at the very minimum—equal to Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, and in some cases, it offers even higher bandwidth than disc, because there are not the same space limitations. That factor makes the Strato the ultimate 4K source for movies at home, and from what I saw, the encoding is perfect. I never, ever saw a single pixel out of place. Even the darkest scenes maintained delineation between subtle differences in shade. And there was absolutely no visible noise, no artifacts, nothing but the movie. Even the busiest, most action-packed, wildly animated scenes were rendered in crisp detail with vivid color that made everything pop. And Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not shy about putting intense color on screen. But the “piece de resistance” of my critical viewing were surely the dark scenes from Multi-Verse, it’s a rare treat to see an “uncalibrated” TV, using out-of-the-box-settings, do so well with such difficult material.

So, the key to this Sony A90J is it achieves cutting-edge picture quality because it combines Sony picture processing with a high-quality OLED panel that gets brighter than previous generation OLEDs. Depending on the scene, you can anticipate over 800 nits peak highlights, which gives HDR that extra zippy retina-tingling feeling. By comparing measurements from rtings.com it’s easy to see that the A90J significantly exceeds the brightness capabilities of the Sony A9G as well as LG’s CX. And it’s not just brighter when showing car headlights or a starfield, it is also capable of greater full-screen brightness, which is useful for “regular TV” and daytime watching. Now, during the day in a bright room, an OLED TV doesn’t look special, it looks like a “regular” TV, unless you are paying attention to viewing angles. But, in the past I have found OLED to be in the dim side of things, while the A90J is fully bright enough to look “proper” in my living room during the day.

Sony has utilized an extremely effective antireflective coating on this TV, but it should be noted that it is a glossy coating so there is a mirror effect when there is something bright in the background. But overall, Sony has put together an OLED that is a great TV by day and an extraordinary, world-class piece piece of display technology by night (or when you close the shades). And I can easily see building a dedicated home theater style viewing space around the 83-inch model.

Don’t even bother seeking the same effect OLED offers from a FALD-LCD TV, because it’s the native contrast is what matters here, not inflated contrast measurements based on zone lighting, which does not reflect a TV’s ability to sharply delineate two adjacent pixels. And here’s a fact known to photographers and videographers alike: Micro-contrast increases perceived sharpness and detail. It’s just the way your eyes work, if you are drawing a sharp edge between light and dark, the transition is by definition abrupt. A FALD-LCD with a VA panel can (typically) only hope to achieve between 3000:1 and maybe 7000:1 native contrast, while OLED is offering what is usually described as “infinity to one” contrast, which is to say, pure black if that’s what’s called for. This manifests as clearer textured, greater delineation of in-focus objects, more readable text, etc.

I don’t have any way to “objectively” measure how close to perfect the A90J’s picture really is, but it’s pretty darned close to my eyes, and that’s with the picture quality right out of the box (Custom mode, Expert 1 color temp). Indeed, the accuracy is such that except for the most nitpicky viewers (perhaps someone who’s day job is colorist for a Hollywood studio?) it’s as close to perfect as it ever needs to be. But make no mistake, with the right gear you can take the accuracy of this TV even further, to levels that would inspire confidence were you to use the A90J to master video content. Which, by the way, is what the Master Series is all about, coming as close to what the content creator saw on their calibrated mastering display. But the point is, even if you don’t get it calibrated, this Sony offers shockingly good color accuracy, in keeping with its namesake.

Beyond calibration, the A90J offers users many options to fine-tune its picture to taste, but here again the A90J proves its worth by shipping with default settings that are thoughtfully fine-tuned, so that a typical buyer will have a very positive experience so long as they are adventurous enough to try a movie-friendly picture mode.

When it comes to screens and picture quality, what works for animation usually works for video games, too. Rich color, high contrast and fine detail are the ingredients for a more immersive, realistic-looking gaming experience. Now, unfortunately I have yet to score a PS5, and I am eager to see what it brings to the table in terms of graphics quality. But here again, even with the PS4 Pro, the overall benefit of Sony’s color accurate, bright, vivid OLED comes through in the form of graphics that appear to have depth, and rendering of dark areas that lets you see deep into shadows (avoiding black crush) while maintaining clear delineation between the different shades. And something else you notice, the deep shadows do gray out, they retain color information as well.

On the audio side, what Sony has done with XR Sound is impressive. Personally, I'll always opt to pair a TV with a full-size, AVR-based audio system. It is the best way to ensure the listening experience matches the impressive visuals. This is made all that much easier thanks to eARC, which worked seamlessly with my AVR and a Theory Audio Design 5.2.2 active speaker system.

But if you do not wish to at a speaker system or a soundbar to the A90J, you still get an elevated listening experience as compared to the vast majority of TVs. for one, The effect of having vocals come from the screen itself is something that until now has been reserved for acoustically transparent projection screens. Plus, the TV is able to reproduce stereo sound, and even virtualized surround-sound using just the screen! Of course you get the same effect with today's soundbars, but if you like the absolute minimalism that this TV's design offers, then you could go without.

Or... you could use the TV as a center channel speaker. Don't laugh, it's got enough output, and sound is good enough in general, that this is a viable approach. Now, you'd probably want to go with the dedicated center if you're looking for a true home theater-worthy surround-sound experience using high-end gear. But, with a modest AVR-based rig, using the TV as the center channel is not merely viable, it's probably better at the task than most entry-level center channel speakers! Again, the fact that dialog comes from the screen itself is a huge benefit, and Sony is the only manufacturer offering this capability.


Conclusion

If you seek the best-of-the-best in 4K TV, the Sony A90J is a truly compelling option. It offers impeccable picture quality, a rich feature set, excellent ease of use, and is a stunning piece of industrial design. You don’t have to be a movie lover or gamer to appreciate what OLED offers, but it is particularly well suited to those two forms of entertainment. But this Sony is not just a great OLED, it is a great Sony TV, which is reflected in all the thoughtful design touches as well as the unparalleled picture quality it can achieve. It is a clear Top Choice for 2021 for anyone seeking the all-around best 4K TV their money can buy.

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