Best 2021 OLED TV showdown: LG G1 Gallery vs. Sony A90J Master Series
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Design, Functionality and UI
Note: This feature was first published on 13 April 2022.
Better firmware make better TVs
Tech enthusiasts will know that both the LG G1 Gallery OLED Evo and Sony Bravia XR A90J Master Series models are the very best OLED TVs in the market, but they'll also be quick to point out that these were launched in mid-2021. So why are we visiting this topic at a juncture when new models will be out soon? First off, TVs, like mobile phones, get several firmware and software updates over time, and these soft advancements are getting ever more crucial to dictate your TV's abilities. Let's take a quick look at what advancements both these models gained since their launch:-
- May 2021: Virtual remote for Android TVs. Thanks to advances in the Google TV app, it allows you to use your phone as a remote for your Android TV. This benefits the Sony A90J that operates Google TV, the latest version of the Android TV operating system.
- May 2021: Tidal app comes to LG webOS 4 and higher TVs for high quality streaming audio with Dolby support, which the LG G1 can handily support with Dolby Atmos processing.
- June 2021: LG partners with Highbrow to bring educational videos to kids via their TVs. This benefits the LG G1 to be more kid-friendly.
- June 2021: Dolby Vision HDR 4K 120Hz support comes to LG C1 and G1 TVs. First and still the only TVs in the world to support this standard for amazing gameplay experience. These TVs also receive a new Game Dashboard feature, thus solidifying their pole position as top big-screen displays for gamers.
October 2021: Sony Bravia XR TVs to gain PS5-exclusive features.
November 2021: Apple Music now available on LG TVs, plus Apple TV+.
March 2022: Sony Bravia XR TVs finally get the promised VRR firmware update.
As you can see, the listed updates are just a quick snapshot to give you an idea of the rapid state of feature support advancement via firmware and app updates where both LG and Sony whip up gains. However, in my opinion, the most important of them is Sony's variable refresh rate (VRR) support that finally gives gamers a smooth, tear-free gaming experience without sudden dips and frame skips that might otherwise rob you of crucial moments in your gameplay when connecting your PC or Xbox Series X/S to the TV.
This was missing from the TV since it was launched nearly a year back, while LG's TVs have supported the full HDMI 2.1 feature functionality since the start. Had it not been for Sony's latest firmware update that's just weeks old, this LG vs. Sony comparison would have been a non-starter as you'll soon find out how closely matched both TVs are.
Without a possible comparison chance, we wouldn't even have the Best OLED TV category contention in our Editor's Choice segment of Tech Awards 2022. So perhaps, we've Sony to thank, albeit late in the game? Let's find out by digesting their official price points:-
|Size||LG G1 Gallery OLED||Sony A90J Master|
Before we begin, it would be useful to be familiar with what we've already covered so that we can skip covering those aspects in this article. Here's our video on what's new with the LG G1 Gallery TV and what you need to know about the Sony Bravia XR TV series and its XR Cognitive Processor. It will also be useful to keep tabs on what the previous-gen TVs (the LG CX and Sony A8H) offer to better understand the improvements on the 2021 models, which are still the leading options at the time of publishing.
Design and Build
First impressions count, so let's briefly check out how both TVs fare in the design and build department. We've covered a fair bit of the LG G1's overall design, build, default flush wall-mounting capability and the optional Gallery stand in our previous video at this segment:-
In comparison, the Sony A90J Master Series oozes a tad more understated sophistication and elegance with its ultra-thin bezels, finished with its well-known branding at one of its corners. While the Sony A90J comes with TV feet by default, they have a smart design to them where they can be angled out to have the TV screen sit flush against the base of your TV console, or it can be fixed in a raised position to accommodate a soundbar below it. As such, the A90J is also more versatile, design-wise.
Ironically, this TV boasts an impressive audio delivery system that negates a soundbar investment unless you require very strong sonic performance. Speaking of which, its rear cabinet isn't a lot thicker to accommodate its integrated sound system, yet it appears classier than the LG from even its rear, thanks to the functional aluminium heatsink backing.
Ports and accessibility are expectedly in their usual placements, where the USB ports and one HDMI port are slightly recessed on the left side of the Sony A90J, while most of the other HDMI ports are facing down and are further behind.
Notes for Gamers
Changing gears to gaming, this is a domain that LG is fiercely guarding and is leading the field. The G1 (as well as the C1 and B1 series) is still the only TV that offers quad HDMI 2.1-compliant ports, which means they support 4K gaming at 120Hz with variable refresher rate (VRR) support on all of them. If you have a few gaming consoles/systems and an external audio subsystem, you don't have to pick and choose who gets to use the HDMI 2.1 port for the best gaming experiences on the Xbox Series X, the Playstation 5 (eventually), and even on your gaming PC connected to the big screen.
LG is also the only TV brand consistently featured on NVIDIA's G-Sync compatible list, supports the AMD Freesync Premium tier, plus it's also the only screen to support Dolby Vision HDR gaming on 4K 120Hz with supported gaming titles, which is a considerable feat. Let's not forget the Game Dashboard where you can dial up features and makes adjustments while you're in-game.
Over on Sony's top TV, only two of the quad HDMI HDCP 2.3 ports support the full HDMI 2.1 spec, meaning if you use an external sound system to pipe audio from your streamed shows on Netflix, you're only left with one other HDMI 2.1 port to be shared among your high-end gaming consoles/systems. The other two HDMI ports comply with HDMI 2.0 specs, which means they will support up to 4K 60Hz inputs - more than enough for casual needs, but not for gamers who have the latest consoles and/or gaming PCs capable of high refresh rate, high resolution gaming and are all vying for the limited port options.
Clearly, LG is the best TV for gamers at this juncture.
The unassuming remotes play a much bigger role than most of us would care to admit, but it's clearly your gateway to operating the TV, despite the fact both LG and Sony TVs can be controlled via your phone when paired appropriately with the right apps. So what's there to pick about?
Let's start with LG's newly revamped remote that's slimmer, sleeker and has more tactile buttons that you could mostly activate from muscle memory. It also sits very comfortably in hand and offers shortcut buttons to all three popular video streaming channels in Singapore: Amazon, Disney+, and Netflix.
Voice-control functionality with Google Assistant or Alexa assistant is also a button press away. And not to forget, LG's claim to fame in TV UX matters is thanks to their Magic Remote functionality, whereby the remote acts as your mouse pointer in an instant to navigate TV interface options and even web surfing without a concern. Check out all these features in action via my video overview in this segment:-
There are only two things to nitpick. It still doesn't offer back-lit buttons for easier dark room usage, nor does it have direct media control buttons, which depending on the video player or streaming service used, would require additional button presses to gain the required controls.
Now Sony's remote for the A90J Master Series actually offers these two aspects that are missing from LG's remote. Direct media controls are quite a boon with immediate forward/rewind options at hand rather than invoking the player's controls before activating the desired function. But this comes at a cost.
The remote is unnecessarily long and slender, and some of the non-important buttons are uncomfortably small to engage. Plus, the main navigation pad doesn't feel as good as Sony's older remotes. It's also missing the Quick Action button (this was present in Sony's older TV remotes) to activate frequently used settings/options such as blanking the TV's screen, which is useful when using the screen as the main audio driver in your home. Just launch your favourite Spotify playlist and turn off the screen while the TV still remains operational and continues to blast your tunes. The equivalent functions are more difficult to get to on the newer Google TV interface on the Sony A90J, coupled with the newer settings layout. I'm also not so sure how many would appreciate a YouTube Music shortcut button on the remote over having a Disney+ button, but I prefer the latter to be at hand.
The other saving grace is that the remote has motion and ambient sensor-based backlit-controlled keys that light up as soon as you pick up the remote in the dark, which is quite cool.
As cool as it looks and functions, LG is still the better contender for a user-friendly remote that has better overall form and functionality.
The TV UI quotient - LG's webOS 6 or Sony's Google TV?
What about from a TV usability perspective? Even though Sony's Google TV has had a makeover, LG's webOS 6 still trumps the Japanese counterpart.
From having a central pool of movie and show recommendations across different video streaming options, to having quick access to your connected smart home appliances and even jumping to a preferred input device, LG's new home screen field more integrated, smarter and more accessible. Let's not forget LG's revamped remote that's so friendly to use in conventional mode, or via its magic wand feature. The immediate usability is simply better than Sony's attempt. Here's a photo reel of LG's webOS from its home screen:-
Sony's Google TV UI isn't bad, but it's a very mild superficial update over older Sony Android TVs, and it still doesn't avoid having two different settings sections where one is related to your Google Account, while the other pertains to the TV settings. As such, it still feels disjointed, albeit with a slightly slicker interface than Sony's older TVs.
Where Sony can trump LG is in the TV's app ecosystem department; there are simply many more Android apps available at your disposal and are an easy way to engage kids with simple games over a paired gaming controller. So that's the power of a Google TV-based ecosystem, but it's a choice you would have to live with for the rest of the TV's lifespan.
Do you mind having an average UI experience (but gaining a big app store) or one that's more intuitive day in and out? This could very well be a key deciding factor over performance-based inclinations. We'll go with LG on this one for forging ahead on their own path and helping evolve the TV UI and UX experience positively for better everyday interactions. After all, mobile screen mirroring accords you an easy way to quickly push your game on the big screen occasionally. Alternatively, Android boxes are available that allow you to do the same via the TV if you're serious about Android gaming, so there are options to LG's limited webOS ecosystem.
Keeping it fancy: LG's Art Gallery vs. Sony's Living Decor
Extending a little more on the TV functionality and UI, we thought of touching on LG's Art Gallery mode, which offers artworks and photography that are stored and streamed from LG's servers.
The LG G1 is, after all, a Gallery Design TV series, and its super thin bezels combined with the flushed wall mounting capability makes it a prime option to display art when it's not busy entertaining you. Better yet, if you've opted for the Gallery Stand add-on (as seen in our setup), the picturesque art stands out even better. With a convincing 'frame' that adds depth, texture and shading, it adds yet another dimension to the selected artworks.
However, the selection of artworks and customisations to keep it going as a giant art/photo slideshow is limited compared to Samsung's Frame TV series, though that's further augmented by a subscription service to unlock more than what Samsung throws in by default.
What about Sony's A90J Master Series? While the TV defaults to fetching random photography from Google as part of its screen saver functionality, there's not much else similar to LG or Samsung for an art mode feature. However, you can rely on the Google Play Store to help you hone in on something that might fit your taste.
One variant is actually pre-loaded by default and is a Sony-exclusive app called the Living Decor. Dubbed a 'sensorial gateway', Living Decor turns your TV into an essential part of your living space, with carefully selected images and music themes, photo frame and clock functionality. It isn't an 'art mode', but it is a fancy way to display a highly curated set of imagery or have the app pull images from your Google Photos account.
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