At the digital version of CES 2021 earlier this year, Sony introduced its new Bravia XR range of smart televisions (TVs), touting a new processor within each unit that surpasses its AI-based TVs from the years before. There's literally a unit at every possible price range, starting from its highest-end, 8K LED-backlit based Master Series Z9J, to 4K HDR OLED based Master Series A90J, and all the way down to the mainstream X90J 4K LED models.
Before we touch on the available TV models and their recommended retail prices in Singapore, we'll first look at the improvements made to this generation of Sony Bravia XR TVs and what users can expect from it.
Sony TVs launched this year will come with a "J" suffix at the end of the model name - this helps to indicate which models are the latest and the greatest Sony has to offer. For reference, the "H" suffix refers to last year's (2020) TVs. The alphabets at the front (like MASTER Series Z, MASTER Series A, and the regular A and X line-up) signifies their respective grade from the highest-end model to the mainstream model. As we go down the line of available TVs, the additional features will differ based on user requirements and price points.
New to this generation of Sony Bravia TVs is the Cognitive Processor XR - the name of the graphics and processing unit that powers the images on-screen. According to Sony, Cognitive Processor XR surpasses what Artificial Intelligence can achieve. The new processor is capable of cross-analysing an array of elements in a way similar to how the human brain perceives imagery. For instance, when we look at a scene ahead of us, the human eye and brain will subconsciously focus on certain points. The new Sony chip now mimics the same thought process.
Called Cognitive Intelligence, the processor divides the display into numerous zones to determine where the focal point for humans lies before adjusting all the metrics holistically for the best outcome. The attention paid to that outcome is something Sony wishes to deliver with all its products via its Kando philosophy, which roughly translates to 'moving (through emotions)'.
Sony said that Cognitive Intelligence differs from conventional AI-based processing, where AI detects and analyse individual picture elements (colour, contrast, detail) one at a time instead. While, yes, AI tuning provides significant improvements, Cognitive Intelligence is meant to mirror the human condition and what we think matters most. In a way, Sony thinks it's not a direct upgrade from AI-based processing, but rather a non-linear, non-sequential evolution from relying on AI to power its TVs.
As an aside, Cognitive Intelligence also applies to its TV audio. The Cognitive Processor XR upconverts any sound into 3D sound, to deliver virtual 5.1.2 channels. Effectively, that's an upgrade from omnichannel audio to one that also accounts for acoustic height and depth, not just frequencies. This results in realistic-sounding soundscapes to go with its lifelike imagery.
Other key features in the Sony Bravia XR line-up are Google Home compatibility out of the box, HDMI 2.1 compatibility for supporting 4K@120fps, e-ARC, Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), and Auto Low Latency (ALL) mode. For correcting the timing of image and audio, Sony uses Sound-from-Picture Reality.
Hands-free Voice Function is also available via the TV's remote control, allowing voice controls and Google Assistant use. Finally, Netflix Calibrated Mode returns to this lineup as well, so you're still getting the director's intent when watching shows.
The new Sony TVs are also the first TVs to come up with Google TV out of the box. Still, Sony users would already know this because Google TV is essentially a revamped interface for the Android TV interface they had previously.
The new range of TVs below will start retailing from April 2021 onwards at Sony Stores, Sony Centres, and authorised Sony dealers, as well as the Sony Store Online and its official Lazada storefront. Sony Singapore will gradually inform us of each model's release date as they make their way to our sunny island.
Onto the TVs and what else they offer!
At the highest end of the 2021 Sony TV spectrum is the Master Series Z9J display with 8K resolution and LED HDR panels. Like the Master Series models that debuted in 2018, the Z9J packs Sony's best-in-class offerings into one unit. Z9J TVs are available only in 85-inch sizes and rightly so since you'll need a big screen to enjoy 8K resolution in the first place.
Further to the Cognitive Processor XR is the combination of technologies, such as Sony's Full-Array LED panel, XR Triluminos Pro processing, XR Contrast Booster, and XR 8K Upscaling. They better brightness and colours, graphics processing, contrast, and native upscaling of content, respectively.
XR Motion Clarity provides cross-analysis of fast-paced action to mitigate blurry footage, while X-Wide Angle, as the name implies, improves viewing angles of the TV set. This is necessary since it's an LED-backlit screen and not a self-lit OLED display. In our close scrutiny from 2018, we've also successfully shown that Sony's X-Wide Angle implementation does work well and is thus carried forward in the latest Z9J model too.
The TV's speakers also have Acoustic Multi-Audio technology, which improves sound positioning. Also, it comes with support for Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos.
Not only does the Z9J Series has all of the new additions mentioned in our explainer above (like HDMI 2.1 compatibility and Hands-free Voice), but it also packs some of the older yet popular and useful features like Ambient Optimisation for picture and sound quality adjustments during the course of a day, and CalMAN Ready calibration for those who would like to fine-tune their display and bring out the best it can.
Naturally, as the 2021 best-in-class panels with all of Sony's enhancements built-in, these TVs don't come cheaply. Not to mention the Sony Z9J is only available in the 85-inch size and as such, its price tag of S$26,999.
If the Z9J Series were the 8K HDR LED versions of Sony's best units this year, then it's fair to say that the Master Series A90J Series are the 4K HDR OLED variants, with nearly all the bells and whistles still intact. They come in 65-inch and 55-inch models, so it's also an ideal alternative for homes that cannot fit an 85-incher.
Instead of using XR Contrast Booster, the A90J Series uses XR OLED Contrast, obviously because the former tech is optimised for LED panels and the latter is for OLED. Also, OLED viewing angles are pretty decent, to begin with, so there's no X-Wide Angle technology on this one either. Because it's a 4K TV, the native upscaling built-in also only goes up to 4K resolution. From our quick comparison, it would seem that the new A90J offers warmer and crisper colours than its predecessor thanks to the new XR Cognitive Processor. The same processor is also able to optimize WRGB light emission (as opposed to just white light) to boost the peak brightness output and it was evident when viewing the test materials played back side by side.
Instead of Acoustic Multi-Audio, the A90J TVs have Acoustic Surface Audio+. Sony upgraded the sound actuators with better materials and hardware. The new TV is much, much louder and well-bodied at the same volume levels as its predecessor.
Everything else, from the new processor to the new HDMI compatibility, support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision HDR, hands-free voice search capabilities, etc., are all present on the A90J Series.
A90J TVs offers two stand positions (the default Hero position and one that accommodates sound bars below), while the Z9J Series has an additional 'narrow' configuration for a smaller footprint.
The Sony A90J Series starts from S$5,999.
If you've already seen the CES promotional footage of the MASTER Series A90J and A80J and found no differences... that's because there aren't that many to begin with. Basically, the A80J also comes in 65- and 55-inch, with an additional 77-inch variant. They are otherwise also 4K HDR OLED panels with the latest Cognitive Processor XR chip and all the enhancements that come with the rest of their latest TVs (HDMI 2.1, Google TV, Hands-free voice control, smart speaker compatibility, and more).
According to Sony, what the A80J lacks are the improved actuators found on the MASTER A90J, and its Ambient Optimisation lacks Auto White Balance (the component necessary for TVs placed in a sunlit room where light shifts during the course of a day). Physically, the A80J uses a simple Metal Flush Design, with the MASTER A90J using Seamless Edge Design.
The A80J also uses XR OLED Contrast (while MASTER A90J uses XR OLED Contrast Pro), XR Motion Clarity, XR Triluminos Pro, and XR 4K Upscaling for the full viewing experience. It's also getting Acoustic Surface Audio+ in the sound arena, just like the MASTER Series A90J. Netflix Calibrated Mode and CalMAN Ready calibration are also available on these units, like its higher-end brethren.
A key difference besides its additional sizing is the provision of a three-way stand - the default Hero position, a soundbar-accomodating position, and the special, narrow position for a smaller footprint. Another design-based difference that you might not care too much about is that the A80J series is slightly thicker at 53mm than the more premium A90J series that come in with a slimmer 41mm cabinet. As you can tell, it's really about splitting hairs and the finer points.
Barring those small differences aside, the Sony A80J Series starts at a very appealing price point of just S$3,999 (for the 55-inch variant). This is quite a price drop from Sony's OLED TV offerings of the past which also pack all of the best technologies available at their respective point in time.
If you want an LED-backlit screen instead of an OLED panel (mostly to save on cost or you plan to operate the TV in harsher lighting conditions and run it for longer hours), Sony has the X95J Series, which are the 4K HDR LED versions of the signature Master Z units. These come in 65-inch and 85-inch models.
Like all the other models above, the X95J packs the latest Cognitive Processor XR. X-Wide Angle is available here, given its an LED-backlit screen, like the MASTER Z9J, which improves viewing angles. Stuff like Full Array LED, XR Triluminos Pro, and XR Contrast Booster are also available in this series, so you're not only getting the hardware end of things but also the software necessary to bring them out.
The key difference between these panels and the highest-end ones is the 4K resolution it caps off at. So, the native upscaling offered is XR 4K Upscaling, naturally.
Other features (HDMI 2.1, Google TV, Hands-free voice control, smart speaker compatibility, and more) are also present since these features cut across all of Sony's new TVs shown in this live session.
The Sony X95J series starts at S$4,499 for the 65-inch variant.
Sony's mainstream offering with its latest and greatest comes in the form of its X90J Series. Available in 50-, 55-, 65-, and 75-inch variants, these are 4K LED TVs that are far more accessible than its Z9J Series, with a few features removed.
Noticeably, it's the only LED panel in its lineup that doesn't have X-Wide Angle nor X-Anti Reflection. It also doesn't have the flexible three-way or two-way stands provided on other models.
That said, it still offers all the other optimisations, like Full Array LED, XR Triluminos Pro, XR Contrast Booster, and XR 4K Upscaling, as well as Acoustic Multi-Audio for sound. That's not forgetting its latest Cognitive Processor XR and the inclusion of Ambient Optimisation for better colour balance across the day. It also supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
The other enhancements (HDMI 2.1, Google TV, Hands-free voice control, smart speaker compatibility, and more) are also available on these series as well. In short, Sony removed a few luxuries to create an accessible X90J TV series without losing any of what makes Sony's TVs great. Heck, they even kept Netflix Calibrated Mode and CalMAN Ready calibration here, too.
However, what stands out for the X90J Series isn't just about what it offers but also for the price it commands. You'll get to experience the latest image and motion processing on a Sony TV without really breaking your bank for it.
The Sony X90J Series starts at S$2,599. Naturally, this is for a 50-inch model and given that it supports 120Hz at 4K resolution with all the features you need, this looks like an excellent screen to pair with the latest game consoles.
Naturally, an in-person demo with the latest Sony TVs meant that we were exposed to their performance. However, the TVs we saw were Japanese prototypes, with retail-ready units yet to arrive on our shores. At first glance, the TVs generally offered greater detail in their images, which was easier on the eye.
The revamped Google Home interface didn't seem easier or harder to use, even though it's a fresh take, especially with improved ease-of-use thanks to Google Assistant and smart home controls (actual home screen design and features offered will vary slightly by country though). We did like the default sound on some models, but the ease of pairing to soundbars with Bluetooth A2DP across all its TV models (not just the high-end ones) just made it more enjoyable for use. In fact, they even support pairing to other Sony audio products, like the WF-1000MX3 true wireless earbuds if you wish not to disturb other members of the household as you indulge in shows.
Also, the TVs mentioned above isn't all that's coming to Singapore - also present were the X85J, which carried an older flagship processor (X1) for 4K HDR goodness. More will be revealed as we delve deeper into Sony's lineup.
We'll revisit the testing when the team gets hold of retail-ready units. Until then, stay tuned for more information on exact prices and availability dates!