Razor-sharp design and class-leading processing – only a slight lack of brightness for HDR material holds the AF8 back
- Excellent video processing and motion handling
- True blacks, vibrant colours and wide viewing angles
- Acoustic Surface sound technology delivers impressive audio
- HDR less impactful than rival OLEDs
- Relatively high input lag for 1080p gaming
- Mild vertical banding in very dark scenes
Sony is clearly a brand that likes to keep its options open. Unlike rival manufacturers who have backed either OLED (Panasonic) or LED LCD (Samsung) as the display technology of choice for their high-end TVs, Sony is spreading its bets by embracing both technologies within its BRAVIA television lineup. And now the Japanese brand has added to its OLED family with the arrival of the Sony AF8 series.
Sony KD-55AF8: What you need to know
The KD-55AF8, or A8F in the US, gives last year’s BRAVIA A1 OLED a welcome facelift. On paper, the specifications of the Sony AF8 are almost identical to last year’s critically-acclaimed Sony A1, featuring an ultra-high-definition OLED panel, the company’s most advanced X1 Extreme picture processor at this time of writing, the Android Smart TV platform, Acoustic Surface sound technology which allows the entire screen to act as a speaker, and HDR support for HDR10, HLG and – following a firmware update – Dolby Vision formats. The main difference between the Sony AF8 and the A1 comes down to design.
Sony KD-55AF8: Price & competition
The 55-inch Sony KD-55AF8 retails for £2,499, putting it right in the mix with its direct 2018 OLED competitors such as the LG OLED55C8 (read our full review) (£2,799) and the Panasonic TX-55FZ802B (£2,299). It’s also available in a 65in version for a cool £3,299. Not convinced? Then Sony is also continuing to sell 2017’s BRAVIA KD-55A1 OLED, which may possibly come down in price now that the AF8 has landed.
Sony KD-55AF8: Design & features
The design is wonderfully minimalist. The OLED panel is wafer-thin, and there’s an inconspicuous Sony logo at the bottom left corner of the screen. While last year’s Bravia A1 OLED featured a pronounced lean-back design supported by a kick stand, the Sony AF8 sits vertically on a table-top stand with the lowest profile we’ve ever seen. Our review unit still exhibited a very slight lean back when inspected from the side, but it’s not noticeable from the front.
The stand takes up barely any space at all, which means that it sits nicely on narrower AV racks. And you can safely ignore the pair of rubber stand spacers provided in the box: they’re intended to add stability but are really not needed.
Should you choose to not wall-mount the Sony AF8, the screen is almost flush with the surface below, so there isn’t enough clearance for a soundbar. However, Sony believes that the AF8’s onboard Acoustic Surface Speaker should be good enough to obviate the need for a soundbar – this technology turns the whole screen into a giant speaker, while further speakers in the body of the TV handle the lower frequencies. The result is impressive audio clarity, and the kind of precise soundstaging that most other TVs on the market can only dream of, but bass isn’t as rich as last year’s Sony A1, which is probably due to a change in subwoofer configuration.
The connections are found on the left rear of the display. As is the case with all Sony X1 Extreme TVs so far, there are four HDMI inputs, but only HDMI 2 and 3 are the full-bandwidth HDMI 2.0b ports that support 4K HDR video at higher frame rates, chroma or bit-depth, and you’ll need to manually enable HDMI signal “Enhanced format” in the user menu to get the full benefit. For cable management, Sony has provided not only cable ties behind the TV, but also four plastic covers to help you achieve a clean, minimalistic look.
Sony KD-55AF8: Picture quality and gaming responsiveness
OLED is the best display technology going. As it’s self-emissive, every one of the 8.3 million pixels on the Sony KD-55AF8 is effectively its own miniature backlight, and can be turned on and off independently of each other. The result is perfect blacks, vibrant colours and wide viewing angles -– unlike LCD TVs, there is virtually no loss of contrast and colour saturation when watched off-axis.
The AF8’s OLED panel buddies up with Sony’s X1 Extreme chipset, which we’d rate as being the best in-TV video processor on the market today. For starters, its upscaling quality of standard-definition content is better than that delivered by any other TV brand. The gap closes when you feed it with high-definition material though, as most high-end 4K TVs are competent enough not to reveal any upscaling issues – or at least not from typical viewing distances.
Another feather in the Sony’s cap is its near-black handling. This is the cleanest among consumer OLEDs, and exhibits less noise and posterisation (that blotchy effect which you might have noticed in images of bright skies) in darker areas than its rivals. Engage Sony’s Smooth Gradation super bit-mapping technology, and the good news is that any remaining posterisation can be reduced even further.
Motion performance is top-notch with the correct settings. Slow panning shots in 24fps movies are presented smoothly without judder, and should you choose to use frame interpolation, Sony’s Motionflow algorithm doesn’t introduce as much soap opera effect (SOE) or interpolation artefacts as similar technologies from the competition. There’s black frame insertion available on the Sony KD55AF8 too, but we think most people won’t be able to tolerate the drop in brightness and the increase in flicker, and especially not for the 50Hz content we watch in the UK and Europe.
We measured a DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage of 99% which is exactly what we’d expect from a consumer OLED TV these days. However, colour accuracy for standard dynamic range video was superb after calibration, and the result was supremely realistic colours and skin tones.
When cycling through full-field slides, brightness uniformity was excellent with no dirty screen effect (DSE), vignetting or colour tinting on our review sample. Near-black uniformity (that’s very, very dark grey to you and me) was good too without any vignetting or reverse vignetting, and although the Sony AF8 wasn’t free of thin vertical streaks in very dark scenes that characterises consumer OLED TVs to date, we weren’t bothered in real-life viewing.
There is one weakness, however. Given the supposed newer OLED panel on the Sony 55AF8, we were really surprised that its peak brightness only measured 600 nits on a 10% window after calibration, which robbed HDR content of a little impact when compared to LG’s 2017 and 2018 OLEDs, let alone dramatically brighter LED LCDs such as the Samsung Q9FN or Sony ZD9.
In Game mode, input lag was 31ms when fed a 4K signal, but if you send the TV a 1080p video signal (such as from the Nintendo Switch), latency will go up by one frame due to the upscaling involved, resulting in an input lag of 47ms which is relatively sluggish by today’s standards.
Sony KD-55AF8: Verdict
There’s much to like about Sony’s new OLED TV. The modest brightness levels for HDR and middling gaming responsiveness may put off some people, but the KD-55AF8’s superb processing means that its motion handling and video processing are second to none. If you’re after a TV that can work wonders with standard definition TV while providing a great 4K HDR experience, then the Sony KD-55AF8 will take it all in its stride.