The Master series is the nickname for Sony’s very raw products, where performance is in focus, and the price comes second. We still have the test of the 8K screen KD-85ZG9 fresh in our minds, and it was so sharp and contrast-rich that it almost burned into the retina, permanently! Unfortunately, it will also burn a big hole in your finances, unless you are a salmon heir or shipping magnate then of course.
The Sony KD-65AG9 OLED display is the slightly more sensible member of the Master series. Here, LCD technology has been replaced with OLED, which means some visual advantages, in addition to a significantly slimmer form factor and price. On the other hand, you have to do without 8K resolution and screen sizes in the barn door scale (although it actually delivers up to 77 inches). Maybe here you can get the best of both worlds?
This year’s model KD-65AG9 is a sleek and stylish TV – significantly less bulky than Sony’s first OLED TV (KD-65A1). The picture panel is apparently directly on the TV bench, with only a small tab of the foot as visible support. This contributes to a minimalist and modern look, which goes hand in hand with the OLED technology.
Letting the TV screen rest on the bench as Sony has chosen gives a very seamless look. However, the disadvantage is obvious: a possible soundboard in front will immediately shade the lower part of the image. If you want a soundboard, it must therefore be mounted above or below. However, Sony has solved this by offering built-in sound of the potent kind (Acoustic Surface technology, which sends powerful sound straight out of the screen). Alternatively, you can choose to wall-mount the TV – without the bulky easel stand on the back, the AG9 fits better than previous Sony models.
Ease of use and features
Sony is a long-standing Android fan and the AG9 is no exception. It comes loaded with version 8.0 of the Android operating system which has received a whole host of user improvements. Firstly, the menus have become far more clear, and better adapted to today’s TV habits where TV channels live side by side with streaming services. Sony has also made its own TV settings easily accessible via a context menu.
The four HDMI inputs are of the 2.0 type, not the latest 2.1 version that LG’s new OLED screens can boast. It does not matter much right here and now, but may offer limitations with future game consoles that use higher frame rates (including Playstation 5 is expected to handle 4K resolution with up to 120 frames per second).
The KD-65AG9 also comes with Sony’s upgraded premium brushed metal remote control. The functionality here is very similar to previous models, but the ergonomics, the tactile feel of the buttons and so on, are miles better than the old “brick”, and feel more at home on a model in this price range.
Like most Android screens, Sony has a good app selection, and the AG9 is also experienced as very fast to operate. New this year is support for Airplay 2, which means you can also view content from Apple devices (including video and streaming) on the Sony screen.
AG9 also boasts a separate gaming mode, with a delay of just over 20 milliseconds. It’s not as low as LG’s C9 and E9 models, but definitely a usable TV to play Playstation with anyway.
The KD-65AG9 comes packed with the latest of Sony’s innovations on the image front, including the new X1 Ultimate video processor. The processor plays an important role on OLED screens: because the image panel is almost identical from manufacturer to manufacturer, it is precisely in the “image engine” itself that they can make a real difference. LG has its own Alpha 9, Philips has its P5 processor, and Sony swears by its own X1 Ultimate with accompanying image processing, as the roughest processor in the market.
The first impression of the KD-65AG9 is then also that it makes all of the image material look excellent. We started testing with old recordings from our Canal Digital OnePlace PVR box. Here it is clear that even fairly compressed HD and SD recordings get a real boost.
The KD-65AG9 handles upscaling and noise reduction masterfully. In addition, it is one of the very best TVs we have seen when it comes to motion. Match recordings from the Champions League look incredibly smooth and seamless. Sony’s Motionflow interpolation manages to distinguish well between camera movements and movements on the court, and avoids that it all looks artificial. At the same time, it can follow fast camera pans without breaking the image. We therefore think we may have found our new favorite screen for sports!
For movies and TV series, many people prefer to turn off extra image processing, in order to get a more purist image that is true to the original. Here, too, Sony is at its ace, with a very accurate Movie mode. It also comes with its own Netflix-calibrated mode, which optimizes the picture when viewing movies and series from the popular streaming service.
The contrast and color reproduction is very accurate, with little to point the finger at. The Sony KD-65AG9 has a very neutral color palette in movie mode, with no signs of visible color shading or anything else that could prevent a vivid picture experience. Like most OLEDs, the Sony screen has a formidable black level, but not everything is black as night – even the small, dark gray details in dark scenes come out well, with no tendency to “black crush”. The viewing angle is, as usual for OLED, completely impeccable. But wait a minute… does not the picture also look a bit tame?
Well then – quite rightly – even though the Sony screen has an impressive black level and good contrast, there is nothing that says “bang” here. Especially when it comes to modern HDR (High Dynamic Range) video, it is clear that it lacks a bit of gunpowder compared to the very best.
Limited brightness has long been OLED’s Achilles heel and should not come as a big surprise – but AG9 is a little weaker than we had expected. Compared to LG’s own E9, it is clear that Sony has chosen a slightly different image philosophy, with an emphasis on micro details rather than “macrodynamics”. This goes beyond the intensity of bright scenes. On regular SDR content this is not a big problem, but on demanding scenes in HDR quality it becomes clearer. Although both TVs support Dolby Vision, there is no doubt that the competitor from LG (OLED65E9) in practice is experienced as brighter and contrast-rich, with noticeably more bang and life in the bright parts. The sunshine shines brighter, the flames glow more – everything looks more vivid via the LG screen. Sony must also see itself beaten by QLED models like Samsung’s QE65Q90R in this area.
The KD-65AG9 uses Sony’s well-known Acoustic Surface technology, where the OLED panel itself is used as a speaker. Rather, there are special speaker drivers (actuators) behind the screen, which make the image panel vibrate and thus create sound. The AG9 boasts new, oval-shaped actuators for the left and right stereo channels. In addition, it has two standard speaker elements on the back that take care of the bass area.
Sony’s untraditional speaker solution may seem strange, but it works incredibly well in practice. The sound from the KD-65AG9 is powerful, dynamic and rich. Both dialogues and sound effects appear crisp and clear, and best of all, they seem to come straight out of the screen! This contributes to exceptionally good coordination between the sound and the action: the visual and acoustic image match better with Sony than they do with many other TVs, and in fact make it perform excellently without a soundboard.
Sony KD-65AG9: Conclusion
The Sony KD-65AG9 deserves a well-deserved high-end class, with both top-quality picture and sound – which in itself is a rare combination. In terms of pictures, there is very little to put your finger on, with very good picture quality for all TV content. Among other things, the Sony screen looks great on sports. However, it disappoints a bit on modern 4K HDR content: the brightness is noticeably weaker than the roughest competitors. Sony’s flagship OLED, on the other hand, boasts very potent built – in sound, which saves you the expense of soundboard – in addition to providing a sleek and minimalist TV solution.