Sony OLED AG9: makes you scream with joy
Sony’s OLED AG9 is an evolution more than a revolution, featuring the same processor as its predecessor, but boasting improved sound. The colour and detail reproduction remain unbeatable.
Sony's AG9 isn’t entirely new to me. I saw the 2019 generation OLED television last spring at the Sony Roadshow in Zurich.
What struck me back then: its stand. What’s so special about it? It puts the AG9’s screen back to standing upright. Its predecessor, the AF9 came in a picture frame-like design with the screen leaning against the stand. This was a real design statement, but it looks Sony has already dismissed this design. The Japanese manufacturer has worked on the sound and has added a plus to make it «Acoustic Surface Audio+». It sounds even more room-filling.
The brain of this TV is the X1 Ultimate processor. It's not new – the AF9 was equipped with the same one – but, as Sony has said, it comes with an improved algorithm. This means the powerful processor gets the most out of the OLED panel.
About time to test the 65-inch Sony AG9 that Sony has provided me with.
Elegant design and plenty of connections
Typical for OLEDs, Sony's AG9 is as flat as a pancake. From the side. How come? OLED pixels – millions of small squares under the glass that together produce the image – light up automatically when they’re powered up. This eliminates the need for LED backlighting, which is common with LCD televisions and means OLED televisions can be made much thinner. I measured the AG9: it’s about 0.6 centimetres thin. That’s thinner than my index finger. Kind of funny.
To mount this 21 kg television on the wall, you’ll have to add about 3.5 centimetres of housing. The housing is where the image processor and the rest of the hardware are installed. All in all, that’s a super thin device.
The good news: At the same time as this review is published, our product management is giving you free wall mount with every Sony AG9. Not that I want to talk you into getting it, but if you're interested in buying this TV anyway, it’s worth knowing you can get a free wall mount with it, right? This isn’t a must though, as the stand...
... the stand is barely visible. The AG9 looks as if it’s standing in a room or on a TV furniture without any support. I like that. I was impressed with the stand of the AF9 model, too, as the panel leaned against the stand. The AG9, however, stands upright.
That’s a shame. I preferred the preceding design, as it was more unique. Probably not everyone's cup of tea – this is my guess without knowing Sony's sales figures. I can’t imagine why else they would have returned to positioning the screen upright.
Let’s take a look at the connections. Sony TVs usually don’t lack connections. With the exception of HDMI 2.1.
- 4x HDMI 2.0 connections (HDCP 2.3), one with eARC
- 1x output for Toslink
- 3x USB 2.0 ports
- 1x LAN port
- Amplifier output connector for TV centre speaker mode
- Integrated Google Chrome
Auto low latency mode for gamers (ALLM)
The missing HDMI 2.1 makes me wonder how fit for the future this device is. This is a disadvantage compared to LGs C9-OLED – a competitor's product with HDMI 2.1. HDMI 2.1 increases the bandwidth with which data can be transported via HDMI cable. This is especially important for image, sound and gaming enthusiasts – the target group of the AG9 OLED.
You’re sure to hear more about this in the future when 8K televisions have become the new standard and are required to send and process large volumes of data. But that’s a while away still. And the AG9 is a UHD television anyway. Other HDMI 2.1 advantages that have nothing to do with 8K are:
- transferring dynamic HDR metadata (Dolby Vision, HDR10+)
- transferring uncompressed audio files via eARC (Dolby Atmos, DTS:X)
- variable refresh rates (when image composition and refresh rate aren’t synchronous)
- frame rates of up to 120 frames per second (FPS) at UHD resolution, even when gaming
Nevertheless, the AG9 already has an eARC-enabled HDMI connection, even without HDMI 2.1. However, it’s more unlikely you’ll find HDR formats with dynamic metadata on UHD Blu-rays. Dolby Vision content, for instance, can be streamed directly from the Netflix Smart TV app.
The only ones who are missing out are gamers. Especially since the AG9, according to flatpanelshd, has a modest input lag of 26.6 milliseconds even in gaming mode. This is quite a lot for a cutting-edge device and probably only just about acceptable for console gamers. To put this into perspective: LG's C9-OLED has an input lag of 13.1 milliseconds.
Natural colours, potential when it comes to shades of white
About time to test image quality. I tested the Sony XG95, an LCD television with full-array local dimming, with «Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom». I’m doing the same again. This movie is well suited, as many scenes play in the dark. This is where the strong points of OLED are most visible. But it also has bright scenes with big differences in brightness, which is where LCD TV perform well.
I’m especially keen on seeing the scene with the T-Rex in the dark on the AG9. In this scene, the XG95 created a kind of halo, referred to as blooming, around the bright headlights. The two pictures below show the same scene on two different TVs. But treat this comparison with caution; there was a month between the two shots and the ambient light wasn’t the same, as it was hot and sunny in July, but wet and rainy in August. So not exactly laboratory conditions. But comparing apples (OLED) and oranges (LCD) is still interesting.
Not surprisingly, no blooming occurs with the OLED TV. Areas of the screen that are supposed to black are actually true black.
Why? Because OLED pixels emit their own light, they can completely switch off to produce black. LCD televisions, on the other hand, have LED backlights, so they simply seal off the pixels that should show black. This doesn’t work as well as with OLED pixels. As seen in the T-Rex scene above.
Now let’s take a look at a brighter scene. According to flatscreenhd, Sony's AG9 emits peak brightness of up to 650 ANSI lumens for HDR content. This is a lot for an OLED TV. This means that the difference between the darkest and brightest pixels is particularly high, resulting in better contrasts and rich, natural colours.
Like in this example, where the plane stands in the bright orange of the sunrise.
Again, here’s a comparison of the OLED and the LCD image. But keep in mind that the conditions weren’t the same on both pictures.
In the bright areas of the screen, especially around the sun, the LCD TV displays more details. This suggests better shades of white on the LCD image than on the OLED image, which is not untypical for these technologies. On the other hand, the OLED TV displays far more details in the darker image areas. Its colour rendering also seems more natural; the LCD image of the XG95 is a bit too warm in my opinion. Especially when seen live.
I could keep watching forever. No matter if it's «Thor: Ragnarok» with its bright colours, the rather cold colours in «The Revenant» or the toned-down, beautifully staged movie «Blade Runner: 2049», I always liked what I saw on the AG9. I've rarely seen I TV that produces such natural, balanced and full the colours. The reproduction of details, especially in dark scenes, is almost perfect. And the AG9 has that extra oomph that sets it apart from its LCD competitors.
I'm happy with the AG9. Very happy.
A processor that lives up to expectations
The AG9 is equipped with the X1-Ultimate processor. This is the same as in the previous year's model, the AF9. But it's been improved with several algorithm optimisations. In fact, the X1 Ultimate was developed last year with the goal of powering Sony's first 8K TV this year. That's why the X1 Ultimate is considered very future-proof.
But to be honest: I can' t see a huge difference to last year's model when I'm watching TV. I'd have to see a direct comparison of the AF9 and the AG9. But then again, the X1 Ultimate processor already worked at a darn high level last year, so I don’t mind not seeing the improvements from afar.
What really impressed me with last year's processor was how it performed in action scenes with fast camera panning. Or sports. Watch the ball on the video below: with many televisions, you’d see something like a «tail» following the ball if it travels through the air at speed. The camera movements also seem very fluid.
As you can see above, the processor performs well when upscaling the Full HD content. Other contents never looked pale, desaturated or blurry either. I wouldn't be surprised if someone watched a conventional Blu-Ray on the AG9 and decided that UHD Blu-Rays weren't much better. It's not the Full-HD source material that's so good, but the processor that manages to squeeze the maximum out of it.
The operating system, Android 8.0, also runs smoothly thanks to the X1 Ultimate. This hasn't always been the case with Sony in the past.
Today, I prefer Sony's operating system to LG's and Samsung's. I wouldn't have thought this two years ago.
Good sound, but doesn't replace a surround sound system
By the way, Sony's trick with the sound is rather clever, as it eliminates the need for loudspeakers. It would have been difficult to make the air vibrate with a panel thickness of 0.6 centimetres to create enough volume and surround sound. So instead of loudspeakers, there are two activators that make the screen itself vibrate.
Yes, last year's model, the AF9, had this as well. But the AG9 is equipped with two instead of three activators. This is down to the improved algorithm, as a Sony representative told me at the roadshow last year.
This technology is called «Acoustic Surface Audio+» and sounds highly impressive. Much better than what I know from the C8-OLED by LG, for instance, which already delivers outstanding sound quality for a TV. The new algorithm ensures that the AG9 also processes Dolby Atmos. But don't expect sound from the ceiling: «Acoustic Surface Audio+» might be an alternative to a good sound bar – and that's a huge achievement as such – but it's by no means a surround sound system.
However, the AG9 has an output that can be connected directly to an AV receiver. This turns the AG9 itself into a centre speaker. I haven't seen this anywhere else but with Sony.
Conclusion: I want to keep this TV
I won't beat around the bush: the AG9 is the best television I've ever tested. The balanced and natural colours of the OLED display are far too good to draw any other conclusion. On top of this, I can't find any flaws in the processor.
In terms of sound, the AG9 also does everything that can be expected from a TV sound system. More so: if you're thinking about a sound bar, forget it. «Acoustic Surface Audio+» is more than enough. Nevertheless, I'd find it a shame not to get a complete surround sound system if you're investing so much money in experiencing the best possible image quality.
The only thing I find disappointing is the missing HDMI 2.1 support. This should be a given for state-of-the-art devices. I wouldn't recommend the AG9 to a professional gamer either: the input lag is too low compared to other TVs.
Apart from that: an impressive TV.