Review: Sony A90J OLED television delivers phenomenal image quality

New Zealand review of Sony Bravia OLED XR-65A90J.
Photo credit: supplied

Sony has released its latest flagship television in New Zealand, boldly claiming it "redefines OLED with ultimate brightness and human intelligence".

The A90J is the Japanese tech giant's premium 2021 4K model. It's been released here later and at a higher price than competitor products from the likes of Samsung, LG and Panasonic.

So how much of an upgrade is it from previous models? Is it actually worth the extra it costs over its competition?

I've been using the Sony Bravia OLED XR-65A90J for the past few weeks and here are my thoughts.

The good

The picture quality of this television is nothing short of extraordinary. There's a level of detail in images displayed on it that's just phenomenal - it's quite possibly the best-looking screen I've ever seen.

That's a difficult thing to say for sure, especially as I don't have alternatives to look at side-by-side. But I've spent some time with Samsung's Neo QLED models and an LG C1 this year and if I had to pick one over the other right now, for image quality it'd be Sony's A90J.

It delivers the luscious pure blacks that OLEDs are known for, but it doesn't suffer the lack of brightness that affects many of them. The A90J offers not only awesome brightness, but immense accuracy as well, not that over-saturated look you sometimes get with very bright TVs.

Whatever the tech is that Sony has built into the 'Cognitive Processor XR' that powers this thing, I'm a huge fan. The way it presents colours and seems to analyse each image it displays to get the contrast and everything right is pretty special.

Obviously, actual 4K content is the best way to use this screen. My 4K UHD Blu-ray of John Wick 2 looked the best I've ever seen on this telly, while streaming Squid Game and Foundation also looked incredible - totally different experiences to watching them on something else.

Even one of my old standard DVDs, Thriller: A Cruel Picture from Synapse Films, looked great with the upscaling. It's very, very grainy but that's just how the dirty old '70s film looked.

Interestingly, 1080p video files appeared better than my 1080p Blu-ray disc of Metallica's Quebec Magnetic, which had some visible digital horizontal lines when viewed from near. That may have been due to the disc itself, or the Xbox Series X I was playing it on; whatever the case, from a few metres back they weren't visible. 

Sony has switched from Android to Google TV for its interface and it's great. I especially like the film recommendations from all my services it serves me based on my viewing history, complete with a Rotten Tomatoes score.

Google TV makes it easier to do Google account stuff too, like feed your photos onto the TV as a screensaver. Of course, for the more privacy conscious, using a Google account might not be an attractive prospect.

The remote control has a nice ergonomic feel and one new totally awesome feature: Motion-activated backlighting for the buttons. When the room's dark and you pick the remote up, they shine on so you can see what you're doing - then conveniently turn off when you put it down so as to not distract from the screen. So cool.

Sony A90J remote control in New Zealand.
Photo credit: Newshub.

The remote's quick access service buttons for the one I'm reviewing are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and YouTube Music.

As a nice upgrade from last year's models, a PlayStation 5 will automatically be detected by this tele and the settings of both devices will automatically configure to the best. You even get a nice official PS5 logo on the input setting display, which gives the same sort of brand consistency satisfaction as seeing the icon on your iPhone of other Apple devices like AirPods.

Speaking of gaming, I had the pleasure of experiencing my first plays of both Forza Horizon 5 and Call of Duty: Vanguard on this TV. Wow, they look spectacular on it.

On top of the outstanding image quality, the inbuilt speakers are also surprisingly good. Sony uses some sort of black magic to make the screen itself a speaker, backed up on the A90J with two bass drivers.

I still use headphones or an external sound system for a full-on cinematic experience, but for a lot of standard TV watching and drama or comedy films the inbuilt speakers of the A90J are totally fine. The screen can be used as the centre speaker in a bigger surround sound setup, too.

The bad

There's no getting around how much this bad boy costs.

Looking at PriceSpy on November 17, the 65" model I'm reviewing goes for between $5900 and $7000. 

For reference, flagship 65" 2021 4K OLED TVs viewed on PriceSpy at the same time were around $3700 for Samsung, $4000 for LG and $4300 for Panasonic.

This is the case in international markets too: Sony has intentionally priced this model above competitor products. For many consumers, those competitor products will be just fine as most of them are very, very nice TVs. 

Beyond the price, there are a few other things that may mean you want to go with another option than this new Sony.

One is that there are only two HDMI 2.1 ports. For me, that means a hard decision between my Xbox Series X, PS5 and PC as the one that misses out on 4K 120fps. One of those ports is also the only eARC point, so if you want to use a soundbar with that you're down to one HDMI 2.1 port for something else.

It's not just the lack of ports that may make a gamer decide on an LG or Samsung as both of those brands have a form of 'game mode' that displays latency and other info on-screen as well as letting you cycle between certain cutting edge gaming options.

The A90J apparently has a worse input lag than the LG C1 as well - we're talking just a few milliseconds, but if you're investing this much in a TV and you're wanting to use it primarily for gaming, it's definitely something to consider.

Also on the gaming front, the A90J offers ALLM but not VRR - if those terms don't mean anything to you. But basically that means if you own an Xbox Series X or high-end gaming PC and want to use it to its fullest potential, this TV doesn't offer everything that some others do.

As much as I dig the remote I'd really have liked to have Disney Plus as a button rather than YouTube Music. Hey in my ideal world there'd also be buttons for Neon, Shudder and DocPlay, but the thing isn't custom designed for exactly what I personally want.

One other thing. Depending on how long you keep a TV before upgrading, there's a very tiny chance you may want to consider going 8K. The price of this model is not far off what you'd pay for one of those - but there's no 8K content that makes an 8K TV worth buying right now and it looks to be that way for at least a few years to come.

Sony A90J TV mounted on wall.
Photo credit: supplied

The verdict

This is a truly superb TV and a joy to use, once you get past the eye-watering price.

If you want your at-home movies and TV shows to look as good as they can, and you're prepared to pay a premium for it, I can heartily recommend this set. 

It's harder to recommend if gaming is to be the primary use of your next television as you'll get better performance out of certain LG and Samsung alternatives.

But if image quality is your number one priority, the A90J is my pick for the best TV released in New Zealand this year.

Watching a 4K version of Tony Scott's True Romance on it was easily one of my top movie-watching highlights of 2021. It was just an absolute pleasure.

I'd love to rediscover more of my favourite films like that.

Newshub was supplied a Sony Bravia OLED XR-65A90J for this review.