SONY BRAVIA XR A90J OLED MASTER SERIES - REVIEW

By Scott Michael Bosco

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This may not be a review as much as an evaluation, and my dealing with the new SONY Master Series OLED.

My dealing with this kind of TV (OLED)  goes back a few years when I had the first release of an OLED to the public.  It was a SAMSUNG release, smaller than the SONY current (65 inch), and it was a curved model.

Most people will probably not even remember this model.  It released very fast and WAS cancelled even faster.  The design of the device was said to be “taken” from another company.  SAMSUNG quickly cancelled and ceased all support for the device.

Being the first OLED release was a break through and it delivered on many aspects.  However, I always felt it suffered from a low grey level and crushed blacks for contrast.

Since that time I have stayed away from OLED and instead embedded myself in various LEDs, from SAMSUNG, SHARP and mostly SONY. Although I also still have a smaller PHILLIPS I keep in the kitchen.

I had just purchased a new SONY in November of 2020, the 950H, 65” when I found about SONY’s new line-up with their advanced and improved XR chip.

Though very satisfied with the 950H I was even more taken by the heralding of the XR processing.  My first intention was to get the new top of the line 65” LED.  However, after seeing last year’s model of the OLED my interest was sparked – along with the news that yet to be released OLED was boasting a greater brightness.

With the LED put off until summer I opted for the OLED.

Prior to actually having the LED I turned to Youtube to see those that were able to procure the item and… review it.  Although some of what I viewed was interesting most were would-be-reviewers, and basically hobbyist giving unprofessional opinions based on nothing.  Some wore hats & gloves, other wore masks each either saying really nothing; or spouting garbage.  What I found were people not covering issues, or usage, but babbling over uncolored packaging; and posting just to gain points with Youtube - not really knowing how to use/work the TV.

It’s annoying.  I have invested over 30 years writing/reviewing in both the printed and digital formats to see such trash imbed itself into media.  They serve no one but their own psychological need for being noticed and listened to.  Please, beware of these people and the little knowledge they have for support, and information.

In any case…

I first want to cover a somewhat minus situation about the TV before getting into performance.  One of the announced features is that the TV works with both HDR10 and DOLBY VISION.  The second is where the situation exists.

On the back of the set are three HDMI IMPUTS.  Only one supports DOLBY VISION (eARC/ARC.  When I plugged my OPPO Blu-ray player into it both HDR10 and DOLBY VISION were supported – however…  The DOLBY VISION presentation was extremely dark.  There are two settings to view DOLBY VISION –

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DOLBY VISION LIGHT and DOLBY VISION DARK.  Even when the set to LIGHT the picture was too dark.  I had to reset gamma and other controls to achieve a brighter picture.  In essence override pre-set DOLBY VISION settings.

Taking out that disc I put in another, a widescreen, 16x9 B&W film.  That’s when I noticed a discoloration on both sides of the screen – the left side was cooler with a blue tint to the grey; while the right side was warmer with a cream tint.

I was told by a rep from SONY that this was caused by the DOLBY VISION.  It seems that DOLBY hadn’t done the needed firmware for the release of the TV.  I was then told to unplug the TV, disconnect all HDMIs, restart the TV and bring it back to factory settings – this would correct clean up and fix the grey calibration.  I did, it worked.  However, if I connected the disc player to the same HDMI eARC/arc for DOLBY VISION it came back.  It seems DOLBY still has promised a firmware update, perhaps by June/July.

I have since not connected the player to that HDMI input and watch discs in HDR10 and not DOLBY VISION.   This is also why I waited until now to release this review.  The TV has had 4 updates and I can say the firmware needed by DOLBY has been done.  The gray level issue has been resolved.

It’s amazing that not one review I’ve seen for this TV has mentioned this in any way.  This partly due to the lack of testing the image with 16x9 B&W source.   Remember, if the white level calibration is off as seen in gray level it will affect the color as well.

However, I personally still have found issues with DOLBY VISION Blu-rays and have found the picture to be darker.  Case in point with UHD THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.  I’ve owned this film in almost every released format from Beta to Laserdisc, and Blu-ray.  The newest release is in UHD.  It a beautiful picture in terms of color and clarity, but it is too dark.

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UHD SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE is also on the darker side, but not as much.

Since I’m already mentioning picture value – here we go…

Most reviews posted anywhere mostly deal with how this TV is with streaming content or gaming.  I will be concentrating on Blu-ray/UHD content – for the collector out there

Different decades produced various content and how it looked.  Color, grain and detail will different on that decade.  Different film stock has proved to last differently through time.  Yes restorations are conducted, but grain levels will change too depending on the stock.

Technicolor is a completely different animal.  THE WIZARD OF OZ in UHD offers the film with sharper image offering more detail.  This SONY offers an uncompromising picture bumping up detail in Glinda’s dress, the layered blacks on the Wicked Witch and incredible textures to all fabrics.  

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In the Blu-ray release of SUMMER STOCK we jump for OZ’s 1939 Technicolor to 1950’s.  This release is absolutely stunning.  The image is so sharp and colorful it dazzles.

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Getting down and dirty I popped in the Blue Underground release of 1979 ZOMBIE.  I saw this film in the theater in its original theatrical release.  I’ve owned it from DVD to the now UHD version.   Aside from the image being cleaner and sharper the SONY completely upgrades the image quality beyond it meager production budget. It’s the image detail that shines. 

NOTE: Pictures taken of TVs is not a correct representation of the quality.  However, certain details are apparent as examples.

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I put in the original 5 PLANET OF THE APES films (1968 – 1973).  I was truly amazed.  Now the first PLANET OF THE APES had gone though a restoration for the Blu-ray release.  The elements had lost most of their color (I had worked with FOX for remasters for the Laserdiscs.  There were problems with greens almost completely gone on the original elements.)  Now all the color was back and remarkably vivid.  The budget was lowered for each progressive film produced.  CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has some very dark photography and colors were purposely muted to convey a message.  The blacks are deep in night scenes yet detail is very much there with bright reds (costumes warn by the gorillas).  Flesh notes are positive and hued.  In BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES the underground sequences with melted stone are finally gray, not blue as seen in previous releases.  Earth tones of green, brown and orange are wonderfully saturated in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

Hammer Studios is known for its production values.  Major budgets weren’t part of the mix, instead the value is in lighting and camera angles. In various Hammer releases by WARNER, COLUMBIA and SHOUT FACTORY each film varies in quality.  What I found was saturated colors presented not just deep and bright, but the variations between the hues are magnificent.  Colors are never over saturated with haze or distortion. 

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Most films in general that I viewed were better presented than any previous TV owned. Some amazed me.  MILL CREEK’S release of THE GORGON was night and day.

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Film using filters, as with those done by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth like, SUPERMAN, ZARDOZ, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY which have soft-focus filters are presented as they should be.  The image is softer, not mush and blurry.  Even though there is a filter softening the image it is still sharp. 

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The perfect black level has improved incredibly in the years that have passed since I had the very first OLED by SAMSUNG. Now the black has more levels producing a better image without crushing the darker scenes.

Improved contrast brings out a sharper image much more varied in tone.  Brightness is fine and holds up even in a daylight lit room.

I’ve heard (on Youtube) from reviewer’s who complained how motion was compromised on this TV with judder.  One reviewer who shall remain nameless, and faceless do to a mask (coward).  He complained about how sparks falling in a film were distorted no matter how he tried to fix it.  Not once in any of the films I watched did anything like this happen. 

I popped in the UHD Blu-ray of 2001: A SPACE ODDYESSY to see how the spaceships in the film were represented in flight.  Everyone moved gracefully across the screen, smooth and without judder. 

Musicals with graceful moments were clean.  Films viewed were the Blu-rays of THE HARVEY GIRLS, SUMMER STOCK, and THE WIZARD OF OZ.   

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In terms of streaming I watch, THE TOMORROW WAR (2021), THE SONG OF NAMES (2019), and LOST HORIZON (1973).  Each were excellent.  The SONG OF NAMES suffered from modern lighting and cinematography, as did THE TOMORROW WAR – but each were flawless, clean and free of motion errors.

The TV comes with several complimentary films streamed via SONY’s BRIVIA service.

I can only reason that the person who complained about motion issues simply didn’t know how to use the settings of the TV to properly produce a clean image.

SONY new processing software must be the cause of all this.  It’s rendering brings out such detail and color depth it astonishing.  At first I was able to notice, as times a kind of 3D effect on characters or things up close, making them appear cut-out from the image – but no longer.  The enhancement of the image produces a real film-like image.

I know one hears and reads reviewers always complaining or saying the given TV or video master is film-like, or isn’t film-like enough – but realize that so many of those commenting/complaining don’t know what they are talking about.  Most aren’t really old enough to speak.  I’ve been going to the theater since the late 60’s.  Most of what I’ve seen has been film.  These reviewer’s have never experienced change reel imprints, scratches, and discolored prints.  From where are they speaking from?

The new restored version of SUSPIRIRA is incredible.  I can’t say it’s film-like however.  It’s better.  What I saw in the theater upon the original release was far below the Blu-ray/UHD disc.  On this SONY it’s an explosion of color and contrast.  The clarity and textures are outstanding.

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For this reason this is the only TV I’ve ever had that I can say produces a “film-like” presentation.  The incredible shades of color produce a much more pronounced image closer to film.   Everything visually is produced with such detail it is amazing.  I have had SONY TVs in the past, and although good, none have produced an image like this.  I’ve also had PHILLIPS, and SAMSUNG.  Each for their time was simply very good, but none have this quality.  The graduation of hues on skin tones is amazing.

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Personally, I won’t touch LG (Lousy Garbage - anything I had from LG in the past was horrible)

Sound-wise there has been touting about SONY’s new audio processing.  The screen actually plays a part in this but I really didn’t notice anything that was an enhancement.  There is a nice bass management in the TV that adds more clout to the sound, but in terms of stereo channeling, or steering I didn’t notice a vast improvement.

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Construction is fine, mostly plastic, but nothing above the norm.  The stand can be set at two different heights/widths – a nice touch.

The remote is back lit and had a nice heft to it.

The screen is quite reflective but not to any level to annoy.

Screen brightness from off angle is excellent.

Also, the wobble factor of the stand has been improved as well.

I won’t get into the box it’s packaged in … I’ll leave that to those with psychological conditions and complainers known as “Karens”.

Please, if you have questions or concerns contact me and I will answer your questions.

A few more pictures - UHD THE THE COMMANDMENTS,  UHD SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, UHD 2001: A SPACE ODDESSY  

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