Sony has earned a reputation in recent years for delivering some of the most refined picture quality in the OLED TV world, so it’s hard to imagine we’ll get anything less with its latest A80L OLED range. With so much happening in the OLED world this year, though (check out our recent reviews of LG’s 65OLEDG3 and Samsung QE65S95C), can the A80L range really do enough to keep up with the bright new kids on the block?
The first thing to say about the Sony A80L OLED range (as represented here by the 65-inch model) is that it boasts neither the Quantum Dot OLED technology used in the Samsung S95C range nor the Micro Lens Array (MLA) technology used in the LG G3 range. This means its WRGB OLED panel can’t match those other sets for brightness. In fact, the maximum brightness we managed to get out of it on a 10% white HDR window (except for a very short lived 1,136 nits with the sadly unusable Vivid mode) was 790 nits, which dropped to 189 nits a 100% white HDR window. That’s 25% or so less bright on a 100% white window than the LG G3 and Samsung S95C can do, and only around half the brightness those two rivals can do on a 10% window.
Really, though, all I’ve done with those comparisons is make the obvious point that a relatively cheap TV won’t deliver the same sort of spectacle as a more expensive one. After all, at the time of writing the Sony 65A80L costs £2,999, while the LG OLED65G3 and Samsung QE65S95C costs £3,499 and £3,599 respectively.
Sony has a QD OLED range of its own, the A95Ls, coming out later in the year. But you can expect those to be substantially more expensive than the A80L series, too.
While the 65A80L might not have all the barnstorming brightness now being achieved by the latest, most premium technologies in the OLED world, it does still enjoy a fairly premium OLED panel - one which runs around 10% brighter than 2022’s A80K range. Sony could have pushed the brightness further if it had equipped the A80L with a heat sink, but that would, of course, have pushed the price up. And with the new QD OLED and MLA technologies in town squeezing the premium OLED market so hard, pitching the A80L’s core panel setup so that it keeps under the £3,000 mark was probably the right move.
While you are certainly aware of the 65A80L’s pictures not being nearly as bright as those of the S95C and LG G3s, the degree to which you feel the difference varies from content to content. With extremely aggressive high dynamic range content that’s mastered to very high levels of peak brightness, Sony’s unusually strong (and in many ways laudable) focus on retaining as much detail as possible even in the very brightest parts of the picture can cause average brightness levels to look really markedly less bright than they do on the more expensive new OLED technologies.
The 65A80L does carry one preset, Vivid, that tries optimistically to serve up much brighter pictures than we’ve seen from the brand’s regular (not Quantum Dot) OLED TVs before. As I mentioned in passing earlier, though, this mode is rendered essentially unusable, thanks to heavy amounts of subtle detail ‘clipping’ in bright areas; excessive noise in skin tones and areas of high colour saturation; and a tendency for peak white colours to turn a bizarre speckly shade of blue. In other words, you just need to accept that while the Sony 65A80L’s pictures are many (lovely) things, in any watchable picture mode they’re definitely not the brightest 2023 has to offer.
However… The 65A80 provides considerable compensation for its relatively limited brightness in the shape of outstanding subtleties of colour, gradation and detail in parts of the picture that can look rather bleached and empty on some rival OLED TVs. At least when using their relatively aggressive, bright presets.
So much so that I can easily see many AV fans - especially those with a maximum budget of 3K - being fully on board with Sony’s decision to focus on retaining nuance and detail with most of its presets rather than chasing the brightness bandwagon. Particularly since this focus - bordering on (healthy) obsession - with the smaller things in picture quality life extends into pretty much every part of the 65A80L’s pictures.
Its colour refinement, for instance, is peerless. Even with the trickiest HDR content containing the most subtle colour blends the 65A80L delivers flawless tonal shifts and gradients, resulting in images that are completely free of colour banding or ‘patching’. The 65A80L even does this with its Smooth Gradation feature turned off, and since this feature can start to scrub out detail a touch in its higher settings, we’d recommend just leaving this feature off, or only on its Low setting.
As well as being lovely to behold in itself, the 65A80L’s immaculate colour handling contributes to a gorgeously rich, textured, detailed and three-dimensional image. This is especially true with native 4K content, which consistently looks pristine, dense, nuanced and just flat-out beautiful. Also, though, despite improvements to the upscaling engines of both LG and Samsung this year, the 65A80L’s upscaling processing is uniquely effective about retaining that beautiful, almost uncanny sense of refinement and subtlety with HD sources.
The 65A80L’s appreciation for the finer things in life extends, too, to its delivery of shadow detail - the subtle grey and dark colour details that help ensure that dark scenes enjoy as much depth and density as bright ones. Even the very subtlest, faintest traces of light emerge from the darkest picture corners. They do so, too, without the faintest hint of noise, thanks to arguably the cleanest handling of ‘near black’ image content I’ve seen on any OLED TV to date.
The 65A80L’s shadow detail handling is so good, in fact, that it’s pretty much the only TV I’ve seen for a long time that doesn’t suffer with black crush when showing Dolby Vision content - even in Dolby Vision Dark mode. This mode does still look generally too dark, as it does with pretty much any TV, but the Sony’s presentation, at least, doesn’t rob you of any image content. And the Dolby Vision Bright setting looks sensational.
The 65A80L’s exceptional control over the amount of light each pixel in its pictures delivers, meanwhile, means that while it may not deliver the most extreme range of light in the OLED world, what brightness it does have at its disposal is used so precisely and effectively that the picture always feels intense, rich in contrast and depth and, best of all, lifelike.
The 65A80L holds on to its fantastic detail and sharpness even when there’s a lot of motion in the frame. Judder is only a minor issue without using Sony’s MotionFlow processing, but personally I found the most ultimately natural results came using a Custom Motionflow setting with the Smoothness adjusting set to 1 and Clearness set to Low. This still leaves 24p sources appearing with enough judder to feel cinematic without adding any unwanted processing artefacts to the picture, while avoiding the jarring flickering effect that kicks in if you set the Clearness setting to High.
Sony notably manages to sustain its beautifully subtle and nuanced approach to colour rendering when running in its gaming mode. Our measured input lag figure for the 65A80L in Game mode of 16.5ms suggests there’s a small price to pay for the TV’s pristine colours in terms of how long the screen takes to render gaming feeds. The seven or eight milliseconds longer the 65A80L takes to render Game Mode pictures, though, probably won’t feel like a big deal to all but the most competitive gamers, and so doesn’t seem too high a price to pay for the again exceptionally refined and three-dimensional looking game images the 65A80L produces.
While we’re on the subject of gaming, the 65A80L marks the debut of Sony’s new Game Menu: an interface dedicated to gaming-related features and settings that include the ability to turn variable refresh rate support on or off, an option to increase motion blur reduction at the expense of some response time, a cross hair option with a choice of designs, and a Black Equaliser option that lets you supposedly raise the brightness floor of dark areas without impacting the rest of the picture. I say supposedly because in its current form the dark area brightness increase seems to leach into other brighter parts of the image, too.
Sony has previously promised a feature that lets you shrink the image on the screen when you’re playing reaction-based FPS titles, to make it easier for your eyes to take in the whole image at once. This must be coming via a future firmware update, though, as I couldn’t find any sign of it on the A80L during my tests.
The 65A80L does also suffer with a few gaming shortcomings, though. Since it uses the same HDMI silicone used in the A80K from last year, it can’t support Dolby Vision gaming in 4K at frame rates higher than 60Hz. In fact, you can’t even run the 65A80L in its Game mode when playing in a Dolby Vision gaming source, meaning that input lag rises to a game-breaking 160ms. In short, Dolby Vision gaming on the 65A80L really isn’t an option.
It’s also worth stressing again that the 65A80L’s HDR gaming pictures aren’t as bright as those of many OLED rivals. But as with its video performance, the nuances and three-dimensionality of the 65A80L’s gaming imagery provide handsome compensation for the relatively limited brightness.
I can’t deny that the 65A80L’s stellar picture management has got me feeling pretty giddy to see what such precision and purity might look like when applied to the much brighter QD OLED panel we’re going to be getting with Sony’s A95L TVs later in the year. But again, the A95Ls will cost substantially more than the 65A80Ls. In the context of the 65A80L’s price, while we may still find some similarly priced OLED and LED rivals taking a more aggressive approach to picture quality, it’s hard to imagine any of those rivals being able to make pictures look more immaculate and flat-out beautiful than the 65A80L does.
The 65A80L follows previous Sony OLED models in using innovative Acoustic Surface technology to deliver its sound. This uses the screen itself to produce the majority of the TV’s sound, an approach that pushes sound forward into your room much more aggressively than regular TV sound systems do, and helps sound effects appear to be coming from the correct part of the screen.
The 65A80L’s Acoustic Surface Audio+ system includes three 10W actuators behind the screen, plus two rear-mounted 10W subwoofers to add the bass that ‘screen-exciting’ sound systems otherwise tend to lack.
Bass still doesn’t reach as low as I’d ideally like, it has to be said. But the mid-range is expansive, open and dynamic enough to ensure that the sound can get seriously, cinematically loud without starting to sound dense, distorted or harsh. Detailing is consistently outstanding, too, and the soundstage is both large (spreading beyond the TV’s left and right edges) and beautifully crafted.
There isn’t much height to go with the left and right spread, it has to be said - even when the TV’s playing Dolby Atmos mixes. But the stunning clarity, detail positioning and staging still lets you feel as if you’re getting some benefit from the object-based precision of the Dolby Atmos sound format.
The 65A80L’s complete lack of bass distortion, harshness-free trebles and always-clear and immaculately positioned vocals play their part, too, in ensuring that the 65A80L’s sound joins its pictures in delivering a fantastically consistent and therefore immersive experience. Especially if you’ve run the genuinely helpful audio auto-calibration system.
It’s worth noting here that the 65A80L can share its speakers with Sony’s current soundbars to deliver a larger, more accurate centre channel experience than you’d get from the soundbar alone
The 65A80L’s minimalist design is elegant and assured without making a spectacle of itself. The frame around the screen is trim, so the 65-inch screen doesn’t take up any more of your living room than necessary, while its aluminium ‘wedge’ feet are so slim that you can hardly see them when viewing the TV straight on.
Build quality is very good, and the way the screen and the TV’s metal bezel sit on the same level adds a nice premium touch.
Less premium is the hassle surrounding the 65A80L’s connections. After our recent tests of the latest TVs from LG and Samsung, it’s frustrating to find only two of the TV’s four HDMIs supporting 4K/120Hz gaming signals. Especially when one of these two high-bandwidth HDMI ports also has to serve as the TV’s ‘eARC’ port if you want to send audio via your TV to a connected soundbar or AV receiver.
Also unhelpful for gamers is the way you have to choose via a dedicated HDMI setting menu what you want each of the two premium HDMI inputs to support. As in, Dolby Vision, or high and variable refresh rates - because you can’t have both things at once. The HDMI set up system doesn’t make it very clear, either, that you can’t enjoy a low-lag Game mode setting while gaming in Dolby Vision from an Xbox Series X or PC.
This level of set up complication feels awkward to say the least given that equivalent LG’s TVs have been supporting every gaming feature going automatically over all their HDMI ports for generations now.
Once you’ve navigated the 65A80L’s connectivity complications, things thankfully become more straightforward. Its latest Google TV smart system is much better presented and much easier to find your way round than its old Android TV predecessor, while the provided remotes (you get two, a standard one and a more streamlined one) make it easy to get to the TV’s settings or inputs.
Gamers will appreciate the addition of the new dedicated gaming menu available when the TV detects a game source, and Sony continues to provide a couple of dedicated performance-enhancing benefits exclusively for PS5 gamers.
The Sony 65A80L can be fairly easily connected (there’s even built-in Chromecast) with your smart devices for sharing videos, photographs and music, and supports voice control via built in Google Assistant compatibility. In fact, the 65A80L’s networkability is so effective that it just makes the complications associated with its physical HDMI connections look all the more peculiar.
While the 65A80L might not be 2023’s brightest, most spectacular or best connected OLED TV of 2023, it’s hard to imagine we’re going to find a TV that tops it this year in terms of subtlety, nuance and pure unadulterated picture quality loveliness.
Pan 4K Blu-ray
While Joe Wright’s attempt to reboot the Peter Pan story doesn’t work as a film, it has given us one of the best 4K Blu-rays to date for ‘torture testing’ TVs. It was mastered to an extremely high HDR brightness level and features some seriously rich colours too, meaning that there’s really no other disc like it for revealing issues such as clipping and colour noise.
Blade Runner 2049 4K Blu-ray
Like the 65A80L, Blade Runner 2049’s picture might not be the brightest or most aggressive image in the 4K Blu-ray world, but it is beautifully crisp and clean, and its subtle but gorgeously effective use of lighting and colour work feel tailor made to show off what the Sony’s new OLED TV is all about.
Spider-Man: No Way Home Bravia Core Stream
Anyone who buys a 65A80L gets free streaming rights to 10 movies on Sony’s own Bravia Core streaming service, which uses ultra high quality streaming bandwidths much higher than those used by Amazon and Netflix. The service carries some titles in the screen-filling, noise-free IMAX Enhanced format that the 65A80L supports, including the excellent Spider-Man: No Way Home.
The peerless precision of the 65A80L’s video processing and light management proves definitively that focusing on the finer things in TV picture quality life can yield results with both 4K and HD sources - at least in dark room settings - as spectacular in their own mesmerisingly refined and subtle way as anything this year’s much brighter TVs can do.