Thursday , January 28 2021

Sony’s 2021 TV lineup runs Google TV and fully embraces HDMI 2.1

Last year’s TV lineup from Sony took a bit of criticism since several sets were unable to take advantage of next-gen gaming features on the PlayStation 5 that shipped in November. Even if you look right now, the spread of HDMI 2.1 features is pretty sad. Sony never really acknowledged this as a mistake, believing that customers purchase its TVs for different reasons and not everyone needs every box checked off.

What a difference a year makes.

In 2021, Sony is correcting course: all of its premium “Bravia XR” 4K (and yes, 8K) TVs support 4K at 120Hz, VRR (variable refresh rate), ALLM (auto low latency mode), and eARC. No asterisks or gotchas or promises to add stuff later with firmware updates.

Beyond getting on board with 4K120, Sony is making a big deal over what it calls “cognitive intelligence” in these TVs. Powered by a new Cognitive Processor XR chip, Sony says its new system goes beyond traditional signal processing — which Sony’s TVs already excelled at — and beyond the artificial intelligence analysis in most TVs. “While conventional artificial intelligence (AI) can only detect and analyze picture elements like color, contrast and detail individually, the new processor can cross-analyze an array of elements at once, just as our brains do,” Sony’s press release on the TVs says. “By doing so, each element is adjusted to its best final outcome, in conjunction with each other, so everything is synchronized and lifelike — something that conventional AI cannot achieve.”

Sony is also talking up what the XR processor can do for sound. A “Sound-from-Picture Reality” feature is claimed to “align the position of the sound with the images on the screen to offer a uniquely lifelike experience.” Samsung has promised similar results for its own 2021 Neo QLED TVs.

The two Master Series TVs (8K LCD and 4K OLED) have a new sensor for detecting the color temperature of the ambient light in your room, and this lets them automatically adjust the TV’s white balance to match. (This setting can be turned off for you purists, of course.) More important is that the A90J Master Series OLED also has brighter output than Sony’s past OLEDs thanks to a new aluminum heat shield attached to the panel. Making OLEDs brighter is a big deal since that’s a key area where LCD sets still tend to win out.

As one of the earliest TV makers that got on board with Android TV, it seems appropriate that Sony will be among the first to transition to Google TV. All of these TVs will offer a software experience that’s incredibly similar to the latest Chromecast: Sony still has its own customizations in the settings menu (and for quick shortcuts like your HDMI inputs), but everything else — the personalized For You page, content recommendations, etc. — is basically unchanged from Google’s latest streaming device.

Sony has also focused on small touches, like adjustable legs that can be configured to allow enough space for a soundbar in front of the TV without obstructing the picture. Going down the lineup, you lose certain niceties (like an antireflective coating exclusive to the 8K set), but all of the TVs support Dolby Vision HDR. And again, you’ve got all the HDMI 2.1 standards accounted for.

Rather than move to new display technology like Mini LED, Sony seems to be evolving its current strategy of full-array local dimming and iterating upon its excellent OLED sets. The company doesn’t share how many dimming zones its TVs have or really talk about peak brightness, believing that competitors get too hung up on those numbers.

Pricing and specific availability info will be announced this spring.

Z9J Master Series 8K (Full-array LCD)

A90J Master Series 4K (OLED)

A80J 4K (OLED)

X95J 4K (Full-array LCD)

X93J 4K (Full-array LCD)

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