Anyone who’s been keeping an eye on television tech for the past few decades will know the word Bravia very, very well. Sony’s in-house brand name for their boundary-pushing range of TVs since 2005, it’s long represented a level of quality that aims to go above and beyond the usual – and, Sony being Sony, that’s exactly what they’re managed to do with their 2021 range.
One of the key benefits of Sony’s TVs has long been their industry-leading picture processing, which continues to set Sony Bravia TVs apart from other brands even when the playing field is otherwise level. The video sources we watch these days – whether it’s streaming, Blu-ray disc, games or broadcast TV – all run at different frame rates, and the way a TV deals with them is an essential part of overall picture quality. Nobody enjoys watching a movie that looks like it’s stuttering between frames, but the solution for that applied by some TVs can make a feature film look like a TV soap opera if it’s not done right.
Sony’s long history with film and video production – the actual making of the films and shows, the cameras used to shoot them, and the tech used to bring the final product into cinemas and homes – has given them plenty of experience at getting images onto your screen at home without compromise, and the Bravia XR series TVs deliver the next generation of smart image processing – because no matter how advanced the screen is, it’s only as good as the quality of the picture that’s sent to it.
All modern TVs use some amount of processing in order to get the images onto your screen while making the most of what it can do, as well as to display movies and shows with cinema-like smoothness. How good a TV’s processing smarts are makes a huge difference to overall quality.
The 2021 line-up features two very different display technologies – the full-array LED-lit LCD screen on the X90J, and cutting-edge OLED on the A80J. There are advantages to each type of display – we’ll get to that in a moment – but both of them benefit from the same Bravia XR processing, which introduces what Sony calls their Cognitive Processor XR.
Sony says that this new chip is smart enough to analyse the picture and sound in real time, programmed with an understanding of how humans see and hear, with the aim of enhancing objects that are the focus of interest to give a more natural sense of depth and realism.
The Cognitive Processor XR also looks after the very difficult art of motion processing – something Sony has led the field in for many years, and just keeps getting better at. XR Motion Clarity not only brings movies and TV to life with natural, smooth motion, but also works great with fast-moving, high-frame-rate content like sports to deliver a blur-free image with the most chaotic of content.
If that all sounds like a bit too much “secret sauce,” don’t worry – the idea, as it’s always been with Sony’s TVs, is for the processing to never be apparent to the viewer. It’s not uncommon for reviewers and consumers alike to see a Sony TV in action and notice it just looks better, without there being anything glaringly different to make it attract attention. In the case of movies and modern TV drama, that difference is verging on cinematic. Sony knows video well, and the hugely increased computing power of their latest TVs makes an even more refined picture possible.
Also shared between the X90J and A80J is Sony’s new user interface. For several years now, Sony’s been using Android TV as the interface on most of their TVs, but this year they’re stepping things up to another level with the addition of Google TV. Under the hood, you’re still running Android TV, but the Google TV user interface (which made its debut on the latest Google Chromecast) makes for the most user-friendly interface you’ll find on a TV. Bringing together your live TV, all your streaming apps and your personal content libraries, Google TV delivers real-time recommendations based on the stuff you’ve been watching and streaming, letting you search across all your streaming services for whatever you’re in the mood to watch – then letting you launch straight into it directly from the home screen. Because it’s powered by Android TV, it can handle every streaming app out there, letting you focus on getting to the content rather than wrestling with dozens of individual apps. It’s brilliant, and it’s a very welcome addition to Sony’s 2021 range.
Both TVs also support 120Hz video via HDMI 2.1 – meaning you’ll be able to enjoy video games from the latest console generation in pristine 4K quality at the highest frame rate supported by both PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Of course, there are differences between these two brilliant TVs as well – one key difference in particular. The X90J is a Full-Array LED TV, which means an LCD screen lit from behind by hundreds of tiny LEDs which can change brightness across different parts of the screen as needed. That allows for deep blacks when the content calls for it, while having the advantage of the higher peak brightness that the LED backlighting can deliver. Sony’s been doing full-array LED screens for over a decade now, and they’ve got it down to a fine art; if you’re looking for a screen that’s well suited to a brightly lit room, this is it.
The A80J, on the other hand, uses an OLED screen, made up of millions of tiny pixels that all emit their own light. This means perfect blacks, because each pixel can completely turn off when it has nothing to display, and in turn this makes for an immersive experience when watching movies from streaming or 4K Blu-ray – especially if they support HDR or Dolby Vision (the X90J also supports both regular HDR and Dolby Vision, by the way) as well as unrivalled viewing angles.
The A80J continues Sony’s innovation of using the actual screen as a front-facing speaker, delivering sound directly from the characters on screen with remarkable clarity (and bolstered by some bass speakers cleverly hidden in the slim chassis).
Regardless of which new Bravia you pick, you’re in for a visual feast. With Sony’s best picture processing to date, they’re hard to beat.