(Pocket-lint) - The AG9 is the flagship OLED set in Sony's 2019 Master Series line-up. A no-compromiser flatscreen, it combines leading edge picture processing with innovative audio and a high-end design sensibility.
The feature count is formidable too. There's support for Dolby Vision high dynamic range and Dolby Atmos object-based audio, IMAX Enhanced certification (useful for IMAX Enhanced movies coming from Rakuten TV to this very set) and Netflix endorsement (specifically a bespoke Netflix Calibrated viewing mode).
Fashionably Minimal Design
- Acoustic Surface Audio+
- 4x HDMI, 3x USB, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Less attitudinal than its predecessors, this Sony range-topper no longer adopts a lean-back pose, but sits upright on an easy-to-accommodate central pedestal stand. Stylishly minimal, the AG9 actually has a slimmer footprint than its AF9 predecessor.
Square on, it's all screen. The bezel is tiny; there's discreet Bravia branding, bottom left, but that's about as ostentatious as things get. The panel itself sits almost flush to the pedestal so don't think about plonking a soundbar in front of it.
Not that you need to. The set features Acoustic Surface Audio+ technology. Actuators placed on the panel itself vibrate to produce sound, while supplementary woofers on the rear add bass.
Connections include four full-fat 4K HDMI inputs, so basically whatever you want to hook-up will be displayed at maximum fidelity. The prime HDMI port also has advanced eARC, for lossless audio pass-through of object-based sound formats.
In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth v4.2, there's an AV minijack, optical digital audio output, three USBs (one intended for HDD recording), a headphone socket, and Ethernet port. The set also has stereo spring clip loudspeaker terminals, allowing the AG9's sound system to function as the centre speaker in a multichannel cinema system.
Finally Android TV OS comes good
- Android Oreo TV OS
- Freeview HD with YouView
Connected smarts are provided by Google Android. Previous iterations of the Android TV OS have been clunky at best; however the new Oreo iteration is a marked improvement. It's more intuitive to use and works well within a wider Google ecosystem.
Chromecast is built-in, while there's support for Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices. There's also planned compatibility with Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit.
One unfortunate consequence of the Google OS, at least for UK buyers, is that there's no Freeview Play. Sony circumnavigates this with a replacement YouView TV guide, offering similar functionality and mainstream catch-up. All the key streaming apps are present, including Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube and Rakuten TV.
The set transpires to be a good choice for console gamers too. Using the dedicated Game mode, we recorded an input lag of just 26.5ms, which translates to a decent TV gaming experience.
Sensational Image Quality
- HDR support: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Image processor: Sony X1 Ultimate
The AG9 doesn't require much coaxing to deliver a startlingly fine image. At the heart of the panel is Sony's X1 Ultimate chipset, which represents a significant upgrade on the earlier X1 Extreme. With best-in-class HD standard-def upscaling, and a nuanced native 4K image, helped by subtle yet satisfying 4K X-Reality Pro image enhancement, it can turn heads with even the most unassuming of content.
This is because the X1 Ultimate has a collection of inventive image enhancements baked in. A Pixel Contrast Booster enhances colour and contrast in bright areas, while Object-Based Super Resolution technology is able to detect and analyse individual objects within a scene, dynamically tweaking contrast, detail and colour.
The result is that the full benefits of the panel can be enjoyed, regardless whether you're watching HDR programmes or not. All images have enthralling pop and vibrancy.
Viewing presets include Vivid, Standard, Cinema, Game, Custom, Graphics and Photo. Standard is our recommended everyday go-to, because it combines dynamic, punchy contrast with excellent colour vibrancy. It's perfect for normal viewing conditions, featuring daylight or ambient light.
For more serious AV consideration, there's the Custom mode, which more accurately mirrors the balance of a Hollywood mastering monitor, however this only really delivers with dark room/theatre viewing.
The AG9's HDR performance borders on excellent. We measured 750 nits in Standard mode. However, the TV can actually deliver higher brightness, better reflecting real-world HDR grading. This might include intense peaks caused by fireworks, lamps, reflections and assorted visual FX sparkles.
It's not just peak brightness which impresses on the AG9. Near black level performance is similarly outstanding. OLED screens are notoriously difficult to drive, particularly when you get to low luminance levels. Yet, the dark shadowed other-worldy environments of The Expanse (Amazon Prime, 4K) appear richly textured.
The caveat is that the AG9's HDR support doesn't extend to HDR10+, the dynamic metadata alternative to Dolby Vision favoured by Amazon and some Blu-ray suppliers. Given that universal Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are offered by rivals Philips and Panasonic, its omission here is regrettable, particularly if you want to watch The Boys (Amazon Prime) in all their gory glory.
If you feel the need to tweak, there's a good deal of adjustment on offer. However, the AG9's default settings invariably transpire to offer the best compromise. It turns out that Advanced Contrast Enhancer and Black Adjust are best left on Medium, with Peak Luminance set to High for HDR, and Medium for SDR.
The Calibrated For Netflix mode supposedly reflects the image as mastered during Netflix post production. It's a Cinema preset by any other name. Selected, it supersedes Dolby Vision.
Of course, the AG9 isn't just about movies. Motion handling, long a strength of Sony, remains a trump card here, giving this panel the edge over many of its rivals when it comes to sports presentation. The Motionflow XR processor effortlessly combines smoothness with clarity, yet somehow avoids awkward motion artefacts.
Inventive Sound System
- 20W+20W+10W+10W power output
- 2x actuators, 2x bass woofers
Sony has made some changes to the Acoustic Surface Audio+ system on the AG9, and in some ways it's a downgrade from what we heard on the AF9. The number of actuators has been reduced from three to two. However, they've also been redesigned to give a wider spread of bass and treble.
This revision actually works well. The AG9 presents a wide, almost panoramic soundstage, and clearly manages to separate layers within a mix. The opening heist in Baby Driver is a cacophony of squealing tires cut to a musical beat. Nothing is lost, the audio suitably cinematic. The set also does a fine job with vocal intelligibility.
Of course, there are limits to these stereophonic vibrators. While the set has a Dolby Atmos decoder, soundtracks are best passed over HDMI to a compatible soundbar or home cinema system.
The AG9 wears its flagship status well. Build and cosmetic design are high, while that Acoustic Surface Audio+ sound system is as ingenious as it is musical. There's definitely no need to budget for a soundbar.
Of course, where the AG9 really shines is with image performance. This is a screen that acknowledges that you'll be watching just as much (if not more) HD SDR as 4K content, and applies considerable processing power to making that look as good as possible. It's also a superb display for native 4K, with sensational detail presentation and high-level dynamics.
Some points to ponder then, but, overall, we rate the AG9 a Master Series a bona fide stunner.
This top-ranking Samsung occupies similar rarified air to the AG9, but utilises a QLED display rather than OLED, which is to say it's an LED LCD model with full array backlight and plenty of Samsung secret sauce. This brings superior HDR brightness - 1765 nits measured in Standard mode - making it a great screen for living room use. It doesn't have a comparable black level performance though, and it isn't as pretty.
LG OLED C9
LG's most obvious OLED buy for 2019 boasts a whole heap of AI-empowered smart functionality, and has an excellent image processor in the shape of the second-generation Alpha 9. However, it's not as adept at upscaling HD SDR and its motion handling isn't as smooth either.