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Technology.

19 August 2021

How to buy the best Sony TV

We see what's in store for Sony's latest range of OLED and LCD TVs, and demystify the marketing lingo so you know your Bravia XR processor from your X-Reality Pro.
Martin Pratt
Sony XR-55A90J 4K OLED TV mounted on a wall

Sony has lost some ground to LG and Samsung, but it's still a force to be reckoned with and makes cutting-edge 4K, 8K LCD and OLED TVs.

CES at Las Vegas in January is where it reveals high-end TVs, usually its flagship OLED and LCD sets in both 4K and 8K resolution. It releases plenty of cheaper models too though, usually in the spring.

In this page we'll cover the different ranges that make up Sony's line-up and go over the technology in them. 

To find out our verdict on all the models we've tested, go our full to Sony TV reviews

Sony TV technology explained

With so many ranges at so many different prices, it will come as no surprise that not all Sony's TVs have the same technology. Here we run down the kind of tech and features you'll find in Sony sets.

Acoustic Surface Audio

This technology debuted with the A1 OLED from 2017 and Sony has adapted it gradually in the years since. The acoustic surface is actually the screen, which vibrates to create the sound. Most TVs have down-firing speakers, but by vibrating the screen Sony's speakers create more positional sound, which comes from the screen rather than below it.

In 2020, Sony took this tech a step further on its high-end models. Tweeters (high tone speakers) vibrate the frame and Sony says this gives even more control of where the sound comes from. If a character is talking, the sound should come from their mouth; likewise, a bird squawking across the screen should be tracked the whole way by the vibrating audio.

You'll only find this technology in Sony's OLED and high-end LCD models.

Bravia XR processor

In 2021, two new OLED ranges and three LCD ones will be powered by the Bravia XR processor, which brings a significant new feature: cognitive intelligence. 

Cognitive intelligence is a fancy way of saying the TV learns and behaves a bit more like a person. Don’t worry, the five new ranges aren’t anthropomorphic; your TV won’t suddenly start acting like HAL 9000 and try to engage you in conversation. It’s more that the TVs understand what people focus on when they’re watching, and make those portions of the screen look as good as possible. 

Multiple streams of data are analysed and cross-analysed to determine which parts of the picture deserve this special attention.

Bravia Core

Sony TVs with the Bravia XR processor even get their own streaming service. Bravia Core will have a range of new films, which should appear on the service soon after they leave the cinema. These will cost money to rent, but anyone who buys a Z9J or A90J gets 10 credits, while owners of the A80J, Z95J and Z90J get five credits. 

Each credit is worth one film rental. It will also have a library of films available to watch for free, initially anyway. You get access for 24 months if you buy the Z9J or A90J, and 12 months if you buy one of the other XR ranges.

Full-array backlights

All LCD TVs have backlights, but not all backlights are the same. Backlights illuminate the liquid crystals in LCD displays to create the picture; in a full-array one the bulbs sit directly behind the screen rather than around it. This means there are more dimming zones, which means more control over what parts of the screen are lit.

Full-array sets aren't automatically better than edge-lit (where the LEDs sit around the screen or along one edge) ones however. We've tested poor full-array models and fantastic edge-lit ones. 

It's still a positive sign, though, since a TV with a full-array backlight should have more control over contrast.

Google TV

Sony’s 2021 XR ranges will be the first TVs to use the Google TV operating system. It has some neat new benefits that we discovered when we tested the Chromecast with Google TV, including the ‘for you’ section that recommends content based on what you’ve been watching. 

The recommendations come from any apps you’ve installed, so if you’ve got multiple subscriptions you’ll get potential picks from all of them. There’s also a handy ‘continue watching’ bar just like you’d see on Netflix, but you’ll see shows from different apps here, too.

Many Sony TVs effectively have Google Chromecast built in, so you can easily play the content saved on your phone on your TV screen by pressing the cast icon found on many smartphone and tablet apps.

Voice control

Sony's partnership with Google goes deeper still as Google Assistant is built in to Sony sets. Using the microphone in the remote, you can issue a range of commands, which include searching for content, adjusting volume and changing channel.

You can also connect a Google Home or Amazon Echo to give voice commands via those devices.  

X1 Ultimate processor

You'll find the Ultimate chip in some of Sony's high-end 4K sets that aren't part of the XR range, as well as it's 2020 flagship TV, the Sony ZH8 8K LCD. Its main job is upscaling, which is making SD and HD content look as close to 4K as possible. On an 8K TV the task is even tougher as the sharpness needs to reach 8K standard. And getting lower-resolution content up to 8K standard is vital to justify the higher cost of 8K TV sets, as there's no actual 8K content to watch right now.

The X1 uses a huge database of images to achieve the task. Every frame of content is analysed and the chip refers to the database to find the objects being displayed. It uses them as a reference to sharpen the image.


Looking for a good TV at a great price? Check out our best TV deals guide for the best offers we've found this month on Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic TVs.


Sony's 2021 TVs overview

Sony's line-up for 2021 is a mixture of high-end OLEDs and LCD models with the Bravia XR processor and cheaper models that are still more full-featured than the basic model from 2020.

Sony Bravia XR Z9J Master Series

Sony Z9J 8K Bravia XR TV

The feature-packed, massively expensive 8K TV from Sony in 2021 is the Z9J. As the TV's name suggests, the Bravia XR processor powers the Z9J, so it should be as smart as it is beautiful. Sony's new processor is the first to use cognitive intelligence to boost the picture, but first and foremost it will need to boost 4K content to 8K quality if the Z9J is to be successful.

It's an LCD rather than an OLED, so it uses a full-array backlight to create the picture. Sony hasn't tried to reinvent its backlights in the same way LG and Samsung have, but that doesn't necessarily mean its high-end LCD sets will be worse.

When it comes to sound, the Z9J is packed with speakers that sit behind the screen, while some vibrate the frame of the TV. XR Sound is Sony's name for the audio processing technology and it should create cinematic and immersive surround sound.

Sony Bravia XR A90J OLED

Sony A90J Bravia XR OLED

The A90J is the top-tier OLED with the Bravia XR processor and all the features that come with it, including XR sound to create a better sense of audio coming from specific parts of the screen, such as a car engine, or character's voice. It should create a surround sound effect, too, and boost dialogue.

There's no backlight, all the pixels in the display create their own light instead, so contrast should be brilliant.

As you'd expect for such a high-end TV, prices are equally high - starting at £2,699 for the 55-inch model at launch.

Sony Bravia XR A80J OLED

Sony A80J Bravia XR OLED

This cheaper OLED options from the Bravia XR range is almost identical to the A90J above. It's not as bright though, so the contrast on the A90J should look that bit more impressive as it can push the whites further and make the range from the darkest to lightest parts of the picture broader.

Other than that, there's not much to pick between these two models, which can only be good for a buyer looking to spend a bit less on a high-end OLED.

Sony Bravia XR X95J

Sony X95J Bravia XR 4K TV

Like the Z9J 8K set, the X95J has a full-array backlight shining on to a liquid crystal panel, as well as all the bells and whistles that come with the Bravia XR processor.

The screen is 120Hz which means it can handle 120 frames per second. This makes for smooth motion on compatible content. Gaming is the most obvious beneficiary of this as the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have games which take full advantage of a 120Hz display. 

Unfortunately sizes start at 65 inches for the X95J so you'll need to look elsewhere if you want something smaller.

Sony Bravia XR X90J

Sony X90J Bravia XR 4K TV

The X90J also has a 120Hz, which means you'll be able to unlock the full potential of high-frame rate video games and videos.

Impressively, there aren't too many differences between the X90J and X95J.The X95J should have better contrast and wider viewing angle and the X90J doesn't get the backlit remote or the microphone built into the TV (there is one in the remote though).

The good news is that the X90J will available in larger range of sizes starting at a more living-room-friendly 50 inches.

Sony's 2020 TVs overview

With 8K sets, OLEDs and cheaper LCD ranges, there's plenty to unpack in Sony's 2020 line-up. Click through to the range you want to know more about to see what kind of features you can expect.

Sony ZH8 8K LCD

Sony zh8 485918

Every year there's a TV that gets top billing at CES (the world's biggest tech tradeshow) and for Sony in 2020 that was the ZH8, its flagship 8K set which is packed with the best tech and features.

It has Sony's X1 Ultimate Processor, which is designed with upscaling to 8K in mind – and it's essential it does a good job since the only 8K content you'll be watching for a few years won't be 8K at all. Instead it will be SD, HD and 4K footage sharpened and optimised to appear as close to actual 8K content as possible.

Sony's screen-vibrating technology for sound has been updated in this TV and now even the frame vibrates. It's supposed to create more positional sound so that audio comes from the appropriate part of the screen, such as a character's mouth or car's engine. This will likely work best on bigger-screen TVs, which might explain why the smallest ZH8 is 75 inches. 

Sony A9 and A8 4K OLEDs

Sony A9 and A8 4K OLEDs

It’s not just 8K TVs that benefit from the X1 Ultimate processor: 4K OLEDs get it too. Even SD and HD footage should be close to 4K once the advanced chip has finished tweaking, sharpening and polishing every object on screen.

Screen vibration for sound – the technology Sony calls Acoustic Surface Audio – is the order of the day again. We’ve tested many TVs with this feature and have always been impressed by the unconventional technology.

It’s not exactly the same technology we’ve seen in Sony’s OLEDs before, though. The speakers are smarter and capable of detecting sound-absorbing materials in the room, such as curtains and sofas. The speakers will adjust so the sound isn’t negatively impacted by your room layout or contents.

The most exciting thing about Sony's 2020 OLEDs isn't the technology in them, but the sizes they will be available in. For the first time we'll see a 48-inch OLED TV; previously they haven't been smaller than 55 inches.

Read our reviews to find out how Sony's premier OLEDs compare to rivals from LG and Panasonic.

Sony XH9505 4K LCD range

Sony XH9505 4K LCD range

The majority of Sony's TVs are still 4K and this should be Sony's best 4K LCD of 2020.

The XH95 TV appears on paper to be a mirror of the 8K ZH8, but without the extra resolution capabilities (it’s 4K rather than 8K). That means it retains the X1 Ultimate processor, as well as full-array backlight for improved contrast control, Dolby Vision HDR (an advanced format capable of adjusting contrast on the fly) and Dolby Atmos, which boosts the surround-sound effect of speakers by simulating sound coming from above. 

An array of speakers behind the screen simulate sound coming from the screen. The speakers themselves have been redesigned to improve the low bass tones. Better yet, the tweeters and subwoofers each get a dedicated amp for individual control and better balance of the high, mid and low frequencies.

Read our reviews of Sony's XH95 range to see if all that high-end technology makes for an exquisite TV.

Sony XH9005 4K LCD range

It's a similar range to the top end XH9505s, which is a good thing. It has a full-array backlight, which means the bulbs sit behind the screen granting the TV more control over contrast and lighting. 

It doesn't have the X1 Ultimate processor though and misses out on some image-optimisation software, which could make the XH9005 screens less crisp than the models above them.

The main difference though is the sound. The XH9505s have tweeters sitting behind the screen to create more positional sound, while the XH9005s have more traditional speakers that sit at the base of the screen pointing down.

Check our reviews if you're interested in seeing if the XH9005s can excel without the X1 Ultimate processor and acoustic multi-audio technology.

Sony XH8196 4K LCD range

The speakers are the key difference between the mid-range and high-end Sony TVs. 

The acoustic multi-audio setup found in the XH95 doesn’t carry over to this series. Neither does the processor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the picture will suffer too much. We test TVs every year that belie the quality of their components and impress us anyway, so these TVs could be as good to watch as the pricier models above. 

Dolby Vision advanced HDR and Dolby Atmos sound processing are supported. 

See our expert verdict of these TVs if you're interested to see how Sony's cheaper mid-range TVs fared.

Sony 7052 4K LCD range

Sony's cheapest range is as basic as it gets. It doesn't have an app store, so you're stuck with the apps that come installed.

It doesn't bode well for the range, since we consider an app store to be all-but essential on a modern TV, and so do buyers.

The other elements we expect are there though, so you do get HDR support for a contrast boost on compatible content. 

Are these TVs too basic? Find out by reading our reviews.