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I just saw Sony’s first QD-OLED TV in person — and it's amazing

Sony A95K QD-OLED TV
(Image credit: Future)

Samsung isn’t the only big-name TV brand betting on QD-OLED. In fact, I’ll argue Sony made a stronger statement at the start of this year by brazenly announcing the Sony A95K QD-OLED TV, its take on the awaited next-gen display (whereas Samsung only recently spilled the deets on Samsung S95B OLED TV.)

I had the chance to see Sony’s set in action ahead of its official release. Although Sony has yet to announce price and availability, we were offered a hands-on demo of what could end up being one of the best TVs we’ve ever tested in terms of performance. After all, QD-OLED is shaping up to be the kind of set everyone wants in their living room. In the simplest terms, the technology promises to combine the best picture elements of quantum dot and OLED.

Let’s get more specific on what makes the A95K QD-OLED TV special — it comes down to a major change in color reproduction. Many of the best OLED TVs use a WRGB pixel structure, allowing each self-emissive pixel to produce its own color from a combination of red (R), green (G) and blue (B) light. The fourth white (W) subpixel supports brightness, and in some instances helps colors look more intense. 

But relying on the white subpixel limits the overall brightness capabilities of OLED TVs, with manufacturers (rightfully) not willing to let colors get washed out or lose volume, resulting in a sub-par picture. Sony eliminated the white from the A95K QD-OLED TV’s equation, meaning there's nothing diluting color. The addition of a quantum dot layer makes up for brightness.

Sony QD-OLED vs OLED side by side

So how does the winning combination of QD-OLED look, say, compared to last year’s Sony Master Series A90J? Watching the two sets side-by-side, I saw an obvious difference in color strength. Without appearing too cartoon-ish or skewing the mood of the scene, the red dress worn by Emma Stone in Cruella took on a new dimension of vibracy and detail I’ve rarely seen in my days of testing TVs. At least compared to previous Sony OLED TVs. Though the A90J is still an impressive set, the crimson gown’s sophistication paled next to the same image on the A95K QD-OLED.

The red dress worn by Emma Stone in Cruella took on a new dimension of vibracy and detail I’ve rarely seen in my days of testing TVs.

The same scene also highlighted the main reason I’m paying attention to QD-OLED – how it handles blacks or extremely dark parts of a picture. Though quantum dot has improved to not make blacks appear a deep blue, it hasn’t been able to match the precision of turning a pixel completely off as OLED can.

This QD-OLED set maintained the inky blacks pretty perfectly in the short demo, making it possible to see the smallest details of tuxedos and other moody garb contrasting Cruella’s statement dress. It felt special to watch movement in the shadows, knowing how easily the complexities could get lost.

But how much will the Sony QD-OLED TV cost?

The Sony A95K QD-OLED TV is the company’s flagship this year, perched atop a lineup of OLED TVs and even Sony’s first Mini-LED models. As such, we’re expecting it’ll sport an expensive price tag, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried for customers' wallets.

Most of the best Sony TVs cost more than the LG and Samsung counterparts. In my experience testing Sony sets, I will say there’s a level of premium and cinematic quality that I’m not surprised to see come from a company that not only makes professional filmmaking equipment but also blockbuster films. That’s reflected in the cost, though.

Even with the best TV deals, you’re probably going to pay more for a Sony TV than a set in a comparable tier from LG and Samsung. Pair that with the fact that Sony buys its panels from its competitors, and it makes sense why it's perhaps not always as popular as the other two brands. I’ve found Sony more than makes up for outsourcing with its processing, and processing is really what’s key to controlling OLED’s newfound quantum-dot brightness and color volume on a consistent basis.

Samsung’s QD-OLED TV (which is just being called Samsung OLED, FYI) costs $2,100 for the 55-inch configuration and $2,999 for the 65-inch configuration. The Sony A95K comes in the same two sizes, though if pricing precedent is any indication, they could cost up to $1,000 more. (The 65-inch A90J cost $3,999 at launch.)

At least Sony will be throwing in the Bravia Cam with purchase. The Bravia Cam is a TV-mounted webcam that can sense where you’re sitting and adjust sound accordingly, or shut the TV off when it doesn’t detect anyone is in the room watching. It can even pause what you’re watching when you’re sitting too close to the TV, which could be useful for helping kids understand they shouldn’t be perched right in front of the screen.

Sony QD-OLED TV vs. Samsung QD-OLED TV

Whether Sony’s QD-OLED TV is better than Samsung’s can’t be determined quite yet. The odds skew slightly in Samsung’s favor, since the company is a notable pioneer of QD-OLED having mastered the art of making the best QLED TVs with quantum dots. But I’ve only seen Sony’s TV in person so far, and what I’ve seen is stunning.

I’ll want to get both sets in our lab soon to get a clearer sense of each’s strengths (and weaknesses.) Depending on the results and full transparency about price, it’s highly possible one of these two QD-OLED TVs will become the set to beat this year.

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.