Sony made a splash last year with its first 4K Oled TV, the Bravia A1.
Its all-screen design puts a rich and vibrant Oled screen, propped by an unusual easel stand, front and centre. There are no unsightly speaker grilles. Instead, the screen produces sound via minute vibrations that are imperceptible to the naked eye.
The A1 won The Straits Times' vote for the best television set last year. However, this year's sequel, the A8F, seems unlikely to repeat the feat. It is similar to the A1 in terms of picture and audio quality, but offers a more conventional design and a lower launch price.
This means replacing the easel stand, which has the drawback of requiring a deep TV console to fit it.
The A8F sits on a slim desktop base that takes up less space and does not lean back like the A1's easel stand. It is also easier to place on the wall compared with the A1, which is fairly chunky with the easel stand folded in when mounted.
You could thus make the case that the A8F is the result of practicality over aesthetics.
PRICE: $6,999 (55-inch), $10,999 (65-inch)
PICTURE FEATURES: Maximum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
AUDIO FEATURES: 50W output (actuator and subwoofer), Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Pulse, DTS Digital Surround
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android TV (version 7.0)
CONNECTIVITY: 4 x HDMI, 3 x USB, optical output, Ethernet, Wi-Fi
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
Of course, the A8F is still a fine-looking television set. Its Oled screen is just a few millimetres thick, with equally slim bezels. Its lower half, though, is understandably thicker to accommodate its internal electronics.
This screen remains the conduit for the audio, a technology that is fittingly dubbed Acoustic Surface. It is surprisingly loud, though the sound quality will not rival a good set of speakers or a soundbar, especially when it comes to the lower frequencies. But it is probably worth keeping to it for the illusion of the sound coming from the screen.
Powering the A8F is the same Sony X1 Extreme processor found in last year's A1. This, coupled with the lack of any significant advances in Oled screen technology over the past year, means that the A8F produces a picture quality similar to that of the A1.
At times, it felt as if I was looking at a painting, thanks to the Oled screen's deep blacks, saturated colours and non-reflective display.
I did not spot any banding issues when looking at scenes with uniform colours. And when viewed from the sides, its Oled screen barely shows any colour shift.
Sony's motion-handling technology is excellent - fast transitions looked natural with no motion artefacts.
Sadly, it is not quite perfect. Its Oled screen, while beautifully balanced, can look slightly subdued because it is not as bright as LCD screens. It is probably more comfortable for the eyes when watching a high dynamic range (HDR) movie in complete darkness. However, for those who watch TV with the lights turned on, the A8F lacks the razzle-dazzle of competitors such as Samsung's top LCD televisions, especially in bright, colourful scenes.
In addition, the flaws I had noticed on the A1 have not been rectified. Namely, the Android TV interface and the horrible remote control. I am usually a big fan of Android TV, but Sony's implementation on the A8F feels like it has become worse since last year's A1.
The interface feels sluggish with choppy animations, while the TV crashed on a couple of occasions, requiring a reboot.
Given my prior experience with the Android TV-powered Nvidia Shield TV media player, it seems that the A8F needs a more powerful processor to run the software. Sony also added its own customisations, though its efforts, such as a dedicated menu for TV settings, feel out of place.
Android TV comes with the built-in Google Assistant if you feel like asking the TV for weather updates or commanding it to play music via the Spotify app.
I find its voice commands most useful for tasks such as searching for videos on YouTube, as typing alphanumeric characters on the remote control is inconvenient.
As for the remote control, it has too many unnecessary buttons and feels squishy and inaccurate when pressed.
Disappointingly, Sony continues to offer just two HDMI ports with the full bandwidth to support 4K videos at 60 frames per second (fps). The other two HDMI ports are limited to 30fps at 4K.
These ports can be hidden from sight using plastic panels, while wires can be tidied up with the built-in brackets.
My A8F review set received a software update to add support for the Dolby Vision HDR format halfway through my testing. The A1, too, received Dolby Vision support in a later update in March. Perhaps Sony can include this feature out of the box for its next iteration.
Despite launching the A8F, Sony continues to sell the older A1, which remains the flagship model and commands a higher retail price of $8,999 for the 55-inch model, compared with $6,999 for the A8F.
The latter would thus seem to be the better deal.
Of course, the actual street prices of these television sets often fluctuate, depending on promotions from either Sony or its authorised retailers. In this case, the current promotion, till July 1, makes the A8F even more attractive, as it is going for $5,499 (55-inch) and $7,899 (65-inch).
• Verdict: The Sony A8F feels like a repackaged, more practical version of last year's A1. While still an excellent television set, the flaws in the previous model have disappointingly not been fixed.