Buyers of “small” TVs have been starved for true flagship quality for too long. It wasn’t until 2020 that the first 48-inch OLED TV hit stores, and for some, 48-inch is still way too big for a TV. Are LCD TV manufacturers in control? Largely, no. Samsung is the only brand that has made a serious effort by first launching its flagship QLED at 43 inches last year.
Fortunately, that will all change in 2022. Samsung once again has a flagship-quality 43-inch QLED in its range, but more importantly, the first 42-inch OLEDs are now available. LG led the way with the 42-inch version of its new C2 model, but Sony is hot on its heels with this 42-inch A90K.
The Sony XR-42A90K launched with a price tag of £1899 / $1400 / AU$2795, but at the time of writing (in November 2022) you can pick it up for £1295 / $1150 / AU$2595.
It’s still quite a bit more expensive than the LG OLED42C2, which is £899 / $1000 / AU$1400, while Samsung’s 43-inch QN90B QLED costs £999 / $1200 / AU$1795.
This is a heavier, thicker TV than its LG rival, but more stylish in many ways. While the 42-inch C2 has fairly practical but also plain plastic feet, the A90K has an extremely low-profile base that keeps the bottom of the TV as close to the surface it’s placed on as possible. If you want more room, either for a soundbar or because of simple eyelines, there are stilts in the box that can be added to the stand to raise the TV about 7cm.
Around the back, arranged in an L-shaped formation, are the physical connections, including antenna, dual satellite, Ethernet, an optical output, a dedicated input that allows the TV to be used as a center speaker in a surround system, two USB connections and four HDMIs. There’s also a hardware switch here that lets you enable or disable the built-in microphone in the TV’s chassis.
It’s the HDMIs we’re most interested in, of course, and as is the norm for Sony’s flagship TVs, the A90K has two of the HDMI 2.1 variety and two of the older 2.0 type.
Those 2.1s are rated to the maximum 48Gbps and support the 4K 120Hz signals now offered by the PS5, Xbox Series X and select gaming PCs. VRR and ALLM are also supported over these connections, ticking off all the major gaming specs, especially for PS5 gamers. However, Xbox gamers should note that there’s no Dolby Vision game mode, despite the TV supporting Dolby Vision otherwise. It’s also worth bearing in mind that one of the HDMI 2.1 connections is also the eARC port, so if you need that to make a connection between the TV and a soundbar or AVR you’ll have only one left for next generation machine games.
Sony XR-42A90K technical specifications
Screen size 42 inches (also available in 48 inches)
HDR formats HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Operating system GoogleTV
HDMI inputs x4
HDMI 2.1 48Gbps, x2
Gaming features 4K/120, VRR, ALLM
Input delay 21 ms
Optical output? Yes
Dimensions (hwd, without stand) 55 x 93 x 5.7cm
Said Dolby Vision is joined by HDR’s usual HDR10 and HLG formats, but HDR10+ isn’t on board, as it is on no other Sony TV. Dolby Atmos sound is also supported, both for passthrough over that eARC connection and for playback through the TV’s own 25W sound system, which features actuators that imperceptibly vibrate the screen to create sound.
Sony’s 2022 TVs use the Google TV operating system, which gets better with each iteration. The recommendation engine still needs some work, as it only lists movies and TV shows from a handful of the TV’s supported apps, but the home page is quite fast and easy to navigate. More importantly, the actual app selection is excellent, with every major (and many minor) service not only listed, but presented in the highest quality you’d expect.
Sony’s top TVs also benefit from access to the exclusive Bravia Core service, which streams blockbuster movies at significantly higher bitrates than any other service. Buyers of the A90K get free access to a bunch of titles from Sony Pictures’ back catalog, plus 10 tokens to spend on premium movies (which can then be bought or rented with real money).
Under the hood is Sony’s Cognitive Processor XR, which is new for 2022 and has already proven itself in the A95K QD-OLED and the 48-inch version of this A90K. This brings with it a handful of new features, the most impressive of which has been shown in these past reviews to be the new ‘Depth Map’, which subtly sharpens objects in the foreground while softly suppressing the background, resulting in a beautiful (and not unnatural) sense of three-dimensionality to the performance.
Certainly, the 42-inch A90K produces a stunningly solid and deep picture for a TV of this size. The effect obviously isn’t quite as pronounced as with its bigger siblings, but there’s a distinctly greater three-dimensional feel to the A90K’s recreation of the battlefields of Netflix’s fantastic (yet gripping) No news from the Western Front.
This sense of three-dimensionality is enhanced by Sony’s overall exceptional sharpness and detail. Characters and objects are drawn with razor precision but without any sense of artificial etching, and the textures of trees, clothes and faces are revealed in stunningly realistic fashion.
Motion, as regular readers have come to expect from a flagship Sony TV, is absolutely fantastic. You get the impression that other manufacturers now have the sheer technology to produce satisfying motion, but where Sony excels is in designing how this technology is used, applying just the right amount of smoothing and sharpening without the dreaded soap opera- effect or annoying flicker around unpredictable, fast-moving objects. LG’s latest models are good at handling motion, but they don’t quite have the same ideal balance.
Sony’s TVs are also known for their subtle and authentic approach at the moment, and overall this serves the A90K well, with the vast majority of what we see looking balanced and natural. That said, there are times when the image looks a bit subdued, particularly in the occasional overly pale complexion, often with a character who looked more alive in a previous shot.
The A90K is generally less bright and punchy than the LG C2, although it’s certainly not boring in its own right. However, it crushes some very fine dark details in shots and scenes that are otherwise quite bright. Interestingly, in scenes that are generally dark, the Sony actually reveals more shadow detail than its LG rival and occasionally produces the brighter highlight – the moon over New Asgard for the night’s battle in Thor: Love and Thunder, for example. It’s hard to be sure, but it feels like the A90K is actively adjusting the image to match the content, even with all ostensibly relevant processing turned off. Still, we’re nitpicking at this point, and the A90K invariably performs beautifully.
It’s also an upscaler of rare talent, reproducing 1080p discs and streams with a sharpness and clarity that some might mistake for true 4K. DVDs look better than they really deserve due to the A90K, and the TV’s subtle approach to color and contrast works wonders with these non-HDR formats, which are treated with consistent authenticity.
Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio approach to OLED sound, which uses actuators that vibrate the entire screen to create sound and is present in the A90K in ‘+’ form, has been praised for years, and rightly so. The biggest advantage is that the sound literally comes from the screen, so the audio and video are more physically connected than with typical TVs. Granted, this effect is more pronounced on very large TVs, but even with the 42-inch A90K, the dialogue essentially comes from a character’s mouth in a way that’s noticeable when compared to similarly sized TVs with more typical speaker systems.
That’s not to say Sony’s approach limits the scale of the sound, as it extends beyond the edges of the TV to a surprising degree, creating a fairly spacious display overall. Plus there’s good in-room projection, very good detail for TV standards and impressive dynamics for a set this compact size.
However, those actuators rely on a more traditional woofer for bass and it’s not really up to the task. Small TVs almost always struggle to produce audio with a lot of weight or depth, and the A90K is no different. This means that while it sounds better than most TVs, especially those under 55 inches, it still needs to be paired with a soundbar. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is an excellent entry-level option.
It’s been a long time coming, but discerning TV buyers with limited space suddenly have to consider two OLED models. Both are brilliant, bringing hitherto unknown picture quality back to a format that has been largely neglected for years.
Of the two, the LG C2 will be by far the biggest seller. It’s cheaper, more powerful, and the gaming specs are impeccable.
But for a select few, the extra expense of the Sony A90K will be well worth it. It’s more stylish; sharper, more detailed and more subtle in the presentation; and it sounds much better. It’s also great for gaming on its own.
- Image 5
- Sound 4
- Functions 4
Read our review of the LG OLED42C2
Also consider the Sony XR-48A90K
Read our Philips 48OLED807
Best TVs: Brilliant budget to premium 4K Ultra HD TVs