Sony launched their 2021 TV line. Here’s what you need to know

(CNN) —  

Sony unveiled its 2021 line of Bravia TVs and, like previous generations, the new line is all about image quality. Rather than adopting the latest fad in display technology, Sony has long been a believer in creators’ intent — keeping the visuals accurate, never adding wild amounts of saturation or upscaling that ends up creating extra noise on the screen.

While sticking to that calling card but still trying to push the envelope a bit, the selling point of the 2021 Bravia family, according to Sony, is that it’s the “world’s first TV with cognitive intelligence.” In layman’s terms: These TVs go beyond just enhancing and upscaling content, but can now identify a focal point in the shot.

To get the ins and outs of the new line, we spoke with Kazuo Kii, who’s in charge of Sony’s consumer and commercial TV business as the company’s representative director and executive deputy president. In an exclusive chat, we covered what the cognitive focus means for you, the user, and what Sony is doing to present a killer visual.

Pushing the image quality


As we mentioned, Sony is known for re-creating content with a hyper level of accuracy and realism that’s closely aligned with content creators’ vision. For 2021, it’s upping the ante with cognitive intelligence. “We are bringing our new XR Engine to five series, including 8K and OLED,” Kii says. “We are focusing on how to reproduce picture content with good analysis.” That’s a first, as Sony generally saves its latest processor for the higher-end models.

So no matter which TV you opt for in the 2021 Bravia family, you’re getting the most realistic re-creation of visuals. While the philosophy isn’t changing, how Sony is going about it is. “We are analyzing the object in a frame — each object can be analyzed by color, contrast, texture, et cetera,” Kii says. Take, for instance, a frame of a family on a beach at sunset. Rather than just focusing on the blaring sunset, the XR Processor can work to ensure the family is in focus as well. In other words, every object in each shot is produced cleanly.

The XR Processor doesn’t eliminate any previous upscaling or improvement methods, but rather adds a uniquely human layer. Through the power of artificial intelligence, Sony identifies what we humans will be drawn to first. In effect, these TVs analyze the tendency of the user. To put it into perspective, Kii used our discussion as an example: “While we’re having this conversation, our natural tendency is to look at each other’s faces and focus on human expressions. [The processor] can identify the area of user focus, and focus the reproduction on that area especially.” If it works, it should be a more immersive picture for whoever is watching — focusing on clarity and color reproduction on our respective faces.

The XR Processor, still in real time, now analyzes the frame and identifies the focal points in a quick fashion. During a demo of the tech, via a histogram, we could see it map out a human face in the foreground with a background behind it. It definitely has enough power to handle the task in real time and speaks to improvements on the CPU side, but we’ll have to test it in person closer to launch to see the real impact.

Sticking with OLED and LED


We asked Kii to explain Sony’s choice of panel further. As we noted above, brands like Samsung and TCL are pushing forward with another panel of choice: QLED with mini LED technology. On the subject, Kii was quick to note that their team is not so focused on the particular technology but rather what delivers the best experience for the user. “If I can bring a better experience, I’m happy to change the panel type. And that’s why we never stop the investigation of new devices,” says Kii, who also states that there are no current plans for QLED or mini LED TVs. It’s clear that he and his team aren’t focused on rushing into a new fad in panel technology.

The focus is on what the Cognitive Processor XR can do to aid and improve the picture quality. Yes, for 2021, the feature of emphasis is the extra analysis, but it does a whole lot more. It can also handle content upscaling — turning compressed visuals into 720p, 1080p, 4K and even 8K in order to make the content you’re streaming from Netflix or Hulu look its absolute best. Same goes for your home movies. Kii notes that the processor will pull a hefty amount of weight when taking the visuals from 4K to 8K, like on the Master Series Z9J. But since this processor is found in all Sony 2021 TVs, it will also work on the A80J OLED (the successor to our luxury TV pick) and the massive 100-inch X92.

Leveling the playing field


All 16 of these models feature Sony’s flagship Cognitive XR Processor. But it remains to be seen how affordable these are. The 2021 line starts with the X90J (50-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch and 75-inch) with a 4K Full-Array LED panel. It’s an entry-level 4K LED TV with plenty of features. The next step up, the X92, is a massive 100-inch 4K LED model. Sony is still keeping a higher 4K LED option in the mix with the X95J. And at the very top of the lineup is the Master Series Z9J, a 75-inch and 85-inch 8K LED that’s set to deliver the best picture from Sony.

For OLEDs in 2021, there’s the A80J and the Master Series A90J. Both of these stay true to OLED by offering incredible dark contrast points and vibrant pictures. What’s really exciting, however, is the improvement to brightness in the A90J, which should allow for higher peak brightness. We didn’t see a major impact on the 2020 A8H, our pick for best luxury TV, but OLEDs have darker panels. With this panel type, it creates an image on a pixel-by-pixel basis, and it generally cannot get as bright as an LED TV. In return, a standard LED can’t replicate the darker or black colors.

Sony isn’t sharing pricing or availability just yet for any 2021 models. We do expect these to launch in the United States in the coming months, closer to the spring.

In addition to the XR processor inside every model, Sony is leveling the playing field with features. All will support HDMI 2.1 in some capacity — greatly benefiting the experience of next-gen gaming on these TVs. The differences will come in the number of HDMI ports that support the latest standard.

The Cognitive Processor is pulling some extra weight with sound, and our discussion with Kazuo Kii made clear that it all ties back to deeper immersion in the content. Like Samsung, Sony will be aligning sound in space with where the sound is coming from on-screen. Safe to say we’re eager to try this and see if it truly delivers more value. We generally recommend a TV purchase be paired with a soundbar, but Sony is trying to change that.

Say hello to Google TV


The really big news is a switch from Android TV to Google TV for the smart interface. All of Sony’s 2021 Bravia TVs will run Google TV, the same software we fell in love with on the new Chromecast in late 2020. It gives you easy access to content and the Google Assistant at a moment’s notice. Most importantly, you get access to nearly every major streaming service out there. And that reduces the need to buy an external streaming box. Notably, these are the first TVs globally to feature Google TV built in.

As always, Sony’s not locking you into a platform. These TVs all support Apple’s AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. “I don’t want to force a system on users. Users already know their preferred system, and we support that,” Kii says. It’s a platform-agnostic approach and one that we’d like to see adopted on all TVs. Essentially, you don’t need to switch your platform or services of choice to get a Sony TV.

Final thoughts


Summing up the 2021 line, Kii says, “I want to bring our users the best performance and the best experience.” And to do that, they brought the Cognitive Processor XR to the entire line. 8K? Check. OLED? Check. 4K LED? You guessed it — check. That’s a big value and offers a level of equality across the 2021 Bravia family.