Sony XEL-1 OLED television

This amazing Sony OLED television is hamstrung by a tiny screen and a massive price-tag

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Sony XEL-1

Pros

  • The best picture quality we’ve seen -- absolute blacks, good colour saturation and control

Cons

  • Unattainably expensive, reflective screen, non-HD resolution

Bottom Line

We could never recommend that anyone purchase this television given its tiny size and incredible price. But as a glimpse into the promising future of OLED televisions, the Sony XEL-1 is technically brilliant.

Would you buy this?

The Sony XEL-1 is an OLED television with an 11in screen and a price-tag of $7000. While this combination guarantees it will only make it onto the sprawling mahogany desks of ultra-rich executives, there’s little doubt that it has the best picture quality we’ve seen from a television.

It may be a comparatively tiny device — especially compared to the Panasonic PS50B850 plasma we had it set up next to — but the Sony XEL-1 is exceedingly well designed and manufactured. The thin-bezeled, tilting 11in screen is connected to the base by a thick, chromed arm. The cross-hatch motif that covers the speakers built into the stand adds an interesting texture. Another novelty is the buttons on the unit’s fascia: each has a small monochrome OLED next to it that changes to reflect the button’s purpose in different contexts; the channel changing buttons may become the up/down navigation method when inside an on-screen menu, for example.

The Sony XEL-1 comes with a credit card–style remote that we were a little disappointed with. It doesn’t have the same quality feel that the rest of the package does. We think Sony should take a leaf from Pioneer’s book. The remotes that come with Pioneer’s KURO television range are well constructed and reflect the quality of the workmanship that has gone into the television. One sticking point that the Sony XEL-1 shares with the much-vaunted Pioneer plasmas is a reflective screen, which will prove annoying unless you’re viewing it in a dimly lit room.

You won’t find too many connections on the rear of the Sony XEL-1. — which is understandable since this TV is aimed at a very niche market — but it has two HDMI ports as well as a USB connector which supports picture and music files. The problem we found was that whatever HDMI device we hooked it up to — Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray recorder, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, HDMI-enabled laptops — was significantly larger than the XEL-1, destroying the illusion of a svelte, all-in-one package.

The digital television tuner in the Sony XEL-1 LED TV may not provide the most thrilling quality content to test its screen with, but we were nonetheless impressed. Changing channels is quick and the Formula 1 replays on ONE HD that we viewed were full of detail and free of reception problems.

The Sony XEL-1 comes into its own when fed with DVD and Blu-ray content. We threw on The Matrix to check out the quality of DVD upscaling and were very impressed. It’s important to note that the Sony XEL-1 has a native resolution of 960x540, which isn’t too far above DVD resolution and is a long distance from being considered high definition; this helps in the up-scaling process. The internal scaler does a great job of displaying 480p DVD content, with no artefacts or jaggedness that we could see. To test the other end of the scale, we played The Fifth Element on Blu-ray to see its proficiency at down-scaling HD video — and it didn’t disappoint. An amazing amount of detail was preserved, with facial details like pores and stubble — our long-time favourite for discerning detail and sharpness levels — life-like and easily visible.

More noteworthy than the scaling, however, was the Sony XEL-1’s colour handling and black levels. Black levels on an OLED are absolute — no light emission to ruin contrast — and the XEL-1 is no exception. Blacks were deeper and truer compared to any other screen we’ve tested. The brilliance of OLED technology lies in its high contrast abilities — you can have a pure white pixel next to a pure black pixel — and this is best demonstrated with a movie like Batman Begins where you’re able to distinguish all the details, even in the darkest scenes.

Colour handling is also great, with vibrant tones for red, green and blue primary colours. We felt that red tones weren’t the most accurate, but this doesn’t detract from the viewing experience, with a picture that is consistently brilliant and superior to any screen we've tested. We just wish it was 40 inches larger and $5000 less expensive.

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