Philips 55PFL8008S 55-inch TV review

The Philips 55PFL8008S wants you to ignore the 4K revolution that - supposedly, at least - is just around the corner. By waving its Amblilight technology - which spills dynamic colour on to surrounding surfaces as derived from the on-screen image - like digital peacock feathers, it does have a unique, colourful lure that separates it from its nearest competitors. But at £2,500 it's also among the priciest of current 1080p 55-inch models out there. And for big cash we want big picture - does the Philips 8008S deliver or is it all just show?

Slick exterior

For the very slimmest of tellies OLED is all the rage, but it's a seriously expensive technology. While the 32mm-deep Philips PFL8008S is slender for an edge-LED LCD panel, it's not - cue that Monty Python sketch - wafer thin. Towards the back of a wall or mounted and you'll never notice though - besides, this is a TV which, for the most part, will be viewed front-on.

As per the 46-inch Philips PFL8007 model we reviewed earlier this year, the 8008S's exterior metal bezel is of a similar size but the finish has changed for the better. It's now a near-gunmetal-grey - not a deep black - which makes it look more premium and, crucially, more "metal" without being overly garish. A criticism we had of the earlier 8007 model was that even though metal was used it had an almost plastic sheen to it.

READ: Philips 46PFL8007 8000 Series TV review

The 8008S's join-line finish between front metal panel and rear plastic panel  doesn't look as finely crafted as, say, a Bang & Olufsen - not that you'll ever notice it unless standing, staring down at the set from above… hardly the best way to watch TV. But then we're talking quite a leap in price point between the two brands.

The 8008S's new stand is a stunner: A slender strip of curved metal that, upon first glance as it came out of the box, left us searching for yet more parts in the packaging. "Could this hold up all that telly?" we pondered. Fortunately the obvious answer is yes - and it does so with a more elegant appeal than any Philips TV we've seen before it. Unless you're more drawn to the glass-fronted Philips Design Line, but then that's quite the different visual prospect.

READ: Philips Design Line first view: pictures and eyes-on

Tucked around the rear of the 8008S's screen are built-in speakers which, despite the limited depth of the set manage to deliver plenty of thump. Of all the TVs that have passed through the Pocket-lint offices we'd still say the Philips delivers the clearest, most impactful audio experience straight out of the box, for now. And there are plenty of customisable audio options to apply EQ presets, tinker treble, bass, apply other effects to direct audio more efficiently depending on where the TV is in the room.

Ambilight explained

The good-looking exterior is further amplified by the inclusion of Ambilight in the 8008S's build. It's pivotal to Philips as it's one of the major reasons to consider buying into a Philips TV.

Ambilight introduces coloured LED lights to the top and two side edges of the TV that project on to surrounding surfaces, giving the image illumination beyond the frame of the TV. The "Philips special", so to speak, is a dynamic feature that updates output in relation to the on-screen image which gives an almost picture-extension effect.

If you're sitting reading this and thinking why would you ever want dancing lights attached to a TV, then we urge you to go take a look at Ambilight in action. It's hard to describe such a visual premise using just words but - and believe us we were ready to write it off as "gimmicky" at first - after extended use it really beds in. It's more than bright enough for daylight use and even more impactful during low-light to blacked-out conditions. When we packed up the last 46-inch Philips TV and replaced it with our standard - "normal" - replacement TV it was a technology that we missed; that afterglow had gone.

Of course there are more technical reasons than "because it looks nice": Ambilight is designed to make for a more immersive viewing experience but the backlight also helps to improve perceived image quality and, therefore, black levels. With the bright light to the rear those on-screen blacks take on a deeper quality. And it really works.

There's also a good amount of control over the technology. How rapidly the dynamic light reacts to on-screen picture movement and how rich the colour is are two key elements that you'd do well to tinker with for a good period of time. Too bright, saturated or fast-moving and there's a lava-lamp effect to accompany the image that can feel distracting. Get those settings just right and it's never a distraction though - just one of the key pleasures of this TV.

Ambilight needn't be dynamic, however, as it can also be set up as a static light and can even be colour-matched to suit specific surfaces. Detail, detail, detail. The one thing missing from Ambilight is its inclusion on the TV's bottom edge - without the light projection from the base of the TV it doesn't give that fully-surrounded glow that we think would make for the ultimate wall-mounted experience.

Picture quality

Detail is word of the day when it comes to picture quality too. We can't think of a sharper picture - and that's not entirely dependent on the 10-point adjustable sharpness processing option from within the menus - that we've yet seen among 1080p TVs.

But you'll need to be detailed in your approach to get the most out of the 8008S's picture quality. For its edge-LED backlighting causes clouding - those foggy white patches in darker, shadow areas - that cost the uniformity of the image. Even though it's a larger screen than the previous-generation 46-inch 8007 model - so not a totally fair direct comparison - we found the presence of clouding on the larger, newer 8008S to be more visible. Could be this review unit, could be that other units will perform better - but we can only comment on what we've seen.

The clouding is particularly important to note when selecting Picture Style. There are several options within the menu - Personal, Vivid, Natural, Standard, Movie, Photo, Energy Saving, ISF Day and ISF Night - each of which is customisable to the nth degree through an extensive setup menu. But in their preset forms and in low light the typically brighter options - including, for example, Standard - push the brightness and backlight contrast to the point where clouding during low-light viewing won't just be spotted by diehard movie buffs and techie TV fans. It's this  that holds the 8008S back from being the best of the best - but is an inevitability, at least to some degree, in edge-LED screens of all makes.

Not all is lost though - the Philips 8008S's image quality is still very good indeed and in the right hands delivers. The TV comes into its own where customisation is concerned and the Ambilight tech acts as an assist to keep things looking that extra bit special. Tinker around with the brightness and backlight settings and while the screen's 500,000:1 contrast ratio might not be shown to quite its fullest, it looks rich and has enough top-end brightness to deliver a near-Plasma movie experience. With Blu-ray loaded into the tray we've rattled through a lot of movies over several weeks and each one has been a blast to watch.

 

In some ways that's a word of warning: if you want the utmost control and know what you're doing then this set is brilliant; if you want to plug it in and expect the picture to be perfect then think again - there are other more "plug and play" options on the market that don't allow the level of access that the 8008S's calibration menu offers. Dig deep and top results are there to be had: from ISF image calibration, to gamma, colour temperature (presets and custom), brightness, noise reduction, backlight contrast, colour, MPEG artefact reduction, Perfect Natural Motion processing to smooth out movement - too much, in our opinion, as the soap opera effect is rife - and yet more.

Best of all each of these settings can be individually adjusted per Picture Style so that you'll have perfect presets for summer sunshine, blackout darkness and everything in-between. In our experience it's essential to match up and customise these presets and then select between them depending on conditions to get the most out of picture quality.

It smarts

If various manufacturers' latest features in 2013 are the gauge by which to judge the TVs then smart TV features are the most important thing going. Na-ah, we're not on the same page. Philips may be behind when it comes to the "smart" features - so much so that it, ahem, smarts - but has all the core necessities which, frankly, you'll most likely already have available from a set-top box, games console or the like.

While you can't type out your shopping list, wave at the screen to make things happen, or talk to the 8008S - well, you can, but it won't be listening - you can now access Netflix (finally) and many of the other majors such as Blinkbox, BBC iPlayer and so forth. The base level is there and it's usable - but it's oh so slow to jump between screens, and much the same sentiment can be said about the menus outside of the connected, catch-up TV sections. A relatively small gripe, you may think, but one that did frustrate over time.

There's definitely room for improvement when it comes to the smart features, but in a world where so many other must-have products deliver a better experience to complement the screen we're not so sure it will matter to a large portion of prospective buyers. In the same breath it's a shame that the Philips is behind, but it is progressing in each generation and we'd take sound and picture over smart features any day of the week.

Verdict

Even if the Philips 55PFL8008S isn't as "smart" as the competition, the level of customisable picture control is smarter than much else out there that we've seen - and that's where the smart money is. All £2,500 of it.

If you're a TV techie or movie buff then there's a lot of love to be had for this TV and its super-sharp picture - but the large screen's edge-LED backlight does cause issues with clouding that hold it back from the kind of brilliance that it shows elsewhere. But to get the love you need to give it - and with a good tinkering of the customisable Picture Style options there's a lot more to be had.

That one image quality blip brushed aside and it's otherwise an open road of excellence: Not only does the 8008S look super-sleek, the sound quality is second to none, and the peacock-feather-like display of colour from the Ambilight not only wooed us in, it held us dazzled.

Overall the Philips 8008S is a strong contender in its class that has undeniable wow factor, but just not quite as perfect as we'd hoped.