If you’re contemplating a 4K television to dominate your living room then there are a number of options out there. The Philips offering, found in its 65-inch PFL9708 form, offers a distinct point of difference: ambilight technology.
Ambilight introduces coloured LED lights to the rear of the top and two side edges of the TV to project on to surrounding surfaces, giving the image illumination beyond the frame of the TV. Sounds gimmicky? It’s not - and it’s something we’ve come to love with previous generation Philips TV models.
Better still the addition of this technology doesn’t add to the price. Although the 65PFL9708 is far from budget given its £4,500 price tag, it is at least £500 less expensive than similar 4K models from the likes of Panasonic and Sony. Has Philips had to cut any corners or is this 4K perfection that can cut it against the competition?
What is 4K?
Just as we’re getting used to high-definition 1080p content, along comes 4K - also described as 2160p or Ultra HD - which has twice the vertical and horizontal resolution. That’s four times as many pixels to dazzle your eyes.
But does it mean it’s four times better? Sort of yes, sort of no. There is very little true 4K source content out there at the moment. Plenty is shot in 2K, sometimes 4K or greater - Hollywood movies, for example - but it’s not commercially available to view back at such a high resolution at home. Not yet, anyway.
In the not too distant future Netflix will begin to output some 4K content, while Sony has already begun to sell "Mastered for 4K" Blu-ray discs, with true 4K ones to follow. But, and just like broadcast, we’ll have to wait at least a year for that.
To get the most out of a 4K display, therefore, you need the best possible - and highest-resolution - content and, it would seem, a measure of patience.
Technology being as it is, however, the Philips 65PFL9708 does some clever calculations to upscale the image to fit its supersize resolution. There are no fewer than five HDMI slots on the rear, with one - HDMI 5 - designated as the "UHD" port to handle the greater influx of data that true 4K requires. It is not proper HDMI 2.0 - the next-generation technology that can handle native 4K in excess of 30 frames per second. That is the given limit of this particular Philips set.
Even so, with Man Of Steel running from the Blu-ray player at its native 24p every frame looked crisp, detailed and, quite frankly, amazing. This 4K malarkey isn’t all about numbers, it’s genuinely stunning in playback. And the Philips 4K telly is a showcase for it.
But there’s the ongoing source material caveat to that. Some broadcast channels look bad on a 1080p TV because of source resolution and compression. Push that up a notch to 65-inch scale in 4K and all that extra resolution simply highlights just how bad the source material is. Watching The Big Bang Theory with giant imaging artefacts dancing around the side of various characters' heads does actually make for a funnier show, but it’s not exactly the visual treat you want from 4K. Not Philips’ fault though, just a reality of UK broadcast.
Furthermore even some of the better-quality HD channels presented some crude upscaling that gave lettering a "jagged" output - which would suggest an upscaling algorithm doing less interpolation work than it could do. But we only really spotted such details when frames were frozen rather than in motion and, for the most part, it was no bother. Again, go back to Blu-ray and everything looks amazing.
But before we get ahead of ourselves in detailing the picture, let’s take a step back and just marvel in the way this 4K behemoth looks. It may be big - and it’s definitely heavy, as lugging it up three flights of Victorian era stairs confirmed - but it’s a visual treat from the off.
Even at this grand scale it’s a set delivered with subtlety at the core of the design. The trim exterior metal bezel is a near-gunmetal-grey - not a deep black - which makes it look premium without looking garish.
The same style follows into the stand, which appears as little more than a single strip of curved metal. Hard to believe that such a hulk could be supported by so little - but it’s a masterclass in visual deception, as around the back there’s a backbone-like central column that the stand locks into. It looks fantastic, and even caters for some horizontal tilt which helps to swing it off axis and plug any new tech into those HDMI ports. Otherwise we opted for preserving the symmetry with a rigid front-on position which looked great.
As well as looking good the giant scale of the 65PFL9708 is matched with equally giant sound. That’s a rarity in most tellies, short of the ugly stuck-on-the-side speakers delivered by the Sony KD-659005A - which also add unnecessary bulk.
Despite the limited depth of the Philips set - all-in, minus the stand, we measured it to be approximately 65mm thick - it manages to deliver plenty of thump. We’ve always thought the same of the company’s 1080p tellies, so no surprises there.
There are plenty of customisable audio options to apply EQ presets in order to tinker the treble and bass too. We’d still plug in a 5.1 surround system with subwoofer - something like the Philips HTL9100 - to get that true movie-going experience, but if you don't have the extra cash for that then there are few competitors that will match Philips' audio output.
Just as with other recent Philips tellies that attractive build and considerable sound is decorated yet further by the inclusion of ambilight technology. For us this is one of the main reasons to buy a Philips TV over the competition because, simply put, it looks cool. The three sides with coloured LED lights project onto the surrounding wall surfaces and give an additional dynamic to the picture.
And if you’re worried about the concept of your TV turning into one giant lava lamp then don’t be. These colours change along with the on-screen colours, can be adjusted in terms of brightness, vividness and even how rapidly they change based on what's happening on screen. Or they can be set to a fixed colour, such as an off-white for the richest visuals from the screen. If you don’t like it then switch it off for the full black-out experience.
But just because something looks cool doesn’t mean it’s the sole reason for its existence. That’s the same ticket here: the backlight helps to improve perceived black levels and, therefore, image quality. With the brighter light to the rear those on-screen blacks take on a richer quality. And it really works.
Not that Philips is trying to hide anything. We’ve spotted some jaggy upscaling from some content, but that doesn’t take us away from the fact that this is the best Philips television we’ve yet seen.
As with any LCD edge-LED backlit television there will be some apparent clouding - those foggy white patches in darker, shadow areas - and that’s still the same with this Philips. But we only found this to be a problem in the often overworked presets. Fortunately Philips offers loads of image control within each given preset, and after a degree of digging deep and tweaking the options we found image quality paradise.
Everything looks sharp, any apparent clouding was all but invisible with the backlight tuned to a far more subtle level, and with the colours set to cast the right mood and the over-smoothing of Perfect Natural Motion switched off it made movies look incredible. But only when watched via our Personal preset. It just takes a little extra time to tweak the Philips to perfection, but as there’s a huge array of options to play with - ISF image calibration, gamma, colour temperature (presets and custom), brightness, noise reduction, backlight contrast, colour, MPEG artefact reduction, Perfect Natural Motion processing - that’s easily achievable and caters for personal preference.
Each HDMI source can also be independently adjusted so it's no problem to have a games console running on one with particular presets and a set top box on another with different settings again. Speaking of consoles, the Philips may not have the future-proofed faster frame-rate support for 4K - via HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPoint 1.2a - that the Panasonic TX-L65WT600 offers, but then that TV costs almost £1,000 more. And, right now anyway, games consoles won't output 4K at 50 or 60fps.
When it comes down to it, we feel that a user-tweaked Philips 65PFL9708 will offer up every inch of image quality that its main competitors can muster. And given that it comes with ambilight technology and costs less money, that makes it an outstanding television well worthy of consideration.
Less of a dunce… but still slow
Great image and great sound assured, it's the little things that let the Philips down. First and foremost is the speed at which the TV responds. The whole interface is just a bit slow. Although it’s no slower than our - admittedly sluggish - YouView set top box experience.
Then there’s the smart TV section. It’s "less smart" than the more exuberant offering from Panasonic, but then we’re so unlikely to use many of those features that, ultimately, we couldn’t care less. We don’t want our TV to do the dishes for us, we just want it to deliver stunning image quality.
It is impossible to ignore that Philips is slowly ramping up its smart offerings. Compared to a couple of years ago it’s a big step ahead, and with big guns such as Netflix and Spotify now accessible direct from the system it adds extra ticks in more boxes.
But there are additional small issues that lead to a limited experience. We had a number of issues with time-outs when attempting to connect online - the "connecting" blue bar would seem stuck in its left-to-right animation cycle for an endless period of time - and the Philips server was unavailable on several occasions.
Plenty of the available online services don't even offer HD product. Take Blinkbox, for example, which served us 560p content for £3.49 per rental. It played back just fine, but when even 7-inch tablets offer Full HD streams (for £4.49) it seems ironic that a yet higher resolution 4K TV is miles behind in this department.
Other apparently nice interface touches such as the ability to rename HDMI ports - we’ve got "PS4", "PS3" and "YouView", for example - also lose their inherent value by small interface design issues. When rolling over these names to select them the name disappears and it gives the HDMI port number instead. A small thing, and one that previous Philips TVs have always done, but one that continues to annoy us.
Finally we had an issue with the TV going into its power-saving auto off mode a couple of times even while watching content. Obviously a recognition issue lies somewhere, as a warning sign giving us 60 seconds to press OK before the TV would otherwise switch itself off seemed an oddity during the middle of movie playback.
Small details, small moans, and likely all things that can be fixed via firmware updates. That’s about as much bad stuff as we can think to align with this Philips - because it’s otherwise a smashing 4K telly.
There’s a chicken and egg thing going on with 4K. People are keen on the idea - as are we - but the delivery of native Ultra HD content lacks. Well, it’s as good as non-existent in the consumer space for now. And while that should be a huge minus against any 4K TV, that’s an entirely different issue. For if you want to get ahead of the game and enjoy upscaled high-definition Blu-rays then, believe us, 65-inch 4K in the home looks incredible.
And that’s the very same word we have for the Philips 65PFL9708. It’s incredible; an outstanding 4K television that delivers great results with the added bonus of all that ambilight brings at a price point other manufacturers haven’t met.
No, the Philips doesn’t have true HDMI 2.0 like the Panasonic WT600 - but then neither do other 4K offerings from the likes of Sony and Samsung - but does deliver a distinct UHD HDMI port that does the job just fine, even if it is capped at 30fps.
From a design perspective we think the Philips is spot on - none of this built-in front-facing speakers nonsense like on the Sony - and that comes at no impact to either sound or picture quality. Our only real moans are a slow user interface and one or two time-out and auto-off instances. But that won't wildly affect the day to day of what this TV can offer.
What it boils down to is this: the Philips 65PFL9708 can take on the other five-star 4K TVs of today and hold its own. Add in the dynamic of ambilight and it goes a step beyond. Fire up a Blu-ray movie and you’ll be able to sit back on the sofa, smug in the knowledge that your new purchase offers just as much - or even more at this moment - of what matters but for less cash. And as the world gets more 4K friendly that experience will only get better.