This year is fast shaping up to be the year of OLED, with a raft of hot new TV screens set to join LG's vanishingly thin vanguard. Both Panasonic and Sony will offer high-end OLED screens as part of their 2017 line-ups, but the first brand convert out of the gate is Philips, with the 55-inch 9000 series 901F (or 55POS901F/12 to give it its full mouth-full-of-sandwiches moniker).
Philips aims to distinguish itself from the competition with its trademark Ambilight mood-lighting technology - which projects coloured light onto the surrounding walls, like an extension of the live image - and this transpires to be a very bright idea.
We've been testing an early review sample of the 901F and even after a long weekend of use switching it on still makes us giddy with excitement.
Philips 901F OLED TV review: Design
- Razor-thin panel
- 1228.6 x 751.9 x 49.4mm (55-inch)
- Weight: 17.42kg
- Three-sided Ambilight
As befits its price tag, the 901F looks fittingly premium. With its chromed microbezel and bolt-on silver boots, it's quite the glam rocker. Even the back panel looks great, finished in an elegant gloss grey with a hairline finish. A pop-off panel hides the input jacks.
Most OLED screens are so thin they look fragile. The addition of Ambilight here adds girth, but the set only bulges to 49.4 mm at its thickest point. The panel itself, meanwhile, is like a shard of glass.
The Ambilight implementation is three sided, which casts a classic multi-coloured halo behind the set. Shame it's not four-sided for optimum wall-mounting, but that's only available on one of Philips' lower-resolution LCD-LED panels.
You can set the 901F's Ambilight to follow on-screen action, aping the general ebb and flow of on-screen hues. Or have it beat to music. The former is good for gaming, the latter fun for live music.
We rather like the static colour option for general viewing though. Choose from Hot Lava, Deep Water, Fresh Nature (aka red, blue or green), plus Warm or Cool White. Warm White is an ISF calibrated bias light, good for reducing viewing fatigue.
There is only one screen-size available at 55-inches. If you're after a more 4K-friendly 65-inch model, you're out of luck… for the time being at least.
Philips 901F OLED TV review: Connections and set-up
- Four 4K HDCP2.2 HDMI inputs
- Dual-band Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet
Connectivity comprises four HDMI inputs, all of which are 4K/60 HDCP 2.2 compliant. This is a requirement for next-gen 4K sources, such as 4K UHD Blu-ray and set-top boxes like the Virgin Media V6 and Sky Q.
There are also three USB inputs (one a fast 3.0 variant for timeshifting onto a USB HDD), an Ethernet port, a digital optical audio output, headphone jack and two CI slots for those who need such things.
The set ships with two remotes, a standard IR pointer and a Bluetooth remote with microphone and QWERTY keypad on the flip.
The set is 2D only – 3D support has been binned. This could be bad news if you've invested in a stack of 3D discs. But we're not convinced that anyone has.
What apps and services does the Philips 901F OLED TV have?
- Android TV OS
- Netflix and Amazon Video 4K services
- 4K Youtube
Philips' connected operating system of choice is Android OS, here in a version 6.0 Marshmallow flavour.
The tuner is standard Freeview HD. There's no Freeview Play, which is a shame as Android is, at present, undeniably rubbish when it comes to catch-up services. There's also a generic satellite tuner, if that's your preference.
Apps of note include Netflix, Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, BBC Sport, Chili Cinema, Wuaki.tv, BBC News, I Concerts and Dailymotion. You'll find more in the App gallery (where there are plenty of casual games, and miscellaneous Euro nonsense) but nothing of note. A quad-core processor keeps navigation lively.
Netflix supports 4K HDR (high dynamic range) streams. Amazon Video also supports UHD, but not HDR at the time of this review - although Philips tells us this will come via a firmware update at some point.
Philips 901F OLED TV review: Picture performance
- High-dynamic range (HDR) capable
- HDR10 compliant, not Dolby Vision
- 540-nits peak brightness
- 4K panel with HDR upscaling
Not to put too fine a point on it, picture quality is outstanding. A common truism about OLED is it tends to make everything look pretty darn great. Standard Blu-ray looks sensational, bolstered by OLED's deep black performance and wide colour. On letterboxed movies, the bars top and bottom are totally stygian, while image detail is exceptionally crisp.
The 901F offers a variety of picture modes (or Styles, to use Philips parlance): Personal, Vivid, Natural, Standard, Movie, Photo, ISF Day & Night and Game. Care should be taken when choosing these.
For example, there's a subtle difference between Natural and Standard, most noticeable on skintones (Natural ironically adds an element of Trump orange). The Movie mode is softer and warmer, but can actually be ruinous with 4K material. When you run HDR content, these presets are overridden by HDR prefixed versions.
Playing anti-superhero movie Hancock (UHD Blu-ray) on HDR Movie then HDR Standard modes, reveals a huge difference in image fidelity. The former is considerably duller, lacking the ultra crisp detail of the Standard mode. Hancock's beanie hat sheds fine woollen detail, but skin texture is less clear. Even the zip on Hancock's hoodie loses cleanly defined teeth.
Similarly, you'll actually see fewer stars in the background of the credit crawl for Star Wars The Force Awakens (Blu-ray) when viewing in Movie mode. View in Standard and the starfield bristles with extra pinpricks. This is real detail, not interpolation.
The lack of absolute fidelity in the HDR Movie mode is confirmed by a 4K zone plate test which shows markedly less detail than any of the other HDR viewing modes.
The 901F claims a peak HDR brightness of 540 nits. This diminishes depending on the size of the HDR highlight. In most every case this trait will not be an issue, as spectral highlights tend to be small and transitory (fireworks, glinting sunlight, etc).
HDR support is HDR10 only, there's no provision for Dolby Vision. While this OLED doesn't reach the bright excesses of high-performance HDR LED TVs, that certainly shouldn't put buyers off. The perceived dynamic range of this screen is pronounced, thanks to that superb black level performance.
It's also worth remembering that to actually benefit from the additional detail in a 4K image, particularly on a relatively small 55-inch screen, you need to sit close - and the last thing you'll want is searing peak highlights. The 901F offers a very comfortable HDR viewing experience.
The 901F claims to cover 99 per cent of the DCI-P3 colour spectrum. Philips Perfect Colour processor boasts 17-bit colour enhancement with a palette of 2,250-trillion colours. To be honest there's no shortage of acronyms and numerical bluster in Philips' spec bible, all of which ultimately means little. All that really counts is the quality of onscreen image, and here there's no doubt Philips boffins have delivered.
Ultra Resolution is used to upscale non-4K sources, while HDR upscaling applies enhanced contrast and peak brightness to SDR sources. This actually sounds more invasive than it is, offering just a minor lift in highlights. Those with a more purist bent won't sacrifice too much by switching it off.
Motion resolution is generally superb. Philips adds its own Perfect Natural Motion processing to retain further detail, but in all strengths (Minimum, Medium, Maximum) it adds unwanted motion artefacts, as well as that distinctive soap opera/video sheen. Outside of studio footage or sports, we'd turn it off - as we do on all tellies.
When asked if the 901F would receive a firmware update for HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), Philips chief boffin scratched his chin and replied: "Yes, the 901F can be updated to HLG. The company is currently deciding on when is the appropriate time to introduce what is still an early stage, nascent technology to the Philips TV range."
So while that sounds more like a can than a will situation, we're optimistic that at some point the screen will get an HLG upgrade.
Philips 901F OLED TV review: Sound quality
- Integrated soundbar, 30W total power
Most ultra thin sets have audio to match, but not the 901F. The telly's integrated soundbar features six forward facing drivers, with bass port, for a clearly delineated stereo presentation.
It's more than fulsome enough for general viewing and even makes a good fist of bombastic action movies. You won't feel compelled to buy a separate sound system anytime soon. Power output is rated at a generous 30W total.
The Philips 901F is a cracking 4K OLED debut. The addition of Ambilight strikes us as a perfect complement for OLED's deeply dynamic images, and when it comes to cosmetic design this set is a beauty.
The set doesn't just look supreme with 4K sources, like UHD Blu-ray and Sky Q, it also dazzles with HD, be it from broadcast channels, OTT streaming services or regular Blu-ray.
For some, the lack of Dolby Vision HDR support may be an issue (although the actual benefits of DV over HDR10 remain conjecture until content becomes generally available), but the addition of Ambilight is quite the sweetener.
Expensive it may be, but the 901F is one humdinger of an OLED TV.
Philips 901F OLED TV: The alternatives to consider
If you're looking for 4K HDR without an onerous price tag, consider the Panasonic TX-DX700. This smart Firefox OS LED LCD is widely available for less than £800 in its 50-inch form. No Ambilight, of course, but you'll have a lot more cash in your pocket.
Alternatively, LG's E6 OLED is a brilliant buy and comes with an excellent Harmon Kardon designed soundbar. It doesn't have Ambilight, but it is Dolby Vision and 3D compatible.