(Pocket-lint) - When we first clapped eyes on Philips AmbiLux, back in 2014, we thought the engineers responsible had lost the plot. Sure, we've always had a soft spot for Philips Ambilight, the LED edging that casts puddles of coloured light onto surrounding walls, but AmbiLux goes several steps beyond by using a full-blown projection system.
AmbiLux is currently only available in 65PUS890 form, as a 65-inch 4K UHD TV, but it's not unreasonable to assume a wider number of screen sizes will offer the technology before the year is out. Big scale or not, however, what we first considered a crackers idea transpires to be rather beautiful. And rather expensive.
Philips 65PUS8901 AmbiLux 4K UHD TV review: Slim-line design
It may come with a backpack of projectors, but the 65PUS890 is fashionably thin. There's an ultra-slim black bezel with a chromed trim wraparound, while the back panel is stylishly white. The set stands on arty "Bladewire" feet which are not adjustable, so plan your TV furniture accordingly.
Connections are generous. There are four HDMI inputs, all of which test positive for HDCP 2.2 compliancy – which means you can use them with external 4K sources, such as UHD Blu-ray, the Amazon Fire TV box and Sky Q (when its 4K services launch). There's also a SCART, component with stereo phono inputs, an optical digital audio output, Ethernet and three USB ports. Tuners include Freeview terrestrial and generic HD satellite.
The screen is Bluetooth equipped, for the remote control, and supports dual-band Wi-Fi. The zapper is a weighty affair, with a slightly hit-and-miss touchpad and a keyboard on the reverse. There's a dedicated Netflix button (of course) and integrated microphone for Google Search.
The 65PUS8901 is not just a smart looker though. The connected platform of choice here is stock Android, bolstered by a Philips curated content shelf, offering BBC iPlayer and recommendations from Netflix and other services. Sony, the other big TV brand to back Android, helpfully has a YouView overlay with access to all main channel catch-up services, but there's nothing "on top" for the Philips: you'll have to make do with YouTube, Dailymotion, Deezer and BBC News & Sports apps instead, plus whatever's left in the Opera store.
The set's media file playback functionality is good. We were able to play most files on a networked QNAP server running Twonky, including AVI, WMV, MKV, MOV, MP4, plus MP3, WMA and FLAC audio.
Philips AmbiLux 65PUS8901 4K TV review: Project the light fantastic
The AmbiLux system uses nine Pico projectors arranged in a half-circle on the 65PUS8901's back panel. When setting-up the screen you'll need to ensure the screen is exactly 9cm from a wall. Any more and the projected light show is spoiled by the shadow of the hub.
There are multiple light modes, which can follow video or sound. You can have the TV extend the live video image (albeit in deliberate fuzzy vision) across the entire width of your wall (Extreme, stretching some 3m), or filter it with Dome, Standard, Cube, Tunnel or Relax treatments, all of which are variations on a theme. The sheer vibrancy of the AmbiLux light show is often thrilling. Hues are vivid and the effect dramatic. In Extreme mode you can just about make out the live video being mirrored on the wall.
Alternatively, there are seven audio "moods" which pump and pulsate to the beat of any music, making them a good choice for live concerts or tracks being played by the screen's media player.
But the AmbiLux treatment doesn't work for everything of course: it's essentially an over-the-top light show, so moody movies hardly benefit. Games might seem a natural bed fellow, but again content needs to be appropriate - we found AmbiLux an unwanted distraction with first-person shooters that require considerable concentration (as if Overwatch isn't manic enough), but more casual games like Home Grown look just fabulous, with great swathes of colour enhancing the ambiance.
While there is no classic Ambilight mode on the AmbiLux, you can bathe walls in a static colour: Hot Lava (red), Deep Water (blue) Fresh Nature (green), Warm (yellow-ish) White and Cool White being the options. While there is some compensation offered for different coloured walls, plain white is always going to work best.
Like other Ambilight TVs, the AmbiLux set can also be integrated into a Philips Hue lighting ecosystem.
Philips AmbiLux projector TV review: Picture performance
Visually, the 65PUS8901 is something of a mid-ranger, but that sounds more disparaging than intended. At 65-inches it's a great size to appreciate the pixel density of 4K – Ultra-HD means there's no visible grid structure, so even upscaled HD looks cinematically smooth.
The fine detail available from native 4K content is wonderful. The grit on Matt Damon's space suit in The Martian (via 4K Blu-ray, no less) looks utterly believable. Similarly, period drama Marco Polo (available via Netflix 4K) has almost three-dimensional depth (there's no actual 3D support here, the TV is 2D only).
Remember though, when using the set with an external 4K source, you'll need to manually enable the HDMI inputs, either for 4:2:0 colour subampling or upsampled 4:4:4.
In Standard mode, there's genuine shine to its images. There's the usual wide selection of image presets too: Personal, Vivid, Natural, Standard, Movie, Photo, plus ISF calibrated Day and Night modes. The screen has vibrancy to spare throughout, and the fine detail and nuance in its images is a real treat.
The set currently does not support HDR (High Dynamic Range) content, but a firmware update is promised to fix that at some point. We think the screen should lend itself to effective HDR, as it's above average in terms of brightness, plus that background projection will further enhance the screen's apparent white levels, we suspect. The viewing reality of HDR is surprisingly close to the often derided Vivid mode, and here that preset is enjoyably garish. By way of contrast, the Movie mode is old school dull.
The implementation of Philips' Perfect Natural Motion video processor here has only limited value. While it combats horizontal panning judder, it adds unwanted motion artefacts. Some might like the icy smooth sheen it brings, but for movies we preferred it switched off. The consequence of that though is the loss of motion resolution.
If the panel does have an obvious limitation then it's black depth. Not only does it not go deep dark, there's a limit to shadow detail revealed by Philips' Micro Dimming Pro backlight system. In the opening sequence of Star Wars The Force Awakens, where Poe Dameron sits around the fire, his shadowed jacket looks oddly hollow. Conversely, the laser-toting stormtroopers are dope.
Off-angle viewing is also limited. Sit left or right of the screen and you'll notice a dramatic drop off in contrast and colour.
Audio has always been a strong point of Philips TV design, even during the flatscreen era, and with AmbiLux the set sounds perfectly acceptable for everyday viewing. Rated at 30W all up, there's more than enough volume on tap to make Game of Thrones sound epic, so no need to rush out for a soundbar.
Overall, there's much to like about AmbiLux. From a hardcore AV point of view, there are better ways to spend £4,000 if you want a leading 4K UHD TV, but that's not exactly the point here. This TV is a lifestyle proposition; a showman and focus point in the home.
TV-meets-extreme-lighting sounds as though it makes little logical sense as a design concept, but the AmbiLux viewing experience is defiantly enjoyable. It isn't suitable for everything, of course, and the installation requirements are demanding, not least the need for a clear wall that allows the Pico projectors to strut their stuff.
In a world of cookie-cutter televisions, the Philips AmbiLux PUS8901 stands-out as something genuinely different and exciting. If you've got the cash and the space, anyway.