(Pocket-lint) - Having reviewed the mighty impressive Philips 803 OLED TV, we were particularly excited to look at the brand's step-up OLED+ 903, which includes a Bowers & Wilkins soundsystem built into the set itself.
Knowing just how good the company's OLED quality has become in recent years, the OLED+ 903 brings together crowd-pleasing Ambilight lighting – see our explainer here for the lowdown – and top notch processing from its second-generation P5 Perfect Processing Engine.
It's a little pricier on account of its beefed-up soundsystem, but for the complete all-in-one audio-visual experience the Philips OLED+ 903 is a set with few rivals. Here's why.
- Three-sided Ambilight lighting system
- Blade-thin panel (4mm; 49.3mm at widest)
- 4x HDMI in, 3x USB multimedia ports, LAN and Wi-Fi
- Two remotes: Bluetooth pointer and full-size with keyboard
The OLED+ 903 is a glorious combination of elegance and exuberance. The elegance comes from its beautifully slender, brushed aluminium frame, its ultra-skinny rear, and a pair of unique polished feet so narrow that you can barely see them when you're watching the TV head-on.
The exuberance is down to a sleek built-in 'soundbar' along its bottom edge, and Philips' Ambilight technology – the latter uses rear-mounted LED lights to cast a halo of real-time changing light from theset's left, right and top edges for an almost expanded image beyond the screen itself.
Exactly how much of a show Ambilight puts on, though, is down to you. You can adjust the brightness and colour tone of the light, as well as whether the light colours continually track and match the content of the pictures you're watching, or whether to have it activated at all. The most aggressive Ambilight settings can start to make the feature look a bit distracting. Set to relatively calm levels, though, it can genuinely enhance the viewing experience.
The OLED+ 903 isn't quite as well connected as some flagship TVs. All looks well at first glance – thanks in particular to the appearance of four HDMIs and three USBs – but only two of the HDMI ports can play 4K high dynamic range (HDR) pictures at 60 frames a second (the other two can't go beyond 30fps).
P5 processing engine
- HDR Support: HLG, HDR10, (HDR10+ via firmware update)
- Processing Engine: Philips P5
The OLED panel at the OLED+ 903's heart is a big attraction in itself. After all, unlike LCD TVs, it enables every one of its 4K pixels to produce its own light and colour, independent of its neighbours. This leads to an outstanding contrast performance.
What's really exciting about the OLED+ 903, though, is what Philips' new-and-improved P5 video processing system brings to the OLED party. The 2017 version of P5 did a brilliant job itself of improving the five 'pillars' of picture quality: colour, contrast, source recognition, sharpness and motion. But the 2018 version adds no less than eight new processing elements, while also improving many of the previous elements.
There's even one completely new application in the latest P5 system: Perfect Natural Reality. This is focused on turning standard dynamic range images into HDR ones.
Almost every aspect of the P5 engine can be adjusted via the OLED+ 903's menus too. This can make getting the best out of the TV with different sources a little challenging – but at least the end results make the effort worthwhile.
The OLED+ 903 supports three flavours of HDR: the industry standard HDR10 format; the HLG platform primarily developed for broadcasting; and the relatively new HDR10+ format, which provides extra scene-by-scene information to help TVs deliver better dynamic quality (well, this will be added via a firmware update in the near future).
Given that HDR10+ sources are currently in short supply – really there's just Amazon Prime Video – it's perhaps a shame that the OLED+ 903 doesn't additionally support the similar Dolby Vision HDR format. To be fair, though, no TV in the market currently supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ – it's strictly an either/or proposition.
- Android TV smart platform
- Google Assistant voice control forthcoming
- 4K Services: Netflix, Amazon Video and Youtube
- Not all offer HDR (firmware update will rectify in future)
The Android TV platform that provides the OLED+ 903 with most of its 'smarts' continues to feel like a work in progress though. There will be Google Assistant compatibility in the future, but you'll have to wait for that via a firmware update.
Its interface still feels pretty clumsy in the way it takes over the whole screen rather than just a part of it, and it provides relatively little customisation compared with most rival smart TV platforms.
What's more, while it provides a pretty huge app count, it's missing some big hitters – including some of the UK's catch-up TV services. There's no support for either YouView or Freeview Play, either, and while its Netflix app supports both 4K and HDR, at the time of writing the Amazon Video and YouTube apps only do 4K, not HDR.
What's picture quality like?
- 4K/Ultra-HD (3840 x 2160) resolution
- Brighter sub-pixel design than before
The OLED+ 903's unique take on the world of OLED televisions continues with its picture quality. In an emphatically positive way.
The single most remarkable weapon in its arsenal is its brightness. This is not a statement that would normally apply to OLED technology, but it's instantly obvious that the Philips set produces the brightest, most vibrant HDR pictures on an OLED TV.
The best LED TVs can still get much brighter than the 840 nits that the OLED+ 903 can reach, but only OLED's pixel-for-pixel technology can put a picture's brightest pixel right alongside its darkest one without any compromise between the two.
The very brightest parts of HDR pictures – direct sunsets, glinting metal, gleaming eyes, car headlamps and so on – clearly have more intensity than they do on even the second brightest OLED TVs in town, such as the LG OLED C8.
Put this ground-breaking dynamism alongside the sort of rich, deep blacks and unprecedentedly rich, dynamic colours that have always been OLED's trademark, and you've got an OLED HDR experience like no other.
Thanks to the all-round quality of its processing and an almost uncannily effective resolution enhancement feature, the 903 makes native 4K images look spectacularly detailed and crisp. So much so compared to many rival 4K screens that you start to think Philips has somehow squeezed a few million extra pixels into its latest OLED star.
While the OLED+ 903 is at its mesmerising best with 4K HDR sources, it does a stand-out job with HD and standard dynamic range sources too. The power of the P5 picture engine helps the TV add the millions of extra pixels needed to make HD into 4K with exceptional intelligence. Colours remain natural, smooth and balanced in the upscaling process, while outstanding amounts of extra detail and sharpness are introduced without causing such common upscaling problems as ghosted or jagged edges, exaggerated noise or shimmering fine details.
The new Perfect Natural Reality system, meanwhile, does a strikingly intelligent job of boosting both the light and colour range of standard dynamic range sources. The key to its success is that it doesn't just enhance the whole image equally; it recognises which parts of the picture will benefit from the most aggressive brightness and/or colour enhancement, and which parts need to be treated more gently in order to make the picture look authentically expanded rather than just artificially 'boosted'.
Previous Philips motion processing systems have tended to be excellent at removing judder and blur from onscreen motion, but have had a habit of leaving the picture looking a bit processed and prone to unwanted digital processing artefacts. On the OLED+ 903, though, thanks to the latest P5 processor, you get pretty much only the good bits of Philips' motion mastery and none of the old bad bits.
The OLED+ 903's pictures aren't perfect though. For instance, the upscaling and sharpness-boosting processing can be a touch over-enthusiastic with very grainy HD and 4K sources, causing the grain to become excessive. You can counter this to some extent, though, via careful use of the noise reduction options.
More oddly, while colours mostly look as subtly toned and blended as they are vibrant, some tones - particularly skin tones - can occasionally look slightly off key. Philips claims to have improved this issue with an upcoming firmware update, but at the time of writing it remains the OLED+ 903's biggest (though fortunately still quite rare) flaw.
Does the Bowers & Wilkins sound bar deliver?
The OLED+ 903's sound is as outstanding as its pictures.
The built-in soundbar on its bottom edge proves to be vastly more powerful, refined and dynamic than it appears. The first fruits of a new partnership with hi-fi speaker guru Bowers & Wilkins, the OLED+ 903's audio system bristles with detail, underpins an outstandingly dynamic, wide and aggressive mid-range. The back houses the panel's woofers, which deliver punchy, deep bass that adds impact to any low-end audio scene. Combined, it makes for a loud, bold and convincing output whatever you're watching.
The OLED+ 903 even has the chops to handle music of almost any genre, rounding out its potential as a genuine rival for a good quality external soundbar.
The fact that the OLED+ 903 is a convincing all-round audio-visual package rather than just a talented screen in need of separate audio support adequately explains why it's £500 dearer than its sibling OLED 803, even though that models delivers essentially identical picture quality.
Tucked away in its beautifully built bodywork is Philips' most powerful and comprehensive video processing engine. This delivers pictures that enjoy levels of sharpness, brightness, contrast and colour range that other OLED TVs just cannot reach – all backed up by OLED's traditional stellar black levels and contrast.
As if all that wasn't already attractive enough, the OLED+ 903 also packs a huge, hi-fi-grade audio punch thanks to its Bowers & Wilkins-designed speaker system. That's where the additionaly asking price comes from, but it's worth every penny.
Sure, there's a couple of things pending firmware updates and not all viable apps offer HDR at present. But we're nitpicking.
Overall, the Philips OLED+ 903 is an OLED masterpiece.
Alternatives to consider
Philips OLED 803
If you want to get the same picture quality as the Philips OLED+ 903 but you already have a separate sound system, then you can save £500 by getting the OLED 803. This enjoys a similar Ambilight-driven design, and pretty much exactly the same picture quality, but ditches the Bowers & Wilkins audio setup.
LG OLED C8
The closest rival-brand OLED TV to the Philips' OLED+ 903 is the LG OLED C8. This, too, pushes for more brightness than typical OLED TVs, enjoys a gorgeous super-slim design, and LG's brilliantly simple WebOS smart TV platform. And it costs £500 less than the Philips flagship set.