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(Pocket-lint) - Philips is a TV brand reborn right now - and it largely has OLED technology to thank for it. Well, that and Ambilight - the LEDs to the rear of the set which illuminate the surrounding surfaces, as if the picture emits beyond the TV screen.

From the moment OLED panels found a way to deliver enough brightness to do high dynamic range (HDR) images justice, Philips has been labouring tirelessly - and increasingly successfully - to rebuild its once massive presence in the European TV marketplace on the back of distinctively designed and increasingly excellent OLED TV models.

Its 2021 step into this rapid OLED-driven road to recovery is the OLED806: an upper-range model which, despite costing a very reasonable sum, introduces new refinements to Philips' acclaimed picture processing system and, even better, supports more advanced gaming features than we've seen on any Philips TV before.

Design

  • 4x HDMI inputs, (2x HDMI 2.1), 3x USB ports
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth multimedia options

The OLED806 hits the ground running by looking seriously gorgeous. It's almost unfeasibly thin at its edges - barely a centimetre deep - and these unfeasibly thin areas also enjoy a luscious brushed-metal backing.

Pocket-lintPocket-lint Philips OLED 806 4K TV with Ambilight review photo 6

The OLED806 inevitably can't retain its extreme slenderness over the entirety of its rear; its speakers, connections, tuner, panel drivers, processing chips, and so forth, have to go somewhere, after all. This leads to around two-thirds of its rear jutting out a good inch and more.

The slender edges are all that can be seen from sensible viewing angles, though, so unless the OLED806 is being hung on a wall, its 'chunky bit' is barely worth mentioning.

Except, that is, for the way it carries both a promisingly large bank of rear-facing speakers and an array of LEDs ranged along all four edges. These lights are there, of course, to deliver Philips' unique Ambilight technology, which here casts coloured light out all around the TV to dizzying effect.

This light can be set to a single colour of your choosing, or to track the colour content of the images being shown onscreen. Opt for the latter option and the accuracy with which Ambilight matches both the colour tone and location of different colours in any given frame is pretty remarkable. So much so, that it can make Ambilight a bit distracting on its default settings. Reducing the brightness and aggressiveness with which it reacts to changes in the image content, though, usually shifts the balance back to Ambilight enhancing rather than detracting from the viewing experience. 

PhilipsPhilips OLED806 review photo 4

The OLED806 carries a strong set of connections too. Particularly welcome is the inclusion amongst the TV's four HDMI ports of two that are capable of handling the latest gaming graphics features of 4K feeds at 120Hz refresh rates; variable refresh rates (VRR; including AMD's FreeSync Premium and Nvidia's G-Sync systems); and the Automatic Low Latency Mode (ALLM) feature that allows compatible sources, such as the Xbox Series X, to switch the TV in and out of its Game mode automatically depending on whether they're running a game or a video app.

Smart Features

  • Smart system: Android/Google TV

Philips has turned to Android TV for its premium TV smart systems for years now, and that continues with the OLED806. At the time of writing the sets are running Android TV 10 - but Philips has stated that this will be upgraded to Google TV at some future date.

Pocket-lintPocket-lint Philips OLED 806 4K TV with Ambilight review photo 7

This will be a welcome update when it comes, as the arrival of Google TV on Sony's latest TVs has shown it to be better looking, friendlier, more customisable, more intuitive, and more helpful than any Android TV system before.

The Android TV 10 system currently running on the OLED806 is at least an improvement on its predecessors, though. It's more responsive, more stable, organised more with TV rather than smartphone users in mind, and more customisable. It does, however, feel a bit dated and dictatorial compared with some of the other TV smart systems available today.

Picture Quality

  • HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Processing engine: Philips' P5 system (5th Gen)

With the right sources and, to some extent, the right settings, the OLED806 can produce really quite beautiful pictures.

At the heart of its dazzling picture show is its contrast. At one end of the light spectrum it delivers every bit (and then some) of the prowess with black colours and dark tones that's always been at the heart of OLED's home cinema appeal. The darkness the screen can produce is impeccably consistent, too, both in terms of its resistance to the sort of fluctuations and instabilities we still occasionally see with some OLED TVs, and how absolutely even it is right across the screen.

PhilipsPhilips OLED806 review photo 1

The OLED806 also handles near-black picture information superbly for such a relatively affordable OLED TV, avoiding fizzing and blocking noise in dark areas, and delivering smooth blends and plenty of subtle shadow detail (if the brightness is increased a couple of notches from its 50 default position, anyway).

Right alongside the pretty much impeccable black levels are some of the punchiest bright highlights we've seen from an OLED TV. The screen is capable of delivering around 770 nits of sustained brightness - which is about par for the OLED course these days.

Somehow, though, the OLED806 can momentarily push this brightness to a mighty 943 nits if you use the Vivid mode that Philips' picture experts recommend. This huge brightness really doesn't last long - but then many of an HDR picture's very brightest elements are only onscreen for a brief period too.

It's worth stating at this point that unlike the new OLED+936 model, the OLED806 doesn't use one of the new high-brightness OLED panels that have been such a big deal for 2021.

The OLED806's unashamedly aggressive approach to pictures continues to similarly dazzling effect with its colour performance. Saturations in most of its presets are spectacularly vibrant and fulsomely saturated. So much so, again, that it's hard to accept that the TV isn't outputting more brightness than it actually is.

The colour richness applies equally to all tones, regardless of whether they're chiefly red, green or blue. This ensures that despite the set's aggressive approach, pictures always look perfectly balanced. The vibrancy doesn't stop the picture processor from rendering excellent levels of tonal subtlety either, ensuring that skin tones never look plasticky or flat - there's actually a dedicated skin tone section in the P5 processing engine - and that pictures typically enjoy a convincing and enticing sense of depth.

This being an OLED TV, the OLED806's colour and contrast remain pretty much unblemished if you have to watch the screen from even a very wide angle.

Philips TVs have long had a reputation for delivering exceptionally sharp pictures - and the OLED806 continues that trend. Especially since you can now leave Philips' Ultra Resolution feature on with good quality HD and 4K sources without it causing the picture to look gritty, harsh or unnatural.

The sharpness holds up almost eerily well, too, when objects are moving around on screen or there's a camera pan to deal with. Philips' motion processing can remove essentially all motion judder and blur. The only problem with this is that films tend to look like soap operas, and also suffer from a few distracting unwanted side effects. 

Happily, though, Philips now offers a whole host of motion processing options for you to choose from, including a Pure Cinema setting that does a pretty much spot on job of smoothing ‘excess' judder away without films losing their 24p look without generating unwanted side effects. A new Fast Motion Clarity black frame insertion option also delivers very natural looking motion, but only at the expense of a chunk of brightness.

Pocket-lintPocket-lint Philips OLED 806 4K TV with Ambilight review photo 4

The flexibility Philips provides with the motion processor can also be seen with its picture presets. For years Philips has arguably been a bit too confident that its famously processing-heavy approach to picture quality is in tune with what everyone really want to watch. With the OLED806, though, Philips has tried to provide something for everyone. So while the Vivid mode is still there, for instance, to turn all of Philips' processing tools 'up to 11' for the most explosive results, there's now also a Movie mode which sees Philips turning off pretty much all of its beloved processing to deliver a more 'accurate', neutral image. 

Even more surprising given Philips' previous picture philosophy is the inclusion of the Filmmaker Mode. After all, this represents Philips not only allowing a third-party to get involved with its TV picture quality, but a third-party that's motivated by matching industry standards rather than trying to get the maximum impact from whatever source is being received.

This new openness to other tastes is welcome - and joins with the huge amount of picture adjustment options Philips provides in creating what feels like a genuine new drive to be all things to all. And yet…

Despite all Philips' new AI know-how, source detection tools, and seemingly more open picture mindedness, the OLED806 can still deliver pretty varied picture quality results with different types and quality of source. Good native 4K images typically look beautiful with little to no intervention required. But heavily compressed HD and SD sources can look over-processed and unnatural using the picture modes Philips tends to lean towards with its out of the box presets. 

PhilipsPhilips OLED806 review photo 2

The bottom line is that AI or no AI, unless the OLED806 is going to be fed an exclusively native 4K HDR diet then many users will find they need to familiarise themselves with and regularly revisit the TV's complex picture setup menus. The set's noise reduction, sharpness and motion settings in particular can come on too strong with low-quality sources for anyone who likes their images to look natural or, at least, 'clean'.

While the OLED806 doesn't always deliver what feels like the best results with low-quality sources out of the box, though, the key point is that it can be made to look good with just about anything. And with good quality sources it can look nothing short of spectacular - even without any user intervention.

Sound Quality

It turns out that those large, visible drivers facing out from the OLED806's rear aren't just there for show. They play their part in delivering a surprisingly healthy amount of bass and an impressively dynamic, open mid-range that's enough in itself to instantly set the sound above the built-in TV sound 'par'. 

Pocket-lintPocket-lint Philips OLED 806 4K TV with Ambilight review photo 3

This strong foundation is joined by strong and accurate projection of effects and score work away from the TV's bodywork and into your room - particularly if you're able to feed the TV a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Dialogue remains locked to the onscreen action, while also sounding clear and well contextualised - although we've had some sources seem a bit vacant in delivering sound that feels 'connected', so it's source dependent.

Every now and then a really extreme bass sound - the sort of thing you feel directors put in deliberately to damage subwoofers - can cause some bass to simply disappear from the mix, or else cause the drivers to collapse into crackling noise. These distortion-causing moments are very rare, though. 

Verdict

The Philips OLED806 delivers sublime images - made to look even better thanks to its unique Ambilight proposition - and it even supports the latest gaming must-have technologies.

However, it's not the easiest TV to use - well, not for people who always want to feel like they're getting the best performance out of it from any given source, as that requires a bit of settings tinkering.

Crucially, though, at its best the Philips OLED806 is a resplendent sight. That performance is very fairly priced, too, making this an excellent buy. 

Also consider

LGAlternative photo 1

LG OLED C1

While it isn't capable of quite such thrilling HDR pictures, doesn't sound as powerful, and lacks the Philips'Ambilight design charms, it's still a strong performer, is easier to use, and costs a little less too.

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Writing by John Archer. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 27 September 2021.