(Pocket-lint) - During 2021 we've been given some of the most exciting developments in TV technology that we've seen for years. Premium LCD sets have been transformed by the arrival of Mini LED lighting, while premium OLED sets have benefited from new higher-brightness panel designs.
The Philips OLED+936 is arguably the most all-round exciting OLED TV to date. After all, alongside one of the new higher-brightness OLED panels, it boasts Philips' unique and dramatic Ambilight technology - which uses LEDs behind the set to illuminate the surrounding walls in real-time, like an extension of the picture - alongside Philips' most powerful picture processing to date, and quite possibly the finest integrated audio system ever heard on a mainstream TV.
The Philips OLED+936 is an outstanding TV in just about every way that counts. Its picture quality earns it a seat at the very top table, while its sound quality deserves a whole new head table all to itself.
The only downsides? If you've already got a great sound system then you're unlikely to need such a setup (but there's the Philips OLED806 for you). And the menu system is a little more taxing and deep-dive than some.
Foibles aside, the OLED+936 a stunning looker, too, especially if positioned somewhere that takes the best advantage of its Ambilight feature, the light spilling onto surrounding walls, which given its asking price feels like something of a bargain considering the audio-visual quality on offer.
- Sharp and colourful contrast-rich picture quality
- Class-leading sound quality thanks to integrated soundbar
- Ambilight design
- Complex setup menus
- Requires effort to continually get the best from it
- Expensive if you already have a good sound system
- 4x HDMI inputs (2x HDMI 2.1), 3x USB ports
- Wi-Fi & Bluetooth multimedia options
The OLED+936 looks as unique as it is spectacular. For starters, its screen (the 65-inch on review here) sits on a short angled metal neck that leads down to a substantial external speaker enclosure that also doubles up as the TV's desktop stand.
This speaker enclosure is the latest fruit of Philips' ongoing partnership with UK Hi-Fi brand Bowers & Wilkins, and looks very tasteful with its nifty angular design and silvery metallic finish.
Despite the elegant exterior, though, it packs in some seriously promising specifications. For starters there's a 3.1.2-channel speaker array that includes two up-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos height effects. It can output an impressive total of 70W, and in classic B&W style, a separated-out tweeter is stylishly notched into the centre of the speaker enclosure's top edge.
Philips also thoughtfully provides a lovely, chrome-finished wall mount bracket that accommodates both the screen and the external speaker enclosure.
The screen is supremely thin round the back in that way OLED is renowned, while the frame around the screen is also impressively slim.
This trimness plays nicely with the OLED+936's other star design attraction: Ambilight. In the OLED+936's case, LEDs cast colour light from all four of the TV's sides, either in an ambient shade of your choosing, or dynamically tracking the image content. It's possible to set the aggressiveness, brightness and response time of the Ambilight effect, and the accuracy of colour tone and position in image tracking mode is uncanny.
Ambilight is typically best set to a relatively low brightness level with Philips' OLED TVs, so that it ambiently enhances images rather than distracting from them. Even though the OLED+936 uses one of the OLED world's new higher brightness panels.
Philips has happily joined the cutting edge console gamer support group by equipping its premium TV with HDMI ports capable of handling all the latest key gaming features now on offer from the PS5, Xbox Series X and high-end PCs. In the OLED+936's case, two of the four HDMIs are up for cutting edge gaming action.
Finally, the OLED+936's combination of a trio of USB ports, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, delivers the sort of extensive multimedia playback options now expected of a high-end TV.
- Smart system: Android TV 10
The OLED+936 uses the Android TV 10 smart platform - complete with all the pros and cons we've come to associate with that.
So on the plus side a huge quantity of content and apps are available; the full-screen home menu provides instant links to more of those apps than many rival smart platform home screens provide; and Android TV 10 has come a long way in terms of improving its layout and emphasising the most useful apps and features for TV (as opposed to smart phone) users.
On the downside, updates seem more regular and slow to load than those of most smart platforms, the home screen can feel a bit overwhelming, and the interface isn't as customisable or good at making useful content recommendations as some rivals.
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, HDR10+
- Processing engine: P5 Generation 5
Philips' latest P5 Generation 5 engine turns the brand's always enthusiastic deployment of video processing up to 11. The 'P5' part of the processor's name refers to what Philips sees as the five key pillars of picture quality: motion, contrast, sharpness, source detection, colour. But the dozens of separate processing features the P5 processor applies to pictures, all in a carefully considered order, actually take in way more elements than just these 'big five'.
The processor in the OLED+936 predominantly differs from the one in the previously reviewed and much more affordable Philips 806 OLED range by using two chips rather than one, so it can deliver more accurate/useful results in real time.
Among the new picture features introduced by Philips' latest processor is an anti screen burn feature that breaks the image down into more than 30,000 separate analysis zones in its hunt for potentially problematic static picture elements, gently dimming any it finds to prevent them doing any long-term damage to the screen's organic elements.
The P5 engine also introduces a new Perfect Natural Reality circuit that Philips claims makes pictures look 30 per cent sharper thanks to AI-inspired improvements in the screen's image analysis. AI is also behind a new Smart Bit Enhancement feature that 'upscales' colour from 8 bit to 14 bit to remove colour banding, while a built-in light sensor offers intelligent support for adaptive picture modes that react to light levels in your room.
The high brightness panel deployed inside the OLED+936 lives up to its hype by delivering a very impressive (by OLED TV standards) peak brightness output of 948 nits (our measure) - and it becomes clear very quickly that this brightness increase has not compromised OLED's traditional black level prowess.
These black level heroics are largely down, of course, to OLED's self-emissive nature, where each pixel in the screen makes its own light. Even Mini LED TVs can't get close to that level of light control.
The screen's native 4K resolution is backed up by an impressive roster of high dynamic range support, covering both of the 'premium' active HDR systems, Dolby Vision and HDR10+, as well as the more standard HDR10 and HLG formats. TVs that support either Dolby Vision or HDR10+ are pretty common these days. TVs that support both are not.
As noted, Philips has properly embraced the latest generation of console and PC gamers with the OLED+936, now offering support for 4K at 120Hz, variable refresh rates (VRR) and automatic low latency mode (ALLM) switching when the TV detects a game rather than video source.
At 22ms, its game mode latency isn't quite as low as some rivals. But the 10-12ms longer it takes to render game images than the fastest screens right now won't make much noticeable difference to all but the most professional players.
The OLED+936 can't just auto-detect game sources. An unusual new Film Detection mode looks for incoming 24p film sources and automatically switches to your choice of either the TV's Filmmaker Mode (designed in conjunction with the Ultra HD Alliance), or a new Home Cinema Mode optimised by Philips for movie content. Both options are welcome, with the Filmmaker Mode giving the most truly accurate pictures, while the Home Cinema mode delivers punchier but still cinematic images that Philips thinks - probably correctly - most viewers will prefer.
Overall the combination of a new high-brightness panel with Philips' P5 engine proves to be a match made in heaven. Contrast is stunning. The extra brightness unlocks even more vibrant and wide-ranging colours than Philips OLED TVs usually deliver too - which is saying something, given Philips' usual aggression in this department. Some high-brightness TVs can leave colours looking a bit washed out, but the exact opposite is true of the OLED+936.
Outside of the Vivid preset (unless that preset's extreme colour settings are toned down in the TV's dauntingly massive picture adjustment menus), the OLED+936 delivers its strong saturations without any tones coming on too strong, or the vibrancy causing any loss of the subtle colour toning and shading details that help make video sources look both natural and three-dimensional.
No 4K TV we've seen delivers a more detailed picture than the OLED+936. Native 4K content can look more like 8K at times, while Philips' AI-inspired upscaler makes HD look like native 4K. Moreover, it does this without introducing common sharpness-enhancement nasties such as ringing around thin lines or edges, exaggerated grain, motion lag, or extra noise.
The high levels of detail in the OLED+936's pictures extend into its handling of very dark areas, too. There's no detail-squishing greyness hanging over dark areas of the sort associated with almost all LCD-based TVs, and Philips' handling of 'near black' content - a tricky area for OLED technology - shows no sign of coarseness.
Motion handling has historically being a mixed bag with Philips TVs. No other brand has been as successful at removing judder and motion blur. But this has tended to mean that film sources end up looking artificially fluid and/or plagued by distracting processing noise. With the OLED+936, however, Philips provides Movie and Pure Cinema motion processing options that take a much more measured and genuinely helpful approach. Pure Cinema, in particular, works so well with 24p movie sources that even the most die-hard home cinema purists might actually be tempted to use it.
Presumably the extra processing power in the OLED+936 helps it deliver better 'automatic' picture results. There's still merit in becoming familiar with the TV's picture menus in all their tortuous glory, but crucially for people who can't be bothered (which will be most), the OLED+936's is much easier to simply sit down and love as soon as it's first switched on.
The OLED+936's striking external speaker enclosure instantly proves to be much more than just a glorified desktop mount. In fact, it's an audio marvel.
The amount of bass it produces, for starters, is extraordinary for an integrated TV sound system. Low frequency sounds go even deeper and sound even more rounded and natural than they did on the already excellent OLED+935 equivalent. Even that toughest of TV audio tests, the opening couple of chapters of the Dolby Atmos mix of Blade Runner 2049, are delivered with dynamics that just haven't been heard before on a TV. It's almost impossible to believe that so much bass can emerge so smoothly - and without colouring the rest of the audio delivery - from a speaker enclosure that's considerably smaller than your average soundbar. In fact, it's hard to believe Philips hasn't sneaked in and hidden an external subwoofer somewhere.
Despite the colossal amounts of air the OLED+936's redesigned bass driver manages to shift from the limited space available to it, it remains an almost completely crackle- and distortion-free zone. Even at really loud volumes, and even where a soundtrack - again, like Blade Runner 2049's - combines extreme bass with a fearsome backdrop of droning, escalating synth or score trebles.
Also remarkable for the vast majority of the time is the scale of the OLED+936's sound. The up-firing drivers in particular are a revelation, delivering a real sense of verticality to the sound that again outguns the efforts of the previous OLED+935s in terms both of how precisely height effects are placed and how fully developed and uncompressed they sound.
The height effects, to be clear, don't seem to be coming, as they're supposed to, from directly above your head during Dolby Atmos tracks. But they still expand the soundstage vertically better than many standalone Atmos soundbars do.
More good news finds the OLED+936 doing a good job of slightly raising the whole soundstage vertically, so that the sound typically seems to be coming from the level of the screen rather than the level of the soundbar beneath it. This ability of the speaker enclosure to control sound positioning so well without compromising power (check out the remarkably accurate placement of the various bomb explosions as Schofield runs across the battlefield at the climax of 1917, for instance) additionally helps it deliver even the smallest details in a mix with startling clarity.
There are a couple of areas where movie and TV sound could be even better. Dialogue can sometimes still sound a little trapped in the speaker enclosure - especially when sitting fairly close to the TV, or at a higher seating position than most sofas provide. Also, every now and then a very specific audio sound positioning effect will catch the soundbar out.
Such complaints feel a bit churlish, though, in the context of what is overall a masterful audio performance that beats any other TV sound system into pulp. Especially as the audio prowess extends to music as well as movies. Even though there's an occasional tendency to slightly exaggerate treble sounds such as snare drums or cymbals, and you have to drive the speakers quite loudly (at least volume level 26) before tracks 'wake up', there's really no reason you can't use the OLED+936 as an exceptionally powerful Hi-Fi as well as TV.
Philips' assault on the high-end TV market has shifted up yet another year with the OLED+936. Although it's not the easiest TV to use, the picture quality is spectacular, its Bowers & Wilkins-inspired sound quality is in a league of its own, and its Ambilight-driven design is gorgeous. All for what in the circumstances is a very tidy price.