Another superb-looking and sumptuous-sounding OLED TV from Philips, but some image quality oddities see rival OLEDs edge ahead
- OLED panel is sumptuous
- Multi-format HDR support including Dolby Vision & HDR10+
- Ambilight is very impressive
- Aggressive brightness limiting in SDR content
- Some picture processing and image quality quirks
- Edge-enhancement is forced on
While rival manufacturers continue to push LCD technology in their flagship ranges, Philips’ last few generations have been powered exclusively by OLED. The latest model to arrive at Expert Reviews’ doors, the 804 series, aims to take the company’s mid-range OLED TVs up a notch, with a new processing engine and the welcome addition of Dolby Vision HDR support.
Philips OLED 804 review: What you need to know
The 804 sits in the middle of Philips’s premium OLED family of TVs, alongside its close sibling the 854. The only difference between the two models is that the 804 has metal feet, and the 854 has a swivelling stand. The 804 is available in 55-inch (55OLED804) and 65-inch (65OLED804, reviewed) variants.
The entry-level OLED 754 models are the step-down option, while the pricier OLED +934 model adds a fancier design and upward-firing Atmos speakers, and the OLED +984 adds a hefty soundbar for even punchier sound.
The 804 receives some key upgrades over the 2018 models. You get the 3rd-generation P5 video processing engine which has now been upgraded to a dual-chip architecture for even more powerful pixel-wrangling. The big news, however, is that Philips has included the latest 2019 OLED panels and added support for Dolby Vision alongside the existing HDR10+ format support, which is great news for HDR fans.
Philips OLED 804 review: Price and competition
It probably won’t come as much surprise to hear that Philips faces some serious competition from Panasonic and LG.
Panasonic’s superb entry-level OLED, the GZ950 (55in: £1,499 – click to read our review), provides class-leading colour accuracy in both SDR and HDR modes, solid video processing and equally wide HDR format support. For straightforward image quality, it pips the Philips at the post. The only areas where it falls short is in audio quality and loudness, and the lack of Ambilight. Given how good the picture quality is on both TVs, don’t underestimate just how much of an impact Ambilight can bring to the living room table. For some buyers, it might seal the deal.
LG’s C9 (55in: £1,399 – click to read our review) is the unarguable cream of the current OLED crop, however – it even beat out Panasonic’s flagship GZ2000 OLED in HDTVTest’s annual TV shootout, which is no mean feat. The clincher here is that some aggressive price cuts have seen the C9 retailing for less than even Panasonic’s entry-level GZ950. Colour accuracy is a whisker behind the Panasonic fresh from the box, but it’s still no slouch – and the processing and HDR performance is a definite cut above. The combination of perfect OLED blacks, eye-popping HDR and superlative picture processing make for probably the finest all-round OLED TV on the market. If prices don’t change dramatically, it’s the one we’d buy.
Philips OLED 804 review: Features and design
If you’re expecting visual fireworks before you even turn on the TV, you won’t be disappointed. This new model is pretty much a clone of last year’s Philips 803, but it’s still gorgeous to behold. The super-thin panel sits astride a pair of shiny metallic feet which peek out from underneath the screen; the only downside is that there isn’t much room under the TV’s lower bezel to squeeze in a soundbar.
So it’s all the more pleasing to find that the Philips’ inbuilt speakers are really very respectable. There isn’t any of the Dolby Atmos magic of the 804’s flagship siblings, but there’s oodles of clarity with impressively clear dialogue and even a modicum of stereo imaging. It is bested by the absolutely top-end OLED models which come with bundled soundbars (such as Philips’ own +984), but compared to other OLED TVs with integrated, down-firing speakers, the 804 is the best we’ve heard.
Peer around the TV’s left-hand side, and you’ll find four full-bandwidth HDMI 2.0b ports. Just don’t expect a raft of HDMI 2.1 features: only ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) is supported, which flicks the TV into game mode when it detects the signal from a compatible games console. You’ll also need to enable or disable the feature for each individual HDMI input.
The supplied remote control is a typical Philips affair with a QWERTY keyboard located on the rear. The keyboard does come in handy sometimes, but it’s not hugely practical in darker rooms as it’s not backlit. It’s a shame there are no dedicated numeric keys either, as it’s a bit fiddly to hold down the Function key every time you need to enter a number.
Despite those minor qualms, however, this is a slick-feeling TV. Android 9.0 Pie is the operating system of choice and, despite the basic Mediatek chipset and 2.5GB of RAM, the Philips’ front-end both looks sharp and feels responsive. There are all the streaming services you’d expect, too, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Youtube and Rakuten TV. One minor thrill is that the Prime Video app actually displays a HDR10+ pop-up notification when a HDR10 show is played – and this is the first time we’ve seen such a feature.
Philips OLED 804 review: Ambilight
One of the most interesting additions here, however, is the Philips 804’s three-sided Ambilight integrated bias lighting technology. Three banks of multi-coloured LEDs on the TV’s rear stretch shine outwards from the left, right, and top-edge. Depending on how you tweak the settings in the 804’s menus, they can produce everything from a static white glow to a multi-coloured riot which mimics the onscreen colours and explodes onto the wall behind the TV.
This does sound hugely gimmicky, but it’s not unprecedented. It expands on a technique known as “bias lighting”, where a light source is positioned behind a monitor or TV, and this is of particular use in darker rooms. Because of the way our eyes work, the light spilling around the edge of the TV increases the perceived contrast, and also stops your eye muscles from having to work overtime as scenes move from light to dark. This obviously has more of an effect the darker your room is, but it can be surprisingly effective. For instance, if you’ve got an old LCD TV or monitor where the black bars on movies look more grey than black when you dim the lights down, bias lighting can have a huge impact. And even on an OLED TV such as the Philips, where perfect blacks are the order of the day, Ambilight manages to make the onscreen images look even punchier.
The way the LED lights follow the colour of the onscreen content is truly impressive; indeed, it’s pretty special the first time you experience it. Fire up Finding Nemo and the room is suddenly bathed in a deep blue light, switch to Blade Runner 2049 and a hazy orange sepia fills the room, occasionally intensifying into a neon glow.
If you like the effect, then just make sure to notch the brightness down a little. Push it too high, and the lighting will have the effect of crushing fine shadow detail as your eyes won’t be able to adjust quickly enough to see the very darkest colours onscreen. This is particularly noticeable with HDR content. Our preference, however, is to set it to a plain, slightly warm white in order to add a subtle glow behind the TV, rather than the more distracting multi-coloured option.
Philips OLED 804 review: Picture quality
With a 2019 WRGB OLED panel at its heart, the Philips 804 gets off to a sterling start. That guarantees supremely wide viewing angles, almost perfect blacks and intensely vibrant colours. All the things you could possibly want from a TV, in other words.
The 2019 panel brings improved shadow detail over over last year’s 803 and 903, and we’re pleased to find that Philips’ engineers have done a good job of suppressing the near-black flashing artefacts which we’ve noticed on several 2018 and 2019 OLEDs. Good work, Philips.
There’s plenty more good news, too. We’re very pleased to see the introduction of 20-point greyscale controls in addition to the existing 2-point, as this allows for greater calibration precision. In any case, the Philips 804 serves up outstanding colour accuracy for SDR content, with highly realistic and natural colours including skin tones in real-world material.
It’s possible to eke out perfectly smooth playback of 24p films if you enable the Motion Styles setting, but we’d make sure to disable the Perfect Natural Motion setting completely. Even setting it to its minimum level results in a horrible, floaty soap opera effect and visible interpolation artefacts, so it’s best turned off.
Philips OLED 804 review: HDR performance
The Philips’s HDR performance is pretty solid. Brightness peaks at 760cd/m2 on a 10% white window, which is very respectable, but that drops right down to 150cd/m2 when measured across the entire display. DCI-P3 coverage stretches out to a decent 98%, and Dolby Vision content provides the kind of bright, impactful experience which we’ve seen on other leading OLED TVs.
There are some quirks in HDR10 content, however. The HDR Perfect setting in the onscreen menus controls HDR10 tone-mapping, but it’s not immediately obvious which setting to use. Anything other than ‘Off’ results in clipped highlights in HDR content which has been mastered to 4000cd/m2, and the automatic setting ironically isn’t automatic at all, as it turns off dynamic tone-mapping completely.
It’s also a mite disappointing to find that the 804’s Automatic Brightness Limiter (ABL) is noticeably more aggressive than other 2019 OLEDs, and particularly so in SDR mode. The ABL is designed to prevent damage to the OLED panel, but here it seems as if Philips’ engineers have erred a little too far on the side of caution. Put the Philips side-by-side with its OLED rivals, and it lacks some of their punch in brighter scenes.
Closer inspection reveals some other chinks in the OLED armour. There’s less posterisation in HDR mode than we noticed on last year’s 803 and 903 models, but transitions between shades of colour still aren’t as smooth as the competition. Similarly, uniformity in darker content isn’t fully up to scratch, with some vignetting where the sides are darker than the centre in dark scenes, and the left more so than right. Thankfully this isn’t repeated in bright scenes, with no dirty screen effect (DSE) or banding and only minimal colour tinting.
Video processing is a typical strong point, so it was disappointing to find that the 804 has dropped the ball here. Upscaling lower resolution content to fit the Philips’ 4K panel revealed lots of artifacts, with heavy ringing around detail and a generally fizzy and overprocessed image. This is likely due to the fact that Philips has activated edge enhancement on every single picture preset barring Monitor mode. And no, it can’t be turned off.
Philips has also made the decision to activate pixel shifting permanently, and while this is a great call to keep burn-in at bay – a much-publicised, if slightly overstated concern with OLED TVs – it means that the onscreen image is always slightly off the edge of the screen.
If you’re hoping that the 804’s gaming responsiveness is going to the rescue the day, then prepare to be underwhelmed. An input lag of 33ms in 1080p SDR and 4K HDR Game modes is alright, but absolutely nothing to write home about. Rival brands have made leaps and bounds forward in recent generations, and an input lag of over 30ms is beginning to sound distinctly pedestrian.
Philips OLED 804 review: Verdict
There’s no two ways about it: the combination of Ambilight and OLED is just as spectacular as ever. The immense contrast and solidity of the Philips’ onscreen images combine with the multi-coloured lights spilling out around the TV to great effect – and it certainly helps that the 804’s speakers are so unusually competent.
The 4K HDR elephant in this particular living room, however, is that the OLED race in 2019 has been more tightly contested than ever, and the Philips’ handful of image quality issues see it stumble in pursuit of its similarly-priced rivals. In isolation, it’s a very good TV, but until the price drops significantly below that of its rivals, it’s not at the top of our wish list.