Update 04.09.18: Since this review was published Philips has contacted us and has taken the test set back for further examination to assess the faults we discovered. They have agreed to supply us with a replacement sample.
When we reviewed Philips first OLED TV, the 55POS9002, we were immediately won over by its combination of best-in-class picture quality and exciting Ambilight feature. Now, just nine months later, we are about to review its successor.
However, unlike its predecessor, the 55OLED803 doesn’t get a full, five-star rating. Although it’s a better TV in many ways, it loses out to even greater competition this year and currently suffers from some irritating software issues.
Things get off to a cracking start, because the 55OLED803 is one of the best looking TVs we’ve ever had in for testing. The two dainty feet are simple, supremely stylish, and keep the screen low to the furniture upon which it’s standing. It’s a really elegant set, and one that in some ways looks smaller than it is (the uniformly thin bezels help), which may suit those who don't want a screen to dominate their room.
As with all OLEDs, the Philips’ screen is exceptionally thin, but that slimness isn’t universal. The connections and processing components are housed in a plastic casing bolted to the rear of the panel. The casing is bulkier than that of many rival OLEDs, presumably on account of the addition of the Ambilight LEDs. However, the trade-off is obvious from the moment you turn the telly on and begin to soak in the glow of Ambilight colour emanating from the TV onto the wall around it.
We have extolled the virtues of Ambilight time and time again, and it works the same magic here, providing a beautiful effect that draws the eye into the image and makes the screen seem bigger than it really is. We love it, and you will, too.
There are two remotes in the box, the smaller of which continues the angular wand-like design of the set’s feet. This is a stripped-back zapper with a few symbols in the place of normal buttons, and a glossy stripe that acts as a touch-sensitive panel for navigating menus. In a mash-up of Harry Potter and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, this is what Marvin’s wand would look like.
But at times during testing, the touch-sensitive panel simply doesn’t work, even on the TV’s Home screen. We dig out the more traditional and rather cluttered clicker, but this gives us further problems, with the QWERTY keyboard on the rear failing to work occasionally.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the software issues.
Like Sony, Philips currently relies upon Google Android TV for its operating system. That’s always a blend of positives and negatives, but it’s particularly problematic here.
The general clutter and unattractiveness of the OS is improving with each update, but still falls a long way behind Samsung and LG’s bespoke operating systems. But while Sony’s Android TVs seem to be getting more reliable, this Philips is decidedly buggy. On our first day of testing, it crashes twice – both times the TV switching off entirely before restarting from scratch.
We’re not sure how much of this bugginess is down to Android TV and how much is down to Philips – and of course we may be experiencing more issues as a result of having an early sample, but this is a full production model so these issues can’t simply be ignored.
There are gaps on the app front, too. ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 are all missing from Android TV. Sony gets around the issue by including YouView in its models – it’s a shame that Philips hasn’t taken the same approach.
During testing, we also found that Amazon Prime Video and Google Play Movies & TV would play UHD content in 4K, but not with HDR. At least Netflix is present in full 4K HDR, and the Philips’ array of other apps includes BBC iPlayer, Rakuten (albeit only up to 1080p), YouTube, Plex, VLC and Spotify.
In terms of physical connections, there are four HDMI sockets, two USBs, an optical output and a headphone connection, plus one aerial connection and two for satellite. It’s worth pointing out that the satellite tuner doesn’t support Freesat, so you instead get an unsorted and patchy selection of channels.
Under the hood is Philips’ new P5 chip, which the company says brings benefits to colour, contrast, sharpness, motion, noise-reduction and upscaling, and also upconverts SDR content to HDR-like quality. Combined with the latest, LG-sourced OLED panel, which offers a 10 per cent increase in peak brightness over last year’s model and a more advanced pixel arrangement, that should make for a very impressive picture.
We play the 4K Blu-ray of Blue Planet II and, sure enough, the Philips impresses. The open ocean from where David Attenborough introduces the series is invitingly, iridescently blue, while his yacht is crisp, bright and brilliantly white, to an extent that even the LG C8 can’t match.
Tropical islands viewed from above are lusciously green and vibrant, and the denizens of the deep are revealed with crisp definition and superb detail.
There’s superb overall contrast, too, with those bright, pure whites and vibrant colours combining with perfect, inky blacks to produce a dramatically dynamic image. This is an image that entices the eye and pops from the screen.
A switch to another 4K Blu-ray test favourite Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, continues the fine form, with the set’s contrast once again working its magic to make the metallic portions of the Sovereign homeworld look sparkly, solid and detailed. The lovely colour vibrancy continues, too, delivering the full, gleaming-gold ostentatiousness of the throne room.
But this film illustrates a couple of issues in the Philips’ performance, the first of which is its motion-processing. While it mostly performs well, sharpening motion without introducing the unnatural ‘soap opera effect’, it struggles with tricky motion.
When Meredith sticks her hands out of the roof of the Mustang, they flutter in and out of existence as the TV fails to discern them from the Missouri countryside backdrop. Similarly, as she and Ego trot through the woods to his planet-destroying plant, their outlines shimmer with artefacts as the telly attempts to make sense of what’s going on.
None of this is a huge problem, but it does mean that many people will prefer to turn the motion processing off entirely and put up with the bit of judder and blur that that entails. It’s the same story with LG’s current TVs, but Samsung’s motion processing is better this year and Sony is still a fair bit ahead in this regard.
The other issue is skin tones, which occasionally appear a bit pale and flat – lacking the variety of hues and rosiness to be truly lifelike. It’s a small issue, and one that rarely rears its head, but it’s there all the same.
Philips 55OLED803 specs
Tested at £2000
Screen type OLED
Operating system Google Android TV
HDR formats HDR10, HDR10+ (requires software update), HLG
Full HD performance
Switch to 1080p and we’re not overly enamoured with the Perfect Natural Reality mode of which Philips is so proud. Like many such features designed to upconvert SDR to HDR, it feels a bit artificial and over the top. It’s simply too bright, even on the minimum setting. Dynamic Contrast has a similar effect and Video Contrast is set too high by default, too.
But once you rein these settings in, this TV produces an absolutely lovely upscaled picture. Detail is genuinely superb: play the final scene of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and the Philips reveals goosebumps on Tina’s neck as Newt touches her hair. On an LG C8, they are nowhere to be seen.
And if you’re thinking that by switching off those advanced processing modes we’ve ended up with a dull picture, you’re wrong: whites are brighter and purer than they are on the LG, dark detail is superb and blacks are inky as can be. All told, this is one of the best 1080p pictures currently available, which is quite some feat.
Take another step down the signal quality ladder, and standard-def is also solid. LG’s OLEDs will give you a smoother, cleaner image, but the Philips is significantly more detailed.
Gamers might be slightly concerned to hear that we measured the 55OLED803’s input lag at just under 39ms, which is higher than that of rival sets from the likes of Samsung and LG. Though anything under 40ms should be fast enough for all but the most hardcore gamer, it’s worth bearing in mind.
Philips has put admirable effort into upgrading the sound system of the OLED803 over its predecessor, with a simple 2.1 system having been replaced by a pair of units with separate tweeters and mid-range drivers, and the addition of two passive radiators flanking the woofer on the rear of the set.
The improvements to weight and tonal balance are clear: by TV standards, this is a deep, rich delivery, where clarity is combined with smoothness.
That makes the Philips pleasant to listen to, but it lacks a bit in terms of punch and dynamics. That’s not an issue when it comes to everyday TV viewing, but the delivery is a bit too flat to fully convey the excitement of an action movie.
Of course, if you take sound seriously, you should really budget for a dedicated sound system to sit alongside your new OLED, in which case the pros and cons of your prospective new telly’s built-in speakers will be irrelevant.
The Philips 55OLED803 is a brilliant TV. In some ways, it’s better than the LGs with which it shares a panel, particularly in terms of colour vibrancy and detail. But skin tones occasionally seem a little off and some rivals do a better job with motion.
The main reason the Philips misses out on five stars, though, is the bugginess in its software. We’ve not had a TV crash on us in a long time, let alone twice in one afternoon. Philips may fix the issue, but until it does there are other similarly excellent tellies available for the same money that are more reliable.
- Picture 4
- Sound 4
- Features 4
- Ease of use 3
- See all our OLED TV reviews