Hands on: Philips OLED+ 903 with Sound by B&W hands-on review

How about a 4K OLED with a Bowers & Wilkins sound system?

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Our Early Verdict

The ultimate OLED picture and serious quality sound? We're intrigued.

For

  • Philips' new and improved OLED picture
  • Sleek sound system
  • Clear, full, dynamic sound

Against

  • Premium price
  • Tough to rival separate speakers

Philips wants to deliver the best TV experience and the OLED+ 903 TV with Sound by Bowers & Wilkins is the next crucial step. The two companies have teamed up to tackle the thorny issue of lacklustre sound from expensive flatscreen TVs, and the OLED+ 903 is the first fruit of the partnership. It's the same picture and panel as the OLED803 but the OLED903 adds the B&W speaker system.

And it's a simple idea: B&W's speaker know-how working with Philips' design team and picture performance to deliver a true all-rounder, for a relatively small premium. The TVs are due to land from September, with the 55OLED803 priced at £1999 and the 65OLED803 costing £2999, while the 55OLED903 will be £2499 and the 65OLED903 at £3499. They may not be cheap but first impressions suggest it will be hard to argue with the results.

Build

The OLED+ 903 was revealed alongside the OLED 803, which was in fact launched earlier in the year. The addition of the "+" signifies Philips' flagship TV and will now be a regular occurrence with every annual launch of new TVs. Of course here it also indicates the inclusion of the Sound by Bowers & Wilkins speaker system (the two sets have the same panel and picture processing).

The appearance is similar to an integrated soundbar; a slim speaker runs along the bottom of the television. It adds a few centimetres to the design but certainly looks very smart and discreet. But there is more than this. Behind the screen itself you'll find more two bass radiators and a central driver taking care of the lower frequencies. The speaker is finished in a dark grey, acoustically-transparent cloth, produced by Danish fabric company Kvadrat.

Interestingly, the dimensions of the TV were fixed before Bowers & Wilkins became involved. This is nothing new for B&W, however, the company is used to working with the automotive industry where specifications are often thrust upon the speaker manufacturer. Instead, B&W focuses on the drivers and tailoring the sound to the chassis.

As a result the Philips OLED+ 903 uses completely new drivers throughout. 19mm forward-firing titanium tweeters are separated from the main part of the speaker and braced internally to avoid distortion. A neodymium magnet and revised glass fibre cones help, too. Much talk of stiffening and bracing shows B&W's focus on getting the drivers to work in the challenging environment of the inside of a TV.

Throughout the build and design engineers from B&W and TP Vision (Philips TV's parent company) have worked on tuning and equalisation, perfecting the sound so both parties were completely happy. 'True Sound' from a TV being B&W's end goal. And this is just the start... the partnership aims to build and expand over the next few years.

Features

The new flagship Philips OLED comes in 55in and 65in screen sizes, sitting above the OLED 803 launched with the rest of the Philips 2018 TV range earlier in the year.

The set features Philips' second-generation P5 processing engine and the company's trademark three-sided Ambilight functionality. Philips' 2018 OLED technology promises 10 per cent peak light output improvement to 1000 Nits, the new Perfect Natural Reality feature, which aims to improve SDR content, and there's support for HDR10+. 

Inside is the Android TV operating system, quad-core processor and 16GB of expandable memory. An upgrade from Android N to Android O is on the way and will bring Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice control, too.

Sound

We were treated to a thorough demonstration of the sound and video performance of the new OLED+ 903, with both Philips and B&W head honchos on hand to talk us through the product's capabilities - and happy to compare them both to the 803 OLED and the 2018 OLED TVs from LG, Panasonic and Sony.

First, sound, and a CD version of Bob Dylan's Man in the Long Black Coat. Yes, a CD - if you're going to listen for sonic differences, you might as well use some solid source material. We jump from then 803 to the 903 to hear what B&W's sound system adds to the party. 

And the difference is clear. The treble sounds more open, noticeable in the strings and vocals, while the harmonica is notably more dynamic. There are layers of detail that can't be heard on the standard speakers on the OLED 803, while bass notes have a warmer, fuller sound.

We switch to something more realistic, a Blu-ray of Blade Runner 2049, and again there's a notable boost to the overall substance of the sound, helped by deeper, more powerful bass when using the B&W soundbar. It's not just bottom end, though - we hear extra layers of detail when Officer K crashes, sending crisp, sharp sounds flying towards us.

Picture

Focusing on picture and it's all about the new P5 engine inside a new processing chip on these 2018 OLEDs (remember the 803 and 903 claim the same picture performance). Predictably, Philips claims improvements in just about every area, from noise reduction and detail enhancement, to smoother motion and better SDR performance. HDR10+ also brings dynamic rather than static tone mapping.

We see the new Philips P5 engine compared to the previous generation model and certainly it seems capable of delivering more dynamic pictures, with deeper black levels but still bright, clear whites. It certainly looks like a more vivid picture, even in generic shots of blue skies and stormy clouds. And we're already big fans of previous generation models, such as the 55POS9002

Clearly bullish about performance, Philips also sets up the new 803 against 2018 OLED screens from LG, Panasonic and Sony. Naturally we're required to assume Philips has done its best to get all the TVs looking their best... but the test certainly paints a positive picture for Philips' new TV. 

Motion is one of the key areas of strength for Philips' 903, with challenging scenes of fast motion looking silky smooth compared to some juddering rivals. But we'll reserve judgement until we can get some serious time with these sets side-by-side.

Initial verdict

It sounded good on paper, and we're pleased to report our initial impressions suggest the reality will match expectations. Philips OLED with B&W sound is worth getting excited about and a £500 premium for a notably better-sounding TV seems a decent trade for us. 

If you're not interested in a separate AV or hi-fi system to accompany your TV but want something better than a budget soundbar, this might well be the answer. We look forward for getting the Philips OLED+ 903 in for review very soon.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.