Philips and Bowers & Wilkins’ partnership got off to a flying start late last year with the companies’ co-creation of the five-star Philips OLED903 TV, which married the former brand’s picture know-how with the latter’s audio expertise to impressive effect. This year that progressed to see B&W sort the sound for Philips’ flagship 8804 LCD model too, and now just seven months later we are at the IFA 2019 convention eyeing up the third and fourth fruits of that labour.
The new flagship 65in OLED+984 TV has just been announced alongside the OLED+934, and promises an advanced picture over the already stonking one produced in its 903 thanks to a new picture engine, as well as "the most advanced sound system ever offered on a TV".
Humble the OLED+934 is not, then – but hey, it’s not supposed to be. This is a statement TV through and through, and everything from both brands appears to have been rightfully thrown at it.
So how does the OLED+984 look and sound? We were fortunate to bag a briefing of the TV at IFA, so allow us to provide you our initial thoughts...
It’s not often we start any kind of TV ‘review’ with sound quality, but with the OLED+984’s speaker system so central to its USP and visual design, we think it makes sense to here.
Rather than come in on the design process once it had already started, as was the case with last year’s OLED903, B&W was allowed to start from scratch and quite literally think outside of the (TV cabinet) box here.
The 65in OLED panel is attached to a metal stand (or wall mount) onto which a soundbar-esque speaker is also fixed, stretching most of the width of the screen that sits inches above it. Inside the soundbar-esque speaker are three enclosures for the right, left and centre channels, isolated from one another and decoupled from the body of the TV in the name of performance.
Each is ported using the British speaker brand's Flowport technology found in its 6000 Series speakers, to prevent unwanted noise, while its glass-fibre-reinforced cabinet has been braced to control resonances.
They each house three 10cm mid/bass drivers, derived from B&W’s M1 satellite speakers, and the tweeters in the left and right enclosures are positioned on the far edges of the baffle to encourage a wider soundstage. The centre enclosure’s tweeter, however, is mounted above the main speaker chassis, mirroring the aesthetically distinctive ‘Tweeter-on-top’ design in B&W’s flagship 800 Diamond speakers. It's been chosen for its sonic directivity and cleanliness, due to the absence of a cabinet and thus cabinet diffraction, and really sits at the heart of what we can only call a faultless aesthetic design.
Now, this is some serious tried-and-tested hardware, so with that in mind you won’t be surprised to read that it sounds fantastic for a TV speaker. Philips’ efforts to ensure a wide soundfield have paid off: it’s open and spacious, and we’re surprised by just how much the whole presentation feels like it’s coming from the centre of the screen as opposed to some inches below where the speaker actually is.
The demo includes the 4K Blu-ray presentation of the opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road (the OLED+984 is capable of Dolby Atmos decoding and processing). It’s a scene we’re very familiar with – it’s been one of the go-to testing discs in recent years – and the B&W speaker does its demanding soundtrack justice.
While there’s a dedicated output for bass fiends to add an external subwoofer if they so wish, the TV speaker is more than capable of producing enough low-end heft to communicate the engine revs, clunk of crashing metal and Tom Hardy’s menacingly deep narration through those reasonably sized drivers. The echoic whisperings effectively encircle our listening position (about two metres from the TV), and, as we learn when the lizard scurries and dirt is kicked up off the floor, there’s apt subtlety to go with that.
That insight resurfaces as the demo moves to music, notably Oscar Peterson Trio’s You Look Good To Me. The Spotify stream is full of textured instrumentation through the TV, and we aren’t surprised that the most musical elements are indeed foot-tappingly musical – this is B&W audio, after all.
Alongside the also-new Philips OLED+934 TV, the OLED+984 debuts Philips’ third-generation P5 picture engine, which Philips says delivers a 30 per cent increase in picture performance over the second-gen chip that powers the OLED903. It supposedly brings improvements to the Perfect Natural Reality, Detail Enhancer and Digital Noise Reduction elements, essentially translating into a sharper, cleaner and more insightful picture.
Philips has also worked to improve dark detail in HDR content, and for the first time a Philips processor can work its magic on Dolby Vision content too (when the TV is in Dolby Vision Bright mode; in Dolby Vision Dark mode the processor backs off).
The quality of Philips’ OLED picture has only gone in one direction since the first, the POS901F/12, arrived in 2017: up – and we’re confident the OLED+934 won’t disrupt that momentum. While our demo was brief, absent of any comparison and set to whichever calibration settings Philips had chosen, there’s every reason to believe this and the picture-matching OLED+934 are the best OLEDs the company has made to date.
In the opening scene of the dystopian blockbuster, the Philips’ evident punch is the most notable quality to observe as it eats up the film’s rich palette. It's spick and span as far as general picture cleanliness and motion go, too, and the Philips Ambilight experience is just as efficacious as it's always been.
It's almost impossible to measure the gains made over the OLED903 without putting the two sets side by side, though, so we look forward to going the full twelve rounds with the OLED+984 in our test room soon.
We’ve just told you how promising we think Philips’ new flagship TV is, and now we’re going to disappoint you with the next four words. The OLED+984 costs £4500.
That's no small fee of course, and positions it above the majority of 65in OLED TVs on the market. Similar money could get you one of our favourite 65in models and the best soundbar we’ve ever heard, the Sennheiser Ambeo – so even though the OLED+984 is a neater, all-in-one solution than a separate TV and soundbar, it's still up against it in the value stakes.
Naturally there’s only so much we can gauge from one decontextualised demo, but first impressions lead us to strongly believe the OLED+984 is the best amalgamation of Philips’ OLED picture and Bowers & Wilkins’ audio yet. It’s just a shame that no matter how good (or even good-value) it may turn out to be, price will put it of reach for many.