With a beefier sound system and a number of picture processing improvements, Philips feels like its hitting its stride in the OLED space by focussing on premium functionality.
6.1 channels of sound
Great upscaling of HD SDR content
Ambilight continues to impress
Picture processing can occasionally go too far
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One year on from Philips having announced its first OLED TV, the Philips 901F, the company had another set to show off. After an initial reveal under the '9 Series' branding, the set recently re-emerged as the Philips OLED 973.
[Update: We've recently had a chance to take another look at the newly-renamed 973 prior to its release. The biggest piece of information from this event was a name change - the set will now go by the name Philips OLED 973 rather than the previously announced 'Philips 9 Series'. We've updated our first impressions piece with the new naming convention.]
The set is the third OLED from the company, and will sit at the top of its OLED lineup for 2018, above the newly renamed 9002 (now called the 873) and the newly announced 803.
The Philips 973 Series (previously known as the Philips 9603, or 9 Series), brings a host of new improvements to Philips’ OLED range, chief amongst them a new soundbar, that looks like it’s going to provide a significant boost to the sets sound over previous models.
A big block of sound
Lets start with the soundbar, because it’s probably the thing you notice about the new set when you first look at it.
Sitting underneath the base of the TV, the soundbar offers 6 channels of sound out of its beefy looking exterior.
In total, the soundbar pumps an impressive 60W of sound out of its six drivers, which will hopefully prevent a lot of people from immediately rushing out to buy a separate sound system as soon as they get home.
But, if you’re someone that prizes an external sound system which perhaps has features lacking from the integrated soundbar like Dolby Atmos, then you’re able to remove the soundbar completely to preserve the clean appearance of the Philips TV.
Otherwise, the speaker can be both stood on a table beneath the TV or else wall mounted if you’re into that sort of thing.
The set itself is also equipped with a Triple Ring speaker. Located on the rear of the television the subwoofer has an integrated bass port which Philips claims tightens up the bass performance, although we were unable to test this functionality for ourselves in our brief time with the set.
In total this means the Philips 973 has 6.1 channels of sound.
When we were given a brief demonstration of the sets sound, the number of channels allowed for a nice wide soundstage. The clarity could have been better, but otherwise the soundbar had a nice weight to its sound.
A pretty picture
Like every OLED manufacturer, Philips uses OLED panels manufactured by LG Displays. The 973 uses LG's newer 2017 panels, which offer improved peak light output over the 2016 versions.
Using this same panel means that, were you to put every OLED TV in a row and turn all their picture processing off, they’d all show pretty much the same image.
What makes the Philips 973 special, then, is the picture processing provided by its own P5 Picture Perfect Engine, which Philips has given some under-the-hood tweaks for its upcoming OLEDs.
This single chip is responsible for cleaning up the image source, enhancing its sharpness, boosting its color, upping its contrast, and smoothing out its motion.
While a purist might object to the purity of a signal being tampered with, while we’re still going through a transition period between Full HD SDR and Ultra HD HDR, TVs are going to need to be able to do a certain amount of upscaling.
Not to mention the fact that while panels continue to remain predominantly 100Hz, a certain amount of motion smoothing will be required to prevent 24fps and 25fps content from juddering.
From what we witnessed, the P5 does a great job of upscaling without inadvertently introducing artefacts such as banding and picture noise.
Motion handling was especially impressive, with the P5 preserving the detail of a moving baseball without introducing either flicker or distortion.
With that said, the P5 engine could occasionally boost colors a little too much. We imagine this will be something that we’ll be able to turn down when it comes to our full review, but in our demonstration the color vibrancy occasionally took away from the overall detailing.
The set is UHD Premium certified, meaning it has been tested to ensure that it complies fully with modern picture standards.
Despite being around for years, OLEDs have steadfastly refused to decrease in price to reach a mainstream consumer level. As such it’s not surprising that Philips has decided to focus on making a premium technology look even better.
The P5 processing engine continues to impress. Our demonstration was designed to show it off using extreme images, but we’re interested to see how it handles more everyday video. Philips appears to have continued to do great work with its OLED panels, although we’d be lying if we said we weren’t intending on turning some of the settings down by a couple of notches.
The Philips 973 will launch in early 2018 with a price that’s yet to be announced.
- Check out the rest of Philips' 2018 TV lineup
Jon Porter is the ex-Home Technology Writer for TechRadar. He has also previously written for Practical Photoshop, Trusted Reviews, Inside Higher Ed, Al Bawaba, Gizmodo UK, Genetic Literacy Project, Via Satellite, Real Homes and Plant Services Magazine, and you can now find him writing for The Verge.
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