Philips 65PFL9708 £4300
28th Nov 2013 | 09:28
And so the price war begins with this stunning 4K TV from Philips
Philips isn't generally associated with aggressive value - at least when you're talking about the upper reaches of its TV range.
But in a startlingly bold move the brand is selling its first 4K/UHD TV - the 65PLF9708S - for a price that undercuts all of its 65-inch 4K/UHD TV rivals.
And not just by a pound or two, either; it's £500 cheaper than the Sony KDL-65X9005A and Samsung UE65F9000 (read the 55-inch review here) 4K TVs, and a whole grand cheaper than the Panasonic L65WT600, Toshiba 65L9363 and LG 65LA970W.
That we're seeing such price differentiation so early in 4K's life bodes well for the format becoming 'mainstream' sooner rather than later. However, it also raises concerns that Philips has had to serve up a fairly stripped-back TV to make the 65PFL9708S's price achievable.
Thankfully, these concerns prove unfounded, as its 4K native resolution is actually backed up by many eye-catching tricks and treats including Philips' Ambilight technology, a new mega-powerful 'Ultra Pixel HD' picture processing system, 3D playback, and smart features that include both file streaming from DLNA PCs and access to an open web browser and Philips' own ring-fenced area of online content.
The 65PFL9708S is currently Philips' only 4K TV option. So if you want a Philips TV but can't afford this model's £4.5k asking price, your highest quality 'mainstream' option in the UK would be the PFL8008 series (available in 55-inch, 46-inch and 40-inch screen sizes), which currently rank as some of the best-quality HD TVs available thanks to their beautifully rich, high-contrast pictures.
We've already mentioned the 65PFL9708S's UHD competition if you're not stuck on its ground-breaking price tag or the Philips brand. So without further ado let's find out if that price comes with any significant strings attached.
Obviously the headline feature of the 65PFL9708S is the carriage in its 65-inch screen of 3840x2160 pixels rather than the 1920x1080 you find in a normal HD TV.
This relatively new '4K' or UHD (Ultra High Definition) configuration delivers four times as much resolution as the traditional full HD pixel system, and has already proved that it can deliver deliriously good picture quality with native 4K sources.
With this in mind it's a tad inconvenient that native 4K sources are currently pretty much non-existent. For our tests, aside from our 4K digital photographs, we're still predominantly dependent on 4K demo reels from the TV manufacturers for 4K content. And the latter of these sources will not be available to normal consumers.
Still, we're confident that 4K content will start to emerge in 2014, and potentially in quite decent quantities by the end of that year. So buying a 4K TV now needn't require you to play quite such a waiting game as you might think before you can unlock its full potential.
Given that the 65PFL9708S is the cheapest 65-inch 4K TV to date by quite some margin, you could reasonably argue that its £4,500 price is a key 'feature' of the TV. It will be interesting to see if any of the other big brands try to compete with this price soon, though our suspicion is that they won't - until their next 4K TV generation, at any rate…
Philips has hit a strong note with most of its TV designs for 2013, so the slightly bland deep grey/black rectangle around the 65PFL9708's screen comes as something of a surprise. Fortunately, the design springs into life when you switch it on thanks to the riot of coloured light that suddenly explodes from its left, right and top edges.
This is, of course, Philips' unique Ambilight technology in action, using LEDs ranged down the TV's rear sides to produce a colourful aura around the TV's edges that can be set to match with striking accuracy (in terms of colour location and tone) the colour content of the pictures you're watching.
If you're a grumpy conservative type thinking this all sounds a bit vulgar, there is some science behind it, as providing such a light aura beyond the image can relieve stress on your eyes, especially during dark-room viewing. We'd also say Ambilight can increase your immersion in what you're watching - so long, at any rate, as you adjust its settings to reduce its brightness and aggressiveness from the default levels.
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The 65PFL9708S's connectivity is impressive. Particularly eye-catching is its roster of five HDMIs - one of which is designated specifically for 4K use since it attaches to a dedicated chipset which is specially optimised to handle the extra data demands associated with 4K.
The special 4K/UHD input is not, though, built to the new HDMI 2.0 specification. So, unlike the true HDMI 2.0 inputs on Panasonic's L65WT600, none of the HDMIs on the 65PFL9708S can currently handle 4K/UHD at more than 30 frames a second.
However, Philips assures us that it will deliver an external box solution that WILL make 4K at 50/60Hz possible. We just don't know yet when this box will appear, how much it will cost, or exactly how it will work!
The 65PFL9708S's connections also take multimedia duties suitably seriously, with three USBs able to play back a good variety of video, music and photo files from USB storage devices, and LAN/Wi-Fi options for streaming the same range of files from DLNA-enabled PCs - or accessing Philips' online services.
These online services include Skype and a web browser, as well as a roster of apps within Philips' ring-fenced online area. However, these apps are sadly not very numerous, especially when it comes to that most important of online TV content, video streaming.
You get the BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and iConcerts, plus a startling array of adult channels including Brazzers and Hustler. But at the risk of sounding prudish, we'd happily trade the smut for the ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5, and LoveFilm to name but four.
All-in-all, there's just no hiding from the fact that Philips' Smart TV offering is currently some way off the pace being set in this area by some of its rivals.
As well as providing a dedicated input for 4K/UHD sources, the 65PFL9708S comes bearing a new video processing system specially designed for handling the extreme demands of 4K/UHD resolutions.
Dubbed Ultra Pixel HD, Philips' new processing system is powerful enough to handle a brain-boggling four billion pixels at a time - enough to allow Philips to be able to apply its Perfect Natural Motion processing to 4K/UHD content; allegedly boost the sharpness of even native UHD content via an Ultra Resolution option; and upscale more effectively standard- and high-definition content to the screen's 4K resolution. This latter functionality will be particularly important in the short term, until native 4K sources become widespread.
We've already seen an array of different panel types used on 4K TVs (though tellingly, no plasmas, aside from Panasonic's impossibly huge 152-inch model from 2010). So let's take a look at what lies behind the 65PFL9708S's 65-inch screen, too.
It turns out that it uses an edge LED lighting system, and seeks to optimise the way this light is applied to its pictures via a high-level micro-dimming system that breaks the image content down into many smaller areas for more accurate analysis.
Philips does not employ a local dimming system in its edge LED lighting array like Samsung, Sony and Panasonic all do with their edge LED 4K/UHD TVs.
But part of Philips' processing has been designed to be able to manipulate the image to give the impression of local contrast 'boosts'. Plus, we've seen micro-dimming without local dimming deliver excellent contrast results elsewhere this year, such as on the Samsung F8000 models, and Philips' own PFL8008s.
The 65PFL9708S supports 3D playback using the passive system, with four pairs of glasses included free.
Passive 3D really comes into its own with 4K screens in our opinion, for the extra pixels on offer mean you can see a true full HD 3D Blu-ray image rather than the compromised resolution the passive format gives on normal HD TVs. This full HD resolution is accompanied, of course, by the familiar passive 3D benefits of no flicker and practically no crosstalk (so long as you keep your vertical viewing angle within around 13 degrees above or below the screen).
Of course, you don't get full 4K 3D resolution like you can with active 3D 4K TVs (essentially Samsung's F9000 models). But given the amounts of data involved, we're really not sure when native 4K 3D sources might come on line. At the moment Samsung's TVs have to upscale HD 3D to their 4K pixel counts.
First impressions of the 65PFL9708S's pictures are rather mixed. Though fortunately it turns out that most of the negatives we saw at first could be rectified by some careful manipulation of the intimidating roster of picture adjustments contained in Philips' onscreen menu system.
Not surprisingly given our enthusiasm for all things 4K, we started our tests by feeding the 65PFL9708S as much native 4K content as we could lay our hands on. But while the familiar rush we get from seeing so many pixels of image information was still there, it initially seemed to us that the sharpness looked forced in places - especially over areas of really fine detail, like leaves on trees or the grass on football pitches.
Whizzing through the picture options revealed that the set's Ultra Resolution tool was responsible for this slightly forced feel. Turning it off returned 4K/UHD sources to their natural state, leaving pictures looking more evenly balanced and pure. This made it easier to soak up the extra depth and colour resolution we've already come to know and love with 4K/UHD TV images.
It has to be said that the 65PFL9708S's native 4K images don't look quite as sharp and detailed without Ultra Resolution on as they have on some rival 4K sets (especially those from LG and Samsung). But the 4K impact is still obvious versus HD, and if you really want that bit more sharpness then feel free to go back to using the Ultra Resolution tool!
The 65PFL9708S is an extremely strong colour performer. Its tones look exuberantly vibrant and enjoy an extremely wide tonal range. This range is fully exploited in the subtlety with which colour blends are shown too, with both 4K and HD sources enjoying immaculate blends free of striping or patching.
Underpinning the colour palette and helping the set achieve its striking image punch and naturalism is a strong black level response. Dark scenes only suffer very slightly with low-contrast grey misting, leaving them looking credible and involving, despite there being a slight shortage of shadow detail in the darkest corners once you've adjusted the images to get the richest black colour.
Given the extra detail and precision you get with native 4K content, it's more important than ever that 4K LCD TVs try to remove the motion blur associated with LCD response time issues from their pictures. And, arguably, there's no other TV around that can achieve this goal more completely than the 65PFL9708S.
This is thanks to the astonishing power of Philips' new processing engine, which manages to interpolate enough frames of enough pixels if you employ the HD Natural Motion processing to remove all traces of judder and blurring.
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However, using Natural Motion also introduces some new problems, such as blurry haloing around large moving objects and a rather flickery, cellophaney look to areas of very fast motion. Also, if you take out ALL judder from pictures using the higher levels of the processing, images start to look very unnatural. As a result of this we'd suggest you don't use the motion processing on anything higher than its lowest level. And for film viewing you may prefer to leave it off completely.
Also to be permanently left off when viewing native 4K content are the set's noise reduction tools, as these are completely unnecessary and just soften much of the 4K clarity away.
While the 65PFL9708S looks lovely with native 4K/UHD sources, though, as we've already noted normal consumers won't be able to experience this for themselves very often - if at all - right now, given the lack of 4K sources. So it's a relief to find the 65PFL9708S also doing a good job of upscaling HD content.
Initially, as with its native 4K presentation, the 65PFL9708S comes on a bit strong with its upscaling, pushing the sharpness too hard so that pictures start to look overly gritty. There's also a distracting glowing artefact over some areas of very fine detail that reminds us of a similar problem noticed with upscaled pictures on Samsung's UE65F9000 (read the 55-inch version's review here) if you leave that set's sharpness too high.
Thankfully the sense of noise in the Philips' image reduces greatly if you again turn off the Ultra Resolution feature and rein in the set's contrast presets. This leaves upscaled pictures looking crisper and denser than normal HD ones without giving you nearly as much noise to worry about.
While upscaled pictures when set up right do look good, the aggressive processing behind the upscaling doesn't always feel as adaptable and subtle in its workings as the upscaling systems of the recent 4K sets from Samsung and, especially, Sony. There's a feeling that Philips' processing takes more of a 'one size fits all' approach to adding in extra pixels.
Because of this, standard definition pictures tend to look rather noisy on the 65PFL9708S. But it almost goes without saying, really, that feeding standard definition content (especially standard definition digital broadcasts, with their frequently extensive digital compression artefacts) into a 4K/UHD TV is never going to be a great idea.
Finishing up this section with a look at the 65PFL9708S's 3D performance, the news is mostly very positive.
As we've seen in previous reviews, seeing passive 3D on a 4K/UHD TV is a revelation, as you get to lap up the brightness, stability and lack of crosstalk that's passive 3D's hallmark, without feeling the compromise of lost resolution and jagged edges seen on full HD passive 3D sets.
And the 65PFL9708S delivers on all these strengths with knobs on, with its ultra-rich colours and potent contrast performance joining the sheer enormity of the screen in doing a great job of underlining the impact of a good 3D picture's sense of space.
TVs like the 65PFL9708S feel like 3D's natural home, producing results good enough to make 3D worth the effort of donning the glasses.
There is one issue that diminishes the 65PFL9708S's 3D experience somewhat, though, and that's motion handling.
Without the Natural Motion system employed, moving objects in the 3D image can suffer a little more judder than we felt comfortable with. Yet engaging the Natural Motion circuitry to counter the judder causes other distractions in the shape of some rather obvious processing artefacts. Even if you stick with the processing's minimum power setting.
This isn't a particularly strong area for the 65PFL9708S. Things start quite well with a reasonably detailed and thoughtful initial installation process, but thereafter things can be a bit tortuous.
The main onscreen menus are rather bland and tend to present the huge amount of options on offer in long text lists, which can make them feel intimidating and long-winded to use.
With this in mind it doesn't help that you'll likely find yourself heading into the onscreen menus to make tweaks to picture settings more regularly than you would with most TVs.
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There's room for improvement with Philips' Smart TV interface too. The main problem is that it doesn't make very efficient use of its available screen real estate, forcing you to have to scroll through multiple content screens despite the very limited amount of apps at your disposal.
It doesn't help that a large section of the screen is devoted to a window that's either used for promoting apps or presenting 'recommended' video choices that are rendered next to useless by the fact that the recommendations are only drawn from a couple of very limited content sources.
One good touch where using the set's Smart features is concerned is the provision of a full QWERTY keyboard on the rear side of the remote control. It's good to find, too, that the Smart menus operate more quickly and slickly than they do on Philips' cheaper TVs, thanks to the 65PFL9708S's use of a six-core processing engine.
Pictures as large and high resolution as those produced by the 65PFL9708S deserve to be joined by a large, high-quality soundstage. And that's exactly what Philips' set delivers.
The most pleasant surprise is that despite the 65PFL9708S being reasonably trim, woofer speakers on its rear manage to churn out much more powerful and refined bass than we're accustomed to hearing from flat TVs. This bass doesn't sound baggy or over-exposed either, thanks to the way the TV's mid-range is wide and open enough to expand down to meet the low-frequency stuff.
At the other end of the audio spectrum the 65PFL9708S delivers involving amounts of treble detail that bring out even the most subtle parts of a good audio mix without sounding harsh or over-dominant.
There's still not quite as much overall clarity in the 65PFL9708S's soundstage as you'd hear if the TV sported front-firing speakers like Sony's 65X9005A, but it remains a superior audio effort overall.
This is the 65PFL9708S's trump card. For at £4,500, it's £500 cheaper than any 65-inch 4K rival, and a full grand cheaper than most. This fact is made all the more impressive, moreover, by the fact that it's still an excellent performer with a fulsome feature count.
With most studies concluding that price is the most important factor in the early adoption of 4K/UHD TVs, Philips gets off to a great start by flogging its debut 4K/UHD TV for £500 less than any 65-inch rival.
This knock-down price isn't attached to a knock-down spec, either. The set has a huge array of connections; a design that lights up your room - literally - with its fetching Ambilight feature; online and DLNA features; and an enormously powerful video processing engine.
This processing engine can contribute to some excellent picture quality with both native 4K/UHD and HD sources moreover, with the only serious rider being that you need to put considerable effort into learning your way round all the picture adjustments on offer if you always want to get the optimum performance from the set.
Ambilight is a great feature once you get used to it, the set's native 4K and HD pictures are excellent, and there's even a pretty powerful, clean audio system to keep the pictures company. The amount of picture tools at your disposal is extensive too, and the price represents great value.
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Philips' set tends to push sharpness a bit hard with its presets, motion can look a little distracting during 3D viewing, there aren't many useful services on Philips' online platform, and you need to spend more time than usual revisiting Philips' picture menus to tweak aspects of the TV's processing engine.
As first steps into the world of 4K go, the 65PFL9708S is a pretty spectacular effort.
For despite being comfortably the cheapest 65-inch 4K TV to date, Philips' 4K debutante is not by any means a basic, stripped-down affair. On the contrary, it boasts a completely new 4K-friendly processing system, Philips' most complete Ambilight system, DLNA/USB multimedia playback and access to Philips' latest (admittedly content-light) Smart TV platform.
So long as you're not afraid to put in a bit of regular picture set-up leg work it's also capable of excellent picture quality, and can accompany these pictures with a superior soundstage. In short, it's fair to say the 4K price war starts here.
If you can find an extra £500 you could consider the Samsung UE65F9000 (read the 55-inch version's review here) and Sony KDL-65X9005A. Both of these deliver slightly more precision in both their native UHD and upscaled HD images, and need less regular care with their setup features. And both have more fulsome online services. They don't have Ambilight, though.
The first of these scores a major coup by supporting the new HDMI 2.0 connection standard with its support for 50/60Hz 4K feeds with full colour sampling, while the LG delivers arguably the best 4K pictures we've seen so far, despite some minor contrast flaws.
The weakest of the 65PFL9708S's rivals is the Toshiba model. It's a decent-enough performer, but it just doesn't have any particular justification for costing £1000 more than the 65PFL9708S.