“Less is more”, they often say. Which goes to show how little ‘they’ know about the world of consumer electronics - much more often where domestic technology is concerned, more is more.
That’s as true of televisions as anything else. Bigger screen, higher resolution, more apps… the chances are your new TV will have more of everything compared to the one it replaces.
As one of the very few television manufacturers capable of having a unique selling point - its remarkable Ambilight technology - Philips has been offering a little more than most for quite a while.
And the company has taken ‘more is more’ to another level entirely with the wholly remarkable 55OLED+903. As well as three-sided Ambilight, this OLED TV features an audio package designed by UK loudspeaker legends Bowers & Wilkins.
Design and build: Sleek and Slender
Apart from the beautifully integrated soundbar sitting below the screen, the 55OLED+903 is basically all screen - which is exactly how you want it to be.
The bezel surrounding the screen is minimal, and discreet in its metallic finish. The slender soundbar beneath is covered in an equally discreet dark grey cloth.
And if you’re putting the Philips on a stand, its feet are tiny, weighty metal designs that add next-to-no additional height to the TV and manage to look expensively sophisticated while they’re at it. (They’re reasonably far apart, though, so make sure your rack or table-top is wide enough to accommodate them.)
From the front, then, the +903 is a purposeful, confident looker. And in profile, it has that thrilling slimness that makes such OLED such an attractive proposition in the showroom.
The top third of the Philips is almost impossibly slender - it only swells to recognisable TV proportions around the section that houses all the electronics and input sockets. This bulge also contains the left, top and right Ambilight array.
So while it’s a stretch to suggest any TV looks like thousands of pounds-worth when in situ, the Philips 55OLED+903 ia about as urbane and decorative-looking a TV as you can currently buy. At any money.
As has already been observed, more is more. And there’s no mistaking the +903’s position at the top of the current Philips TV range - it is (metaphorically) groaning under the weight of its own specification.
The headlines are obvious: this is a 4K UHD OLED TV, able to handle HDR content from the HLG broadcast standard to HDR10+ dynamic metadata quality (Philips/TPVision has become the latest brand to sign up to the Dolby Vision-rivalling, Samsung/Panasonic-pioneered HDR10+ standard).
It’s fitted with three-sided Ambilight, four HDMI inputs (two of which can handle 4K HDR/60fps information), three USB sockets and a digital optical audio output. There is wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity on board, and broadcast TV can be accessed by either a DVB tuner or a pair of satellite tuners.
All of the complicated stuff (and Philips is more fond of giving owners numerous picture-processing options than most rivals) is taken care of by the second generation of Philips’ lauded P5 picture processing engine.
And, of course, there’s the Bowers & Wilkins-supplied audio package. At a nominal £500 (the 55OLED803, which is identical to this screen aside from the audio specification, goes for around £2k), it needs to offer performance on a par with one of some very capable soundbars.
To this end B&W has produced a rear-firing low-frequency array, comprising a bass driver bolstered by a pair of low-frequency passive radiators, that occupies a significant portion of the Philips’ rear panel. And up front, there are twin titanium tweeter/glassfibre midrange arrays firing forwards rather than downwards.
Interface: Screen Takeover
The 55OLED+903’s on-screen interface and smart TV functionality is mostly the work of Android TV (Nougat).
In truth, it’s not the most elegant or smooth interface a TV was ever fitted with - it occupies the entire screen, which is never a good idea, and is not all that easy to customise. It doesn’t carry all the UK’s catch-up/TV-on-demand services. Honestly? The SAPHI interface fitted to Philips’ less expensive 2018 TVs is preferable.
At least Philips has got Android TV working stably - and it includes 4K content via its Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube Apps (the first two with HDR, too). And the eventual upgrade to Android TV (Oreo) promises Google Assistant built-in and Amazon Alexa functionality.
In the meantime, control of the +903 is via one of two supplied remote controls. The first is the more usual full-function handset - all the functions and many, many buttons (and that’s without counting the QWERTY keyboard on the back). The other is an altogether more slender and more minimal silver wand - it has just seven buttons and is more reminiscent of an expensive perfume atomiser than a TV remote control.
Picture quality: The Brightside
As mentioned, you’re not short of options when it comes to fine-tuning the picture quality of your 55OLED+903. Each and every option is worth investigating, though, as the P5 processing chip is as effective and wide-ranging a tool as a TV was ever fitted with.
Ultimately, though, the +903 does its best work when given the best signal to deal with - and, in this instance, that’s a movie on 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray disc. Given content like this to deal with, the Philips proves a truly engrossing performer.
There are just so many admirable aspects to the +903’s picture. The obvious place to start is with the black levels - slimness aside, it’s the no-backlight/pixel-off depthlessness of an OLED TV’s black tones that are the technology’s major selling point. And that’s as true here as with any other OLED TV: the Philips delivers impeccable blacks that remain uncorrupted by even the starkest, brightest whites on the same screen.
It follows that contrast is deeply impressive. Even watching the credits of a movie - white text on a black background - is enough to demonstrate the +903’s ability to offer brightness alongside blackness without getting flustered.
In between, colours are utterly lifelike and convincing - they’re vivid but not overblown, striking but not unnatural. And the Philips’ HDR performance is such that the detail and nuance of, say, a tree in full leaf is made explicit. The subtlety of differences in shade and tone is explicit, but not in an especially showy way. The +903 is simply a composed and accomplished television.
Picture noise is all but eradicated from even the most testing, complex scenes, and the Philips manages to keep an iron grip on motion of even the most rapid and unpredictable kind. Pictures are loaded with detail of tone, texture and material. The three-sided Ambilight contributes too, making pictures more engrossing and immersive. In short, there’s nothing whatsoever to complain about.
Thanks to the remarkably assertive work the P5 chip does with non-HDR and Full HD sources, the Philips manages to carry over almost all of its fine 4K HDR work to lesser content, too. Its upscaling of 1080p content is as good as you’ll see, bringing crisp sharpness and remarkable detail to the elderly picture standard. There’s a smattering of picture noise, it’s true, and not quite the dictatorial facility with motion, but the drop-off in overall quality is gratifyingly small.
(It’s safe to say Philips has gotten slightly carried away with its ability to wring 4K-like performance from a Full HD source. Deep in the labyrinthine set-up menus lurks ‘Ultra Resolution’, available in ‘off’ or ‘on’ positions - leave it ‘off’ unless you want your 1080p images sharp enough to cut yourself on.)
The +903 gives non-HDR 4K content a startlingly wide colour palette and brightness peak, too. Philips is claiming 1000 nits of brightness for the +903, and it’s easy to believe. It may not have the retina-searing potency of a Samsung QLED, say, but it’s an impressively bright TV nonetheless.
Audio quality: Hair-raising Sound
The market it soundbars and soundbases has come about directly as a consequence of flatscreen TVs, be they plasmas, LCDs or OLEDs, suffering such a poverty of substance to their sound as to be thoroughly frustrating. Philips TVs are no different - except for the +903.
£500 is not an inconsiderable sum to pay to enhance your TV sound - but you only need glance at the stuff.tv reviews of soundbars to know it’s possible to spend plenty more than this.
Yet the £500 put B&W’s way for the audio upgrade to this TV is worth every penny. You won’t confuse the sound it makes for that of a dedicated audio system, but it’s superior to any other TV you’ve heard - and by a margin.
In every respect, the +903’s speaker arrangement leaves every other TV on the market in the dirt (with the debatable exception of the Technics-tuned array on Panasonic’s TX-55FZ952B, which was, until now, the best-sounding TV you could buy).
For quiet, tension-packed scenes, the Philips sounds spacious and detailed enough to make your hair stand on end; during the crash-bang-wallop of a Hollywood action-movie set-piece it demonstrates the sort of dynamism and low-end presence that’s utterly at odds with the sound more usually associated with a big TV.
Sound extends well beyond the physical confines of the screen, giving a real sense of atmosphere to a big sporting occasion, and the +903 is so well balanced it can do proper justice to a music video delivered via YouTube. It is rare a TV recommendation doesn’t include the caveat of more more money for an audio upgrade - but here is one.
Philips 55OLED+903 verdict
Philips’ (and Bowers & Wilkins’) achievements with the +903 are considerable. It’s a handsome device, lavishly specified, and capable of stunning video and audio quality. If you have anything like this sort of money to spend on a new TV, you have to see (and hear) this one.