Review: Philips 65PUS8901 AmbiLux 4K UHD TV

Introduction, design and Android TV

The 65PUS8901 is the world’s first AmbiLux TV. An evolution of Philips long-running Ambilight ‘mood lighting’ technology, it swaps back wall-illuminating LED lighting strips for nine Pico projectors that actually extend out the image displayed on the TV.

Introduction, design and Android TV

The 65PUS8901 is the world’s first AmbiLux TV. An evolution of Philips long-running Ambilight ‘mood lighting’ technology, it swaps back wall-illuminating LED lighting strips for nine Pico projectors that actually extend out the image displayed on the TV. This may seem outlandish, but the results have an often surrealistic beauty.

This AmbiLux flatscreen is only available in the UK and Europe, however. So don’t expect it to turn up in the Stateside, as the Philips TV brand there is owned by Funai.

The set itself is a 65-inch 4K Ultra HD model. As yet, it’s the first in a series of one single model, but it’s reasonable to assume that Philips (or rather brand owner TP Vision) has other screen sizes up its gaudily lit sleeve.

Design

In terms of design, this set is deceptively svelte for a panel so big. The TV sports an ultra thin black bezel with chrome trim, bolted to an all white back panel. The feet are ‘Bladewire’ triangles, which make for a cool look.

Back panel connectivity comprises four HDMI inputs, plus SCART and component terminals. All four HDMIs are HDCP 2.2 enabled, which means they’ll work with 4K content sources like Ultra HD Blu-ray and the latest Amazon Fire TV streaming box.

There’s also a pair of stereo phono inputs, an optical digital audio output, Ethernet and a trio of USBs. The screen is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled as well, and the latter is dual band.

The set offers both terrestrial Freeview and satellite (but not Freesat) tuners. The illuminated Philips logo at the bottom of the screens is dimmable – three settings plus Off.

The supplied Bluetooth remote control is a hefty affair, with a track pad on one side and – rather unusually – a full keyboard on the other. There’s also the requisite Netflix button and microphone for Google Search.

Like other Philips connected screens, the set uses the Android smart platform, customised with a Philips content shelf. The latter presents BBC iPlayer and curated content from the likes of Netflix, Wuaki.TV and Gamefly. There’s also an app gallery, where you can add family favourite streaming services from Brazzers, Playboy and Rude XX.

Thankfully, if you’re a bit more traditional, there’re also YouTube, Dailymotion, Deezer and BBC News & Sports apps available. The set has 16GB of memory onboard, so there’s plenty of room to download apps and games, further expandable via USB.

Media playback is good. The TV supports a wide selection of codecs from local USB sources and from across the network. An assortment of AVI, WMV, MKV, MOV and MP4s on my QNAP server all played. Audio support covers FLAC, MP3 and WMA.

Android TV

Cards on the table, I’m not a big fan of the Android TV OS, it’s a cluttered unwieldy beast.

Unfortunately, the implementation on this 65PUS8901 sample proved buggier than London Zoo’s insect house.

The main page settings menu simply didn’t work; the platform would throw up messages that components were broken (‘Unfortunately Media has stopped’ I was memorably told), and video via HDMI would sporadically freeze, leaving audio to carry on regardless. Of course, firmware is usually easily fixed, but given that this set isn’t a preproduction sample – models are already on sale in Harrods. Perhaps it was a localised issue, however I think it rather implies that Android as a TV platform is unstable to say the least.

Picture quality and audio

In terms of picture prowess, this AmbiLux ranks somewhere in the middle of Philips 4K line-up. Images undoubtedly have plenty of curb appeal, but there’s a limit to what it offers in terms of black level and motion resolution.

The brand’s variable Perfect Natural Motion processor effectively reduces horizontal panning judder, but adds obvious motion artefacts. You can switch Perfect Natural Motion off, but panning judder returns (although for movies the image feels more cinematic as a result). There’s the usual ambient Light Sensor which, for this audition, I preferred off.

The screen offers a variety of picture presets – Personal, Vivid, Natural, Standard, Movie and Photo – plus ISF Day and Night modes. These have a significant impact on viewing.

For example, select the Movie preset and you’ll actually see fewer stars in the opening text crawl to Star Wars The Force Awakens (Blu-ray) than are evident in the Standard mode. That’s whole stars, people – goodness knows how many lives are being snuffed out by that mode.

While colour vibrancy is high, the set doesn’t really go deep black, and there’s limited shadow detail. Off-axis viewing is limited, with a dramatic drop in contrast and colour when watched from the side.

HDMI inputs have to be manually enabled for use with Ultra HD HDR sources. The user is asked to choose between UHD 4:2:0 or 4:4:4/4:2:2, depending on the output of their connected device.

Overall image quality from a native 4K source can look tremendous: the fine detail in Matt Damon’s space suit (The Martian, 4K Blu-ray) looks spectacular.

The set uses Philips’ Micro Dimming Pro backlight system. During the scene-setting opening to The Martian, there are vague backlight clouds visible across the Martian hillscape – but for the most part the system is not intrusive.

Currently, this AmbiLux TV is not currently compatible with HDR sources, however a firmware update is promised. That said, the set is still capable of some effective peak highlights.

Let there be light

Of course, the main reason to buy this set is AmbiLux, so what do we think of the televisual son et lumiere?

The nine Ambilight projectors sit in a half-circle arrangement on the back panel, and there’s a wide choice of visual patterns and treatments to play with. The projectors can be toggled to ‘follow’ video or sound. Light patterns include Extreme, Dome, Standard, Cube, Tunnel and Relax. They all do what they say on the tin, resulting in quite different viewing experiences. There are seven audio patterns, which pump, pixillate and generally shimmy to the beat.

There’s no equivalent of classic Ambilight though, which is a bit of a shame.

The various video-led lighting effects work well. I probably used Extreme most often, which casts fuzzy effects wide, to the point where my entire room wall was engulfed. I even found myself watching Pointless simply because it threw such vibrant blue and red shapes.

Of course, a pulsating kaleidoscopic lightshow doesn’t go with everything. I didn’t feel the need to use it with movies, and it really doesn’t help the mood with Game of Thrones either.

Gaming is one obvious area where AmbiLux can have a big impact, although again it’s effectiveness is variable. The chaotic lightshow that comes when playing Doom, for example, actually distracts from the frag. However, a more relaxed outing, like Grow Home, which is all green and blue vistas, looks positively sumptuous.

Alternatively, you can just let the TV bathe your walls in a static colour – choose from Hot Lava (red), Deep Water (Blue) Fresh nature (green), warm white (actually more yellow) and cool white (um, white).

There are some prerequisites to deliver the best Ambilux experience. When installing, the set has to be a specific distance from the wall, just 9cm. If it’s not, the rear-mounted projection hub appears as a big circular shadow behind the set. A little setup card to help position its feet from wall is provided in the box.

Similarly, if you want to wall mount, then you’ll need a dedicated mount from Philips; you can’t use any old VESA rig, because of the Pico projector arrangement.

Those that have a Philips Hue lighting system can also integrate this TV into their lighting scheme, however, which is clever.

Sound as a pound

Despite its slim size, just 17mm, this 65-incher has a good audio performance. The sound system is rated at 30w and offers a number of sonic presets: Personal, Original, Movie, Music, Games and news. There’s also Philips’ own Incredible Sound pseudo surround processor. It’s fun to experiment but you’ll probably stick with unfiltered original audio.

Verdict

Overall, this debut AmbiLux screen has left me eager to see more.

More lifestyle proposition than AV dream screen, this imaginative display can be extraordinarily immersive; when it comes to design innovation, the set scores highly.

Image quality can be impressive, particularly with 4K sources (and we can only expect things to improve further with the HDR update).

On the debit side, Android continues to look quite a wobbly smart TV platform.

We liked

Philips 65-inch 65PUS8901 AmbiLux screen is a novel extension of the Ambilight feature which has become a staple on Philips screens.

With nine projectors in full flow, it’s a dramatic evolution of the technology, and can look really quite remarkable with the right content. Couple this with some designer good looks, and you have a telly with unique ‘interiors’ appeal.

We disliked

While this set’s 4K picture performance is good, it doesn’t reflect the state of the art. HDR compatibility waits on new firmware, and picture processing motion artefacts are obvious.

That buggy Android interface doesn’t install confidence, either.

Final verdict

This fusion of fuzzy projection and 4K really shouldn’t work at all, but Philips AmbiLux defies all logic and is a bit of a wow. With the right content, be it general TV programmes, music or sport, the effect can look wonderful.

Beyond the lavish lightshow, picture quality should be considered respectable, although performance hounds will find better elsewhere for the cash. Overall though, AmbiLux gets thumbs up for being fresh and different. Regular TV now seems a bit dull in comparison.

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