Hands-on with the Philips 65PUS7601
Things seem to be looking up for Philips. With new owner TP Vision, it has access to the production lines of the world’s most prolific LCD panel producer, while continuing to employ the key picture quality personnel that made it one of Europe’s biggest and most respected TV brands. And as a result, in 2016 Philips is set to launch its largest, most varied and promising-looking TV range to date.
I’ve already had the opportunity to take a look at a couple of these new models. I recently reviewed the 55PUS8601, and also had the chance to preview the crazy (but in a good way) Ambilux 65PUS8901 at the IFA technology show last September.
Now, however, Philips has announced the details of the rest of its 2016 range at a launch event in Brussels, and there’s one model that stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest: the 65PUS7601.
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This set steals your attention the moment you lays eyes on its dark aluminium, ultra-thin screen frame and chrome-finished, open-frame desktop legs. After which you discover its three-sided implementation of Philips’ Ambilight system, where coloured lighting is projected onto the wall surrounding the unit by lights mounted on the TV’s rear panel.
Overall the design looks opulent and distinctive, yet also subtle – depending on your Ambilight setting! – all at the same time.
The 65PUS7601 features Philips’ take on the Android TV smart platform, which is actually far more stable and slick than Sony’s version. It also boasts a powerful 30W sound platform that’s strengthened by large “floating” woofers on the TV’s rear.
What’s really put the 65PUS7601 right at the centre of my 2016 TV radar, however, is its potential to deliver superb picture quality.
As you’d expect of a premium TV in 2016, the 65PUS7601 boasts a native 4K resolution and is capable of playing high dynamic range (HDR) content. But where it differs from most of the other 4K/HDR screens launching this year – including other models in Philips’ own range – is in its use of a direct LED lighting system with 128 zones of localised light control.
Why does this matter? Because experience has shown that the LCD TVs that deliver the best contrast, the richest colours and the most satisfying HDR performances are those that use direct LED lighting with local dimming.
Edge-lit LCD TVs, by comparison, aren’t able to deliver local light control close to the same degree. As a result, they’re unable to dispense the same extreme brightness peaks and darkness “troughs” necessary to deliver the sort of contrast-rich pictures of locally dimmed direct LED TVs.
The 65PUS7601 also enjoys a wide colour gamut panel together with Philips’ processing. This results in a huge claimed colour resolution of 17 bits that should remove pretty much all possibility of striping or blocking artefacts.
The Perfect Pixel Ultra HD processing engine that delivers this colour resolution also claims to be capable of enhancing the sharpness of even native UHD sources. Also on hand is the most powerful motion processing system Philips has released to date, to ensure that 4K images lose none of their clarity and detail – even when there’s movement in the frame.
One other interesting feature of the latest Philips processing engine is HDR upscaling. This essentially injects extra luminance and colour range into the standard dynamic range material that we’ll spend most of our time watching until true HDR becomes more widely available.
Philips has even provided multiple levels of its HDR upscaling tied to the 65PUS7601’s different picture presets, with the “Vivid” picture preset offering the most extreme upscaling experience.
The only potential red flag on the 65PUS7601’s spec sheet is its inability to hit the brightness and colour range figures required to earn it the recently announced “Ultra HD Premium” badge. Its brightness tops out at 700 nits rather than the 1,000 required for LCD; and its colour range reaches only 86% of the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) range rather than the required 90%.
Philips was quick to defend itself over this potential issue, however. It claimed that the difficulties associated with delivering such brightness and colour extremes on an LCD TV without it exhibiting significant backlight problems may actually make slightly less extreme screens such as the 65PUS7601 provide a superior, more immersive HDR experience.
More than ever before, though, seeing is believing when it comes to the picture quality claims of a modern TV. Fortunately, I was able to view more than enough varied content on the 65PUS7601 to feel seriously excited about what the set will bring to the table.
Most impressive of what I saw was the 65PUS7601’s black level performance. Classic demo material of firework displays revealed a black level depth so profound that it gives OLED a run for its money, along with brightness peaks for the fireworks that looked stunningly intense – despite the screen peaking at “only” 700 nits.
Even better, these intense points of brightness against a dark backdrop appeared with little sign of any light blooming around them. This was further backed up in later footage by the startlingly clean appearance of a bright white Philips logo against a deep black backdrop.
Obviously, not even a direct LED engine with 128 zones of individual dimming control can compete with the pixel-level luminance accuracy possible with OLED TVs. But then you can be sure that, while Philips hasn’t yet confirmed pricing of the 65PUS7601 model, it will be significantly cheaper than any OLED TV.
In addition, from what I’ve seen so far, the cleanness with which the 65PUS7601 can deliver its extreme contrast could indeed give it an edge over brighter, more contrast-intensive rivals thanks to the relative lack of backlight artefacts from which it suffers.
The 65PUS7601 also delivers a bold, punchy and extremely detailed colour performance, which certainly seems more than capable of delivering an eye-catching HDR experience – despite coming up slightly short of the Ultra HD Premium colour range requirements. Interestingly, the Ambilight system seems to reinforce the set’s sense of colour dynamism, too.
Philips was confident enough to run HDR 4K clips of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby into a 65PUS7601 alongside a standard dynamic range version of the same movie – also showing on a 65PUS7601. There was no doubt that the HDR version looked far more dynamic, detailed and colour-rich than the SDR version.
Philips also used this head-to-head comparison to show off the power of its “HDR upscaling” engine.
In doing so it managed to make a reasonably persuasive case that if you apply its HDR upscaling to the SDR version of The Great Gatsby then you can actually end up with a picture that’s arguably better than the native HDR version. Certainly, the upscaled version looked more detailed, more colour-intense and displayed more contrast than the native HDR feed.
However, there was also a slight increase in the obviousness of the image’s MPEG blocking noise, and in a few areas the dynamic range looked slightly forced. But there was certainly no doubt that Philips’ upscaled-to-HDR pictures looked far better under the viewing conditions of Philips’ demo room than the original SDR images.
The 65PUS7601 is even claimed to be capable of upscaling native HDR content with its various processing systems – and again, Philips was able to deliver a reasonably convincing demonstration of this. A shot of the Gatsby mansion at night benefited from far greater brightness and colour richness – as well as enhanced sharpness – in the image’s highlights compared with the “straight” HDR feed.
Note that skin tones really didn’t look right with the most extreme HDR upscaling setting applied. However, on the whole, it’s a feature that definitely has potential.
More good news evident by watching various clips of cycling and skiing on the 65PUS7601 is how well the screen retains motion clarity, meaning that even action-based content enjoys that lovely “snap” seen with good 4K images on a much more consistent basis.
It should be said that this motion clarity was accompanied by some noticeable shimmering interference around the edges of moving objects during the demos. However, experience suggests that this issue can be greatly reduced by running the motion processing system on a lower setting than I suspect Philips had it set to in its demos.
The 65PUS7601 will, of course, be up against some pretty stiff competition when it becomes available June/July – including models that will claim higher nits of brightness and wider gamuts of colour.
From what I’ve seen of it so far, however, this model has every chance of holding its own against almost anything the competition might have to offer.