In the quest for making the thinnest panels possible, for some time it felt like built-in sound on flat screen TVs was an afterthought for most manufacturers, even on high-end displays. With flappy drivers and under-powered output, a soundbar or surround system often felt a necessity when buying a new set.
More recent times have seen integrated audio become a much bigger consideration for TV makers, with Philips among the brands leading the charge thanks to their partnership with British speaker experts Bowers and Wilkins.
The Dutch firm is billing its new 65-inch OLED+984 flagship 4K set as having the most advanced sound system ever fitted to a television. On the basis of the demo of its unique Dolby Atmos enabled speaker array we were given ahead of IFA 2019, it’s a claim that appears to hold plenty of weight.
Throw in a new supercharged dual-chip version of Philips’ already excellent processing engine for even greater picture detail, plus four-sided Ambilight and you have a TV up there with this year’s best.
Pricing and availability
All this A/V goodness unsurprisingly comes with a premium asking price – it’ll set you back a cool £4,500 in the UK when it goes on sale across Europe in October.
Sadly for those in the US, Philips branded TVs for the European market are made by TP Vision who don’t distribute to the States, (in the US the Philips brand name is exclusively licensed to sets made by the Japanese manufacturer Funai).
The OLED+984 immediately sets itself apart from your average set thanks to a protruding tubular tweeter enclosure that nestles above a hanging soundbar-style main driver array.
Something of signature of B&W’s premium loudspeakers, Philips claim this unique “tweeter-on-top” design has been incorporated to prevent the loss of treble clarity which can often be caused by cabinet diffraction.
The display and speaker array are both attached to a pole that elegantly runs down to a metal floor mount, which can be detached should you wish to wall mount the set.
That main audio unit houses three ported speaker enclosures for the left, right and center channels, with each one boasting a 4-inch mid-bass driver. The left and right enclosures feature baffle-mounted tweeters positioned at both ends of the bar-shaped array for increased clarity.
The display itself features a new third generation version of Philips’ P5 picture engine which uses two chips rather than the single processor found on previous iterations. The the extra horsepower allows for much improved noise reduction, contrast, color accuracy and skin tones.
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During our demonstration, it seemed like the former of those three improvements was most pronounced. Comparing the OLED+984 to its predecessor, last year’s excellent OLED+903, its handling of low bitrate content was immediately apparent, with the engine intelligently tidying up images without any noticeable loss of fine textures.
Thanks perhaps in part to the space freed up by the hanging speaker array, the 984 is the first Philips TV for some time to feature four-sided Ambilight. It allows atmospheric colored light that can track and complement the content you’re watching to flood out from the bottom of the display as well as from the top, left and right.
Watching the opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road via 4K Blu-Ray marks a sweet coming together of the 984’s sound and vision.
The rendering of the movie’s wasteland setting delivers that same surprising amount of HDR intensity for an OLED that won its predecessor so many plaudits, but there’s also a noticeable amount of added sharpness and detail of foreground objects during the demo.
Meanwhile the Ambilight system immersively surrounds the screen, with the lights seamlessly matching changes to the copper hues of the film’s barren landscape – an effect that never once feels distracting.
The top mounted tweeter’s superb separation and detail brings much-needed clarity to Tom Hardy’s mumbling initial dialogue – the only disappointment on the audio front perhaps being that there isn’t the vertical-firing dual 50 mm Dolby speakers that feature on the soundbar of Philips other premium OLED launched at IFA 2019 , the OLED+934, which delivers noticeably better audio height.
Philips were keen to stress the sound system’s chops for music playback during our demo, highlighting the OLED+984’s screen-off option. This lets you switch off the distraction of the display while still allowing access to volume controls when using the TV with streaming apps like Spotify, making it a viable hi-fi replacement in a living room.
A standard Spotify stream of the Oscar Peterson Trio’s jazz classic You Look Good To Me fed through the OLED+984’s sound system was an enlightening experience, with the subtleties of the track’s reedy saxophone a real showcase for the tweeter’s superb capacity for detail and just-right treble.
While there’s an output for attaching a separate subwoofer on the back of the main enclosure, the impressive amount of bass extension delivered during a playback of Billie Eilish’s You Should See Me With A Crown, means its unlikely many users will be wanting more low end than what the unit already delivers.
It’s smart TV functionality comes via Android Pie which brings with it Google Assistant and there’s also support for Amazon Alexa. All the main HDR bases are also covered with support for Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10+ content as well as built-in Dolby Atmos decoding.
There’s set to be an eye-watering £4,500 asking price for the A/V luxury that the OLED+984 provides when it goes on sale next month. Nevertheless, this is a rare TV which looks set to redefine what we’ve come to expect from integrated audio, with sound that perfectly complements the equally superb visuals.