The £2499 Philips 55OLED+903 is the brand’s new flagship 55-inch TV. It earns that status for three main reasons. First, it uses an OLED screen rather than an LCD one. Second, it uses the most powerful video processing engine Philips has ever developed. Finally, it carries a built-in soundbar that’s been designed in conjunction with acclaimed British audio brand, Bowers & Wilkins.
As you’d hope, this combination of high-end features results is one seriously good TV.
Related: Philips TVs 2018 – Every new OLED, LCD, 4K and HD model explained
You can’t accuse the 55OLED+903 of being shy. After all, Philips’ Ambilight technology, means coloured light explodes forth unapologetically from its left, right and top edges.
This light can be set to a single tone, or to track the content of the pictures on-screen. If you choose the latter, you’ll be more than thrilled by the way LEDs on the TV’s rear match the tone and placement of different colours in the picture.
Ambilight always sounds a little gimmicky when described. In the flesh, however, it’s as immersive as it is effective.
The 55OLED+903’s chassis is very easy on the eye, too. As usual with OLED technology, the depth at the unit’s edges is incredibly thin – more like a credit card than a cutting-edge television. The use of plenty of metal in its construction ensures that the TV still feels strong and rigid, though.
If you’re not wall-hanging the 55OLED+903, it will sit on two remarkably small feet; just squared-off shiny metal bars that are around a centimetre in diameter. Since the feet face straight out, they’re pretty much invisible from a head-on viewing position.
Wrapping up the 55OLED+903’s opulent design is a full-width, felt-covered soundbar that’s attached to its bottom edge. It looks pretty unassuming – but looks can be deceptive. As I’ll explain later, tucked inside the TV’s compact form is a real beast of a sound system.
Related: OLED vs LED LCD – What’s the best display technology?
Philips hasn’t saved all its design efforts for the 55OLED+903’s screen. The set also ships with a unique “metal wand” remote that bears only a few buttons on its upper edge. This feels beautiful to hold and is actually pretty effective for day-to-day use. Especially since it incorporates a mic for Google Assistant voice control/recognition.
Also shipping with the 55OLED+903 is a second remote control. This is of a more standard shape and carries buttons galore – including a full QWERTY keyboard on its rear. This is the remote to use during setup.
The 55OLED+903 works particularly hard to separate itself from the fast-growing OLED TV horde. Its Ambilight-driven design gets the ball rolling, but that really is just the start of the set’s unique attractions.
The soundbar along the bottom edge, for instance, is anything but a regular TV speaker. Designed in partnership with UK speaker brand Bowers & Wilkins, it deploys numerous high-quality materials – including titanium dome tweeters, glass-fibre cone mid drivers, and a dual passive radiator woofer – to wring every last drop of sound quality from its 50W, 2.1-channel output configuration.
Philips’ improved P5 picture processor, meanwhile, extends its tendrils into every part of the 55OLED+903’s image quality. As with the first P5 system, the new version fits every processing element onto a single chip rather than splitting them across two. This makes the system more efficient, and enables it to apply its dozens of processes in the most effective order.
A few new elements have been introduced to P5 for Philips’ OLED+903 and OLED803 sets. Sharpness and detail monitors now work continuously to optimise the TV’s detail enhancement tools. A Sparkle and Darkle system, meanwhile, is designed to enhance the intensity of the brightest parts of HDR pictures. Philips has also introduced a new process for improving colour tone mapping with HDR, as well as a number of other subtle contrast enhancement features.
Finally, the new P5 system introduces a new Perfect Natural Reality system for improved standard dynamic range to high dynamic range conversion. This won’t bother purists who prefer to watch SDR at the light and colour levels for which it was designed. However, many TV owners find it hard to stick with native SDR once they’ve experienced HDR.
Related: What is HDR? High dynamic range TVs and phones explained
The 55OLED+903’s smart features are built on the Android TV platform. Typically, this isn’t something I’d be ecstatic about. Android TV’s full-screen, clunkily organised menus, need for regular large updates, and hit and miss app support are always aggravating. However, the 55OLED+903 does run Android more slickly and stably than most Sony Android TVs.
The 55OLED+903 is apparently set to receive Android Oreo support via firmware update at some point. Available already on Sony’s new Master Series TVs, Oreo delivers a less bloated OS and a more effective layout.
When it comes to HDR support, the 55OLED+903 is compatible with the standard HDR10 format, the HLG system for broadcasting, and the new HDR10+ system. This latter HDR approach uses extra scene-by-scene picture data, so that TVs have more information to go on when rendering their pictures. But there’s no support for the similar but more widely available (in sources) Dolby Vision system.
The Philips 55OLED+903 carries a strong suite of connections, including four HDMIs, three USBs and the now essential (on flagship TVs, anyway) Bluetooth and Wi-Fi options.
Related: What is HDR10+?
As is usual with Philips TVs, I need to spend a bit more time on this section than I normally would. This is because Philips lets you control almost all parts of its sophisticated processing system.
This may alarm technophobes, I guess. Personally, though, I think it’s sensible to let users shape their TV’s pictures to their own tastes.
Some aspects of the 55OLED+903’s settings run counter to what we’d normally expect. For instance, I’d say you should strongly consider using its Vivid picture preset.
With past Philips TVs this would have been a bad idea (as it would with similar modes on other TVs, actually). After all, it deploys the P5 processor at pretty much full force – and running past Philips TVs with so much processing in play would have left the picture looking overly processed and artificial.
However, the P5 engine’s new noise reduction and motion enhancement processes drastically reduce the distracting side effects I’d normally expect to see in a Philips Vivid mode.
Even more surprisingly, the Vivid mode also delivers the most all-round effective colour palette. Skin tones, in particular, look their best in Vivid, which is pretty much the polar opposite of what we’d expect.
You can turn off much of the 55OLED+903’s processing simply by switching to the Movie preset. For me, though, this makes the image look so much duller that using it kind of nullifies buying such a powerful TV in the first place. This is especially true now that Philips has finally figured out how to deliver all the good parts of video processing with far fewer negative side effects.
If you really do find the Vivid mode a touch too strong for your tastes, I’d recommend the Standard setting over the Movie one – even when you’re watching a movie. Vivid and Movie presets might have been a good call – but, strangely, the Standard mode that might have fitted this bill disappears when you’re watching native HDR movie content over HDMI.
While exploring the 55OLED+903’s menus, ensure that noise reduction settings aren’t running on maximum. And maybe consider turning them off altogether with good quality 4K sources.
The “Movie” motion setting of the motion processor is your best bet when watching anything that’s playing at 24fps. This reduces horizontal judder without leaving the image looking like a home video. It’s also winningly free of unwanted processing side effects.
Turn off all Eco-related features if you don’t want the picture to end up looking too dark for much of the time, and make sure the TV’s Contrast mode is set to Best For Picture.
Gamers, meanwhile, should turn to the Game picture preset to reduce the TV’s input lag to around 38ms. This isn’t as low as the figures you get from some rivals, but it isn’t bad.
No other 55-inch OLED TV can currently deliver the same degree of HDR ‘wow’ as the Philips 55OLED+903.
For starters, that “Sparkle and Darkle” feature proves much more serious than it sounds. The way it manages to make the brightest highlights of HDR pictures look more intense and bright than they do on any rival OLED TV is spectacular. Even when compared to the second-most dynamic OLEDs in town, LG’s C8 series.
Reflections of sun on car bodywork and windshields; street lights against a night sky; the glimmer in an actor’s eye; direct shots of the sun or moon. All these classic HDR highlights and more stand out more punchily than they ever have before on an OLED TV.
You can even measure this to some extent, since the 55OLED+903 notches up brief measurements of 900 nits or so on 10% white HDR windows, compared with 820-840 nits on LG’s latest premium OLED TVs. It’s worth noting that some other OLED TVs struggle to get past 650 nits in similar test circumstances.
The Philips 55OLED+903’s peak light advantage is a particularly big deal for an OLED TV, given that the main issue with OLED technology typically is that it can’t get bright enough to unlock HDR’s full brightness potential. For instance, many 4K Blu-rays are mastered to peak light levels of 1000 nits, while some push right up to 4000 nits.
Making the 55OLED+903’s outstanding – literally – peak brightness performance all the more exciting is the way the TV’s OLED panel enables the brightest image parts to sit right alongside stunningly deep, consistent black colours with no compromise between the two extremes. If any OLED TV even dreamt of being able to deliver this degree of localised light control, it would have to wake up and apologise.
The 55OLED+903’s HDR advantages aren’t restricted to its light peaks, though. It also manages to deliver a higher baseline brightness level with HDR content than any other OLED TV.
This lift to very bright HDR films such as Mad Max: Fury Road is extremely welcome. Partly because it delivers more of that natural-light feel – one of HDR’s raisons d’etre – and partly because it reduces the potential for relatively dark objects foregrounded against bright backdrops to look shadowy and lacking in detail.
The extra brightness on display with the 55OLED+903 feeds into its colour performance, too, unlocking more of the full colour range you get with HDR sources than any other OLED TV. In Vivid mode, at least, the 55OLED+903’s colour palette is genuinely dazzling. Crucially, for most of the time this vibrancy still feels balanced and authentic.
It’s the same deal with the Philips 55OLED+903’s sharpness. The P5 processing is so accomplished at optimising the impact of the screen’s 4K resolution that it can actually make good 4K sources look even higher resolution than that. Yet again, it does this without the resulting picture looking forced or unnatural.
For instance, there’s no ghosting around the edges of sharply contrasted objects. There’s no excessive grain, or exaggeration of other source noise, such as compression artefacts. The picture just looks sharper and more detailed when compared side by side with an LG OLED C8.
The Perfect Natural Reality system keeps the good times rolling by doing a pretty spectacular job of turning humble SDR pictures into HDR. What’s particularly clever is the way it applies its colour and brightness expansions intelligently. In other words, rather than just ramping up the whole picture’s dynamics uniformly, different parts of the picture are treated separately. The result is a more authentic-looking HDR experience.
Inevitably, the results aren’t as good as those the TV can produce with a native HDR source. But they’re plenty good enough to allow HDR fans to potentially dispense with having to ever watch native SDR again.
However, if you’d rather stick with a more native SDR experience then fear not. The Philips 55OLED+903 is also a joy to watch when running in a less bright, more SDR mode. Its contrast is still exemplary, and its colour finesse brings out every subtle tone of which SDR is capable. As usual with an OLED screen, these colour and contrast talents remain intact when watching from pretty much any angle.
I guess some might find the 55OLED+903’s pictures a little too aggressive for their tastes. For me, though, they’re just pushing for a more exciting and accurate HDR experience –and I’m well and truly onboard with that.
This leaves a quartet of relatively small picture complaints. First, there’s the effort you’ll ideally put in to its settings to always get the best picture results. Second, subtle colour noise in some pictures can be slightly exaggerated on occasion, especially in the generally most watchable Vivid mode. Third, skin tones occasionally look a bit “off” – shifting slightly too much towards brown or orange. However, a recent firmware update seems to have improved this issue considerably.
Finally, while Philips’ motion processing is generally strong, it can cause a strangely staccato effect with very stylised motion. For example, during some of the most frenetic sections of Mad Max: Fury Road.
The 55OLED+903’s strikingly impactful pictures are partnered with impressively potent audio, courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins’ work on the TV’s built-in sound bar.
The sound this produces is far more direct, powerful and dynamic than anything you’d expect to hear from such a beautifully designed TV. For starters, treble detail is remarkable, bringing out pretty much every tiny subtlety of the mid and upper range of a good film mix. But there’s some real bass here, too – especially if you can place the TV reasonably close to a wall, to get the maximum impact from its rear-mounted bass unit.
Dialogue sounds convincing and authentically located in the speaker’s surroundings, and never becomes swamped by anything going on around it.
So good is the 55OLED+903’s audio, in fact, that it can even be thought of as pretty respectable hi-fi music system. It isn’t often we get to say that about a TV’s built-in sound.
Related: Best soundbar
If you’re attracted by OLED’s exceptional contrast, but also like the idea of LCD’s HDR-friendly brightness, the 55OLED+903 is arguably the perfect compromise.
Despite seemingly using the same LG panel as other OLED TVs this year, it somehow manages to produce pictures that are comfortably more bright and intense than those of any rival. It also delivers exceptional 4K sharpness for an OLED screen.
Moreover, it does all of this without pictures looking unnaturally exaggerated or untidy.
The 55OLED+903 should also be on your list if you want a set offering good-sound quality. In fact, it sounds good that you can cross off adding a soundbar to your AV purchase list.
However, the speaker system does potentially represent a reason not to buy a 55OLED+903. If you already have a soundbar or other external sound system, or you’re considering getting a high-end one, you might as well get the Philips 55OLED+803 instead. This set does away with the B&W soundbar design, but should offer the same picture quality for £500 less.
A review of the 55OLED+803 will be coming soon.