Picture Quality, Android TV, Sound Solutions and European Craftsmanship
It's been an eventful couple of years for Philips but it would seem that TP Vision's faith in the brand is beginning to pay off.There was a time when Philips TVs just weren't competing with the major brands and even when they had strong products, it was hard to find a retailer that actually sold them. However since last year Philips have been offering a strong range of both Full HD and Ultra HD 4K TVs that combine their European design aesthetic and video processing expertise with TP Vision's ability to source and build components. To prove their point, Philips launched a strong range of Full HD and Ultra HD 4K TVs for the first half of 2015 at a special event in Barcelona. The emphasis was on Ultra HD 4K, larger screen sizes, Android TV, superior sound and attractive designs but there will also be extensive retail support, which means that once the TVs are launched you'll be able to easily buy them.
Philips said that 90% of their Smart TVs were connected to the Internet and that 50% of UK TV owners are regularly using Video-on-Demand (VoD) services. Perhaps more surprisingly the use of Smart TV isn't restricted to the young, with 79% of those in their 40s and 74% of those in their 50s regularly using these features. In particular there has been a huge increase in the use of video streaming apps in the last year, especially where YouTube and Netflix are concerned. However it's the latter service that is having the most impact, resulting in what's called the 'Netflix Effect' where TV owners regularly use subscription services over 25 times a month. This is in contrast to transactional VoD services, where usage per a month drops off significantly after one or two transactions.
Philips were keen to stress that 80% of their new line-up will include Android TV using the Lollipop operating system. This will allow the manufacturer to combine the Google Play store with Philips own Cloud TV and the Smart TV Alliance app portal. There will be a dedicated button on this year's remote controls that will launch Android TV. The launcher interface itself uses what are called shelves, with selections for Recommendations, Philips Suggested Content, Apps, Games and Settings. There is a TV menu that appears on the right hand side of the screen, with short cuts to the main features. There is also multi-tasking which allows you to switch between apps, as well as support for Google Voice and Google Cast.
The recommendations are based upon viewing material, clicks and time of day usage but Android TV doesn't support multiple users, so you might end up with a lot of recommendations for Peppa Pig. Whilst Android TV isn't customisable, the most regularly used apps will appear on a last used first shown basis. Android TV also no longer supports Chrome, so Philips have retained their web browser. In terms of other features that have been dropped this year, there are no cameras on any of the 2015 range of Philips TVs. When it comes to Android TV, Philips is dependent on apps being included on the App shelf by Android and at the moment the choice looks very limited. Despite the big selling point of Android being its flexibility, the TV version appears to be highly controlled.
It also puts Philips and any other manufacturer using the platform somewhat at the mercy of Android. So for example although last year's Philips TVs also had Android TV, that used the Jellybean OS and due to hardware limitations they can't be upgraded to Lollipop. This means that Philips can only guarantee being able to upgrade the new system for a few years because at some point Android will do another hardware upgrade which will exclude older TVs. It also means that Philips are waiting for Android to release key apps such as Netflix 4K, which they hope will be released in the second half of the year. However general delays in the platform mean that all the Philips TVs that use Android won't be available until June or July.
However Philips are clearly placing a lot of faith in Android over the long term and have updated their remote controls to accommodate the new platform. They now include larger buttons, a microphone for voice recognition, a swipe touchpad and a navigation cursor. Although in another limitation of Android TV, it doesn't support a free-floating pointer style remote. However Philips are keeping their dual-sided remote controls with a full QWERTY keyboard, which is handy. Another unique feature that Philips are expanding this year is Ambilight which now offers two new modes. The first is a game mode which allows for a dynamic and faster reaction to onscreen gaming and the second is Ambilight Music which reacts to music being played on your TV.
Another area where Philips hope to expand their services in 2015 is gaming and this year they will offer both cloud gaming in conjunction with with Onlive and downloadable gaming through EA and Gameloft. The cloud gaming service is being rolled out on a country by country basis in order to minimise any latency issues, whilst the downloadable games will optimised for TVs, either in terms of resolution and/or control. Depending on the model you buy, there will be either 8 or 16GB of internal memory and the option to expand the amount of memory available. The operating system of the TV takes up about 4GB of memory, so depending on which TV you buy there will be either 4 or 12GB of internal memory.
The overall design has also been upgraded with more emphasis on real materials and an attractive metal finish to many of their new models. As the halo product the 7000 series uses an slim bezel, three sided Ambilight and edge feet. Now that the bezel is so small, it has become harder to include the brand logo but that is being highlighted by LED lighting. The 7000 series also includes a brushed aluminium wrap and a chrome finish on the feet, with the entire range reflecting a shift away from black towards a silver styling and larger screen sizes. Philips are using a combination of stands and edge feet; although with the latter an optional stand can be bought for those with limited cabinet space and of course wall-mounting is always an option.
Philips are placing a lot of faith in Android TV, although the platform has delayed some of their TVs until the summer.
Philips stressed that sound quality was still important to TV buyers and that as TVs have got slimmer, so the ability to deliver decent sound has become more challenging. However since sound quality is still important to TV buyers, Philips use a special bass port on all their new models which helps generate more low frequencies from a flat TV. They also use back firing speakers because they can be bigger and are more efficient, thus providing more surface area and better performance at higher volumes. In addition the TV can be acoustical tuned depending on whether it's table or wall mounted.
Philips use a triple ring for more speaker movement and better bass performance and no grille in front of the woofer, thus improving speech clarity. Sound processing algorithms are also used for bass enhancement, clearer dialogue and auto volume levelling for commercial channels. In addition on the 7000 series and up, Philips includes the DTS Studio Sound package. At the Barcelona launch, Philips demonstrated the audio performance of their latest models - comparing a basic 5000 series with a 6000 series that included the larger rear-firing speaker and finally a 7150 with a built-in front firing soundbar.
Of all the factors listed in surveys, picture quality remains the most important to consumers. In fact 25% placed picture quality first, whilst 19% favoured value for money and 11% placed more importance on screen size. In terms of the picture features on the latest Philips TVs there is Micro Dimming, which is global dimming combined with software that analyses the picture in 6,400 different zones and adjusts accordingly. There is also Micro Dimming Pro, which is the same as Micro Dimming but uses a light sensor to adjust dimming based upon different light conditions in the room. Perfect Natural Motion uses fame interpolation and Super Resolution upscaling in which an image is analysed on a zone by zone basis for local detail and colour.
When combined with the additional pixels on an Ultra HD TV, Super Resolution can result in what Philips call a superior upscaled image. The Colour Booster uses intelligent colour processing that boosts certain colours whilst leaving others such as skin tones unchanged. Finally there is Local Contrast, which is an additional contrast video improvement that works together with Micro Dimming. It picks out fine details, focusing on locally enhancing details in darker areas without boosting the rest of the image by using local edge preserving filtering, global histogram processing and local light boosting. Whilst Philips use a selection of different panels depending on the specific model and screen size, it looks as though they will predominantly use VA panels in the UK.
Philips also pointed out that from the 6000 series and above, all their TVs use 10-bit panels. In terms of picture technology for the second half of the year, Philips are working on Bright Pro which will increase the overall brightness of the display, ultimately for High Dynamic Range (HDR). There will also be Micro Dimming Premium, a combination of direct LED backlight and local dimming; along with Bright Premium which will boost bright parts of the image to create brighter images, deeper blacks and more saturated colours. The plan is to initially develop brighter panels and technology that can essentially add an HDR effect to a normal sources before launching TVs that actually support content mastered in HDR.
In terms of HDR, Philips showed a demo of material mastered in Rec.709 using a 1000nit monitor on one of their prototype TVs and the results were very impressive. The images weren't just brighter, there was more detail in the bright parts of the image and colours were better rendered. Initially Philips and other manufacturers plan to use open source HDR rather than one of the competing formats from Dolby, Technicolor, the BBC and even Philips themselves. A TV that supports HDR will need HDMI 2.0a but this can be implemented by a firmware update because the addition of HDR just involves metadata. As for the possibility of a wider colour gamut, using quantum dot adds $250 to the cost, so Philips are still deciding whether to support DCI/P3.
The 7000 series is Philips halo product for the first half of the year but we can expect their flagship to be launched at IFA.
In terms of Philips Full HD line-up for the first half of 2015 there are both entry level and mainstream models. In terms of the entry level models we have:
5210 - This is a Full HD TV that uses a native 50Hz panel, a single-core processor, 100Hz Digital Crystal Clear, a direct LED back light and Global Dimming. There is 5W of amplification, a Freeview tuner, a standard remote control and the 5210 comes in a 24-inch screen size.
5500 - This is a Full HD TV that uses a native 50Hz panel, a dual-core processor, Android TV, Pixel Plus HD, 200Hz Perfect Motion Rate, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a standard remote control, cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 8GB internal memory which is expandable and the 5500 comes in 32-, 40-, 48- and 55-inch screen sizes
In terms of the mainstream models we have:
6500 - This is a Full HD TV that uses a native 50Hz panel, a dual-core processor, Android TV, 2-sided Ambilight, Pixel Precise HD, 500Hz Perfect Motion Rate, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a Qwerty remote control, cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 8GB internal memory which is expandable and the 6500 comes in a 32-inch screen size.
6510 - This is a Full HD TV that uses a native 100Hz panel, a dual-core processor, Android TV, 2-sided Ambilight, Pixel Precise HD, 800Hz Perfect Motion Rate, Active 3D, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a Qwerty remote control, cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 8GB internal memory which is expandable and the 6510 comes in 40-, 50- and 55-inch screen sizes.
6520 - This is a Full HD TV that uses a native 100Hz panel, a dual-core processor, Android TV, 2-sided Ambilight, Pixel Precise HD, 800Hz Perfect Motion Rate, Active 3D, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a Qwerty remote, control cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 8GB internal memory which is expandable and the 6520 comes in a 65-inch screen size.
6550 - This is a Full HD TV that uses a native 100Hz panel, a dual-core processor, Android TV, 3-sided Ambilight, Pixel Precise HD, 800Hz Perfect Motion Rate, Active 3D, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a Qwerty remote, control cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 8GB internal memory which is expandable and the 6550 comes in 40-, 50- and 55-inch screen sizes.
In terms of Ultra HD 4K TVs, Philips will be launching a number of mainstream models and also a premium model. However at the moment only the 6400 is confirmed for the UK, although at least one of 7000 series is also expected to be released in this country. In terms of the mainstream models we have:
6400 - This is an Ultra HD 4K TV that uses a native 50Hz panel, a dual-core processor, Android TV, Pixel Plus Ultra HD, Ultra Resolution, 700Hz Perfect Motion Rate, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming Pro. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a standard remote control, cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 8GB internal memory which is expandable and the 6400 comes in 40-, 50- and 55-inch screen sizes.
In terms of the premium model we will most likely see the:
7600 - This is an Ultra HD 4K TV that uses a native 100Hz panel, a quad-core processor, Android TV, 3-sided Ambilight, Pixel Precise Ultra HD, Ultra Resolution, 1400Hz Perfect Motion Rate, Active 3D, a direct LED back light and Micro Dimming Pro. There is 20W of amplification, a Freeview HD tuner, a Qwerty remote control, cloud gaming, downloadable gaming, 16GB internal memory which is expandable and the 7600 comes in 48-, 55- and 65-inch screen sizes.
Overall Philips are offering a strong line-up of Full HD and Ultra HD 4K TVs for the first half of 2015.Overall Philips had strong line-up of both Full HD and Ultra HD TVs on show and there were models covering entry level, the mid-range and even a premium model. It's unfortunate that the delays with Android TV mean that any model using that platform won't be out until the summer because the only TVs that will actually be released in the first half of the year are the small screen size entry-level models (4000, 4100, 4200 and 5210). We would also have liked more information on which 7000 series will actually be released in the UK and some confirmed pricing. In reality the most interesting models won't arrive until IFA in September and that's when we can expect to see the flagship model with support for HDR.
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