Philips 55PUS8601 Ultra HD 4K LED TV Review
Does a razor slim design give the 8601 an edge?
What is the Philips 55PUS8601?The Philips 8601 is an Ultra HD 4K LCD TV that uses a razor slim chassis and edge LED backlighting; it incorporates an attractive design with four-sided Ambilight and detachable speakers. The TV uses eighteen drivers overall, eight in each detachable speaker plus two built-in woofers, along with 50W of amplification. The PUS8601 doesn't support 3D but will be adding High Dynamic Range (HDR) via a firmware update. It boasts a host of image processing features including 1800Hz Perfect Motion, Perfect Pixel and Micro Dimming Pro. It also uses Hex Core processing and Android TV with both the Google Play Store and Philips's own App Gallery.
The 8600 series was announced at IFA last year but only started shipping right at the end of 2015, which was unfortunate although largely outside of Philips's control. The delays were mainly due to Android but at least Philips waited until the platform was stable, rather than just releasing TVs that simply didn't work. The 55-inch 55PUS8601 costs £1,699 as at the time of writing (February 2016) which reflects the TV's higher-end status but does put it up against discounted 2015 models from the major competition. So will the 8601 deliver enough features and performance to stand out in a rapidly changing landscape? Let's find out.
DesignThe 8601 uses a lovely design that brings plenty of European flair to the overall look of the TV, with elegant chrome feet and a razor slim panel. In fact the chassis is less than 2cm deep, which is very thin for an LCD TV, and obviously requires the use of edge LED backlighting. As with many higher-end TVs these days the stand is composed of feet at either end of the panel and, as such, you will need a wide surface to place the TV on and naturally it can't be swivelled. The 55PUS8601 measures 1317 x 758 x 277mm (WxHxD) and weighs 20.6kg with the feet attached and measures 1227 x 709 x 17mm and weighs 19kg without them. Of course you also have the choice of mounting the TV and not only are there standard 400 x 400 VESA wall mounts but you also have the option to buy a central column stand as well.
There's a 1cm wide black bezel around the screen and a silver brushed metal trim around the outer edge, giving the TV a minimalist and contemporary feel. At the bottom centre of the screen there is an illuminated Philips logo that can be dimmed or turned off and there is 4cm of clearance beneath the logo. The matching detachable speakers are attached using magnets and plug in at the bottom rear of the panel. They are essentially 2cm square, matching the dimensions and design of the TV itself and they have eight drivers in each. There are also two woofers built into the rear of the TV, along with 50W of amplification. There are optional stands available for the detachable speakers and although these cost £299 a pair, they are active and include additional drivers. Since this is a Philips TV, it also includes 4-sided Ambilight, with LEDs along the top, bottom and both sides.
Connections & ControlAll the connections are at the left rear of the TV, as you're facing the screen, and are comprised of a combination of rearward, sideways and downward facing inputs. The rearward facing connections are all the legacy inputs such as SCART, composite and component video, along with analogue audio. The downward facing connections include two HDMI inputs, a USB port, aerial and satellite connectors (with dual tuners for both), an optical digital output and an Ethernet port; although the 8601 also has built-in WiFi. Finally the sideways facing inputs are comprised of two more HDMI inputs and another two USB ports, as well as a headphone socket and two CI (Common Interface) slots. All of the HDMI inputs support ARC (Audio Return Channel) but only the HDMI 1 input is HDMI 2.0 and supports HDCP2.2, although it will be updated to HDMI 2.0a very soon.
The remote control that comes with the 8601 is the latest iteration of Philips's dual-sided remote control. So on one side you have the usual buttons for controlling the TV and on the other there's a QWERTY keyboard to make using the smart TV platform easier. The dual-sided idea is a nice touch, although since Philips also offer a remote app, that feature has largely been superseded by technology. The remote itself is comfortable to hold and well laid out; making it relatively easy to access buttons, even with one hand. Our only real complaint is that the central navigation pad for direction and enter keys is touch sensitive, so you can either run your finger over it or actually press down. We found this was possibly a bit too sensitive and, on occasion, found ourselves zooming past where we wanted to be due to our finger inadvertently brushing over the pad.
The design is very attractive, the build quality excellent and there are plenty of connections.
Features & SpecsThe 8601 is one of Philips's higher-end models and as such it incorporates many of the company's key proprietary technologies. As we've already mentioned the TV includes 4-sided Ambilight, which is the flagship version of this particular technology and, as the name suggests, at the rear of the panel you'll find LEDs on the top, bottom and both sides. This allows the TV to create a bias light behind the panel and although there are a number of different effects, we would recommend using the ISF option which creates a neutral light that you can then adjust in brightness to suit your needs.
Aside from the Ultra HD 4K (3840 x 2160) 10-bit panel and the edge LED backlighting, the 8601 also includes Perfect Pixel Ultra HD picture processing, 1800Hz Perfect Motion Rate, Perfect Natural Motion, Micro Dimming Pro, Ultra Resolution and Bright Pro. Philips claim a peak brightness of 700 nits on the 8601 and they will be adding High Dynamic Range (HDR10) support via a firmware update in the near future. However, the 8601 doesn't support 3D which seems strange for a TV at this price point, even if the popularity of 3D in the home is rather limited these days.
The main reason for the delay in releasing the 8601 has been Philips's decision to adopt the Android TV smart platform but at least the additional time has given them the opportunity to deliver a system that works. The current platform uses Android 5.1 (Lollipop) and comes pre-installed with Google Play Movies, Google Play Music and Google Search. There's also BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Netflix with 4K support, plus Amazon Instant will be added in the near future.
The TV comes with the option of a wired or wireless connection and includes support for DLNA. It also includes 16GB of built-in memory although that can be expanded using USB storage for programme recording. The 8601 has an impressive level of file support with video playback for AVI, MKV, H264/MPEG-4, AVC, MPEG 1, MPEG 2, MPEG 4, WMV9/VX1 and HEVC; audio playback for AAC, MP3, WAV and WMA; and JPEG, BMP, GIF, JPS, PNG, PNS, BMS and MPO support for photos.
One of the reasons that Android has proved problematic initially is that some TV models just haven't had enough processing power but this isn't an issue with the 8601. It uses a Hex Core processor, so despite all the new features and the capabilities of the Android platform, the TV itself had no trouble keeping up. We like the Android layout and Philips have done a good job of integrating it with their existing services, creating a platform that is intuitive to navigate and responsive.
Picture Settings Out-of-the-BoxThe 8601 comes with both Day and Night ISF modes, which made setting the TV up relatively easy. Although accessing the picture menus is a bit laborious and Philips do use some unusual names for certain familiar controls. However choosing either of the ISF modes immediately turns off most of the special features that might affect image accuracy, leaving the user to just set the other controls to suit their viewing environment. As you go through the menu system you can leave colour at 50 and set Contrast (which is actually the backlight control) to about 40 for a night time setting.
You can move the Sharpness control down to zero to avoid any ringing or unwanted edge enhancement and then go into the Advanced sub-menu. Here you can turn on the Game mode if necessary and also select a Colour Temperature of Warm. Under the Contrast sub-heading you can set the Brightness control to 49 and the Video Contrast (which most manufacturers just call Contrast) to 80 so as to avoid any clipping. We also left the Gamma at zero and turned off all the Contrast, Sharpness and Motion special features. All measurements were taken using a Klein K-10, CalMAN 5 and a Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator.
As you can see from the graph above left, the greyscale tracking was actually pretty good out-of-the-box, with all the primary colours fairly close to each other. There was a slight excess of red at 20IRE but otherwise the errors really only related to the gamma which was tracking at around 2.5 at 10IRE before dropping to 2.2 for the majority of the curve before going back up to 2.4 at around 80 to 100IRE. We were using a target of 2.4 and although we could move the curve up to that target that would have resulted in the blacks being crushed. Of course depending on your environment, a curve of 2.2 might be preferable but we would like to see a more consistent gamma performance. In terms of the colour accuracy the 8601 performed very well; with overall errors all at or below the visible threshold of three and only a undersaturation in blue and magenta worth mentioning.
Philips 55PUS8601 Picture Settings
Picture Settings CalibratedThe 8601 includes ISF-certified calibration controls, so we were able to use the two point white balance control to improve the greyscale slightly. However it would be good if Philips could follow the competition in adopting a ten-point control as well, because the excess of red at 20IRE showed the limitations of a two-point control. It was impossible to bring the red down at 20IRE without adversely affecting the rest of the scale and ultimately any improvements made were limited and probably imperceptible. So you might just as well use the Warm setting and simply go with that. The same applies to the inconsistent gamma curve, as there is no way to directly address that in the controls.
It was a similar experience when it came to calibrating the colour performance and although the 8601 includes a colour management system (CMS) there are only controls for hue and saturation and they weren't particularly effective. As a result the calibrated colour measurements really weren't much different from the out-of-the-box ones and so you may as well just stick with those. In fact as we discovered when we ran the saturation sweep, using the CMS could have an adverse affect on lower saturation points, so again the out-of-the-box settings deliver the best performance.
The saturation sweep in the graph above left, shows the colour accuracy at 25, 50, 75 and 100% saturation levels using the out-of-the-box settings. As you can see the colour accuracy is very good, with the majority of colours tracking their saturation points well. The graph on the right shows how the native colour gamut compares to the DCI-P3 colour space and the 8601 only managed 81% which is certainly way off the mark for other TVs in its price point. It's a shame that the native colour gamut and current lack of HDR support - despite a high peak brightness - limit the 8601's future-proofing because otherwise it's a solid TV.
The 8601 delivered detailed and natural images, with accurate colours and a good greyscale.
Picture QualityThe 8601 is something of a mixed bag as far as picture quality is concerned and in some respects it's very good but in others it is rather limited in terms of its future potential. Philips have certainly done a good job of getting the basics right and the 10-bit VA flat-screen panel delivers a good base on which to build the picture. The backlight uniformity was good, despite the use of edge lighting, the measured black level was 0.05cd/m2 and the 8601 could easily hit 120cd/m2. The on/off contrast ratio was 2,660:1, whilst the ANSI contrast ratio was a respectable 1,993:1 and although the Philips doesn't use local dimming, meaning dark scenes weren't as black as they could be, the overall contrast performance was very good. We measured a 100IRE window at 572cd.m2 with everything maxed out and Philips claim the TV can even go as high as 700cd/m2 with peak highlights; which will doubtless come in handy when the High Dynamic Range firmware update is released.
As already mentioned the greyscale and colour performance was also very good and although the calibration controls are limited, the out-of-the-box settings delivered suitably accurate measurements. The 8601 also tracked very well at different saturation points and only an inconsistent gamma was worthy of criticism. However the native colour space was also a disappointment, measuring only 81% of DCI-P3, limiting the TV's future performance. The same goes for the HDMI inputs, which we were able to check using our Murideo Fresco Six-G video generator. These features are important not only because the nature of television is changing but also because TVs in a similar price bracket do offer this level of future-proofing. Despite these limitations, with content that we currently watch (and will be watching for years to come) the images had a natural appearance, with accurate colours, decent blacks and plenty of detail. The video processing was also excellent, upscaling all lower resolution content to match the native resolution of the panel.
The motion handling was surprisingly good for an LCD TV, although as with all Philips TVs there's a host of frame interpolation features that need to be avoided. The same is true of the various contrast and sharpness features but once you turn this unnecessary processing off (and thankfully the ISF modes will do most of that for you) the result is an impressive looking image. The better the source the better the picture, but even with standard definition content like TV broadcasts and DVD, the picture was perfectly watchable. When it came to high definition broadcasts the 8601 could deliver some lovely looking images and any artefacts were the fault of the broadcast and not the TV. Once we moved onto Blu-ray the results were even better, with the 8601 delivering a cracking picture from movies like Jurassic World and Tomorrowland. Finally we watched some 4K content and the Philips took full advantage of its higher resolution panel to deliver all the detail in the source content. The 8601 doesn't support 3D but assuming that isn't important to you, it can certainly deliver a great 2D picture.
Sound QualityOne of the big selling points of the 8601 is its sound quality and the TV certainly delivered in that department. The use of detachable speakers on either side is an unusual but clever design. First of all it offers owners the opportunity to remove the speakers entirely if they have a sound solution of their own. Secondly you can buy a pair of active speaker stands, allowing you to increase the stereo separation and add more bass response. Finally you can just attach the speakers to the sides of the TV itself and make the most of the eight drivers in each detachable speaker and the two woofers built into the bottom rear of the panel itself.
Philips's efforts to deliver a superior sound experience on the 8601 have certainly paid dividends, with a decent audio experience from a very slim TV. The use of forward-firing drivers on either side of the screen means you retain plenty of stereo separation combined with an open front soundstage. Dialogue remains clear and the mid-range and higher frequencies are well rendered, allowing music to retain a sense of clarity with good localisation. The addition of extra woofers in the panel itself means that effects and lower frequencies have more presence, although obviously not as much as you would get from a dedicated subwoofer.
Philips 55PUS8601 Video Review
Input Lag & Energy ConsumptionIn terms of input lag the 8601 proved to be a TV that might suit even the most demanding gamers. We measured the lag at 83ms in the TV's calibrated ISF setting but as soon as we turned on the Game mode that dropped to 35ms; which is one of the lower measurements we've recorded recently. It should certainly be low enough for all but the most demanding gamer and we certainly found the Philips to be a suitably responsive and effective TV for gaming.
The 8601 was also highly efficient in terms of its power usage, using a mere 99W in its out-of-the-box Standard mode, which has a number of energy-saving features engaged. In the calibrated ISF setting the energy usage increased slightly to 109W but that's still very low and the image accuracy was obviously superior in that mode. In standby the 8601 was only drawing 0.3W, so even the most energy conscious user shouldn't feel bad about not always turning the TV off at the mains.
There are plenty of features, a good input lag and the detachable speakers result in superior sound quality.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of DCI - 100% best) 81% 10-bit Panel HDMI 2.0a Inputs HDCP 2.2 Support HEVC Decoding 4K Streaming Services Smart TV Platform Picture Accuracy Out-of-the-Box (score out of 10) 8 What do these mean?
- Natural and detailed images
- Good colour accuracy
- Attractive design
- Great build quality
- Excellent sound
- Decent input lag
- Plenty of features
- Limited colour space
- No 3D support
- Inconsistent gamma
- Calibration controls ineffective
- Remote over-sensitive
Philips 55PUS8601 Ultra HD 4K LED TV Review
Should I buy one?
In many respects the Philips 55PUS8601 is a great flat-screen Ultra HD LED LCD TV, with a lovely design, solid build quality and superior sound thanks to detachable speakers. There are plenty of connections and features, along with Hex Core processing and an effective Android TV platform. The dual-sided remote control can be useful if a little oversensitive and there's a remote app for those that would rather use their smart device as a controller. The out-of-the-box greyscale and colour accuracy was very good and although the gamma was a little inconsistent, the Philips could produce a natural looking image. It also delivered good backlight uniformity, a decent contrast performance and, despite not having local dimming, the black levels were passable in most lighting conditions. The 4-sided Amblight really helped in this area, providing some effective bias lighting when watching TV at night. The motion handling was also very respectable for an LCD TV and the video processing took full advantage of the 4K 10-bit panel to produce detailed images, especially from higher quality content.
Where the 8601 lets itself down somewhat is in terms of its future-proofing because it not only doesn't support 3D, which probably won't bother most people, but it also doesn't have an especially wide colour gamut and doesn't currently support HDR - although an update for the latter is coming. You'll certainly be able to enjoy 4K content from Netflix and YouTube and eventually Amazon, but you won't be able to take full advantage of what those services have to offer. The same goes for Ultra HD Blu-ray, although at least the inclusion of HDCP2.2 support on one of the HDMI inputs means that is also an option. Ultimately what this means is that if the 8601 had been released earlier last year, it would have scored better, but as things now stand it is limited in terms of future-proofing, especially considering the price. If you're looking for a classy Ultra HD 4K LED TV and aren't bothered about 3D then the Philips 55PUS8601 is certainly worth considering but if your are concerned about future-proofing, there are cheaper alternatives.
What are my alternatives?
Well the late arrival of the Philips 55PUS8601 means that it is currently going up against the higher-end discounted models from last year and there are two obvious alternatives in the £1,500-1,700 price bracket. The Panasonic TX-55CX802B can be picked up for £1,499 and offers a great performance for the price. Yes it only has an 8-bit VA panel but it also has local dimming, a very accurate picture, HDMI 2.0a and HDR10 support. It also has plenty of connections and features, along with an effective smart TV platform. If you're happy to consider a curved screen, then the Samsung UE55JS8500 is another great contender that can also be picked up for £1,499. This TV includes a 10-bit VA panel, an accurate picture, effective local dimming, a wider colour gamut, HDMI 2.0a and HDR10 support. It also has plenty of connections, loads of features and a comprehensive Smart TV platform. Although the Philips might have better sound, you could always pick up a soundbar with the £200 you save, making either of these TVs great alternatives.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,699.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money7
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