Philips 903 (55OLED903) Review
What is the Philips 55OLED+903?The Philips OLED903 is the step-up model to the recently reviewed OLED803 and it adds a soundbar designed and tuned by British audio manufacturer, Bowers & Wilkins.
In every other way, it is the same TV as the 803, so in this review, we will be having a brief look at the features and differences between the two to help you decide if the upgrade is worth it.
This review sample was provided by Philips UK and is here for long-term testing and comparisons. The unit arrived in retail packaging and is a retail production sample and not a pre-production unit.
Philips are well known for their excellent video processing and the second generation P5 processor offers up the usual host of Philips picture processing with the addition of the new Perfect Natural Reality feature, which Philips claim turns Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) content into HDR-like images.
With so many great OLED TVs available this year, what does the OLED903 offer to make it stand out from the crowd? Let’s find out.
Design, Connections and Control
The design is almost identical to the 803 with a super thin chassis that widens out slightly at the rear and houses the three-strip Ambilight LEDs. The real difference is the soundbar, which is part of the chassis at the bottom of the set.
To the bottom, we have two small chrome coloured feet that support the panel. These are positioned nine inches from each end of the 55-inch set and the gap needed to mount the TV is thirty-one inches. Both feet have writing etched on them with Philip on one and Bowers & Wilkins on the other. The feet simply screw into the bottom of the panel and are side specific.
The screen itself is bezel-less in design with just a small black strip of the screen between the edge of the panel and the picture area. There is a 2mm strip of gunmetal coloured metal that surrounds the edge of the panel. Obviously, the 903 is slightly wider at the bottom of the panel when compared to the 803 and that is where the soundbar is housed. There is also a power light indicator on the right side of this soundbar.
The B&W soundbar itself is two inches high and is the same length as the TV panel and covered in a grey speaker grille material. The bar features B&W drivers mounted in larger, more rigid and dedicated enclosures. We will be fully testing this within the review.
At the rear, we have the connections that are both sideways and downwards facing. On the side, we have a CI slot, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 slots, a headphone jack and two HDMI slots which are full bandwidth 18Gbps HDMI 2.0b ports capable of supporting 4:4:4 4K/60p signals. The downwards facing connections are two HDMI slots that will support 4K/30p signals, along with satellite and terrestrial tuners, an Ethernet port, two 3.5mm component and audio jacks and a digital audio output. All four HDMI ports are ARC compatible. The power socket is not fixed and is a figure of eight connector.
Just like the 803, the Philips OLED+903 comes with two remote controls as standard. We have the traditional full-length version that has a full QWERTY keyboard on the rear and the main controls on the front. This is a large, chunky unit that just fits in the hand and can be tricky to use because it has keys on both sides. We found that pushing against a button on the top forced your hand underneath the remote to push up against the keyboard keys. This wasn’t ideal. Otherwise, we have everything we need for direct access to all the TV's features.
The second remote is basically a stick with a few keys down one edge. You have a power button, a microphone, a small directional pad and enter key the size of a 20p piece and then, a back, home and volume up and down keys. We didn’t find this particularly intuitive to use as the direction pad is really tricky to use with fat fingers and we ended up personally going back to the traditional style remote. We understand the desire to have a more minimal styled remote, but this design just doesn’t work for us. It is not as neat a solution as the LG Magic Remote.
The OLED+903 has a striking design with the B&W soundbar only taking up 2 inches of space
Functionality and FeaturesWhile we put a great deal of effort into assessing the picture quality of the latest TVs here at AVForums, we also understand that the user interface and ease of use are also very important. It has to be a device that every member of the family can use easily to get the most out of the TV's capabilities.
The Philips 903 is currently running on the older Android TV 7.0 version and this is a slow and ponderous UI interface, especially when compared to the super fast and streamlined Oreo 8.0 version seen on the latest Sony TVs. The OLED903 will be getting this update very soon, but at the time of our initial review (December 2018), that has yet to happen. We will add an update to this review as soon as it is available.
The homepage is where you have access to all the main features of the Android TV system with its familiar layout. You can access catch-up TV services and streaming apps like Netflix in 4K HDR as well as Amazon and YouTube in 4K, though neither is HDR compatible on the OLED903. Given that Amazon is supposedly using HDR10+ on shows that support it, we do find it odd that Philips HDR10+ TVs don’t support HDR from the Prime Video app. This may well change with Oreo but we will have to wait and see.
Another thing missing that we find odd given the premium feel of the OLED+903, is that the TV tuner is only Freeview and not Freeview Play. That means most of the UK TV catch up services are missing from the Smart TV system and the navigation of the TV guide and EPG is not as intuitive as the Sony YouView or Panasonic Freeview Play systems, where using the direction keys for Now and Next selection is far easier to use.
The Menu system on the 903 is the same as previous Philips models and it is very detailed and has many layers of complexity. For geeks like the AVForums readers that isn’t really a problem as we all like to explore features and have access to switch them on and off. However, less experienced users may find the system to quite daunting and overwhelming. Perhaps a design that has two systems, basic and advanced, would be preferable? Certainly, one thing we don’t see Philips doing is following Tom Cruise's recent plea for TV makers to have motion smoothing switched off by default – we doubt Danny Tack would sign that one off. But joking aside, the menu system perhaps needs a rethink going into newer models in the future.
We do, however, like the fact that the Philips has ISFccc modes for full calibration of the TV and those controls are pretty comprehensive. However, we would probably push Philips further and ask them to include 20-point greyscale and gamma editors in future TVs to make it even easier to dial the image in. And can we have easier menus to work around while calibrating?
The Philips OLED903 uses a 2018 OLED panel supplied by LG Display and is Ultra HD Premium Certified. It offers HDR10, HLG and HDR10+ dynamic metadata, High Dynamic Range playback, along with a Wide Colour Gamut close to DCI-P3. Like all 2018 OLED TVs, it offers pixel-level dimming thanks to its self-emissive technology, which means the deepest black levels and stunning dynamic range.
The 903 uses the second generation P5 image processing chip from Philips and that adds a whole range of picture processing power and features. The company have certainly never been shy when it comes to developing picture manipulation features to enhance the image quality of their TVs, even if that means drastically changing the creator's intended look. Philips is the company who would break into the Musée du Louvre with some felt tips to add more vivid colours to the Mona Lisa. Once again, joking aside, many users will like the sharpening, motion and fake HDR technologies that are offered with the OLED+903, but as image purists, we do have issues with some of these ‘features’. The new Perfect Natural Reality feature is designed to change SDR content into HDR-like image quality, but I personally do not like the feature as it changes content that is designed and mastered to be seen in SDR. Just because we have HDR technology available now, doesn’t mean everything needs to be ‘enhanced’ to look like it. It’s like colourising B&W movie masterpieces, just because we can. However, other technologies like their upscaling engine and motion handling for 24fps material is the best currently available, so you have to take the rough with the smooth if you are an image purist.
Finally, Ambilight is a technology that has really grown on me over the time I have spent with the OLED803 and now the OLED903. You can have it follow the content onscreen or even look like a nightclub, but I really like the ISF bias light effect. This is proven science surrounding eye fatigue and it really does work to create a more relaxed viewing environment. You simply do this by selecting the ISF mode and then setting the brightness correctly.
Out of the Box MeasurementsWhile Philips obviously promote and develop image processing and manipulation features at their heart, they also understand that many users just want the image as intended and as such there are two ISF Picture Modes for SDR content viewing. For HDR, the set defaults to HDR Movie, which is the most accurate mode out of the box for HDR viewing.
We didn’t need to measure all the other available picture presets as the ISF modes will be the most accurate out of the box, just make sure to go through and check that no image enhancement features or motion smoothing are switched on. We used our Klein K10-A meter, Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate software for all measurements and calibration.
As you can see in the greyscale graph (top left), the out of the box ISF mode is very accurate with just a lack of blue energy and a slight increase in green towards the brighter end of the scale. However, DeltaE errors are on the three and under side of things, so just under the visible threshold, but there was a slight green tint to lighter greys if you went looking for it. That said, we doubt any normal viewers would notice this with onscreen content, as it is very slight indeed. Gamma also tracked well to the BT.1886 curve for SDR.
The colour gamut saturation tracking to Rec.709 (top right) We have some visible errors on the graph with some points slightly off hue, especially green and magenta, but like our greyscale results above these will never be seen by normal viewing of film and TV content by the vast majority of users. Overall, the out of the box results are almost identical to those found on the Philips 803 and here, in the 903, we also don’t have any major issues with them, they are accurate for an out of the box preset.
Calibrated MeasurementsMoving to calibration, we have a good suite of ISFccc controls available to fix the greyscale tracking and realign the saturation tracking of the colour gamut.
As you can see, the graph for the greyscale (top left) is now perfectly flat with gamma tracking to BT.1886 and DeltaE errors well under one across the board. Although this is a great improvement to the graph, the resulting removal of the slight green tint to the grey in actual viewing material is only marginal. We doubt the vast majority of users would be able to point out the differences between out of the box and calibrated by just viewing material onscreen, which points to how accurate the Philips is out of the box.
Moving to the colour gamut (top right) we have also been able to correct the slight hue issues and match up with 75% and below saturation points for the Rec.709 gamut. This didn’t require too much effort to be placed on the CMS and we saw no issues after calibration with image artefacts or posterisation. Indeed, the image out of the box was more than acceptable for the vast majority of users with its accuracy, but being able to dial it in even closer is superb. So, reference results all around.
HDR resultsWhen in SDR picture modes the Philips 903 will detect an HDR signal and put the set into the most accurate image mode, which is HDR Movie. This mode will use the calibrated D65 white point settings entered into the custom white balance menu, if this is selected.
We looked at the PQ EOTF results first and sent the OLED+903 both 1000 nit and 4000 nit image metadata and it didn’t change its tone mapping between them. This is unusual as most manufacturers have slightly different maps to try and preserve highlights in 4000 nit content. You can use the Minimum setting in the HDR perfect settings to introduce a slightly more rounded roll off that retains brightness for 4000 nit content, but does clip higher end detail. However, we found that the standard map, although slightly dimmer in comparison, actually retained more highlight detail. So you have a choice. We were also concerned by the tracking that the 903 might be introducing a slight black crush, but with actual content testing that is not the case.
Moving to the DCI-P3 within BT.2020, tracking (top right) was also pretty good for an OLED panel with a decent attempt at covering the saturation points of the chart. Actual DeltaE errors out of the box are under five and white is bang on D65. With actual HDR content we didn’t notice any obvious visible errors with any colour reproduction, instead, the image quality is first rate for HDR on an OLED TV. We measured the peak brightness on a 10% window to be 620 nits in this accurate picture preset, it will be higher in the much less accurate image modes. However, peak brightness is just one measurement of many that all add up to creating the HDR experience. We also measured BT.2020 coverage as XY 71% and UV 76% and DCI-P3 at XY 96% and UV 99%. These results are almost identical to the recently reviewed Panasonic FZ802 OLED.
Philips 903 General Performance
Panel Uniformity, Viewing Angles and Image RetentionThe 2018 OLED TVs have all had excellent panel uniformity this year with no signs of the type of issues that used to be a problem, such as dark edges, vignetting and dirty screen effect (DSE) with the 903 looking clean with full frame grey slides. There are still signs of the panel banding at 2% & 5% luminance which is on all consumer OLED models, but this is not visible during normal use or even watching tricky dark scenes in movies or TV shows. We also didn’t have any issues watching content that has panning of the camera over an area that is all the same colour, such as a football pitch. This means that there are no visible panel uniformity issues or banding when watching fast-moving sports like football.
Viewing angles are also excellent and another strong point of OLED technology. Where LED LCD TVs using VA panels have very obvious contrast and colour shifting as soon as you get 30 degrees off-axis, an OLED screen is almost perfect right up to being almost completely side on, with no obvious visible shifts.
I wish I could cut and paste the advice I put into all my OLED TV reviews regarding image retention. Users need to be aware that there are risks of image retention and think about how their use of the screen may add to this risk. If you game for hours on end in bright picture modes leaving HUDs on screen during that time, or watch 24 hour news channels with bright logos 24hrs a day, or leave bright static images on screen for whatever reason, such as using as a PC monitor, you probably need to consider carefully before buying an OLED TV. Such usage will result in image retention being noticeable on an OLED panel. In most cases, this is just retention and will disappear after a few cleaning cycles or watching different content for a few hours. Burn-in is completely different and is the permanent damage to a screen usually by doing the things above over a long period of time without changing the content type regularly enough. You need to be aware of these things as they do affect OLED panels. Used for normal TV viewing, where you are changing the type of content you are viewing every few hours and doing so in the more accurate picture modes, you shouldn’t suffer from retention and will never see permanent burn-in.
Black Levels and Contrast PerformanceAs we have come to expect from OLED TVs, the black levels on the OLED+903 are superb with no signs of crush in SDR or HDR this time around, where the 803 did have some slight issues with HDR out of the box. Shadow details are superb, as expected, and we didn’t see any issues at all with the OLED903.
The contrast was also superb and, calibrated to 120 nits for SDR content, the 903 has a fantastic dynamic range. In HDR, with a peak brightness of 620 nits against the absolute blacks and superb mid-tones, the 903 produces some stunning HDR images. Measurements for SDR and HDR for both on/off and ANSI contrast were infinity.
Motion handling and video processing performanceRegular AVForums members will know all about Philips picture guru Danny Tack and his development of the picture processing seen in the P5 Processing chip. He certainly takes pride in how well the Philips TVs perform with correct scaling of a lower resolution image, to the excellent motion for TV and film viewing.
Motion is excellent on the Philips and, with motion switched off, 24fps material plays back without any issues of induced judder or additional motion blur other than that which is contained within the material as it was captured. Moving to the Movie setting keeps motion natural but does add in some slight sharpening which some may object to. Upping the level of motion from here is Sports, Standard and Smooth which all introduce Soap Opera Effect (SOE) in varying degrees of strength. The Sports mode has been designed to add image smoothing but not at the cost of artefacts, such as the ball disappearing, which other interpolation systems are guilty of. It also adds smoothing without introducing other issues such as trailing or edges around players and keeps the image looking as natural as possible, with some sharpening going on. Overall, with video and sports based content, some experimentation of the settings is worthwhile. We didn’t object to the movie setting for example as the sharpening is light and doesn’t exist with 4K content.
Video processing performance is excellent here and scaling is also superb for all resolutions below the native 4K of this TV. We didn’t find any issues with over-sharpening, haloing or ringing around straight edges or any issues with moiré around difficult fabrics or patterns. Some light noise reduction is added to SD content. We also didn’t find any issues of backdoor processing within the scaling of content, as all the various features can be switched off in the menus.
Overall, nobody quite does it like Philips and while some of the video processing features are not what we would personally use with our viewing of film and TV content, the scaling and motion are superb. If you want to experiment with video and sports content, you’ll have a ball tweaking everything that is available.
Input LagThe measured input lag in the Game Mode is 39ms, which rules out the Philips OLED+903 for serious gamers out there. With other manufacturers of OLED TVs managing much lower results than this; you are best looking elsewhere if gaming is a priority for you.
Sound QualityThe Philips OLED+903 uses a soundbar developed and tuned by British audio brand Bowers & Wilkins and promises superb sound quality from the 903.
There is the Triple Ring situated at the rear of the panel with an increased internal volume and additional ribs to stiffen the structure, which consists of a larger bass driver and two passive radiators to enhance the lower end of the sound reproduction. The soundbar consists of B&W drivers that are placed within the bar under the panel. The flush mounted titanium tweeters and glass-fibre mid-range drivers are both mounted within their own sealed areas within the overall driver enclosure. B&W has also assisted in the development of the sound amplification and its 50W output, along with the DSP to create a sound which is clean and clear and creates a believable soundstage.
The actual sound quality very good indeed with a nice and expansive soundstage with excellent separation of the stereo channels. There is also a nice weight to the sound and, while not earth-shattering in its bass performance, there is a strong midrange with excellent dialogue intelligibility. We did find that treble and high frequencies were a little bright and brittle at times, while never getting overly sibilant. It does, however, sound harsh at times with certain content, especially older TV programmes or news channels. Music performance is also very good but again the top end can get a little harsh and draw attention to itself. Overall, it is a nice approach and we are sure, given time for the relationship to advance, we will see some excellent follow-up solutions for future Philips TVs.
Philips 903 Picture Performance
Out of the Box Performance – SDRVivid Mode: Let’s start with a positive. Philips' version of Vivid mode is not as over the top and gaudy as some manufacturers. But, if you value image accuracy and want to watch movies as they are supposed to be seen, stay away from Vivid mode. It is too bright, the colours are maxed out and overly saturated and skin tones look odd. Motion is also super smooth with plenty of SOE that will ruin any semblance of what the filmmaker was intending you to see. We don’t see anything here that improves the experience, unless you like super bright and over the top colours and pop.
Natural/Standard/Game: Each of these picture presets offers up more or less varying examples of the Vivid mode. There are slight differences in processing and varying degrees of overly bright and saturated colours. Whites are blue in each of these modes and skin tones vary. Game is the best of the bunch, but we would suggest using accurate picture modes like those below.
ISF (Day/Night): As expected, these are the most accurate picture modes out of the box. They get close to the industry standards, which are used to master the TV, and films you watch. By matching those standards you can view your content as it was intended to be seen.
Initially, these modes will probably look dull and yellow with muted colours when compared to the shockingly bright and vivid images in the other picture modes. But actually spend some time watching and you soon realise just how natural the image is and how much detail you are now seeing within the picture.
Out of the box, the OLED903 is very accurate and produces a fantastic SDR image that is full of natural colours, skin tones and excellent detail. Images are sharp and motion is fluid with superb black levels and shadow detail. Nothing looks processed and there is no backdoor trickery going on either. There is a nice cinematic realism to the images on show with good mid-tone detail retrieval and no signs of black crush at all. Gravity looks stunning with the whites of the spacesuits set against the blackness of space and interrupted by the millions of stars within the Milky Way. If you want content to look as close as possible to how it is intended to be seen, the Philips gets very close to the Panasonic FZ802 and FZ952 with its cinematic quality, while having a slightly brighter and more intense edge to colours, where the Panasonics are more nuanced. But if impactful is what you are looking for, the Philips has it in spades.
Out of the Box Performance – HDRWhere the Philips easily matches the quality on offer elsewhere with SDR images, it is one of the few OLED TVs that has really impressed with HDR content. Brightness and tone mapping are what seems to separate the OLED903 from the rest, with excellent, bright and vivid colours mixed with those sumptuous black levels. Just above black is also spot on with no signs of the black crush seen on our review sample of the OLED803, and the 903 offers up excellent bit depth performance with tricky scenes from Blade Runner 2049. The yellowish orange of the New Vegas scenes holds up incredibly well with no issues of banding, poor gradation or posterization to be seen within the image. Colours are strong but natural and shadow detail is excellent, adding a real depth to images.
Moving to streaming content in HDR via the Netflix app and the performance is still very good, with just the odd sign of compression getting in the way of the backgrounds in Lost in Space. Image quality is strong with the same attributes that make 4K Blu-ray standout. Skin tones are accurate and motion remains solid with no induced judder. Overall, out of the box, the OLED903 is excellent.
Calibrated PerformanceAnd the same things continue to be true when we move to calibrated settings, given how good out of the box the Philips is. Revisiting the same test clips we used for the out of the box tests, we didn’t notice any major differences, pointing to how good the 903 is out of the box.
Image quality in both SDR and HDR remains superb with strong blacks, excellent image detail and depth, and textures to proceedings that look cinematic. Even in comparisons against the Panasonic FZ802 and LG C8 it stands up to the competition with image quality that easily matches and in some respects surpasses them. The way that the 903 tone maps HDR content makes it stand out in terms of impact and brightness, even though in a peak brightness measurement on a 10% window it was less than the Panasonic. This just highlights how misleading using just those measurements can be when it comes to actual performance.
The Philips OLED+903 offers superb performance in all the tests we put it through and matches the rest of the OLED TVs in the marketplace today. It offers stunning image quality for SDR and HDR content.
- Accurate out of the box preset
- Good calibrated image and controls
- Excellent black levels and dynamic range
- Excellent HDR tone mapping and performance
- Superb video processing and scaling
- Ambilight bias lighting
- B&W Soundbar
- No Dolby Vision
- Treble on the soundbar can be harsh with some content
- Gaming input lag is high
- UI and Android TV is laggy and slow
- No HDR for BBC iPlayer and YouTube
- No Freeview Play and lacking apps for catch-up service
Philips 903 (55OLED903) ReviewWhile this review is not as in-depth and over 8000 words in length, it really didn’t need to be as we have already covered the OLED803 recently in full detail, and the OLED+903 is the same TV but with a soundbar attached. In all other respects, they are the same TV and offer the exact same performance. As such, this review is more about what the differences might be and if it is worth the upgrade.
As that revolves around the B&W soundbar, my personal opinion would be to go with the OLED803 if you already have a sound solution. If not, then the Bowers and Wilkins sound is strong and detailed, but for me the treble is just a little harsh and at times annoying with certain content. However, you really should try and demo one if it might be a solution for you.
In terms of performance, the video processing and motion really are first class and seeing Sony reducing some of their options on the recently reviewed ZF9 and AF9 TVs, we feel that Philips is now in the driving seat for motion and processing. Scaling performance is superb with sharp and natural looking images that are free from any potential issues.
Image quality is also top drawer from this OLED TV with strong blacks, excellent image depth and details, natural colours and excellent shadow detail retrieval making it one of the best OLED TVs you can currently buy.
The differences are there when compared to the competition with Ambilight adding a unique touch to the Philips 903 that puts it above the others, along with excellent tone mapping of HDR that makes it stand out with impactful images. It also has a few little niggles with Android TV remaining a slow and ponderous system to use in the current software version. Hopefully, the update to Oreo will happen soon. Every TV has its strengths and weaknesses and you just need to find the one that suits you and your viewing habits and environment. One thing that will work against the OLED903 for sales is the lack of Dolby Vision support.
Overall, the Philips OLED903 offers some of the best OLED based HDR images, married to stunning image quality for SDR and excellent Video Processing which means it gets a Highly Recommended from us.
What are my alternatives?There are a whole host of 55-inch OLED TVs to choose from and each has their own unique features, but all offer stunning picture quality and image accuracy.
The Panasonic FZ802 offers very similar image quality but with slightly better and more nuanced colour reproduction, however, it doesn’t have a soundbar. If sound is important you can go to the FZ952, which is the same TV, but with a ‘dynamic blade speaker’ tuned by Technics.
Sony has the AF9, which offers the same operating system, but instead of a soundbar, the entire screen is the speaker thanks to the Acoustic Surface technology. Again the image quality is excellent and it also offers Dolby Vision HDR.
And finally, you have the LG B8 or C8 to choose from. The B8 is the budget option using the A7 processor, but it still offers superb image quality, WebOS and Dolby Vision compatibility. The B8 doesn’t have a soundbar, but audio is good from its downward firing speakers. The C8 is a step up with the A9 processor, WebOS and Dolby Vision compatibility and is also incredibly competitive when it comes to pricing.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,000.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
SDR Picture Quality10
HDR Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box9
Picture Quality Calibrated10
Ease of Use7
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.