- Colourful, contrast-rich pictures
- Surprisingly few backlight distractions
- Strong value
- Doesn’t meet Ultra HD Premium standards
- Complicated to use
- In this case great to watch pictures doesn’t necessarily equate to very accurate pictures
- 65-inch LCD TV
- Direct LED lighting with local dimming over 128 zones
- Three-sided Ambilight
- Native 4K resolution
- HDR compatible
- Manufacturer: Philips
WHAT IS THE PHILIPS 65PUS7601?
The 65PUS7601 is the most exciting TV I’ve seen from Philips for years. Its 65-inch screen carries a native 4K resolution. It supports high dynamic range (HDR) playback via a direct LED lighting with local dimming, which is by far the best LCD lighting solution for HDR. It’s bathed in the glory of Philips’ unique Ambilight technology. It boasts the Android TV smart system. And perhaps best of all, it costs less than £2,000/$3,000.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Philips has impressed recently when it comes to design, and the 65PUS7601 doesn’t let the side down. Its screen border is exceptionally trim, while its gleaming metallic finish feels opulent and futuristic. Its silver legs, meanwhile, are so thin and sit so close to the screen that you barely notice them.
Build quality is outstanding, too. However, the star of the show has to be Philips’ Ambilight technology. On the 65PUS7601 this sees coloured light radiating from the screen’s top, left and right edges.
If you’re not familiar with Ambilight, it involves an array of individually controllable LEDs on the TV’s rear outputting coloured light that can be set to track the colour content of the image you’re watching – with startling tonal and positional accuracy.
The 65PUS7601 ships with a smart remote control that features a full QWERTY keyboard on its reverse side. This is a far better solution than having to use an on-screen keyboard to type passwords and search engine terms into the TV, for example. The remote even knows which way up you’re holding it so that you can’t accidentally press one of the buttons on the opposite side.
Philips has never been one to follow the herd when it comes to picture features, and with the 65PUS7601 the company continues in that vein. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in performance terms, as we’ll see later, but it can make the 65PUS7601 complex to use.
My first tip is to make sure the Ambilight system isn’t running on its most aggressive settings, either in terms of responsiveness or its brightness. A relatively gentle approach makes the difference between Ambilight enhancing your immersion and becoming a distraction.
Also make sure that all noise-reduction features are turned off for native UHD viewing, and handle the set’s UHD Resolution “upscaling” feature with caution: with some content, it tends to exaggerate picture noise.
The 65PUS7601 uses Philips’ most powerful picture processing engine, known as Perfect Pixel Ultra HD. This produces far more usable motion processing than Philips’ step-down processing engines, although I still wouldn’t recommend using it on anything higher than its lowest power setting. If you do, the picture can start to look unnaturally smooth. The highest two motion-processing options can also introduce unwanted side effects such as shimmering halos around moving objects.
The single most complicated setting you need to wrap your head round, though, is Perfect Contrast. Philips has created this mode to provide control over the balance between brightness and clipping in the picture – the latter being the loss of detailing you can get in the brightest areas of HDR pictures.
If you want content to appear as it was mastered to appear, you need to set the Perfect Contrast system to off, but I think this leaves the 65PUS7601’s pictures looking a little flat. Turning the feature on produces a punchier image, but one where the brightest areas may lack detail. I suggest you choose a particularly bright HDR scene (the first arrival by boat into Neverland in Pan, for instance) and try the various options to see which suits you best.
The 65PUS7601’s headline technology is its delivery of HDR and native 4K images via a direct-lit LCD panel with local dimming. Tests have consistently proved the direct LED/local dimming combination to be a more satisfactory solution for HDR than the cheaper edge LED lighting option, since the former reduces the amount of backlight pollution you see with high-contrast HDR shots.
Philip claims the 65PUS7601 uses 128 separate dimming zones too – an impressively high number that makes the set’s £2,000/$3,000 price appear seriously aggressive.
However, the 65PUS7601 doesn’t meet the specification requirements of the Ultra HD Premium standard laid out by the AV industry’s Ultra HD Alliance. It peaks at around 700 nits rather than the required 1,000 nits, and only covers around 76% of the so-called DCI-P3 colour spectrum rather than 90%.
The 65PUS7601 offers decent connectivity. Four HDMIs (only two offer full HDR/4K support) are joined by three USBs and network options. The network options support internet streaming and multimedia file playback from networked DLNA-enabled devices.
Day-to-day use of the 65PUS7601 brings you into contact with Philips’ own TV setting menus and the Android smart TV system. Unfortunately, neither delivers a particularly friendly user experience. Philips’ menus are stuffed with submenus and interwoven complexities, while Android frustrates by always taking over the whole screen, wasting space with a pointless recommendations system, and failing to provide a decent level of customisation options.
Android does at least solve Philips’ old problem of lagging behind rival brands with the number of apps at its disposal. There are hundreds of them. However, there’s still no support for Amazon Video or the majority of the UK’s catch-up TV services.
Fortunately, Philips’ own non-Android smart TV “area” now supports Amazon, but you still only get half of the UK’s main terrestrial broadcaster catch-up TV services.
The powerful Perfect Pixel Ultra HD processing in the 65PUS7601 has tendrils that extend into essentially every part of the picture. Colour, contrast, brightness, HDR modes, motion… the 65PUS7601 covers pretty every aspect of TV picture performance you can think of.
Having such control at your finger tips is welcome, although the amount of flexibility on offer can be quite daunting. Especially since some of the features can actually make pictures look worse.
Certain types of hard-line AV purist will probably dislike almost all of Philips’ TV processing options on principle. That could be a problem given that you really do need to use some of the colour, contrast and motion processing tools if you want the TV to look its best.
And finally, the 65PUS7601 doesn’t feature 3D support. Philips has joined Samsung in restricting all of its TVs to 2D for 2016.
The 65PUS7601 joins a very small group of TVs that offer a genuine and involving HDR experience without costing the earth.
The key to its success is its direct LED/local dimming light engine. For a start, it’s capable of delivering exceptionally deep black colours for an LCD TV. What’s more, no other brand this year – not even Panasonic, with its honeycomb technology – has produced a direct LED lighting solution that combines such inky black colours with so little light “blooming” around bright objects.
We’re not talking OLED levels of light/dark precision here, given that every pixel in an OLED screen delivers its own light. But the 65PUS7601’s light management is certainly outstanding by LCD standards.
What’s more, the 65PUS7601 suffers precious little with backlight distractions, even when watching contrast-rich HDR content.
This may in part be down to the 65PUS7601’s peak brightness level of around 700 nits falling substantially short of that achieved by this year’s most potent HDR TVs. But I can easily imagine AV fans willingly trading brightness for a more immersive viewing experience relatively free of the backlight pollution distractions you see with more aggressively bright screens.
To be clear, the nifty way in which the 65PUS7601 allocates its power around the screen means you still feel like you’re experiencing HDR with HDR sources, despite the screen not formally reaching that Ultra HD Premium target of 1,000 nits. It does no harm to the HDR feel that the screen does such a good job of reaching the darkest parts of HDR pictures – especially since the deep blacks don’t come at the expense of too much shadow detailing.
Colour performance is similar to contrast performance in that while it doesn’t “measure” as well as some HDR TVs, it still proves extremely easy on the eye. You still get a sense of a wider, more dynamic colour palette with HDR content, despite the relatively limited native tonal range. This is a result of the screen’s impressive light and energy management, and also because of Philips’ potent colour-enhancement processing.
Colour processing does need to be handled with care, though; as with most Philips processing options, it can go too far if set to its highest levels. However, as with most Philips processing options, if managed carefully it does produce results that seem to stretch beyond the supposed physical limitations of the screen.
This is true even when it comes to resolution. The Ultra HD Resolution processor can be applied to native 4K content, achieving a sharpness level beyond 4K. I’m not actually recommending this, since it can result in noise levels that are distractingly high. Furthermore, the 65PUS7601’s native UHD picture is seriously sharp and crisp anyway, so it really doesn’t require any additional processing. Just save the Ultra HD Resolution for upscaled HD content.
Philips has long taken an unusually aggressive approach to motion clarity, and this continues with the 65PUS7601’s Perfect Natural Motion circuit. On its highest levels, this removes all judder and motion blur. While this sounds excellent on paper, it reality it causes a few distracting side effects.
Fortunately, the latest Perfect Pixel Ultra HD processing engine lets you use the motion processing on its lowest setting to reduce judder and blur, and avoid those unwanted side effects. So the 65PUS7601 can retain its impressive sharpness even during action scenes.
While the 65PUS7601’s processing tricks and core picture strengths add up to a mostly brilliantly watchable picture, there is some bad news. For starters, the excellent freedom from haloing around bright HDR objects is only within a very narrow viewing angle. From as little as 25-30 degrees down the TV’s side, the halos suddenly start to show up quite aggressively.
The 65PUS7601 also suffers missing details in the very brightest parts of HDR pictures – although not to the extent of LG’s latest OLED TVs. Plus, as discussed earlier, you’re given a degree of choice over how obvious this detail/tone “clipping” is.
Next, while the 65PUS7601 does an exceptional smoke and mirrors act of making you think you’re experiencing both a huge colour gamut and greatly expanded dynamic range, it doesn’t hit the brightness peak and colour volume heights of a Samsung UE65KS9500, or the black level perfection of an LG OLED. This means that it isn’t delivering HDR images with “as the director intended” accuracy.
Nevertheless, the simple fact is that the 65PUS7601’s pictures are capable of looking both more spectacular and immersive than those of any other similarly sized and priced TV.
If you’re a gamer, the 65PUS7601 is an almost obscene amount of fun – partly because of its size, intensity of its pictures and use of Ambilight – but also because lag input measures a mere 30ms on the Game preset.
The 65PUS7601 rounds out its striking powers of immersion with a strong sound performance. You can push it surprisingly loud for such a thin TV. Aside from some slightly soupy deep male tones, voices sound natural and part of their environment.
The speakers are sensitive enough to pick up quite subtle details, but also aggressive enough to expand the soundstage to embrace action scenes. The only audio catch is that even a woofer on the TV’s rear can’t quite stop the very highest sounds from occasionally becoming overly prominent.
SHOULD I BUY THE PHILIPS 65PUS7601?
If you want the most accurate and dramatic HDR pictures this year, you need to be stretching your budget to the Samsung UE65KS9500. But Samsung’s model costs almost twice as much as the 65PUS7601.
The Panasonic 65DX902 series also goes brighter and delivers a much wider colour palette than the 65PUS7601, but it costs £800/$1200 more than the Philips, and suffers with quite noticeable backlight haloing issues with extreme-contrast HDR images.
Both these Samsung and Panasonic contenders join the 65PUS7601 in using direct LED lighting. If you consider an edge LED lighting TV then you’ll be able to find rivals that are closer to the Philips 65PUS7601’s price. In particular, the Samsung UE65KS9000, which is around £500/$750 more than the 65PUS7601. The Panasonic TX-58DX802 series, too, does well for just £1,300/$1,950 – although this series tops out at a relatively small 58 inches.
Finally, Sony’s KD-65XD9305 currently retails for £2,300/$3,450, and at times looks jaw-droppingly good with wider colour and more brightness than the 65PUS7601. However, this Sony and all the edge LED rivals suffer with areas of backlight pollution and reduced contrast during dark HDR scenes versus the direct-lit 65PUS7601.
The bottom line is that, currently, there really isn’t a TV out there at the 65PUS7601’s price that delivers such a consistently immersive – albeit not entirely accurate – HDR experience.
The Philips 65PUS7601 is a TV that dares to do things a little differently – with hugely enjoyable results.