Philips 65PUS8901 hands on review

It takes a lot for a TV’s design to stand out these days. No longer is it a distinct advantage to put out a super-slim unit with a thinner-than-ever bezel and a shiny stand, because everyone is doing it. However, we can always pick a Philips out of a line-up.

Nobody else has the audacity to make televisions with a load of flashing lights. We’re referring to Philips’ Ambilight technology, a bizarre staple of Philips TVs and a rather unique selling point. Strips of LEDs beam light onto the wall, creating a halo of light to reflect the colours of whatever is happening on-screen.

Why? Philips says it’s the modern equivalent of putting a lamp on top of an old (and big) CRT TV: a way to make the viewing experience less taxing on the eyes. The secondary function is to take the image beyond the borders of the screen, making the picture look bigger than it actually is.

Is it a gimmick? Maybe, maybe not. We can see the appeal, even if it takes acclimatisation. Philips fully believes in it, and to this end the company has taken Ambilight to the next level: Ambilux, which trades LEDs for projectors. That’s the party trick of the Philips 65PUS8901: the TV that turns your front room into a tiny rave.

Ambilux – what is it?

Nine tiny projectors. Nine.

The Philips 65PUS8901 is one of the range’s high-end models. It doesn’t have flagship status (that comes later in the year) but it’s fancy enough to sit at the VIP table, and it is one of a kind. It is the only one in the range to boast Ambilux technology, and only available in 65 inches. Philips is gunning for the serious buyers.

So, Ambilux. While your standard Ambilight TVs have their lights positioned at the edges, this Ambulux TV has them in the centre. And instead of strips of LEDs, there are nine ‘pico-projectors’, arranged in a semicircle.

Why? While LEDs could roughly match the colours and motion on screen, they were limited in colour range and definition. What you got was basically not far off what you can see in your peripheral vision: a blur. By using projectors, that halo around your TV can now more accurately reflect what’s on screen. You can have a blur if you want, but on the ‘extreme’ setting, that halo now has the ability to mimic specific shapes on screen. Trees, mountains, even vehicles.

But do you want that? It feels a little alien at first. Philips recommends starting on a gentler, less dynamic setting and working your way up to maximum colours, movement and definition. From the little we’ve seen, we reckon it will take a while to get used to, but it may indeed help to make films more immersive.

Video games, on the other hand, are another matter. Something about the interactive nature of games is inherently compatible with dynamic peripheral vision. We were treated to a quick go on Halo (how apt); when lasers fly across your living room wall and onto your screen, the feeling of immersion is immediate and significantly more powerful than something like 3D (which no 2016 Philips TV supports).


Once you get over the glaring light show of the Ambilux projectors, you’ll find a 65in edge-lit LED display with a 4K Ultra HD resolution (3840×2160). The panel has a peak brightness of 450nits, where one nit is roughly equivalent to one candle’s light.

That’s quite far from the UHD Premium standard’s recommendation of 1000nits, but Philips says this TV is still HDR compatible. Well, it will be when it receives a software upgrade in Q2 2016.

How does it perform? Rather well, at first glance. Bear in mind we were shown the TV with a series of retina-searing clips and no access to the display’s calibration settings.

Philips doesn’t tend to struggle with sharpness, and this particular model is no exception. What we saw was a crisp picture that did a good job defining a mountain biker’s mudflaps.

It went bright enough, too. Colours pop, perhaps enough to make something of HDR content when it lands. Then again, we’re not too sure about the contrast and its ability to juggle extreme whites with deep blacks. We’ll be able to say for sure once the set is finished and updated.

Android TV

Come on, Google. Get us those apps.

The Philips 65PUS8901 runs on Google’s Android TV operating system. At the moment it’s still on Android 5.0 Lollipop, but Android 6.0 Marshmallow is coming (via software update) and will bring performance and aesthetic upgrades.

We’ve seen Android TV before, and here we see the same strengths and weaknesses. Strengths? It’s an attractive, nicely laid out interface. You won’t get lost any time soon. A bonus is that it’s tied in with Google Cast, where compatible apps (and even Chrome browsers) can be pinged over to the TV.

The problem that persists is a lack of apps. The only main draws we could see were Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Philips says the Amazon will come via software update in Q2 2016, but there’s no word on the UK’s catch-up apps such as ITV Player and All 4.

Initial verdict

No doubt about it, the Philips PUS8901 is a sight to behold. We’ve lovingly dubbed it ‘the rave TV’, a moniker that’s likely to stick. Ambilux is an insane, eye-melting feature that, once you’re accustomed to it, may prove indispensible. As for the rest of the TV, first impressions are good but it seems rather dependent on upcoming software updates. Hopefully it will be ready when we get our final sample. We will be updating this page when that happens – watch this space.


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