Review: Philips 7800 series Ultra-Slim Smart 4K Ultra-HD LED TV

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The Philips 55PUS7809 is an ultra-slim smart 4K UHD LED TV with Ambilight technology (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)

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For all this year's noise about the dawn of 4K TV, the consumer market is still very much in its infancy. As such, it can be difficult to know what to look for when considering a purchase. With its flagship 55PUS7809, Philips is hoping factors such as HD upscaling, Ambilight and price will help it to stand out from the crowd.

It's important to contextualize just how embryonic the UHD TV market is. Currently, the only way to watch 4K TV content is via Netflix, and even then there are only a handful of shows available. YouTube has a 4K channel, but playing the content requires a powerful computer. It's possible to find bits and pieces of sample content to download, but on the whole it's few and far between.

People who are both selling and buying UHD TVs in this environment, therefore, are working somewhat in the dark. Without a market to sell to, there's a relative dearth of information on which to base your designs or, in turn, your buying decisions. With the 7809, Philips has sought to minimize this risk by having existing technology act as a fallback for any shortcomings of its new technology. This review will look at how well it's achieved this goal, and if indeed there are any shortcomings.

Build

First things first, the 7809 is a stunning-looking piece of kit. The frameless design with aluminum edging gives the TV a sleek, clean-looking design and a real feel of build quality. The picture doesn't quite fill the 55-in screen, with about a 1 cm (0.4-in) black border around the outside when it's switched on, but this is not something that detracts from viewing. The slight bezel running along the bottom of the screen, including the raised mount for the Philips badge, is understated. Even the stand is rather handsomely designed, whilst remaining sturdy.

The rear looks much the same as any other modern TV, with a variety of inputs and connection sockets. There are four HDMI inputs in total, but none of these support HDMI 2.0 and so there's no way of showing 4K content with a frame-rate of above 30 fps via HDMI. This is one criticism about the 7809 that has been fairly widespread.

Elsewhere, there are three USB ports, a common interface slot and an aerial input. An ethernet port is available for hardwiring the TV rather than connecting it to a Wi-Fi network. A chunky-looking speaker is also mounted in the rear of the TV, despite its ultra-thin 35-mm (1.4-in) depth, which is remarkable in itself and would have been unthinkable until relatively recently. Up each side of the rear is a strip of Ambilight LEDs, which we'll discuss later.

User experience

Interacting with the 7809 is unequivocally not as slick as the TV's design and build. When switching the TV on, there's a 10-second delay between pressing the power button on the remote, and a channel loading up. That alone wouldn't be too much of a concern, but along with the other quirks of the TV's user experience it becomes quite frustrating.

The 7809 has perhaps the longest lag between pressing buttons on the remote control and anything actually happening on-screen of any TV I've used. I found myself regularly thinking that button-presses hadn't been registered, only to repeat the action and have the TV register both. Thus, channel 1 becomes channel 11, and trying to access any menu results in your coming straight back out of it.

That is, of course, if the button does register that you've pressed it. To confuse matters more, the remote control is not the most responsive. This means that on occasion, you are left waiting for the TV to respond to a request it hasn't received. All this is terribly infuriating – and all the more so because this is an expensive and powerful piece of equipment. A thing so simple as the interaction with it should be barely noticeable. I would be dubious about buying any TV to use on a daily basis with this failing.

The menus themselves are intuitive and easy to use. Menus and the TV guide are clearly laid out and straightforward to navigate. The smart TV menu could perhaps be a little easier to use. It presents a host of service logos, such as YouTube and Spotify, with little context about how the services might be used or, indeed, what they are. This is not so much of an issue for YouTube and Spotify, but for lesser-known services users are left to find out what they do by exploring them. On the whole though, most users will find the smart features pretty familiar and understandable.

Philips should be given credit for building a QWERTY keyboard into the rear of the remote control. With TVs increasingly requiring text input, such as for searches or passwords, it's a sensible and helpful addition, albeit one that also suffers from the TV/remote slow response.

Picture

The 7809 doesn't come with native support for H.265, which is needed in order to play back 4K content on Netflix. Philips explains that its 880 Media Player will provide this support when it's released early next year, but there's no doubt that this is a bad miss. Having paid good money for a 4K TV, users can reasonably feel aggrieved at being asked to shell out for an additional piece of hardware to watch 4K content.

Pleasingly, things pick up dramatically once you actually start watching something on the 7809. The demo 4K content provided by Philips is, of course, designed to show the TV in its best light, but nonetheless the image quality is exceptional. I found the standard picture too dark, but with a bit of trial and error it was possible to find a more agreeable setting. There are six from which to choose, depending on what type of content you're watching.

Colors on-screen are well balanced and are accentuated by Philips' Ambilight technology. Although it isn't new, Ambilight is perhaps one of the more enduring TV innovations of recent times. There's no doubt it makes for a more immersive experience and, coupled with a 4K picture, it is especially effective here.

The provided timelapse footage of landscapes (which seems to be standard for this sort of thing) was actually an oversight in one sense. Philips has been very vocal about the smoothness the 600 Hz screen of the 7809 can achieve with moving images, and timelapse footage isn't the best for this. Watching the same HD movie side-by-side with my Samsung HD TV, however, the smoothness about which Philips boasts was made plain. The Samsung was so jittery in comparison, despite being a great piece of kit itself. Philips can certainly be proud of this.

That comparison was in an effort to see what the upscaling was like for standard HD content. Indeed, there's a marked increased in sharpness and picture quality that's further improved by the motion smoothness. The 7809 actually suffers from a common complaint about HD and UHD TVs, in that they can look "too real" during movies. Fortunately, setting the 7809's picture mode to "movie" was enough to nullify this. Watching an HD nature documentary on the TV, meanwhile, was a revelation. There's no such thing as "too real" where such documentaries are concerned and it looked breathtaking on the 7809.

Audio

As with picture style, there are six audio profile options to choose from, depending on your preference and the type of content you are playing. In addition to standard and personal settings, there are modes for watching news, watching movies, gaming and listening to music. It does feel like more options could be provided, but anyone serious about sound will likely add their own sound-bar or speaker system and the options provided are certainly adequate.

Verdict

The 55PUS7809 shows just what Philips is capable of in terms of UHD TVs. It handles both existing HD and 4K content superbly and for £1,500 (US$2,420) is well-priced for a 55-in UHD screen. For me, the poor user experience would be too irritating to live with on a day-to-day basis and the lack of native H.265 support is the final nail in the coffin. Having said that, the 7809 does point to what Philips is capable of producing and, if you're in no rush to buy a 4K TV, it would be well worth waiting to see what its next models have to offer.

The Philips 55PUS7809 is available to buy now in Europe and Russia.

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