The Philips PUS7181 is a budget UHD compatible TV launched in 2016. It comes packed with lots of features, some thanks to being based on the Android TV operating system.
- 4K resolution (3840×2160)
- 16GB internal storage
- LED backlight
- IPS panel
- Quad-core processor
- 3-side Ambilight (left, right, top)
- 400cd/m2 brightness
- Wi-Fi (n)
- 18 kg (22 kg including stand)
The image quality is a bit of a mixed bag. Being an IPS panel the colors are natural and nicely saturated, and viewing angles remain good as long as the content on screen is well lit. Out of the box, however, every form of post-processing is enabled to make the image pop as much as possible; but this is not very usable for proper watching. See my configuration guide here for (my) optimal settings.
I was pleasantly surprised that there’s no perceivable ghosting, unlike what I’ve seen on many other cheaper displays. Motion remains smooth while keeping the image crisp, with no apparent artifacts, even when playing back 4K content.
The most prominent issue with the image quality is by far the clouding. This was to be expected to some extent, as this is a common problem with IPS displays. It will probably look different from TV to TV, but my particular sample had some serious and irregular clouding, which is clearly visible in low lighting when watching content with black bars (read; all feature films).
Another issue I’ve had is that the picture is too bright. Yes, even when turned to the lowest possible setting. This might not sound like a huge issue, but the consequence is that it’s straining (and in the long run, impossible) to watch content in an otherwise completely dark room. I don’t know why the lowest limit is set so high, but a guess would be that the lighting is PWM controlled, and would start flickering at low frequencies. This problem also ties into the clouding issue, which could be somewhat mitigated if one could turn the backlight intensity lower, but unfortunately that’s not possible.
There’s not much to comment on when it comes to the audio quality. The soundbar at the bottom is very slim, and delivers sound as one would expect. There’s also a bigger element (“subwoofer”) on the back of the TV, but it fails to deliver any deep or punchy sounds, and instead mostly acts support for the mid frequencies. As such, voices sound clear and crisp, while music and action sounds a bit flat and uninteresting.
The materials give a high quality impression. It has a brushed steel look, and while it’s made of plastic it doesn’t feel cheap. The stand is solid and heavy, but still doesn’t really manage to keep the TV from wobbling a quite bit, since it’s only center-mounted.
The remote control on the other hand feels quite cheap. It has a hollow plastic feel to it, and the buttons are a strange combination of spongy clicky-ness. They have very little travel, which might be explained by the fact that there isn’t much room considering there’s a full keyboard on the backside of the remote as well. The keyboard itself works well enough, though it sometimes seems to miss a keystroke or two.
I feel this feature alone deserves it’s own section, as Philips are still clinging on to its patents to be the only manufacturer with this capability.
This is actually my first encounter with Ambilight. Overall it has been a pleasant experience. Admittedly, I can’t even turn it off anymore without feeling that the experience gets flat without it, so I guess that’s a positive testament to its contribution. That being said, it’s not perfect. There are situations where it works extremely well, like when the borders of the screens display a landscape or backdrop of some kind. The Ambilight system does an excellent job extending those views beyond the screen. The problem however, arises when smaller objects get close to the edges. A common example is someones head, which will project orange-ish color all over the side of the wall, as if the persons head continues outside the screen. Or just something as simple as a Coke can that happens to be in the background will project red light across the wall.
I’ve also noticed that neither the hue nor the saturation of the lights always match up well with the content on display, which creates a slightly jarring experience. All-in-all it’s not a perfect system, but when it works (which it most often does), it works really well, even if you’re not actively thinking about it.
Another thing I’ve reflected upon is that watching content with black bars is a bit odd, as the Ambilight on the top will compensate for this and actually ignore the black gap and instead follow the material below. While this might sound as the obvious solution, it has the side-effect that there will be a completely black gap between the material and the light on the wall. Had they been smart, there would be a setting to move the material up to get rid of the black gap so as to get a more natural extension.
The TV is running Android OS, instead of something proprietary like many other manufacturers choose to do. This was one of the reasons I chose this TV, because I believe in the Android eco system. After playing around a bit I’m somewhat disappointed though. The selection of apps in the Play store is quite small, and I’ve had some problems with poor stability. I’ve also gotten annoyed by inconsequent behavior when navigating the menus, and it is clear that they (Philips? Google?) have some work left regarding UX, because the menus are a pain in the ass to navigate at times. Configuring the channel list had me literally scratching my head until I finally gave up and googled the answer, and even then it turned out to be quite the undertaking. It took me about 45 minutes to reorder 17 channels.
I’m also missing a nice way to store different profiles, and conveniently changing between them. For example, there are profiles for Ambilight, picture and sound; but no way to combine the three. I have to manually set each of them every time. I’ve also noticed that some of my settings are lost randomly.
I think Philips and Google have some work left to do, so what I hope for now is to continue receiving updates that improve the software (there has actually been a few since the release).
Ok, a lot of complaining, but the overall experience is still a positive one. The UI is neat and responsive, there’s a lot you can configure to your liking, and watching Youtube, Netflix, or other streaming services works without a hitch, even in 4K.
All-in-all, the Philips PUS7181 is a mixed bag. This is nothing surprising considering its price point, which was €710 at the time of purchase. This TV provides a high bang-for-the-buck, but if you’re looking for the perfect picture or sound, you won’t find it here. I do however recommend this TV for anyone who is looking for a cheap entry into the world of 4K!
What impressed the most was probably the Ambilight system, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m hooked now.
Note: I will continue updating this review as more things come to light.