This five-star home cinema system combines a Philips OLED TV with an innovative Dolby Atmos system from Sony

0

The practicalities of a soundbar cannot be denied, and a good one is always better than the sound of a TV. Additionally, as technology and with it the ambitions of engineers increase, so do the benefits of investing in a soundbar. The best can now give a decent impression of a home theater speaker system without the need for bulky and possibly awkward extra boxes cluttering the room.

The key phrase here, however, is “make a decent impression”; having physical speakers doing the surround sound work is pretty much always the best option if you can accommodate them. That’s not always easy, especially when you factor in the need to place speakers precisely and find space in the rack for a home theater amp to drive all those extra boxes as well.

What we have here then is a very good one, just a bit beyond the midpoint between these two more conventional options.

The system

TV: Philips 48OLED806 (£899)
Surround package: Sony HT-A9 (£1799 / $1999 / AU$2699)
Total: £2698

TV: Philips 48OLED806

Philips 48OLED806

(Image credit: future)

The Philips 48OLED806 is What HiFi?TV Product of the Year. If you’re considering replacing a smaller, older TV and can’t fathom the seemingly insane size of most modern TVs, please don’t overlook this set. Forty-eight inches might seem a lot bigger than your old set, but its minimal bezel just might mean it can fit in the same kind of space.

On the back are two HDMI 2.1 sockets, two HDMI 2.0, three USB, an optical output and a headphone socket to go through cable instead of Bluetooth (which also has). And of course this set comes with Philips’ Ambilight system, where LEDs shine on the wall behind, changing color to match the image on screen and helping to create a more atmospheric and cinematic experience. It might seem a bit fancy at first, but turn it off and you’ll miss it.

One thing to keep in mind is that one of the two HDMI 2.1 sockets is also the one that handles eARC, which means that if you have two HDMI 2.1 sources (an Xbox Series X and PS5 or a high-end gaming PC range), you also won’t be able to send sound via eARC to a soundbar or AV receiver. This is a limitation of all the TVs we tested that have two HDMI 2.1 sockets; but Philips mitigates this somewhat by supporting standard ARC through its other HDMI sockets. It won’t get you lossless, TrueHD Dolby Atmos, but it will get you Atmos in Dolby Digital+ format, and we doubt many will hear much of a difference.

The Philips isn’t the friendliest to set up or use, but once you have things the way you like them, that’s not a big deal. On the plus side, Philips’ mixed operating system approach means nearly total coverage when it comes to apps and services. All the UK catch-ups are here, Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video are all available in top quality for sound and viewing.

If you find something else you need is missing, you can always use the platform’s Chromecast feature to send streams from your phone, tablet or computer directly to your TV. You can, of course, also add a 4K Blu-ray player, but thanks to the streaming smarts of this setup, it doesn’t really need one.

The main reason this set won its Product of the Year award and its place here, however, is its outstanding picture performance. Sharper and more sophisticated in its use of light, it feels just a cut above its main rivals.

It also has the best motion processing we’ve ever seen on a Philips TV. Its color performance is equally impressive. Whether in 4K or HD, the 806 captures what looks like a true version of each hue. Suffice it to say, the picture performance on this small-sized set is head and shoulders above the rest. It’s the best on the market right now for those looking for a premium TV with a more manageable footprint.

Surround package: Sony HT-A9

Sony HT-A9

(Image credit: future)

The cinema system we paired it with is a rather curious beast, somewhere in the road between the convenience of a soundbar and the full surround sound of a 5.1 system.

The Sony HT-A9 takes advantage of many of the benefits of each of these sound solutions and does its best to deliver the best of both worlds. It gives you the obvious benefits of having the speakers spread out across the listening area, while not being as picky about their placement as most normal surround packages. Indeed, it is so effective that it almost encourages its users to test it by arbitrarily positioning the speakers. It promises an even, uniform and immersive sound field no matter how symmetrical your setup is and despite your best efforts.

Sony is hesitant to define the system in terms of discrete channels, saying instead that the four units will create a bubble of sound from 12 “phantom” speakers. Sony is keen to point out that the speakers don’t need to be placed at the same height or in a regulated formation, although each approximate position is labeled on the underside. More intriguingly, there’s no dedicated center speaker to anchor on-screen dialogue.

If one reserves a healthy dose of skepticism about ghost channels and sound bubbles, the HT-A9’s wide speaker dispersion is instantly striking and undeniably effective. Watch the race Loan player one in Dolby Atmos, there’s a tangible sense of distance and movement as vehicles glide and weave through the sound field. Having four equally sized, capable and far-reaching speakers means off-screen sounds are transmitted just as well as those in front. There’s a refined precision and texture that’s more immersive than any soundbar we’ve tried.

In dialogue-heavy scenes, despite the lack of a dedicated center channel, speech clarity is good. We find that when the front speakers are placed away from the screen, voices can sometimes sound slightly behind or be heard more directly from the speakers than from the center. But never in a way that excessively distracts or affects intelligibility, even when trying a very unbalanced arrangement. Still, we’d suggest positioning the front pair relatively close to the TV to help tighten up the picture.

There are still limits to what it can offer, and despite the HT-A9’s tonal range, precision and expansiveness that shines nearly any similarly priced soundbar, the system doesn’t have it all. quite the same fidelity and transparency that we expect. from a set of traditional loudspeakers.

Sony’s HT-A9 speaker system delivers unpretentious, immersive home cinema sound, successfully combining the ease and streaming capabilities of a soundbar with the consistency and immersion of a traditional surround set.

Verdict

This is an accessible and generous setup for people who want to add entertaining sound to their living room without being overpriced and would work well for large families or who live in awkward spaces. It’s incredibly forgiving in its placement, and it’s a wonderful match for the Philips TV we’ve paired it with here.

When you pair Sony’s neat speaker system with Philips’ stunning 48-inch OLED TV, which provides the source material here all on its own, you’ve got a terrific way to really immerse yourself in your movies and box sets in a small to medium – size piece. This might not be a setup that many people would have considered, but we think small home and apartment dwellers should seriously consider it. It’s a belt.

AFTER:

This superb AV system delivers thrills on a 65-inch TV with Sony sound and Dolby Atmos from Sonos

This sensational gaming system combines OLED TV technology, HDMI 2.1 support and Dolby Atmos audio

Our choice of best Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray players 2022

Share.

Comments are closed.