What Hi-Fi (UK)
SYSTEM 2: MID-PRICE
Philips 65OLED805 (£1800) Panasonic DP-UB820EB (£299) Sony STR-DN1080 (£429) Q Acoustics 3010i 5.1 Cinema Pack (£895) Sky Q
Our midranking system in this AV trio brings together a complete set of five 2020 What Hi-fi? Award winners. And it really is as impressive a team as those individual components ought to make it sound.
The face of this quintet is Philips’ vast and vastly talented 65in OLED – winner of our Best 65in TV over £2000 Award. As you can see here, it is available at the time of writing for comfortably under that price – so this is a true bargain of a premium set now.
While most TVS offer either Dolby Vision or HDR10+, Philips is one of a handful of manufacturers (Panasonic is another) to offer both. While HDR10+ is certainly less desirable than Dolby Vision, it is slowly becoming more popular (it’s the favoured dynamic HDR format for Amazon Prime Video, for example), so having both is reassuring.
The OLED805’S sharpness and detail are its greatest strengths. From close-ups to wide-angled aerial shots, everything is rendered with a crispness and solidity that few rivals can match.
The colour reproduction is excellent, too. 1917’s palette is muted but not lifeless, and the OLED805 happily finds a sweet spot, ensuring that green fields are verdant without being vivid, and faces are flushed without being artificially rosy.
The 65OLED805 is a superb TV. Not only does it look and sound better than its rivals, it’s cheaper and adds the rather wonderful Ambilight to the equation. So for our purposes here, it’s a terrific choice.
And Panasonic’s Blu-ray player does a great job of showing off the Philips at its best. This chunky rectangle of a machine may feel a little plasticky, but it is much beefier than any budget offering out there.
There aren’t many surprises on the back of the Panasonic, but it does tick all the boxes you’d expect at this price. There’s ethernet for a wired internet connection (recommended if you’re streaming via the player’s built-in apps) while twin HDMI outputs give added flexibility for owners who prefer to split the picture and sound for their display and amp.
The DP-UB820 also covers all the necessary bases where HDR (high dynamic range) formats are concerned. There’s HDR10 and Dolby Vision support out of the box, and HDR10+ support too.
We fire up the player with Blue Planet II in 4K and HDR10. We head to the Galapagos Islands, where we’re greeted with a detailed and sharply drawn volcanic landscape. The picture proves to be as vibrant and immersive above sea level as it is below.
As marine iguanas nibble away at vegetation on the sea floor, the Panasonic picks up an impressive level of detail on their skin, claws, face and even the fine lines that separate their teeth. They convene on a sun-kissed clifftop, where the DP-UB820 paints an eye-catching and immersive picture.
There’s a sudden burst of vibrant colour as a crab appears to feed on dead skin from the iguana’s back. The crab’s reds, oranges and bluey-whites appear punchy, contrasting with the darker skin of their hosts.
The DP-UB820 is a decent upscaler too. The original Transformers movie on Blu-ray is a stern test – there’s plenty of noise and the colour balance has a warmish tint – but the Panasonic does a good job of working the picture into something watchable.
The Panasonic complements its exciting picture with a sound to match. The DP-UB820 delivers a weighty and powerful performance that’s capable of delivering explosions with plenty of gusto, but also in a controlled manner.
It’s a more muscular and grown-up sound than that of many budget players, with rich dialogue irrespective of whether the scene is quiet or characters are caught up in an avalanche of surround effects.
And, to translate the digital output of the Blu-ray player into analogue sound, Sony’s outstanding AV amplifier can’t be bettered at the price. This surround sound champ has been around for quite some time now, four years and counting in fact, but still it takes home our Award each year as the best amp under £750 – for the fourth time in 2020.
A Fantastic Beast of a machine
It takes only a couple of minutes of listening to the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them 4K Blu-ray to remember why we admire this powerhouse so much. The Sony STR-DN 1080 sounds fantastic, reaching deep into its reserves to deliver a performance packed with punch, dynamism and authority in a way we haven’t heard at this sort of price.
There’s an incredible amount of detail, from natural, expressive voices to layers of insight and depth surrounding each sound effect. As a glass window shatters under a spell, you can hear the sharp tinkling as well as the deep, sonic note rippling around the effect; forgive the pun, but it’s a spellbinding listen.
Dynamically, it’s fun and exciting. Quiet moments are as captivating as huge explosions going off in every corner of the big, open soundfield – and the DN1080 handles the changing shifts with masterful control. It’s enthralling.
Surround effects swirl around convincingly and you can track exactly where each noise – whether it’s a spell, a crash, a gunshot or a magical creature – is placed in the soundfield. It envelops you in a cocoon of sound.
This amp has a rhythmic quality that lends itself well to music, whether you’re listening to a concert Blu-ray or streaming music from Spotify. A home cinema amp at this level isn’t a match for a dedicated stereo amplifier such as the Rega io, but the Sony handles dynamic shifts and vocals in a fluid, articulate manner that sounds more musical than most amps.
And our usual go-to as far as surround speaker packages go at this level makes another appearance here, to make as much of the Sony amp’s considerable talents as possible. Q Acoustics’ three-time Award-winning package is a triumphant synergy of five-star speakers, together with a centre channel and a subwoofer that positively refuse to let the side down.
The package provides a convincing surround-sound presentation that is bags of fun to listen to. That’s not surprising, considering the front and rear channels are speakers we called “rhythmically entertaining” as a stereo pair.
You get a strong sense of their hi-fi roots, their effortless musicality breezing through the enjoyably eclectic soundtrack of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Whether it’s the rhythmic drum beats in Kashmere Stage Band’s Kashmere, the jazzy piano in Carla Thomas’s B-A-B-Y or the bouncy basslines that drive Baby’s recorded remixes, the Q Acoustics ensure they’re lively and dynamic.
In the opening scene, Baby’s finger taps, the windscreen-wiper sweeps and the gentle revving of the car all come through with clarity, and the 3010is keep one hand on guitar rhythms in The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms underneath the cacophony of the car chase.
It’s all backed up by decent scale and spaciousness – winning traits for home cinema set-ups, of course – as well as tight integration between the speakers. Placed around our AV testing room, they manage to deliver a gapless, busy yet coherent soundfield.
As the smallest standmount in the 3000i range, the 3010is can bring only so much bass in terms of quantity and depth, though – so that is where the subwoofer comes in.
We play Alien: Covenant and the sub brings definite low-end presence to the otherwise bass-limited presentation, seamlessly taking over from the 3010is. It provides atmospheric rumble when the Covenant hovers on-screen, and more devastating bass when thunder is heard.
To complete the full picture, we have to fall back on our old faithful Sky Q. It’s undeniably an expensive way to watch television and consume media, but as an overall package it feels utterly contemporary, combining almost every way of watching TV and allowing you to access them all over your home. This is as good as TV gets, providing you can bear the not-inconsiderable monthly cost.
SONY’S OUTSTANDING AV AMPLIFIER CAN’T BE BETTERED AT THE PRICE. THIS FOUR-YEAR-OLD SURROUND SOUND CHAMP STILL TAKES HOME OUR AWARD EACH YEAR AS THE BEST AMP UNDER £750 – FOR THE FOURTH TIME IN 2020