Bang & Olufsen BeoVision Avant 55 Ultra HDTV Review

Eyes On: Bang & Olufsen BeoVision Avant 55 Ultra HDTV

After Darryl took his turn with the BeoVision Avant 55 Ultra HDTV and its wireless sound system, I spent a week assessing its picture quality. Given its cost and fancy whiz-bang design, one might be quick to dismiss it as just a lifestyle product. But you’d be wrong: The Avant 55 is soundly in the high-performance category and not without some cutting-edge technology.

Make no mistake, though: B&O knows its customer, and that’s someone who wants to be wowed by a great picture without having to know where to find the video menu. So the Avant has some advanced automatic picture modes, including the most sophisticated ambient light compensation scheme I’ve seen to date. A dual-sided optical sensor juts off the top-right corner of the TV and reads ambient light behind the panel as well as in front, measuring not just levels (to adjust brightness/contrast), but also color temperature of the light behind the set to enable something called Chromatic Room Adaption. For example, if you were to switch the TV to its Movie picture mode to invoke the industry-standard D65 color temperature called for by the Rec. 709 spec, you’ll get (a targeted) D65 at your eyeballs; even if the late-afternoon sun saturates the room in orange, the set temporarily adjusts its gray scale so that you’ll still observe the neutral grays and whites you’d expect in a dark room with a well-calibrated display. And speaking of calibration, you can’t—the user controls offer neither white balance adjustments nor a color management system for tweaking color gamut. Instead, Bang & Olufsen has introduced with the Avant series a 10-point calibration that takes place at the factory. Still, I tweaked a bit, notably backing down the color control to desaturate red and bring out differences in skin tone.

I watched a fair amount of broadcast TV on the Avant, plus Full HD 1080p movies from my Roku 3 and Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player. Full HD scaled to the Avant’s 3840 x 2160 screen looked mostly stunning and engaging from a 7-foot distance—to the point where even my otherwise oblivious teenage kids commented on the image quality. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade offered an explosion of colors, and as someone who frequently walks through Herald Square, I was struck by the lifelike accuracy of the red and green street paint used to create the performance “stage” in front of the store. I was also taken with the detail and the naturalness of faces and fleshtones in the many close-ups of Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in the excellent BD transfer of The Shawshank Redemption, and the way the Avant reproduced blacks and shadow details in the dark images shot inside the prison cells. A run through some go-to black-level torture tests (scenes from Prometheus, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, 2001: A Space Odyssey) revealed excellent black levels for an edge-lit LCD and very good shadow details, though the Avant was no match there against my reference 60-inch Panasonic ST60 plasma on unusually demanding material like chapter 12 of Hallows, where, not surprisingly given its edge-lit backlight, it couldn’t eke out the full dynamic range of the darkest scenes and tended to suppress the brightest highlights as a compromise to achieving satisfying blacks.

I had no native 4K content to test with—the Avant accepted up to a 2160p/30 signal via HDMI from a pattern generator but has no streaming facility for 4K Netflix, and neither of the two USB ports recognized a UHD clip I have on a flash drive in both H.264 and H.265 (HEVC) compression formats. Still, Ultra HD focus and multiburst test patterns showed crisp, noise-free UHD down to a single pixel width.—Rob Sabin

Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 57.8 x 35 x 14.5 (with stand); 57.8 x 34 x 1.8 (without stand)
Weight (Pounds): 130 (with stand); 90.4 (without stand)
3D Glasses (Active): 2 pair included
Video Inputs: DisplayPort, HDMI 1.4 (3), HDMI 2.0 (1) component video/composite video (1), RF
Audio Inputs: Stereo RCA (1)
Other: Ethernet (1), USB (3), SD Card
Audio Outputs: Stereo RCA (1), optical digital audio (1)

Price: $8,495; motorized stand, $2,095