WHILE DANISH AV brand Bang & Olufsen has always had the luxury style thing down, it’s sometimes struggled, at least where TVs are concerned, to keep up with the relentless speed of AV change. This is why the brand’s new Avant comes as a (mostly) brilliant surprise.
Its sensational design makes it one of the most ‘B&O’ TVs B&O has made, yet it sports a 4K screen, despite the format still being very much in its infancy. Not that its 4K pixel count is the first thing you notice about the Avant. That honour belongs to its slinky ‘one-level screen’, clever ‘sandwich’ design (which joins with a multilayered rear to fool your eye into thinking the rear is much trimmer than it really is) and the gleaming, ultra-robust aluminium pole – and circle floor stand our test screen arrived on (motorised wall and table-top mounting options are also available).
The new Avant’s already strong aesthetic appeal flies off the scale, though, when you turn it on. For at this point everything starts to move…
First, the circular base glides around, moving the pole (which is off set from the stand’s center) with it. And the pole turns independently of the stand, rotating the angle of the TV on top. Then, a set of previously invisible speakers slide gracefully from the TV’s bottom edge, before telescoping out to the left and right.
And to round off the show, the picture opens out from the center in tandem with the speaker extension. Every bit of this motion takes place without a creak.The Avant is also unique in the feature department. Heading up the clever stuff is an auto-calibration system, which uses a 360-degree sensor protruding from the TV’s top corner to measure ambient colour tones, as well as light levels, and adjusts the picture settings accordingly (within the parameters of established picture standards).
Where the Avant really gets space-age, though, is with its ability to be jacked into a whole-home AV and automation system, and its ability to drive 21 audio channels – including eight (enough for a 7.1 system) wirelessly. You can even establish different speaker partnerships for different content and/or zones around your home. Its built-in speakers come in a 3.1 configuration, with a genuine centre speaker behind the aluminium ‘drop down’ panel at the center and a 6.5in woofer around the back.
I received a pair of B&O’s wireless £7,500 BeoLab 20 speakers with the TV, and these floor standing beasts melded beautifully with the TV’s built-in speakers, regardless of whether they were working on the gorgeous cityscape subtleties of David Fincher’s Seven or the spectacular dynamics of the first alien city attack in silly blockbuster Independence Day. This effort by the integrated speakers, together with its unprecedented audio flexibility, makes the Avant the finest sounding TV I’ve ever heard.
Yet the Avant isn’t quite as class-leading with its pictures. With native 4K feeds there isn’t as much sharpness as witnessed on some rivals, and while upscaling of HD Blu-rays is good, that slight softness remains. That said, pictures still look indefatigably 4K, with added depth and colour blend accuracy joining the (pleasingly noiseless) UHD detailing.
The star of the Avant’s picture show, though, is its auto-optimisation system. The top-edge sensor works in conjunction with the TV’s internal image processing systems to deliver pictures that continually adapt to both changing image content and ambient conditions superbly well.
Pictures routinely look bold, punchy, and contrast-rich without, crucially, exhibiting unnatural or unbalanced colours, or luminance jumps. The automated optimisation even survives the monstrously difficult challenges posed by Voldemort’s night attack on Hogwarts, delivering every shot with a lovely, involving combination of colour accuracy, black level depth and stability. B&O is so confi dent in its picture engine that it deliberately hasn’t provided a full range of colour, white balance and gamma management options.
This may annoy some enthusiastic picture tweakers, but I can understand B&O’s thinking. The Avant is a fairly impressive (but not flawless) proponent of the third dimension. The optional active shutter 3D lasses take little brightness or colour fi delity out of images, which also look clean, reasonably sharp and full of space and depth. Some crosstalk ghosting and motion blur are apparent, though. The latter is less of a concern in 2D, however, ensuring most of that 4K detail remains during movement.
Flies in the 4K ointment
While the Avant is mostly a hugely-talented 4K TV it does suff er from some practical issues associated with the juvenile tech. One problem is that it doesn’t support the HEVC decoder necessary to play, for instance, Netflix’s 4K streams. Secondly, its HDMIs aren’t built to the HDMI 2.0 spec, meaning they can’t currently play 4K sources at higher rates than 30fps (although this latter issue is being addressed by an imminent firmware update, I’m told).
Throwing these shortcomings into sharper relief is the presence of a number of quality 4K TVs this year with integrated HEVC 4K support, HDMI 2.0 terminals and extensive Smart features – another area where the Avant falls woefully short. But these rivals certainly don’t have the design or audio chops of B&O’s first-gen 4K eff ort – and it’s impossible not to have a soft spot for something as gloriously original, luxurious, high-performance and actually, considering what’s on off er, affordable as B&O’s new star.
Bang & Olufsen Avant ➜ From £6,000 approx ➜ ww.bang-olufsen.com
HIGHS: Potent, flexible sound; engaging 4K pictures; gorgeous, motion-packed design; not a bad price for B&O, actually…
LOWS: 4K pictures a touch softer than some; minor 3D crosstalk; no HDMI 2.0 inputs; no HEVC 4K decoding