B&O BeoVision 11 Review
Whenever you’re talking about a Bang & Olufsen TV, two things are certain. First, it will enjoy a truly unique design and build quality. Second, it will cost far more than a similarly sized TV from any other brand you might care to mention. And so it is with the 40-inch Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11, a luxury TV that costs an eye-watering £5,250 (around US$7,972 / AU$7,622) or more and looks like no other TV around right now.
The key feature of its design is that it places the 40-inch screen above a large panel containing a speaker system so potent it might humble a few audio separates, and then surrounds the whole lot with a strikingly bold metallic outer frame.
In the configuration we tested, this framed monolith was then mounted on a tilting bracket attached to a beautifully engineered, mechanically rotatable circular floor stand.
You can even customise the TV set’s design to some extent, in ways we’ll discuss in the Features section.
The Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s other most intriguing features are 3D playback if you stump up extra money for B&O’s 3D glasses, plus multimedia playback via USB or networked PCs, the option to add a built-in 500GB HDD recording system, and even a slot on the TV’s rear where you can attach one of the latest Apple TV boxes.
If 40 inches isn’t big enough for you, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 can be had in spectacular 46-inch and 55-inch variations, with prices from £6,750 (around US$10,251 / AU$9,797) and £9,499 (around US$14,426 / AU$13,787) respectively.
In terms of rival products, there really isn’t anything that truly sits alongside the unique B&O proposition. Loewe gets the closest, with the customisable looks and system integration potential of its Individual series.
Otherwise, so far as more mainstream pricing is concerned, we guess Samsung and Panasonic deliver the most aesthetically exciting new TVs, with models such as the Panasonic TX-L47ET60B and Samsung UE55F8000. But their appeal is based mostly on their lack of physical frames, rather than the B&O approach of making a large chassis an aesthetic positive rather than a negative.
There’s a lot to get through here, as you might hope with a luxury TV – kicking off with the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s truly extraordinary design.
B&O’s decision to create a monolith of a TV that stands only fractionally under a metre high ((891mm/35 inches) by the time you’ve taken into account its aggressive metallic frame and huge built-in speaker section) flies in the face of the latest super-slim TV trends. But it’s so well built, so unique, so confident and combines boldness with understated elegance so carefully that it’s seriously hard to resist.
You can customise the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s looks too. The main TV frame can be had in either black or silver, the rear can be bought in white or black, and the cloth grille that sits over the speaker section in the TV’s bottom third can be ordered in Petrol Blue, Red, White, Black, Silver or Grey.
There are multiple mounting options too. We used the gorgeous £725 (around US$1,102 / AU$1,052) circular and incredibly well made metal floor stand, upon which the TV can be rotated left or right via the remote. But there’s also a £725 motorised wall mount option, a £365 (around US$555 / AU$530) non-motorised wall mount, and a £365 easel stand.
While we’re on the subject of optional extras, you can build a 500GB hard disk recorder into the TV for £599 (around US$910 / AU$869), while the glasses you need to get to enjoy the TV’s 3D playback – which uses the Full HD active system – cost £120 (around US$182 / AU$174) a pop.
Remarkably the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 can also be partnered with as many as 10 – yes, 10 – external speakers, driven by B&O’s own seriously clever and flexible TrueImage system. TrueImage can decode every surround sound system variant, and upmix or downmix it depending on the speaker configuration you’re using.
In other words, if your speaker configuration doesn’t include any ceiling channel speakers, rather than just ignoring that channel’s audio information from a source the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 will instead use processing to incorporate it into the sound produced by the speakers you do have.
Another excellent trick of the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s audio handling is that it enables you to create up to nine different audio ‘groups’, so that you could, say, enable two rear speakers to function as a simple stereo music system during those times when just that part of the room is being used.
The television contains a remarkable group of six 32W class D amps, with the built-in speaker configuration comprising 3/4-inch tweeters, 2-inch mid-range drives and a 4-inch woofer for each stereo channel.
This is, of course, nothing short of jaw-dropping audio provision versus the puny sonic efforts built into the vast majority of LCD and plasma TVs. Indeed, the exceptional audio provision will arguably be enough in itself to justify the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s high price for people who – rightly – consider sound to be as important a part of a good AV experience as pictures.
This is not to say, though, that B&O isn’t also interested in pictures. On the contrary, it takes them very seriously indeed.
The TV has three picture modes, including a Game one that removes as much processing as possible to keep input lag low; a Movie mode that’s built around the 6500K colour temperature generally accepted as producing the best video results; and an intriguing Adaptive setting with which the TV takes into account a bewildering number of factors in trying to optimise the picture automatically.
Part of the functionality behind this Adaptive mode is a sensor built into the TV’s top edge that’s capable of assessing light levels in a full 360-degree arc so that it can deliver a much more accurate calculation than most TVs’ auto-picture settings of how to tweak the picture’s colour, contrast and brightness settings in response to your room’s lighting conditions.
B&O even rather cleverly uses this sensor in conjunction with an Adaptive Judder Cancellation feature, which takes account of the fact that your eyes are less susceptible to judder if you’re viewing in a dark room.
You can even tell the TV how far away from it your main viewing position is, so that it can further adapt its settings accordingly.
This all makes the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s adaptive picture setting one of the few such automated picture modes you might actually consider trusting.
It’s worth adding that all the processing in the TV is proprietary, developed in-house by B&O’s regularly-meeting picture quality panel. And apparently the processing is extremely powerful, being capable of handling 125 billion calculations per second.
As with any ambitious TV these days, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 features multimedia playback from USB and networked DLNA devices, plus an online platform for streamed content. It carries built-in Wi-Fi to make using the network features as straightforward as possible.
We were also very impressed to find the TV’s connections including an unprecedented six HDMI inputs, one of which you can access by popping out a little panel from just behind the TV’s top edge. This is a great option for people wanting to temporarily attach a portable HDMI device, such as a digital camcorder.
There are a couple of weaknesses in the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s feature set, though. The main one is that B&O’s online features are off the pace set in such areas by the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG.
The only video streaming services of note in the UK are BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Euronews and iConcerts. There’s no Netflix, no Lovefilm, no Blinkbox, no Acetrax, no ITVPlayer, no Demand 5… This really does put the set at a disadvantage in what’s an increasingly important part of TV functionality.
Other apps include Funspot, Picasa, an internet browser, Facebook, and TomTom HD Traffic, but that really is about it so far as interesting stuff goes.
The other lesser weakness is that end users can’t get their hands on such fine-tuning tools as colour and gamma management systems. B&O’s thinking here is that its own processing systems are so good that there’s no need for such in-depth calibration tools to be put at an end user’s disposal (the relevant tools are available to B&O engineers, though).
We’ll find out soon enough if B&O’s automated processes are clever enough to make this argument ring true, but even so, there will be a few AV enthusiasts who will feel frustrated at not being able to get deep into the nitty gritty of colour and gamma management.
Wrapping up the features section are three apparent frivolities on paper that actually contribute surprisingly well to the all-round sense of opulence the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 works so hard to capture.
First, as well as manually being able to rotate the TV on its stand via the remote, you can put preset angles into the TV for its on and off state, so that the TV can, say, turn back flat to a wall when you turn it off and rotate smoothly around to face you when you turn it back on.
Next, when you turn the TV off, the picture gradually disappears behind a pair of sliding black digital curtains rather than just flicking immediately off. And finally, as the virtual curtains draw across the screen, the sound also fades gradually away rather than just instantly disappearing.
As we said, this all sounds a bit gimmicky on paper. But in the flesh it feels like finery that no posh television should be without.
Despite our hopes being raised by some of the impressive-sounding picture features noted earlier, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s pictures.
Sometimes in the past we’ve found very design-led TVs like this lag behind a little in the performance department due to their extra development time.
It takes mere seconds, though, to discover that the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s images are anything but dated. In fact, in almost every way we can think of they’re as good as anything we’ve ever seen from an LCD TV. Seriously.
The single most remarkable achievement is the depth of the screen’s black level response. There isn’t so much as a trace of the usual LCD low-contrast greyness hanging over parts of the picture that should look black – even in the black bars you get above ultra-wide 21:9-ratio films.
What’s especially extraordinary about this is the fact that, provided you keep the backlight and brightness settings sensibly low, the pretty much perfect black level depths remain intact even when a shot contains a mix of bright and dark material. And these bright parts of predominantly dark images retain a remarkable amount of brightness and dynamism considering the amount of blackness that surrounds them.
The extent to which the screen can deliver light on a remarkably localised level without causing greyness, brightness clouding or other luminance inconsistencies is really spectacular, at least rivalling and possibly outgunning Sony’s terrific HX853 series in this most important of image performance departments.
The Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s outstanding light handling is, we suppose, created through a combination of B&O’s image processing and a proprietary filter built into the panel that does an exceptional job of soaking up ambient light in your room, making it much easier for you to revel in the TV’s explosive contrast.
There’s still one more aspect of the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s black level response we need to rave about. Despite the exceptional profundity of its rendition of dark picture parts, it still manages to deliver a good amount of shadow detail in all but the very blackest of corners, ensuring that dark scenes never look hollow or forced.
Great black levels usually lead to great colours, and the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 follows this trend too. As expected, the lack of low-contrast greyness over dark scenes enables deep colour tones to look much more realistic and vivid than they would otherwise, and you can see more subtle tonal shifts too.
Skin tones look strikingly natural, subtle and nuanced (especially using the Movie preset), yet at the same time even the most vibrant, heavily saturated tones also display almost infinite detailing and finesse without losing any of their punch.
As noted in the feature section, some AV enthusiasts will still feel aggrieved at not being able to fine tune colours further. But for the vast majority of people, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s colours as they are out of the box go way beyond simply being good enough.
Another string to the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s image bow is its sharpness. HD images are immaculately judged, containing excellent amounts of clarity of detail without, crucially, making detailing look so extreme that pictures start to look fizzy or harsh.
There’s a trace of motion blur if we really had to be picky, but it really is very minor, and probably wouldn’t even register with us were all other parts of the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 picture experience not so exquisite.
At any rate, the motion resolution reduction is not even close to being a deal breaker – especially since the TV remains impressively free of judder even if you turn the adaptive judder control completely off (as some users will want to, to preserve the integrity of incoming 24p sources).
One other issue is the appearance of minor light pools in the screen’s corners plus a little ‘light blocking’ caused by the local dimming arrangement of the side-mounted LED lights. These inconsistencies show up more often in 3D mode, due to the extra brightness you want the picture to contain to counter the dimming effect of the active shutter glasses.
But even in 3D mode the inconsistencies are only rarely a distraction, and in 2D mode you’ll hardly see them at all, provided you keep the TV’s backlight and brightness settings sensibly low – or just stick with the adaptive picture mode.
Having just mentioned 3D, now would seem an appropriate time to analyse other areas of the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s 3D performance.
The TV’s barnstorming contrast proves very handy, for starters, in helping the B&O deliver a hugely convincing sense of depth, full of the sort of subtle lighting cues your brain needs in order to build a convincing on-screen space.
Colours are still very punchy in 3D mode too – maybe a little too much so using the default settings – and detail levels are as high with Full HD 3D Blu-rays as you could hope to see from an active 3D TV.
Crosstalk is extremely well suppressed too, only cropping up very occasionally, and even then sufficiently subtly that it’s not really an issue.
The only thing that is an issue with the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s 3D performance is its handling of really fast motion. This looks a bit processed and flickery if you use the Adaptive or Full Judder Cancellation settings, but also a touch indistinct and stuttery without it.
However, while we have seen one or two TVs handle 3D motion better, B&O’s efforts can still be considered commendable overall.
It’s fair to say, then, that overall the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 has gone even further than we might have hoped for in delivering the sort of premium performance you’d like to see on a 40-inch TV costing upwards of £5,250 (around US$7,972 / AU$7,622).
One last point we should make here concerns input lag, which came in at around 62ms on average. This is touch too high to make the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 a particularly great gaming monitor.
Usability, sound and value
Considering how many features it carries, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 is mostly pretty easy to handle. Its on-screen menus are clear and comprehensive, and do a reasonably sensible job of layering their content so that novice users aren’t overwhelmed with technical features unless they want to seek them out.
Also appreciated is the facility to give your own labels to each HDMI input (having six could be confusing, otherwise), and as noted earlier, the way one of the HDMIs is built into a pop-out slot towards the top of the TV’s rear for easy access by temporary devices such as digital cameras and camcorders is a great user-friendly touch.
The remote control is in some ways a work of art, too. Its gorgeous metallic finish, elongated narrow design and flash LCD display at its top end instantly mark it out as a high-end handset, as does the gorgeous responsiveness of the buttons, and the in-places quite innovative button layout.
The remote control does, though, for all its gorgeousness, feel a bit outdated. For instance, the buttons for selecting AV inputs aren’t comprehensive enough, requiring you to head in to the TV’s main menus to select some of the inputs. It doesn’t help, either, that one of the AV input buttons is labelled ‘CD’.
It’s also a pity there’s no one-button access to the TV’s online/multimedia features, and that the remote doesn’t particularly help with surfing the net when it comes to either moving the cursor around or inputting text into search fields. Certainly a few other mainstream brands are forging ahead with their multimedia control handsets this year.
One final smaller issue is that the tiny little nub on the remote you have to use to move your cursor left, right up or down can be a tad sore on your fingers.
If you’re feeling alarmed by the potential complexities of stuff like the external speaker configuration, don’t worry: if you buy a Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 it will of course be installed for you by B&O.
Let’s keep this simple: the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 produces the best audio performance we’ve ever heard from a TV. Especially if you’re lucky enough to be taking advantage of its various surround sound options.
Even if you’re only using the built-in speakers, though, you’ll be enjoying a truly outstanding audio performance. The sheer power the built-in speakers can produce is huge by TV standards, enabling them to deliver a wide, dynamic, beautifully open soundstage that wouldn’t sound out of place on a separates system.
The level of audio precision is terrific too, in terms of both the placement of effects in a stereo or pseudo-surround sound stage and the hi-fi-like way the TV is able to separate out all the audio elements. This avoids the muddiness in the mid-range that you get with most skinny TVs, without making the sound stage lose cohesion.
Just occasionally while watching Blu-rays the vocal track seemed to be coming from slightly below the image rather than within it, but such moments are rare, and you can also reduce the sensation by slightly tilting the screen back.
The Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s audio is so good, in fact, that we often found ourselves using the TV to play CDs rather than our usual hi-fi system. So maybe that CD button on the remote wasn’t so daft after all.
It’s worth stressing again, too, just how exceptionally wide-ranging the TV’s audio set-up options are, taking in such unprecedented (for a TV) fine-tuning options as frequency tilt, bass management, a fader, and spatial controls (including stage width, height and envelopment options).
Even a TV with as much power and precision as the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 can still sound a touch harsh in the treble register if the volume’s extremely high and the audio being played is extremely dense.
But all this suggests, perhaps, is that B&O might have been better off if it more strictly limited the volume levels you can push the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 to. Measured against the TV world at large, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11’s audio is simply in another league.
Of course, most people won’t be able to think about spending £5,250 (around US$7,972 / AU$7,622) or more on a 40-inch TV. But just as there are luxury cars, luxury yachts and luxury hi-fis, surely there’s no reason why there shouldn’t also be luxury TVs, right?
Especially when a TV goes to such great design, feature and performance lengths to justify its premium existence as the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 does.
If any 40-inch TV can justify costing £5,250 (around US$7,972 / AU$7,622) or more, it’s the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11. For starters it looks like no other TV around, deliberately shunning the current trend for barely there chassis designs and mounting its 40-inch screen atop a huge speaker-bearing section a third as high as the screen, before surrounding the whole thing in a positively chunky but gloriously finished metallic outer frame that looks like it’s hewn out of solid silver.
Its optional mechanically rotating stand is a stunning combination of looks and build quality too, and you can even customise the TV’s final look thanks to the availability of different body, rear and cloth speaker cover options.
The Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 is also prodigiously featured, thanks to built-in online, network and multimedia playback, an optional built-in 500GB HDD video recorder, peerless audio flexibility and uniquely clever automatic picture optimisation systems.
The best thing of all about the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11, though, is that it marries its instant design and feature appeal to one of the best picture performances and the best audio performance we’ve ever witnessed on an LCD TV.
Its design is big, bold and beautiful, and its build quality is peerless. It’s also incredibly well featured on the audio front, sports six HDMI ports and delivers far and away the best sound you’ll hear from a flatscreen TV. Its picture quality, too, is outstanding.
The remote control, while beautifully engineered, feels a little dated in its layout in places. You can cause some minor backlight inconsistency if you set the brightness too high, and it’s a shame B&O couldn’t run to including even one pair of 3D glasses for the high asking price.
Finally, B&O’s online services offer less content than those of most mainstream brands.
With its grand-standing design, exquisite build quality, healthy feature count and best of all brilliant picture and peerless sound performance, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 manages to justify its £5,250 (around US$7,972 / AU$7,622) asking price – some feat in today’s competitive TV marketplace.
It’s not perfect, though. Its online services are a bit lightweight, you need to be careful with brightness levels to keep dark scenes looking evenly lit, and there’s room for improvement with its control system.
Nonetheless, the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11 is one of the most compelling reasons for being rich we’ve come across in a long time.
There isn’t any other brand available in the UK that’s quite in B&O’s league when it comes to design, build quality or sheer opulence. The nearest would be Loewe, which tries to offer similar levels of design chutzpah and customisation as well as system building options and at least decent audio for a good deal less money than B&O.
However, recent experience suggests that Loewe’s Individual range, which is probably the closest current match to the Bang & Olufsen BeoVision series, is in need of a refresh where picture quality is concerned.
Sony’s HX853 series probably offers the closest picture quality match, since it also employs a locally dimmed edge LED array to similarly dynamic effect.
Or if you want a strong-performing TV that combines a stunning but much slimmer design with more advanced smart TV features, Samsung’s F8000 series is worth considering.
By John Archer, TechRadar