Philips 40PFL7605 £999
22nd Sep 2010 | 14:00
Edge LED with added Ambilight & Net TV, but where's Freeview HD?
Philips 40PFL7605: Overview
Arriving in the most popular size for LED-lit TVs – 40-inch – the 40PFL7605 appears remarkably thin (it's just 42mm deep), but, more importantly, well built.
As solidly built as any TV we've seen – some of this manufacturer's even posher sets notwithstanding – the 40PFL7605 is framed by a dark grey, brushed metal surround that sits on a slim translucent plastic lip that helps direct this set's Ambilght feature.
Elsewhere on this 40-incher is wireless streaming from a PC and NetTV, which includes some open web browsing and downloadable content, though you'll have to rely on the rear panel's wired Ethernet LAN port for accessing online content. A wireless USB adaptor (the PTA01) is available from Philips for around £50.
That aside, it's really only when we come to its built-in processing technology that we get a clue that this is a mid-range model with fewer touches of class than the upper echelons of Philips' pricey 9000 Series.
Elsewhere in this 7000 Series you'll find the 32-inch 32PFL7605H (£849), 37in 37PFL7605H (£999) and 46-inch 46PFL7605H (£1,499).
All use a 100Hz panel – the minimum required for a LCD TV to cut-down on blurring – and host the Pixel Precise HD picture processing engine. The latter includes HD Natural Motion, which is one of our favourite pieces of Philips technology, but it's not as extensive as the Perfect Pixel HD circuitry that is reserved for the 9000 Series.
And then comes the shock – the 40PFL7605 has just a standard Freeview tuner, with no HD option. To be fair to Philips, the price has just been slashed by £200, which frees up some cash to buy a hi-def set-top box, but it's something of a body blow. Fortunately, it is one from which the 40PFL7605 recovers handsomely.
Philips 40PFL7605: Features
Philips may have misfired on its choice of tuner, but the 40PFL7605 takes a far more generous approach to its inputs.
On the rear are three HDMI inputs, of which one is 1.4 version with an audio return channel, which is useful if you want to route sounds into a home cinema. There are also a couple of Scarts, component video inputs, and connections for a PC, PC audio and Ethernet LAN.
A side panel introduces a fourth HDMI input alongside a USB port, a Common Interface slot (for adding a Top-Up TV card) and an SD card slot – the latter making its debut on a Philips TV, though its only function is to store videos downloaded from Net TV in SD (4GB card required) or HD (8GB).
It's possible to add devices to the 'Home' menu itself following a short, simple wizard that assigns a name and an icon to each input.
No Freeview HD
In the absence of Freeview HD, NetTV's no-holds-barred web surfing is probably one of the 40PFL7605's key features. Powered by an Opera browser, web pages are found quickly, though having to type out web addresses is laborious.
We also experienced problems with online media and embedded video, with BBC iPlayer website and others failing to play video; there's no Flash or HTML5 software inside the Philips 40PFL7605.
Services include the usual YouTube, DailyMotion and Picasa, as well as Box Office 365, which for £2.99 gives you access to some downloadable content from ITV and Cartoon Network.
Other online fun can be had with this set's DLNA streaming, while the set's USB slot can playback digital media files.
One of Philips' favourite features, and presented here in its Spectra 2 'stereo' configuration, is Ambilight, which has LED lights running up the sides of the rear of the TV.
Edge LED backlighting
Also relying on LED lighting is the LCD panel itself. On the 40PFL7605 Philips' engineers have plumped for Edge LED lights, which is a boon in itself – this is the first mid-range Philips TV not to use a bog-standard CCFL-backlit panel.
This array consists of rows of multi-die LEDs at the top and bottom edges of the screen around a guide to make sure the panel is bright in every area. Philips claims this achieves a 'staggering' dynamic contrast ratio of 500,000:1. Yes, we are staggered… and perhaps slightly sceptical.
Philips 40PFL7605: Ease of use
Philips TV remotes are usually a cut above their peers and, in design terms, at least, the 40PFL7605's is no different.
Curved and rounded to the hilt, it's cleverly designed to have the click-wheel beneath your thumb in a natural position. As well as being able to toggle around menus, the 'up' button brings a choice between displaying programme information, an eight-day electronic programme guide or a mosaic/grid-style display of available channels.
The EPG, too, is excellent – it floats translucently over the channel you're watching, but has a light feel; fonts are large and scrolling between two-hour chunks of the schedules is done by using the right-hand clicker on the remote. If only it was graced by a few hi-def TV channels.
At first glance we thought Philips had made a serious faux-pas by forgetting to include keys on the remote to control a connected Blu-ray player, but we were mistaken – the 'down' button on the click-wheel reveals a pop-up screen with all kinds of options including scanning and chapter skip controls for anything connected via HDMI.
The usual input switcher and numbered buttons (which are set too low down on the remote for comfort) are included, but the remote sticks to its streamlined style by using four slim strips that each lay across three buttons. As well as being incredibly low-impact, they're also much more comfortable to use than a regular remote.
Our only complaints are that the numbers are too low on the design (they would be easier to access if they were more central) the clickwheel is prone to fingerprints and that the lip around the remote protrudes too far, making using the left/right buttons a bit of a squeeze.
Ambilight functions have also been improved. As well as setting the intensity of the light, It's now possible to set Ambilight to take into account the colour of your walls and adjust its light output accordingly – that's crucial if you have a mauve or green wall, something that would usually (in former incarnations) render Ambilight all but invisible.
The 40PFL7605 proves extraordinarily proficient at playing almost any video file from USB, with all kinds of DivX files – including DivX HD – loaded quickly, as well as MPEG, MP4, MKV and WMV files. The only files that wouldn't play from our test were AVCHD, MOV and WMV HD. MP3, AAC and WMV music files are also handled.
That same list applies to streaming over a network, which is a cinch to set-up and works surprisingly well. The menu system is rudimentary, but it's relatively quick and stable, with videos streamed in our test all of excellent quality.
Despite being refreshed and redesigned, Net TV is a mere distraction at best, with a fairly slow and cumbersome interface that doesn't react well to commands from the remote. There's nothing at all to watch unless you pay subscriptions, and no option to stream movies.
There is an open browser, but Net TV treats the internet as nothing more than a nice-looking RSS feed; no video can be played and web pages are tackled by scrolling down across every single link on a page, with an average scrolling speed of around one millimeter per second. In an age of iPads, touchscreens and gesture tech, it's jarringly analogue.
Philips 40PFL7605: Picture quality
Clash of the Titans on Blu-ray provides ample evidence of the 40PFL7605's stunning picture prowess. Swirling mists are picked out in a finely detailed still image, while the raw LCD panel doesn't suffer much from blur of judder.
The 40PFL7605 deals with digital broadcasts really well, with plenty of upscaling producing a clean picture, though they're best watched with the brightness toned down; it hides what few jagged edges exist to produce a superb picture. Meanwhile, fast-moving credits on a black background cause only a tiny amount of blur,
Minimal motion judder
Movement benefits enormously from HD Natural Motion. You do have to take some care with this feature, because as it inserts video frames – to compensate for movement and reduce judder – it can create a nasty flicker around moving objects.
Left on its minimum setting, HD Natural Motion is clean enough, though we did notice flicker and stepping when the Titans swing their bows and arrows. In this regard, fast-moving fare often looks better with HD Natural Motion deactivated, especially if the 100Hz mode is left switched on.
Purists will prefer HD Natural Motion switched off, which leaves the 40PFL7605 to rely on its innate contrast and colour skills.
Black is reproduced well and there's plenty of detail in costumes and backgrounds, though there is a slight issue with brightness; the panel is lit by LEDs only around the sides, which means that dark objects in the centre of an otherwise bright picture lack subtle details. It's only noticeable in contrast-heavy images, but the panel's brightness obviously isn't totally uniform.
Bright objects on black backgrounds are noticeably more luminous if they're nearer the edges of the screen, where a touch of haloing is visible. And while shadow detailing is generally excellent during Blu-ray playback, dark areas of digital TV broadcasts do sport a 'black hole' look.
There are a lot of picture modes, wizards, settings and tweaks available on the 40PFL7605, though they're not difficult to navigate. A Smart Picture wizard guides you through some simple settings based on your preferences with various images, while demos of HD Natural Motion and 100Hz are worth a look if you want to know what you've just paid for.
Philips 40PFL7605: Sound and value
The surround mode on the 40PFL7605 isn't a revelation, but it does widen the soundstage more than we expected and provides the occasional illusionary rear effect.
Bass is a particular strong point and does make TV a lot more involving, though that's relative; it can sound a tad disjointed when the audio action really hots up, but it's so rare to hear any kind of low frequency from a TV that we're happy.
Treble clarity around the edges is another strongpoint, while the mid-range is comfortably wide enough for most soundtracks.
Forget, if you can, the absence of Freeview HD because if you can't, you're cutting one of the best 40in TVs around from your shopping list.
With genuinely useful features such as a remote that's fun to use and speakers that pump out genuinely decent sound, not forgetting the top-spec picture for the money, the 40PFL7605 is the kind of product you'll be glad you bought, though a USB Wi-Fi dongle wouldn't go amiss.
Philips 40PFL7605: Verdict
Good-looking on all fronts, the 40PFL7605 is a clever TV of real quality, but can you overlook its lack of a Freeview HD tuner? If forgiveness is in your heart – or you're fairly sure there's nothing to watch on BBC HD or ITV 1 HD, anyway – there's a lot to like about the 40PFL7605.
The remote control is a work of art. Light, comfortable, all-encompassing and easy to operate, it's also built to a high specification – excellent work, and not before time. It helps that the user interface is well laid-out and logical, too.
File playback from USB – especially for video files – is almost total, while having an open Internet browser is, in theory, a nice idea.
A Freeview HD tuner isn't the only omission. The user interface could be a touch higher-res, the remote needs a tiny tweak or two to its brave design, and the sluggish Net TV arguably interrupts the 40PFL7605's otherwise easy going and likeable character.
Net TV needs more content, and its interface an injection of speed. And, seriously, who wants to plug their TV into a router? Wi-Fi or nothing, please.
With the flat panel TV market already over its predicted peak in Europe, we expect to see more and more 'premium' sets like the 40PFL7605. Philips, an all-European company that's for long sought to establish its brand of luxurious and top quality LCD TVs has here produced a feature-packed package with a look all of its own – and at a mid-range price.
NetTV needs more content and Ambilight is purely a matter of taste, but neither is integral to the 40PFL7605, which at its core is all about picture performance. The lack of Freeview HD might put you off, but as edge LED TVs go, you won't find a much slimmer, more attractive or capable set than the 40PFL7605.
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