Philips 42PFL5008 £650
18th Sep 2013 | 12:35
Sparkling looks and great value on this 42-inch LED TV
It may cost a fraction of Philips' high-end sets, but the 42PFL5008 has some surprisingly high-end features.
The first is undoubtedly its good looks; the black plastic bezel around the screen measures a mere 7mm, and though there's a further 4mm of blank black space between the edges of the panel and where the image begins, it's impressive stuff nonetheless.
We particularly like the rounded edges, which lend the 42PFL5008 a soft look. Along the bottom of the screen is a silver, metallic strip that creates a 20mm bezel, though it tapers to around 30mm at the middle to encompass a Philips logo.
That metallic effect lifts the 42PFL5008 as a whole away from its hardly-there-at-all skeleton desktop stand to create a floating look. We've seen this before on high-end Philips TVs, so to find it in play on the 42PFL5008 is heady stuff.
So too for Ambilight, which also marks out the 42PFL5008 as something special. It graces the step-up 42PFL6008, but its appearance here is unexpected. Ambilight – here in a two-sided array – consists of strips of LED lights along the rear of the TV that emit ever-changing lights onto your living room walls.
It's fair to say that Philips has struggled to keep up with the other major TV brands' smart TV platforms, but the latest effort – simply called Smart TV – is an improvement. It's light on on-demand video apps, sure – unless we're talking X-rated 18+ apps, that is – but most viewers will be happy with the headline apps Netflix, YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Blinkbox. Add passive Easy 3D to the mix and the 42PFL5008 could be a catch-all TV for living rooms.
The 5000 Series – which also includes the 32-inch 32PFL5008T (£600), 47-inch 47PFL5008T (£900) and 50-inch 50PFL5008T (£1200) – is low down in the Philips line-up for 2013. While its 9000 Series is all about 4K Ultra HD TVs, its 8000 Series represents the pinnacle of its Full HD TV collection. The next step up from the 8000 Series is the so-called 'Elevation' TV, the remarkably slim 60-inch Philips 60PFL8708S (£2,800), which is Philips' first attempt at producing a TV with four-sided Ambilight.
The use of a transparent stand is designed to give this 13.5mm-slim TV a floating look. It's out in September, and – like our review sample – uses the polarised Easy 3D system (almost all other Philips TVs use the active shutter 3D Max system). If you're after as good-looking a TV as possible, keep an eye out for the Philips 55PDL8908S (also £2,800), whose glass screen stretches over the electronics and right down to the floor in such a way that it appears to float, too. On this one-off DesignLine screen, 3D Max is used.
Other curios in the Philips line-up include the all-white PFL7108 Series, available in 42-inch, 47-inch and 55-inch sizes. This is a variant of the 7000 Series, which is where three-sided Ambilight begins.
For a reasonably priced 42-inch TV, the 42PFL5008 is well connected. With Wi-Fi and wired LAN on board, online options are covered, though the main sacrifice is a fourth HDMI slot. The rear ins and outs – all of them outwards-facing – comprise two HDMI ports, an RGB Scart (full sized), a LAN slot, 3.5mm audio input jack, a digital optical audio output (for routing all sound from its built-in Freeview HD tuner to a home cinema), a set of component video inputs and associated phonos, and an RF in to fuel that Freeview HD tuner. There's also a side-panel that includes the third HDMI slot, two USB slots, a Common Interface slot and a headphones jack.
Smart TV apps are an odd mix of must-haves, curios, and porn. In the former camp we find the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Blinkbox and Netflix (note the lack of Lovefilm). Curios include the impressive TED Talks app alongside the likes of National Rail, Picasa, iConcerts, Facebook, CNBC Real-Time, Viewster, MeteoNews, Picasa, Foreca (weather),Funspot (simple games), Euronews, Screen Dreams (wallpapers), CineTrailer, Absolute Radio, Aupeo, eBay, Tunin.FM and the TomTom HD Traffic app. More are available in the App Store, including a batch of 18+ rated apps that can be locked by a PIN code; Forno, Hustler, Playboy, Private & Brazzers. Skype is on hand if you buy a Philips PTA317 for about £75.
As for 3D, the 42PFL5008 is blessed by the appearance of Easy 3D, which is Philips-speak for an LG-made Cinema 3D 'passive' FPR panel that requires only cinema-style 3D glasses. Two are provided in the box, which is a bit stingy – they only cost a quid each.
Alas, despite all of these ins and outs, apps and extra features, there is a characteristic of the 42PFL5008 that likely relegates it to the lower reaches of the Philips line-up of TVs for 2013:
Pixel Plus HD. While it's not exactly a weakling in the world of picture processing engines, it's an older, less powerful and less capable collection of video improvements than Philips' Perfect Pixel HD, which is found on the 42PFL6008.
The use of a basic 100Hz panel is understandable at this price – even expected – but there's little in the way of tech to suppress either blur or judder. Pixel Plus HD contains only four features: Advanced Sharpness, Dynamic Contrast, Dynamic Backlight and Colour Enhancement, none of which go beyond what we'd expect from any edge LED TV.
However, what the 42PFL5008 does have is 300Hz Perfect Motion Rate, which isn't an option, more a panel characteristic. The backlight blinks in an effort to suppress motion blur, effectively presenting a 300Hz-like image (or that's the theory/marketing blurb).
Still, with the step-up 42PFL6008 boasting a 500Hz version, this is still an under-powered feature. There isn't much in the way of carefully programmed pictures presets either. The likes of Vivid, Natural, Standard, Movie, Photo and Energy Saving are fairly rudimentary options.
The 42PFL5008 presents a lot of what's great about high-end Philips TVs, with one or two exceptions. For kick-off there's some terrific native sharpness, with fine Full HD detailing in close-ups obvious during our Blu-ray test disc Hugo. That's almost par for the course on any Philips TV, and with it comes some natural-looking colours and skin tones that just about convince.
We found that Dynamic Contrast was best switched-off, so as to create a more comfortable picture, though it's obvious that the 42PFL5008 can create some bright, sparkling peak whites. Colour Enhancement – also part of Pixel Plus HD – is likewise best left off to avoid overly rosy faces, while the Dynamic Backlight is most effective on Best Power mode.
Overall contrast is good, but shadow detailing is lacking: large black areas of images – which are usually pretty convincing despite having a slight blue tint – contain little detail within. Micro Dimming is therefore only partially successful, though there's not a trace of light leakage from the corners of this edge LED-backlit LCD panel.
Despite a decent colour palette and some excellent, fine detailing in still images, the 42PFL5008 does have a problem with motion. It's not explicitly bad, but its 300Hz Perfect Motion Rate feature isn't the most fluid around; as Hugo runs through the dark tunnels and passageways of the train station there is some noticeable loss of detail and blur.
While hi-def MKV files are treated well, the 42PFL5008 does less well with standard-definition TV channels. With the Noise Reduction switched off, pictures look grainy and really low bitrate, though switching it on to maximum power merely creates a clean but very soft image.
The 42PFL5008's performance with 3D has similar issues to 2D inasmuch as the image is studded with a nagging motion blur that it can't shift. Some won't mind at all that the 42PFL5008 lacks Perfect Motion Rate frame insertion tech, since it can create a video-like look, but we think 3D demands a sense of immersion that the juddery look of 'cinematic' images interrupts. So while the 42PFL5008 does create as much 3D depth as we could wish for, the opening sequences of Hugo seem a bit fake and unconvincing.
Likewise, we're not convinced that Ambilight lends a hand to 3D and makes it more convincing per se, but it's a great effect nonetheless, and to find it on a £700 telly is a treat.
Horizontal lines are obvious throughout each frame of 3D, though we're willing to forgive that innate characteristic of the 3D filter used on Easy 3D screens. Those lines are always noticeable, and often visibly impact on the resolution of the image. As the camera zooms in on round objects, such as the clocks of Gare Montparnasse in Hugo, they have jagged edges that visibly break up. We do, however, like the bold and contrasty colour palette of 3D on the 42PFL5008.
Usability, sound and value
While hardly as impressive as the pointer-style, double-sided remote with QWERTY keyboard supplied with any Philips TV pricier than this, the otherwise identical remote included here is one of the best in the business. No gimmicky shaping or weighting here, just sensibly placed and sized buttons. Even the build quality, though not a patch on the metallic designs of its pricier brethren, is superior to most remotes despite using a combination of hard and soft matte black plastic.
We would like to see a shortcut button to the TV's Pixel Plus HD options, which are otherwise easy to miss since none of the onscreen shortcuts lead to that section.
Though we do like the sleek and simple user interface now used by Philips – especially the combination of black backgrounds and icons in primary colours – it does have a few weak areas. It's a very light, non-intrusive design, but occasionally seems a mash-up of different ideas. One example is the 42PFL5008's electronic programme guide for Freeview, which is a tad spreadsheet-like. Schedules for seven channels over two hours are presented over an orange-pink background, with no apparent stylist connection with the rest of the floating user interface. Sadly, there's no thumbnail for live TV and engaging the EPG kills live TV pictures and sound, too.
The same applies to the 42PFL5008's digital file menus, but they're impressive in other ways. With a USB stick plunged into the side of the 42PFL5008 it was, in our test, necessary to wait around a minute for the file system on it to be identified and screened. However, we didn't first have to choose whether we wanted to play video, music or photos. The 42PFL5008 lets us thumb through the files of any type.
That's actually pretty rare on so-called smart TVs, which remain pretty pernickety when it comes to digital files. The 42PFL5008 supported JPEG, PNG and GIF photo files, MP3, M4A, MP3, OGG, WAV and WMA music files, and AVI, MKV, AVC HD, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV and WMV HD video files. Music and video files can be scanned through in up to 32x speeds, while the media file system is actually a lot simpler and less (annoyingly) dynamic than on Philips higher-end TVs, though no less good-looking.
What we're describing on the single core 42PFL5008 is perhaps its overall highlight; a lightweight user interface that doesn't ever become sluggish or slow. Unlike the TVs just above this one in Philips' range, processing and onscreen menus are thoroughly speedy, which makes this an enjoyable TV to use – surely the most important aspect of any TV, after picture quality.
The Smart TV pages, for instance, are quick to skip around and rarely freeze, while the selection of apps that work with the 42PFL5008 do so without too much fuss. Using the MyRemote app (available for Android and iOS) we sent photos and music from a phone and a networked TV to the 42PFL5008, though the live TV cloner feature WiFi SmartShare – glimpsed on other Philips TVs – wasn't on offer. It works both ways, too, with a smartphone running MyRemote identified as a source on the 42PFL5008's core source list. It's then possible to delve into files on the phone.
While not exactly a home cinema-in-one, the 42PFL5008 20W-rated speakers do a thoroughly respectable job. Sound presets include Movie, Music, Game and News, crucially all with enough in the way of bass to impress. There's not a great deal of high frequency detail, with some speech sounding clipped, but one thing is for sure: the 42PFL5008's sound quality is much better, much more balanced, and much more powerful than most flat TVs.
Two pair of frankly very basic 3D spectacles is poor return on any TV running Easy 3D, but we're impressed by the build quality of the TV in general. Overall it's a good value set that just about earns its price tag despite some obvious omissions. A fourth HDMI is found on many of its rivals – particularly from LG, which is what the 42PFL5008 is battling (and where its panel comes from) – though we can't complain about the lack of the pointer-style, two-sided remote control found on the 42PFL5008's pricier brethren. Besides, any mid-to-low-end TV with Ambilight has got to be considered good value.
Some TVs – especially mid-rangers like this – have a tendency to load-up on flagship TV features while forgetting about processing power. By stripping the user interface and picture engine down to the essentials, the 42PFL5008 remains a quick TV that's fun to use. And that's a crucial part of its appeal.
Great-sounding and great-looking, Philips' budget-busting 42-incher is primed for life in a living room. Ambilight adds an awesome touch of class, but the 42PFL5008 is already half-way there. Cracking HD detail, a good remote control, impressive all-round images and a super-fast, simple user interface encompassing comprehensive digital file support and creative file-swap apps seal the deal. The build quality, too, is excellent for the money.
Smart TV on the 42PFL5008 is take-it-or-leave-it, while the appearance of motion blur and judder are a predictable side-effect of a relatively weak Pixel Plus HD processing engine and basic 100Hz panel. Standard definition TV upscaling is fairly unsuccessful, while the EPG is poor.
With Ambilight, smart TV, great sound, a fine outward appearance and heaps of HD detail, the 42PFL5008 is a tempting proposition. However, there are some cracks in the performance – most notably motion blur and judder along with some weak upscaling. But the lack of powerful picture processing and a fairly lightweight smart TV platform has its flip-side in a super-fast, responsive user interface. That helps to make this mid-ranger a highly usable and highly likeable TV.
Of slightly lower grade picture quality, but still a sterling choice is the Finlux 40F8030-T (we've reviewed the 32-inch version, though it's a couple of inches smaller. For major brand competition, have a look at the broadly similar Panasonic TX-L42E6B and Samsung UE40F6400, the latter of which adds voice control to some features, as well as a 200Hz panel. If you want something with Ambilight, but with better pictures, there's only one competitor – the step-up version of this TV, the Philips 42PFL6008.