Philips 42PFL7404H LCD TV £750
1st Apr 2010 | 16:00
A basic but brilliant budget telly from the Netherlands' finest
Philips 42PFL7404H: Overview
Philips' high-end TVs are some of the most feature-packed on the market, boasting more high-powered processing than NASA mission control. But if the recession has forced you to set your sights a little lower, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to miss out on those enticing features completely.
That's because the processing modes inside Philips' mid-range sets do the same basic job as the versions on Philips' high-end sets, but with less grunt behind them.
So instead of Perfect Pixel HD Engine on the 9000 series you get Pixel Precise HD; 100Hz LCD replaces 200Hz Clear LCD; Perfect Natural Motion is substituted by HD Natural Motion – you get the picture.
The lower horsepower brings the 42PFL7404H's price down to around half that of the equivalent 42-inch 9000 series set, which is a pretty good saving in anyone's book.
This particular TV is part of Philips' 7000 series, which sits below the all-singing, all-dancing 9000 and 8000 series but above the 5000 and entry-level 3000.
The screen size is 42-inches, but if you need it smaller or bigger then the 7000 series also includes 32, 47 and 52-inch sets. They're all Full HD 1080p models, and as we'll discover they actually offer a much better range of bells and whistles than you may expect from a mid-range model.
And that mid-range positioning doesn't mean Philips has skimped on design either – the 7404H is a great looking set with an ultra slim, gloss-black bezel, which is designed to maximise the perceived screen size, plus the curves in each corner give it that distinctive Philips vibe.
Sadly, Ambilight is a casualty of Philips' cost-cutting and therefore you won't get the gorgeous picture-enhancing aura on the wall behind, but at this sort of price that's only to be expected.
The transparent plastic hood that surrounds the bezel would normally be used to catch the rays, but here it's nothing more than a sad reminder of Ambilight's absence.
It's worth mentioning at this point that the tuner inside the 42PFL7404 is a straight-up Freeview affair and not Freeview HD – getting that from a TV at this price really would be a steal.
Philips 42PFL7404H: Features
At the heart of the 7404 is Philips' Pixel Precise HD engine, not to be confused with the more powerful Perfect Pixel HD engine found on the company's high-end sets.
If you're not already familiar with the technology, allow us to recap: this picture engine is a descendant of the top-end Perfect Pixel HD engine and is capable of processing 250 million pixels per second.
Its purpose is to put the boot into bothersome picture artefacts and boost detail levels to eye-popping levels. What's more, the 14-bit colour processing generates four trillion different hues, about the same number found in the studio décor of Loose Women.
Under Pixel Precise HD's rather large umbrella you'll find a host of modes designed to enhance various aspects of the picture. These include 100Hz LCD, which ups the refresh rate using Double Frame Insertion to reduce motion blur, resulting in a response time of 3ms, which Philips claims is twice as fast as 'conventional' LCD sets.
Pricier Philips sets up the refresh rate to 200Hz using Clear LCD technology, but from our experience the 100Hz version also does a great job of removing motion blur.
It's joined by HD Natural Motion, which uses complex algorithms to estimate movement, thereby eliminating judder and making movement look much smoother than regular LCD pictures.
That's ideal for watching movie material with a low frame rate (such as 1080/24p Blu-ray films), or stuff that contains a lot of fast movement like sport, although in the past we've found that HD Natural Motion can sometimes make movement look a little unnatural.
In terms of contrast, the 7404 generates a ratio of 80,000:1 thanks to its Dynamic Contrast mode, which is designed to offer bright pictures, deep blacks and decent definition during dark scenes.
There are more than enough connections to go round. Four HDMI inputs cater for all your HD sources, and one of these is handily fitted on the side. Fork out for one of Philips' top-end sets and you get a fifth HDMI, but in all honesty four should suffice for the average user. You also get component, PC, composite and S-video inputs.
Also on the side is a USB port, which lets you play MP3, JPEG and MPEG-1/-2/-4 (AVC) videos – it's pleasing that Philips has included this feature despite the 7404's midrange price tag. You also get two RGB Scarts and a coaxial digital audio output for piping sound to your amp.
There is, of course, a Freeview tuner on board with an 8-day EPG and common interface slot that lets you add pay TV channels. It would be wrong to expect a TV at this price point to sport a Freeview HD tuner, but if you buy this TV it does mean you'll need to add a set-top box if you want terrestrial hi-def when it comes to your region.
Among the other features is a range of picture presets, including Game, Movie, Vivid and the eco-friendly Energy Saving mode. Audio-wise you get Incredible Surround, which is designed to make sound from the invisible speaker system hidden below the screen seem more expansive.
Internet TVs are all the rage right now and Philips' higher-end TVs boast its Net TV service, which zaps web content to the screen over a wireless connection. This feature unsurprisingly isn't included on the 7404, which is a shame but not a deal-breaker.
Philips 42PFL7404H: Ease of use
There's a simplicity and friendliness about the Philips' onscreen design that will appeal to anyone who's fed up with wading through illegible text and illogical submenus.
The operating system is based around the Home menu, which displays six shortcuts denoted by large, stylised icons. You can add any source you like to this menu, offering quick access to your most-used devices.
Select Setup and the menu is presented in a wonderfully simple way – the submenus progress from left to right across the screen, using large, 'glowing' text. It can get a little sluggish when you give it too many commands in quick succession, but all of the options are grouped exactly where you'd expect them to be and there's a lot of stuff to play around with.
Optimising the picture is child's play. The settings assistant displays a series of splitscreen images, asking which side you prefer, but the manual method is more fruitful.
All of the Precise Pixel HD modes are bunched together in one menu, so it's easy to make them all sing from the same hymn sheet.
Channel tuning is easy to find and quick, and the unusual EPG layout is slick and easy to follow. Press Options on the remote and a separate mini-menu appears, offering the most-used options and picture settings. Other features like digital text and USB playback operate quickly.
As for the remote, it's hardly the epitome of elegance bit does a solid, functional job. The silver ring of direction buttons is an eye-catching touch and the rubberised keys have a nice, clicky feel when pressed. The arrangement is fine and there are several shortcut buttons for zipping straight to often-used functions.
Philips 42PFL7404H: Picture quality
Play about with those picture settings and you can get some superb-looking pictures out of this TV.
They're not quite as incisively sharp and clean as the 9000 series sets, and the quality can suffer if you pile on the processing too heavily, but on the whole we're very pleased with what's on offer.
Blu-ray pictures are naturally the most impressive. The set is more than comfortable with the breakneck action in Transformers – HD Natural Motion reproduces the fast movement of robots and helicopters with unerring smoothness, while 100Hz masks motion blur effectively.
Set to maximum the effects of HD Natural Motion look a little unnatural, but overall it's hard not to be impressed by such effective judder removal.
It also displays 1080p images with the sharpness demanded by the format, and when coupled with impressive black levels they possess an entrancing depth and punchiness. Dark scenes contain plenty of detail too, and it's easy to pick out the shading within the bleached white desert sand.
Colours are simply stunning – Optimus Prime's paint job looks bold, bright and convincing, yet the Philips also conveys subtle skin tones and shading in the same frame with equal aplomb.
It's not all hunky dory however – the picture suffers from some break up and shimmering around some edges with HD Natural Motion and 100Hz LCD engaged at the same time, and noise reduction compromises the sharpness of the picture.
Freeview pictures look fine apart from a dusting of mosquito noise and processing artefacts, while DVDs are displayed with reasonable sharpness and depth, although once again there's a little too much noise in the picture to nail that five star picture rating.
Philips 42PFL7404H: Sound quality and value
Incredible Sound opens up the soundstage nicely, making audio less compact and stuffy. Dialogue is clear and direct, cutting through the booms and bangs of our test movie, and although it won't wake the neighbours there's a decent amount of bass on board.
Despite sacrificing many of the features that make Philips' high-end sets so special, the 7404H still offers great value. The on-board processing modes on board do a good job, while the inclusion of a USB port, four HDMIs and plentiful picture tweaks is fairly generous. Picture quality is also exemplary for the money – all of which makes this a solid purchase if money is tight.
Philips 42PFL7404H: Verdict
If you've ever dreamed of owning a Philips TV but don't have the budget for one of its incredible top-end sets, then the 42PFL7404 is a brilliant compromise.
Unlike some rival budget or mid-range sets, the 7404 doesn't feel overly stripped down or basic – you get a lot of TV tech for your money and there's a healthy dose of features to keep you entertained.
OK, there's no Net TV and the picture modes aren't the most powerful in Philips' arsenal, but the versions included here still deliver very good results. Some of the omissions are harder to swallow than others – Ambilight for one – but on the whole this set is a terrific choice for people on a sub-£1,000 budget.
What stands out is the Philips' outstanding picture quality. Hi-def material looks eminently crisp and clean, and this clarity is helped no end by the complete absence of judder or motion blur – hats off to HD Natural Motion and 100Hz LCD.
Colours also blaze from the screen and there's some surprisingly deep, solid blacks in the picture too.
Aside from picture quality, there's lots more to admire. The 7404 is incredibly easy to use, thanks largely to the simple-but-effective on-screen design, and despite the inevitable cost cutting there's still a decent amount of features on board, including detailed optimisation tools, a USB port that supports playback of several digital media formats and a healthy array of sockets.
Let's not forget either that this is one good looking TV, almost as attractive as the price in fact – at around £750 the 7404 is terrific value, which will be music to the ears of anyone looking for a feature packed 1080p LCD with decent performance on a tight budget.
As much as we love the images mustered up by the 7404, it has to be said that they're not perfect. On occasion the 100Hz LCD and HD Natural Motion processing cause some shimmering around moving objects, and standard definition pictures do look a tad waxy at times and contain a noticeable amount of noise.
We're also slightly miffed that Philips couldn't stretch to some form of Ambilight – even the bog standard version would have been better than nothing – and some people may be aggrieved at the lack of Net TV access.
Anyone with a sub-£1,000 budget would be absolutely mad to ignore this impressive LCD proposition, which boasts features-a-plenty, solid performance and a terrific operating system.
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