Philips 42PFL7666H £899
16th Dec 2011 | 11:54
Edge LED TV with Wi-Fi makes the case for Passive 3D
Phillips has taken its sweet time in delivering its 2011 line-up of LED TVs, but this 7000 Series screen was worth the wait.
Sticking to the brushed aluminium look that has served the brand well in the last few years, this 42-inch Edge LED TV screen's headline act is Easy 3D.
It's perhaps the best, simplest name yet for the passive 3D system (LG calls in Cinema 3D), although we're slightly confused as to why Phillips has chosen it over active shutter 3D for the 42PFL7666.
It's a company obsessed with picture quality, debuting all manner of new processing goodies every year, so why opt for this less detailed, and often less impressive, flavour of 3D?
The obvious answer is that the use of passive 3D technology means Phillips can include multiple pairs of the much cheaper 3D glasses in the box. The problem with this theory is that only two pairs are provided with the Philips 42PFL7666.
True to form, this 3D TV comes with a host of advanced features, some of which are unique to the brand. We're talking mainly about Ambilight, a Philips-only technology that sees the 42PFL7666 put on a stunning lightshow in time to content on the screen.
Ambilight is here in its stripped-down stereo two-sided version, and it's accompanied by a host of extra features, including Pixel Precise HD processing, 400Hz Perfect Motion Rate, DLNA networking, built-in Wi-Fi, Net TV apps and, best of all for movie fans, 28W speakers.
How Philips has managed to pack all that into a TV that measures just 37.8 mm in depth is quite something.
Elsewhere in the 7000 Series is the 37-inch Philips 37PFL7666 and 47-inch Philips 47PFL7666, while the step-up 8000 contains the 40-inch Philips 40PFL8606 and 46-inch Philips 46PFL8606.
The 8000 and even richer 9000 Series TV screens all use 3D Max - an active shutter 3D system - although the brand's best is saved for its ultra widescreen 21:9 aspect ratio TVs. The 'Gold' 50-inch Philips 50PFL7956 and 'Platinum' 58-inch Philips 58PFL9956 use Easy 3D and 3D Max, respectively.
Despite seeing the arrival - at last - of a Freeview HD tuner on a Philips TV, the 42PFL7666 also witnesses the debut of Easy 3D, the brand's stab at the cheaper, easier-on-the-eye format beloved of 3D cinema goers.
Let's pass over 3D for a minute and instead consider the Philips 42PFL7666's burgeoning online dimension, which is powered by Wi-Fi. Accessed from the set's fairly rudimentary user interface is Net TV, a screen studded with apps and an open internet browser.
Apps include BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, TuneIn Radio, Aupeo (another radio app), Picasa, Twitter, Acetrax and Box Office 365, among others. There's none of the polished approach of Sony or Samsung, and nor is there access to LOVFiLM or Demand Five, but it's a relatively fair choice nonetheless.
If you already have a backlog of digitised video, music and photos to get through, the Philips 42PFL7666's DLNA home networking will be just as attractive as Net TV. It's marketed as tying together all kinds of network devices including a PC or Mac, and even tablets and smartphones.
It's all true, although it boils down to something rather less ambitious; straightforward networking of video, music and photo files, while the Philips 42PFL7666's user interface can be navigated using apps on an iPhone or Android smartphone or tablet.
The Philips 42PFL7666 can also record live TV to a USB stick, although the residual feature that enables you to pause and rewind TV will doubtless prove to be just as useful.
Ins and outs are fairly standard, including four HDMI inputs, a wired Ethernet LAN option and a Common Interface slot. There's also an optical digital audio output for attaching the Philips 42PFL7666 to a home cinema system, although its powerful 28W makes that less essential compared to almost all other flatscreen TVs.
While it would be wrong to call passive 3D a lower quality 3D system (we've seen some storming 3D performances from passive sets such as LG's 55LW980T), we remain surprised that Phillips has chosen it for some of its LED TVs.
3D, of course, is all about immersion, and the inclusion of Ambilight, here its Spectra 2 format (on the left and right sides of the TV only), certainly won't hurt in that regard, although it's really designed to prevent you getting tired eyes.
However, it's active shutter glasses that tend to make 3D a fatiguing experience, and we expect no problems with the two pairs of passive glasses in the Philips 42PFL7666's box. Each pair of 3D glasses comes in a small drawstring black felt bag, which weigh about the same as the flimsy glasses themselves.
Away from 3D is the powerful Pixel Precise HD processing engine. As well as offering - wait for it - four trillion colours, Pixel Precise HD also promises 500,000:1 contrast ratio, Super Resolution (an upscaling tech), HD Natural Motion and a 400Hz mode that Phillips calls Perfect Motion Rate. The latter two are designed to keep images free from blur and judder, and so retain their Full HD detail.
Ease of use
Although it's great to see a Freeview HD tuner inside Philips' 2011 TVs, the eight-day electronic programme guide alongside it is sparse indeed. A mono grid showing now/next information for eight channels at once is impressively simple - we'll give it that - but also incredibly basic. Worse, there's no shortcut to it on the remote control, although if you do attach a USB stick, pausing live TV is just a case of pressing one button.
The Philips 42PFL7666's nicely rounded remote is as impressive as any we've seen. Comfy to hold and with a high-end feel despite the use of plastic, it's accompanied by Philips' MyRemote app for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch and Android smartphones and tablets that mirrors the hard-button remote as well as introducing an element of swipe and gesture driven controls.
It should come into its own for inputting text, which is really only needed when using the Net TV's built-in web browser. It's slow and difficult to navigate using the hard button remote, with URL entry long-winded and off-putting, and that situation doesn't change much by using MyRemote.
In our test we managed to input text using a pop-up virtual keyboard within the app, but the web address that appeared on the TV screen bore no relation to what we had entered. On a few other occasions it failed to register any text at all - there's a syncing issue between the app and the TV since MyRemote often seems to be a few steps ahead of the TV.
What it does do, however, is stream photos in a smartphone directly to the TV screen. Who needs Apple TV?
Back on the 'proper' remote we managed to indulge in some more manual DLNA networking, with our test files successfully streaming from both a networked Mac and playing from a USB flash drive in AVI, MKV and AVC HD flavours.
This Philips TV is all about its processing. With so much to think about in Pixel Precise HD, such as HD Natural Motion (which can be set to either on or off), Clear LCD (ditto), Super Resolution and various settings for dynamic contrast, backlight and MPEG reduction, there are too many variables to easily create the perfect picture on first use.
However, there is an automatic calibration wizard very obviously flagged up in the Philips 42PFL7666's home screen's Settings area, which takes the viewer through a series of images, noting preferences and adjusting settings accordingly. As a rule of thumb, keep Pixel Precise HD's technologies on their lowest setting to begin with, where the picture is at its most natural, and experiment as you go.
Let's go straight to Easy 3D. When viewing active shutter 3D TVs, donning the glasses means a drastic reduction in brightness. That's not the case with passive 3D TVs like the Philips 42PFL7666 - at least, not much. What's immediately obvious after putting the 3D glasses on is that it's possible to see the panel's horizontal and vertical pixel structure. However, sit a few metres back and that problem instantly disappears.
Passive 3D on this LED TV is a success, but not a total one. Sure, there is a reduction in detail compared to active shutter 3D TVs, but this wasn't hugely noticeable during our test footage from Alice in Wonderland and The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D.
Another 3D movie trailer, this time a rehashed 3D version of The Nightmare Before Christmas, looks reasonably good, largely because the 3D depth is noticeable but slight, and there are few of the attention-grabbing front effects that tend to disrupt as well as dazzle.
Legends of Flight 3D is next up, and shows off the 3D format at its best and worst. A slow panning shot of a biplane is smooth and impressive, if not as detailed as it could be, but in the very next scene a glider flies against a stunning background of mountain scenery that shimmers and judders considerably. Objects at the front of the shot are often impossible to decipher.
Easy 3D does mean living with shimmering, a visible pixel grid in mono shots and less detail, but it's always comfortable to watch and for most viewers isn't as huge a step down in quality from active shutter 3D TVs as some would have you believe.
Plus if you live in a large household, the far cheaper 3D glasses will more than justify a slight drop in detail.
Back in two dimensions, we noticed some horizontal judder. As the camera pans down, in this case during adverts for Apple's iPod touch where the main actor wears a horizontally striped T-shirt, there's a definite judder and blur as he jumps, though objects going from left to right are a lot smoother.
Smooth colour gradations pervade everything on the Philips 42PFL7666, which should be considered an advanced performer with high-definition sources. HD channels look awesome in terms of clarity, fluidity and colour, and it's a similar story with Blu-ray, although we're sure there are TVs elsewhere in Philips' range that boast better contrast.
The Philips 42PFL7666's Edge LED backlighting system is partially successful; true black is never achieved, but it gets pretty close in dark scenes. Find a mixed brightness scene, such as in our test disc 3:10 to Yuma on Blu-ray where a character sits alone in a darkened room while sunlight streams in through the door, and that black loses its lustre on its way to blue. Ambilight does increase the perception of contrast, but let's not over-egg that effect - it's only slight.
Super Resolution, which is designed to upscale standard definition TV channels and DVDs, is also an acquired taste. If you look at a paused picture you can detect a slight increase in detail, but in a moving picture it's almost impossible to see, unlike the odd artefact around moving objects, which is frequently visible with this mode engaged.
Sound and value
Clear Sound does a reasonable job at increasing the clarity of dialogue, and Incredible Surround is worth considering while watching movies, though both of these modes' success is down to the sheer power behind the Philips 42PFL7666's speakers.
Rated at 14W each, they are among the best in the business despite the removal of woofers from the rear of the TV (as was the case with Phillips' 2010 crop of TVs). Still, it's worth playing around with the individual treble and bass controls in the home screen's Settings menu. Though it's hard to resist pushing the base up to its maximum level, we'd advise leaving it a tad below.
The Philips 42PFL7666 is great value; nicely styled and boasting tremendous build quality, the likes of which are so, so rare in the flatscreen TV market, the provision of a solid, stable desktop stand and those impressive speakers make this a standout product if judged purely on hardware.
Inside it's a different story, however, with a rather dated-looking user interface and a smart TV dimension that is really only justified by the presence of the BBC iPlayer.
There are better such platforms available, but the Philips 42PFL7666 is relatively media savvy in other areas and the sheer versatility and quality of the HD TV make this a great choice for movie buffs after something a little different. And don't underestimate Ambilight - it adds something special that's not easy to live without once experienced.
Just 37.8 mm in depth and clad in brushed aluminium brilliance, the light show emanating from this 42-inch TV's sides makes the Philips 42PFL7666 appear a high-end choice indeed. Whether that impression lasts when the TV is switched on depends on what you're after, but we'd judge this a thoroughly advanced hi def and competent 3D performer that's ideal for a living room where a gloss black mass-market TV just won't do.
As an idea we find Ambilight almost irresistible, though it's the Philips 42PFL7666's competent combination of colourful, punchy and highly detailed Full HD and Easy 3D that are likely to appeal to most.
The build quality is stunning, as are the integrated speakers, and it's also great to see a Freeview HD tuner, the BBC iPlayer, an effective home networking dimension, a well thought-out remote control, and Apple TV-like streaming of photos from smartphones and tablets.
Freeview HD is spoiled by a grid-like, mono channel grid and drab EPG that are indicative of the Philips 42PFL7666's rather staid user interface. Net TV isn't a patch on the competitors' online hubs, and as well as some horizontal judder the other major picture foible is a lack of ultimate contrast and a loss of detail and edge definition during 3D playback that's obvious immediately through an often visible pixel grid.
Ideal for a living room after both something a little bit special and the low maintenance passive 3D system, this sculpted aluminium effort is as good value as it is good looking.
Equipped with Ambilight and other goodies including Freeview HD and a 'passive' Easy 3D mode that justifies its introduction by Philips, this Edge LED effort is a competent performer across-the-board whose lack of star quality pictures are explained in its low price.