Philips 42PFL8404 £1199
18th Oct 2009 | 09:00
A capable, feature-packed mid-range 42" LCD TV set with web widgets
While the 42PFL8404 LCD TV is cheap by Philips' standards, it's certainly not basic.
Particularly pleasing is the discovery of an Ethernet port that enables access not only to the company's own rather impressive, approved online content (including YouTube, FunSpot gaming and the Tunin.fm online radio server), but also the internet at large.
Better still, you can also get online wirelessly, via a built-in system, leaving the Ethernet port free to connect to a DLNA PC for multimedia file access. The 42PFL8404's multimedia leanings don't stop here, either.
For the set also carries a USB port able to play a bewildering array of different AV formats, including such rarefied ones as .alb photo files. In fact, the 42PFL8404 looks like another flagship offering rather than a mid-range one.
The set's design supports this, combining a sleek and slender black screen surround with a transparent outer edge and Ambilight Spectra to deeply attractive effect.
The TV's video processing holds a key reason for the set's relatively low price. For instead of the brand new, ultra-powerful Perfect Pixel HD system found on Philips' flagship 9000 Series, the 42PFL8404 only has Pixel Precise HD.
This handles a 'mere' 250 megapixels per second compared with Perfect Pixel HD's 500 million, and combines the older processing systems from last year or beyond, commonly used on Philips' budget models.
However, this still leaves Pixel Precise HD looking fearsomely powerful compared to many rivals. The set's onscreen menus are endless and stuffed to breaking point with picture adjustments, many of which you do return to regularly, as we'll discover later.
Ease of use
With an effectively organised remote control, clear onscreen menus and a well-considered internet interface, the 42PFL8404, is in many ways, simple to use.
But the regularity with which you have to revisit some of the picture settings to continually get the best pictures makes it considerably higher maintenance than most.
The 42PFL8404 certainly can produce good pictures, but it falls just too short in a couple of key areas to rack up maximum points.
Its first shortcoming concerns black level response. For while dark scenes are certainly watchable and actually quite dynamic by LCD standards, there's also more of the tell-tale grey mist than we've seen with similarly positioned screens from, say, Sony and Samsung.
The other issue is that even the presence of Philips' potent HD Natural Motion processing and 100Hz can't stop some gentle motion blurring occurring over really intense action sequences. You will need to make regular subtle adjustments to picture settings such as noise reduction, sharpness-boosting and HD Natural Motion systems to keep images looking their best with different source types.
Otherwise, you might encounter softness or processing side effects such as shimmering and flickering around speeding objects. Provided you're willing to put the effort in, though, the 42PFL8404 can reward your efforts handsomely.
For instance, HD Natural Motion, when used sensibly, does a mesmerising job of removing judder from the picture. Also, even though it's not Philips' most powerful processing engine, the Pixel Precise HD system does an outstanding job of making standard-def pictures look at least halfway to HD in terms of crispness and detail.
And hi-def pictures do somehow look even sharper than usual. Colours are vibrant and reasonably subtle in tone and blend as well, and while we spotted more slightly unnatural tones around than we see with Perfect Pixel HD models, the slips are never frequent or severe enough to really distract.
While not as potent as the audio systems enjoyed by Philips' 9000 series models, the 42PFL8404's speaker system nonetheless sounds markedly more powerful and cleaner than those found on many rival sets.
If you want full internet access from your TV, Philips' currently unique talent in this area makes buying the 42PFL8404 a no-brainer. It's a fine performer, too.
However, Samsung's 40B650 and Sony's 40W5500 rivals both deliver some persuasive picture quality – albeit on screens that are some two inches smaller – for £200-£300 less cash.
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