Philips 46PFL7007 £1500
22nd Oct 2012 | 11:15
Edge LED backlighting at its blackest and best
Philips TVs may now be marketed by Taiwanese company TP Vision, but the old Dutch master of the high-end LCD TV has once again come up with something genuinely different in the Philips 46PFL7007.
Late to the market it may be (most brands launch their wares in March), but forgiveness is almost instant; sporting one of the best edge LED-backlit screens we've seen so far, this 46-inch TV from the brand's 7000 Series piles on three unique extra features.
A remote control that has a QWERTY keyboard on its back - a logical offering in these days of regular text-input to YouTube, Twitter and web browser apps on TVs - is joined by five HDMI inputs (previously unheard of on any TV we know of) and that signature Philips feature, Ambilight.
These strips of Ambilight LEDs along the sides of the TV's rear throw ever-changing coloured light in sympathy to the colours on the TV screen, on to surrounding walls.
It's a Philips-only feature that we love, and it's on the Philips 46PFL7007 in its stereo Ambilight Spectra 2 incarnation. If you have bold coloured paint on your living room walls, you can rest easy; choose the closest shade on a small palette graphic and the Philips 46PFL7007 will tweak the Ambilight output to compensate.
The rare good looks continue on the hardware itself. Its slender design achieves a depth of 29.8mm (1.2 inches) and the slinky brushed aluminum bezel is a mere 5mm (0.2 inches) - though it tapers backwards to around twice that.
But just as impressive is that other Philips characteristic; great build quality. There are none of those plastic-masquerading-as-metal ideas that dominate most brands' TVs.
Where Philips has sought to catch up with its rivals is with its newly refreshed, dual-core-powered and Wi-Fi-fueled smart TV hub, which has received a plethora of apps and services.
The user interface gets a refresh, too, though its basic architecture remains. Elsewhere this is a serious all-rounder, with Philips' Pixel Precise HD processing accompanied by 800Hz Perfect Motion Rate (though it is actually a 200Hz screen refresh rate beefed up by a scanning backlight) and active shutter 3D, which Philips calls '3D Max'.
The use of this tech enables the 3D specs (of which there is sadly only one pair in the box) to enter two-player full screen gaming mode. However, it's the almost plasma-like Micro Dimming of its LED backlighting that's the hero of the day.
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Philips only deals in LED-backlit LCD TVs. The 46-inch Philips 46PFL7007 is the central pillar in a three-strong 7000 Series, priced at £1,500 (around AU$2,340/US$2,422). The series also includes the 40-inch Philips 40PFL7007 and 55-inch Philips 55PFL7007.
'Easy 3D' - code for passive 3D tech that requires cheap cinema-style 3D specs - features on the Philips 6000 Series.
Comprised of the 32-inch Philips 32PFL6007, 42-inch Philips 42PFL6007, 46-inch Philips 46PFL6007 and 55-inch Philips 55PFL6007, the 6000 Series still manages to offer a relatively advanced 400Hz mode, along with smart TV apps and four pairs of Easy 3D specs.
Higher up, the 8000 Series - starring the 40-inch Philips 40PFL8007, 46-inch Philips 46PFL8007 and Philips 55-inch 55PFL8007 - adds some upgrades; Perfect Pixel HD and an extra pair of 3D specs.
At the pinnacle is the 9000 Series, a premium television collection that includes only the 46-inch Philips 46PFL9707 and 60-inch Philips 60PFL9707. Not scheduled to be released until November, here you'll find the awesome Moth Eye 'bionic' filter alongside the Pixel HD Engine, Micro Dimming Premium and Bright Pro.
One glance of the remote control suggests that Philips has a new outlook on interactivity; it's a double-sided affair with the 'normal' side complemented by a keyboard on the reverse.
It's a surprisingly snug design, and though it's one that never caught on for mobile phones, it might just work for TVs.
Sony has performed a similar trick this year on the remote for its Google TV box, and the reason for its appearance on the Philips 46PFL7007 is to make easier to use its web browser.
Find a link on a BBC website to something stored on the iPlayer, and one click will launch both that app and the programme you chose. However, the browser won't enable you to watch video on most websites - it doesn't support Flash - so its usefulness is limited.
Despite having admired many a Philips TV in the past, their lack of a compelling smart TV platform has been a major reason not to buy. But no longer.
Apps for both BBC iPlayer and YouTube are on the Philips 46PFL7007, and so too is Skype, which requires the purchase of a PTA317/00 Skype TV camera from Philips.
A Social app sensibly makes it possible to read and post messages to both Facebook and Twitter while watching live TV.
Picasa, iConcerts (a guilty pleasure if you like watching random live concerts from largely 'archive' artists), Aupeo and, err, TomTomHD are there too.
The BBC Sport and BBC News apps are missing, and some will bemoan the lack of movie streaming apps, but anyone who's actually browsed the online movie libraries of the likes of Lovefilm, Acetrax or Netflix will know that there's a whiff of emperor's new clothes about them anyway.
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Besides, Philips informs us that both Blinkbox and YouTube's movie rental service will soon be available, the latter of which could render all others pointless.
Meanwhile, you'll find no emperor's clothes within adult apps from Hustler and PRIVA (both can be put behind a PIN number), while other apps include Funspot, Euronews, eBay, Napster, CNBC Real Time, Absolute Radio, Aupeo, Viewster, Films and Stars, Ted Talks, MeteoConsult and MyAlbum.
We shouldn't get too down on the Philips 46PFL7007's apps, since Philips promises that an upcoming update to its MyRemote app (which is available on iOS and Android devices) will get a new feature (initially only for iPhones and iPads) called Wi-Fi Smart Screen.
This will make it possible to pull live TV showing on the Philips 46PFL7007 to phones and tablets on the same Wi-Fi network.
Elsewhere, the Philips 46PFL7007 doesn't have the top spec, but its advanced Pixel Precise HD suite of processing circuitry isn't bad value for money.
800Hz Perfect Natural Motion is onboard to lessen blur and resolution loss in fast-moving television, such as football.
It proves a key technology, especially for 3D, where what Philips calls 3D Max Clarity 700 (the 700 refers to visible lines of resolution in a moving image) reigns supreme.
That's code for active shutter 3D, for which the Philips 46PFL7007 can offer a depth adjuster and a 2D to 3D converter for any source.
Connectivity is nothing short of utterly comprehensive. There is no other brand that offers five HDMI inputs, which takes the high-definition source count up to six if you include component video, which is also here.
Three USB inputs add even more versatility, including a pause/rewind/record live TV feature (simply hook up an HDD and go through a short formatting process) and that optional Skype camera.
Also on the rear (left side) is an optical digital audio output, RF-in to power the built-in Freeview HD tuner, a VGA hook up for a PC or laptop, a headphones jack, and a Common Interface+ slot.
As well as adding convenience to those smart TV apps, the inclusion of wired LAN and Wi-Fi enable home networking of various digital music, video and photo files.
If you're in any doubt about whether or not the Philips 46PFL7007 is hungry for high-definition content, the set up procedure clears things up.
After a short HD clip of some surfers, a message appears that says: "To enjoy more HD on your TV, tune to TV channels that broadcast in HD, or subscribe to premium content in HD. Also, Blu-ray Disc players can play movies in HD."
And while the Philips 46PFL7007 is clearly at its best with HD, we're not at all sure why Philips is so paranoid about this TV set not being used solely for HD, since it proves adept with all kinds of ropey sources, too.
But let's start with the weird stuff; Perfect Natural Motion, a slab of motion compensation tech accessed through the Pixel Precise HD menus. It's designed to bring a fluid and judder-free look to moving camera shots. And in a movie, that's quite common.
It's here in three different settings, and though all create a more natural feel in terms of movement, there are noticeable side-effects during our Hugo Blu-ray disc. As Hugo runs through the train station, and even when he turns his head in an otherwise stationary shot, there's a crackle and flicker around him.
That's on 'maximum', which is to be avoided, though the other settings are much cleaner than in previous years; we'd happily live with the 'minimum' setting for most kinds of footage.
For example, the train crash in Hugo's dream is almost menacing in its fluidity and detail, but this extra punch and detail is tempered not only by those artefacts, but by a sense that it looks more like a TV show than a movie.
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Perhaps it depends on what your preference is, but it's worth knowing that with PNM disabled, a sweeping camera shot across Hugo behind bars shows a noticeable blur and judder, though otherwise the image is preferable.
It's a question of balance and preference, which makes it all the more annoying that actually engaging or tweaking PNM settings on the fly is almost impossible. It takes at least six button presses to navigate from watching a film to the relevant part of the on-screen menus.
Contrast and black levels
With no trace of blue and with enough shadow detail to impress, we'd judge the Philips 46PFL7007's ability at reproducing true black to be almost spot-on.
Shadow detail can go missing on occasions - a shot of Hugo in his attic at night reveals a solid, almost silhouetted look to areas of black, and the same goes for shadows of train track, and even the depths of Papa George's long black coat - but it helps produce a stunning image more often than not.
Take a mixed brightness scene; Hugo and Isabelle stand atop the station looking out to twinkling lights on Parisian buildings at night with no haloing or leaked light around those lights, and an immaculate treatment of the night sky.
As well as retaining that intensity when viewed from a tight angle, this 46-inch Phillips TV also manages to hide the fact that it is being lit by LED lights; there is none of the blotchy patches of light in corners all along the top and bottom of the screen, as with other LED backlit televisions from other brands.
That black level capability feeds into the colour palette, too, which is wide and true.
The sharpness of images - as always on a Philips TV - is second to none, though here it looks cleaner and more 'real'. Sharp images don't tend to come with much, if any, background picture noise, but nor do they appear over-processed.
That applies to a broadcast of England vs San Marino on ITV HD from the Freeview HD tuner, too, and though Top Gear on Dave doesn't look great, there are no jagged edges.
Game mode, employed for playing Pro Evolution 2012, provided a super-bright, detailed picture, though with some jagged edges.
With Hugo in 3D mode we donned our Real-D-powered Philips PTA507 active shutter 3D specs. Colours hold up and contrast is deeper still, though we avoided engaging the 'more depth' setting; we got only increased echoes of each eye (crosstalk) for little gain.
The debate over PNM applies once again, but for 3D there's a different outcome.
With PNM off, the initial sweeping shot over Paris and into the train station is dogged by judder - particularly the opening side-to-side camera pan - with the impact of the falling 3D snowflake flattened (and perhaps the whole shot itself) by a touch of crosstalk, while even the clock face hiding Hugo blurs and judders as the shot moves across it.
However, with PNM on its maximum setting, that same sequence is lent a smooth, almost giddily real life feel. When Maximilian the dog runs amok, there is some troubling artefacting around him, but such incidences were rare during our test: for 3D, PNM is a success.
It can't prevent occasional crosstalk, which particularly remains within dark images; an overhead shot of Hugo descending a ladder in half-light renders a noticeable double image.
Converting our Children of Men DVD into 3D produced more frequent crosstalk and many inconsistencies and inaccuracies, but we'd still judge it to be superior to most such modes. Just as with native 3D discs, it was smoothest and most watchable with the Philips 46PFL7007's PNM engaged on full power.
Upscaling of SD channels is relatively good, suppressing picture noise and artefacts reasonably well, though it tends to subdue rather than increase detail.
With DVDs it's a similar story, but here we had to employ PNM on its minimum setting to get rid of jumpiness to our Children of Men disc. It did cause the occasional burst of nastiness around moving objects, but otherwise proved clean and detailed enough.
For a dodgy video on YouTube, that approach is critical, since it makes a paltry number of pixels appear watchable on such a high-res screen; there is almost constant moving mosquito noise on the Philips 46PFL7007, but it's suppressed enough to make it watchable.
Most impressively, we watched a video from YouTube in which a lecturer in a white shirt stood, brightly lit from the front but with no halo, against a black background. As in, totally, utterly black, with no hint of blotching or LED light leakage. Wow.
Usability, sound and value
The electronic programme guide behind the Philips 46PFL7007's Freeview HD tuner is more colourful and functional than in previous years, with schedules for seven channels over two hours shown on one screen.
Meanwhile, navigating the likes of YouTube and iConcerts is a breeze using the QWERTY side of the remote control.
Entering search terms suddenly doesn't seem a pain, and the chance to access previously watched and related videos on My YouTube adds convenience, too.
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When using the built-in web browser app, although the keyboard makes typing URLs easier, the interface itself is still clunky and needs some kind of cursor (as in LG's TVs).
As well as it being tricky to get the cursor in the URL box in the first place, it's also a pain to navigate web pages. As in, you just wouldn't bother, not if you've got a smartphone or laptop within a mile.
The same situation threatens the remote control, though aside from the fear of pressing buttons on the QWERTY while using the 'old' side of the remote (we got over this quickly - there's an accelerometer inside that clocks the orientation and deadens one side or the other), we like it.
It does lack a few niceties; some backlighting would be welcome, while during the test we did notice some unresponsiveness when operating some of the on-screen menus. We're not convinced about its weighting (it's completely uniform), but what's really missing are buttons for key picture settings.
The remote's chief threat is Philips' MyRemote app for smartphones, though in practice it's nothing special (yet), merely offering mirrors of the 'real' remote. It's also without a 3D shortcut, so can make some operations even more long-winded than they already are.
The Philips 46PFL7007's user screens for digital files have been improved; as well as being accessible as individual files, it's also possible to get the TV to display all videos, music or photos, from which you select a strangely image-less thumbnail.
However, it only does this for one USB flash drive at a time. On our tests, from a USB stick we managed to play AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPEG and WMV video files, JPEG photos, and MP3, WMA and M4A music files.
Over a network it's an identical selection, with WMV HD support added for good measure. Once playing, all can be scanned at up to 32x.
While the settings menus are rather old fashioned-looking - and something of a maze, especially the picture settings - at least there are plenty of advanced settings.
As well as a light sensor, gamma, colour temperature, video contrast and brightness, there are idiot-proof picture presets, such as movie, photo and energy-saving.
But the brightness-boosting game/computer mode also suffers from being hidden in a dusty corner of the GUI.
The Philips 46PFL7007 has two 20W speakers in its stand, which does seem to be the way forward for super-slim TVs. Big on both low frequency sound and surround effects, we'd judge the Philips 46PFL7007 one of the best-sounding TVs of the year.
That's not actually unusual for a Philips TV, but the way it's been achieved is relatively new.
However, the on-screen menus for audio are a letdown; while watching a Blu-ray disc we were easily able to change only basic sound presets, and had to dig about for the 'serious' sound modes.
For what it is - a thoroughly advanced edge LED-backlit panel whose success hinges on the top quality of its core AV performance - we'd judge the Philips 46PFL7007 good value.
Cheap it is not, priced as it is at £1,500 (around AU$2,340/US$2,422). But it's superior (in strict AV terms) to similar attempts by Samsung and LG, and probably on a par with some Sony TVs.
However, the Philips 46PFL7007 lacks something in terms of ease of use, and those after an easy to set up, user-friendly living room TV might take some time getting used to the Philips 46PFL7007.
It's not a reference-level TV set, but the Philips 46PFL7007 is edge LED backlighting at its finest. Now loaded with enough apps to get by, awesome audio and plenty of core AV quality, this 46-inch television is versatile and impressive.
However, it does take a bit of getting used to, and it's not the most user-friendly TV available.
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Aside from the unique Ambilight feature, the most obvious strength here is the intensity of black, which at times approaches some of the best plasmas. We also liked the colour, and while Perfect Natural Motion does take some experimenting with, it certainly adds to the 3D performance.
Having five HDMI inputs lends this TV a slight advantage, and the build quality? You won't find many better - either in terms of its materials, or its sleek metallic look.
Add audio twice as good as most flat televisions, comprehensive digital file support and a tempting metallic design, and this is a mighty package with few weaknesses.
Many of the major features of this TV are hidden away in the menus; using the Philips 46PFL7007 as it is intended should be painless, and it's not.
Shadow detail isn't reference-quality, the single pair of 3D glasses in the box seems stingy, and crosstalk is evident during 3D playback. The smart TV platform has improved, but isn't on a par with the best.
LCD panels still have a lot of minor issues when compared to the very best plasmas, but this Philips TV manages to banish some of them.
While the Philips 46PFL7007's picture does need some attention paid to it via some often long-winded on-screen menus, the reward is a fabulous image from almost all sources, with crisp pictures and convincing contrast.
The best-sounding TV we've heard in yonks, the Philips 46PFL7007 might not have the ultimate smart TV apps or usability, but in terms of core quality and sheer versatility, it's an edge LED-backlit TV that's hard to beat.
Philips' main competitor at this relatively high-end of LED-backit LCD TV market has to be Sony, whose great value 46-inch KDL-46HX853 impressed us with its deep black levels and all-round awesome 2D picture quality. It's smart TV hub is slicker than on this Philips, too.
Black levels and the consistency of backlighting takes a slight dive on other brands at this size, the dual core-powered, 47-inch Panasonic TX-L47WT50B is hard to resist; it's a 2D and 3D all-rounder boasting a 2mm bezel.
And the 47-inch LG 47LM860V remains the only choice for anyone interested in home networking; its SmartShare software is streets ahead of the competition.