Philips 46PFL8007 £1700
3rd Oct 2012 | 14:19
Philips TVs are back and looking very good
After seemingly forever, the negotiations between Philips and Chinese TV manufacturer TPV Technology are finally concluded, and the resulting TP Vision joint venture has at last borne serious new fruit in the shape of a big new Philips TV range.
This new range will be topped, excitingly, by a new 9000 series including the second generation of the exclusive Moth-Eye technology that impressed so much on the Philips 46PFL9706. But just one step below this November-launching flagship television is the feature-packed Philips 46PFL8007 series. And this 46-inch member of the high-end series is under scrutiny today.
The Philips 46PFL8007 certainly looks the part, with its fashionably skinny bezel and metallic finish. Its design is also innovative, thanks to its carriage of Philips' latest Ambilight system and the inclusion in the provided stand/wall mount of an audio system that will hopefully help the TV avoid the skinny sonics of most slim TVs.
It's packed with features too, including active 3D playback, Philips' new Smart TV online service, and the latest version of Philips' powerful Perfect Pixel HD picture processing engine.
You can also record from the built-in Freeview HD tuner to USB HDDs, while AV enthusiasts will be chuffed to discover that the Philips 46PFL8007 is endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), indicating that it's got all the tools you need to get a 'professional' sheen to its pictures.
If the Philips 46PFL8007's admittedly somewhat steep looking £1,700 (about AU$2,676/US$2,744) price tag is too high for you, Philips has a few cheaper models in its new range too.
The new 55-inch Philips 55PFL7007 and cheaper 46-inch Philips 46PFL7007 continue the ultra-thin design theme, and carry many of the same features, including active 3D playback and Smart TV functionality.
The only really big differences are that the 7007 models only ship with one pair of 3D glasses vs two with the 8007s, and use Philips' step-down Pixel Precise HD processing rather than the Perfect Pixel HD system.
A further step down are the Philips 55PFL6007, 46-inch Philips 46PFL6007, 42-inch Philips 42PFL6007 and 32-inch Philips 32PFL6007. Another £200 or cheaper than their equivalent Philips PFL7007 screen sizes, these models use a passive rather than active 3D system (with four pairs of free glasses), and 400Hz processing rather than 800Hz.
The Philips 46PFL8007's design is a real eye-catcher, thanks to the sub-1cm width of its metallic-looking bezel. This design also means it will take up less space than most 46-inch TVs.
Another striking design feature finds the Philips 46PFL8007's speakers built into its stand/wall mount. This makes for extra faffing around when it comes to attaching the TV to the stand or wall mounting it, but hopefully your efforts will be rewarded with a sound quality superior to the tinny efforts churned out by most ultra-slim TVs.
Yet another key design element of the Philips 46PFL8007 is its Ambilight system. This uses LEDs ranged down its rear sides to either provide you with an illuminated backdrop of your colour choice (warm white if you use the ISF setting), or else a dynamic colour scape that can correlate with surprising accuracy to the local colour content of the picture you're watching.
This dramatic effect isn't just for show, either. Philips has plenty of research under its belt to suggest that having a light behind the screen makes for a more relaxing experience, while matching this rear light's colours to the image content can make your viewing feel more immersive.
The Philips 46PFL8007's connections are outstanding. Particularly impressive is the appearance of five HDMIs when no other TV around right now offers more than four.
But there's also an abundance of multimedia support, including three USB ports, a D-Sub PC port, and built-in Wi-Fi through which you can access files on networked PCs or Macs, or else go online with Philips' new Smart TV system.
The USB ports can be used for playing AVI, MKV, H264/MPEG-4 AVC, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV9/VC1, AAC, MP3, WMA, and JPEG multimedia file formats, or you can use them to record from the TV's built-in Freeview HD tuner to USB flash drives.
Philips' previous online service wasn't especially memorable, chiefly because it didn't have enough content. And sadly this continues to be the case with the Philips 46PFL8007.
Whereas the likes of Samsung and LG now have apps by the hundred on their online platforms, at the time of writing Philips just has BBC iPlayer, Facebook, YouTube, CNBC Real Time, Napster, Picasa, Absolute Radio, Aupeo, Viewster, Funspot, Euronews, iConcerts, TomTom HD Traffic, ebay, Films and Stars, Ted Talks, MeteoConsult, MyAlbum and, um, a couple of adult services from Hustler and PRIVATE.
Particularly noticeable by their absence are any free catchup services beyond BBC iPlayer, and the subscription/rental likes of Netflix, LoveFilm and Acetrax.
Philips tells us that Blinkbox is due to go live before the end of October, with another rental service incoming - hopefully - during November. But even once these services go live, Philips will still fall short of most of its big-name online TV rivals.
The Philips 46PFL8007 does also provide an open web browser, mind you, which might help alleviate some of the content shortage concerns.
While using this, moreover, you'll quickly come to love Philips' new remote control, complete with a full QWERTY keyboard on its rear. More on this in the Usability section of our review.
One final great touch where the Philips 46PFL8007's online features are concerned is Philips' inclusion of a very cute, metal-finished webcam with the TV.
This includes a little gripper bracket that enables you to attach it to the top of the TV, and enables you to use Skype right out of the box. Excellent.
The Philips 46PFL8007's slim design immediately alerts you to the fact that it employs Edge LED lighting technology. Further investigation of this system uncovers a micro dimming engine, whereby the image is broken down into small sections for individual analysis so that the screen can calculate the most effective light output for its LEDs.
The panel enjoys a native 200Hz refresh rate too, but a combination of a scanning backlight and Philips' latest Perfect Natural Motion processing enable the Philips 46PFL8007 to deliver a claimed 800Hz effect for motion reproduction.
This should be enough to remove practically all judder and motion blur from the image, though it remains to be seen if the processing causes other negative side effects.
As with any high-end TV these days, the Philips 46PFL8007 is 3D ready. Philips includes both passive and active 3D TVs in its latest range, but since it sees the active system (dubbed 3D Max by the Philips marketeers) as the premium quality option, it's this that's used on the high-end Philips 46PFL8007.
Philips has chucked a couple of active shutter 3D glasses in for free too, which is nice.
The Philips 46PFL8007 is fully endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), so it's no surprise to find its extensive onscreen menus stuffed with subtle picture adjustments.
These include colour management, multiple gamma presets, white balance adjustments and the facility to change the strength of or completely deactivate pretty much every element of the Perfect Pixel HD processing engine.
As noted earlier, there's even an ISF mode for the Ambilight system, which produces a simple warm white colour.
Philips thoughtfully provides a long list of picture presets on the Philips 46PFL8007, including night and day ISF modes, and a Movie mode that intriguingly turns off pretty much every part of the Perfect Pixel HD engine lest any film purists take umbrage at the work Philips' extensive processing engine is doing.
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The first thing to say here is that you need to be very careful with some of the Philips 46PFL8007's settings in order to get the very best out of it.
But provided you put the upfront effort in - being especially cautious with its noise reduction, contrast boosting and motion compensation controls - you'll be amply rewarded with one of the very best pictures we've seen from a flatscreen TV.
We couldn't resist starting our test phase by feeding the Philips 46PFL8007 the Blu-ray of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt II: a film stuffed with extremely dark and motion-packed scenes that have played havoc with a scary number of LCD TVs this year. In fact, the outstanding Sony HX853 models are the only non-plasma TVs that have managed to deliver this film with total confidence. Until now.
During such extremely dark scenes as the start of Chapter 12 on the Harry Potter disc, where Voldemort and his assembled army look down at night over Hogwarts, it's immediately obvious that the Philips 46PFL8007's black level response is nothing short of outstanding.
Black parts of the picture actually look black rather than some sort of wishy washy grey.
This is a considerable achievement in itself, but it's made all the more startling by the fact that the intense darkness of the Philips 46PFL8007's blacks remains brilliantly consistent right across its screen.
What we mean by this is that there's none of the distracting backlight unevenness - even in the image's corners - that's been the downfall of so many Edge LED TVs.
Also a massive relief is the way the Philips 46PFL8007 avoids pretty much entirely the distracting light 'blocking' that's plagued so many locally dimmed LCD TVs this year - most notably those from LG.
In other words, as with the Sony HX853s, the cleverness of Philips' backlight handling algorithms - together with the use of LEDs mounted down the TV's sides rather than along its top and bottom edges - enables bright objects to look punchy without distracting rectangles or squares of extra light having to appear around them.
This is despite Philips being able to deliver the bright parts of mostly dark images with startling intensity, even though the blackness around them remains wonderfully intense.
Sorry to bang on about the Philips 46PFL8007's contrast performance at such length, but there really is no overstating just how large a part it plays in making the set's HD pictures so outstandingly good.
It's worth stressing here that Philips has managed to achieve its black level heroics despite the Philips 46PFL8007 wearing an extremely thin bezel. No other TV brand has managed this thin design/immaculate backlight combination nearly so well (Sony's HX853 models use a much wider bezel).
The Philips 46PFL8007's outstanding contrast also knocks on into its colour performance, since the inky black levels it can deliver provide a superb foundation for colours to 'bounce off', leaving them looking consistently spectacularly vibrant and rich.
It's also great to find colours during dark scenes looking as rich and natural as those in bright footage, as a result of the TV not suffering with the injection of grey that you get with most LCD TVs when they're handling dark stuff.
Boosting the Philips 46PFL8007's colour performance even further is both the extreme range and almost infinite subtlety of its palette. We weren't able to count the 2.250 trillion colours the TV claims to be able to produce, but we certainly could appreciate the complete absence of the sort of colour 'striping' or plastic-looking skin tones that you get with TVs with less powerful colour engines.
Philips TVs have long been renowned for the sharpness of their pictures, and happily this strength continues with the Philips 46PFL8007. The levels of detail and clarity it produces are little short of mesmerising, since every last pixel of HD picture information is immaculately rendered, tucked safely within crisp but never over-sharpened edges.
What's more, there's precious little sense of resolution being lost when objects are moving around the screen. This is especially true if you switch on Philips' ultra-powerful Perfect Natural Motion processing - though before you rush to do that, bear in mind that even on its lowest setting it can leave film sources looking a bit video-like.
The bottom line from all this is that the Philips 46PFL8007's HD pictures are arguably the most full of impact we've seen from an LCD TV this year.
They're not perfect, though, for a trio of reasons. First, when calibrated to deliver its inkiest, purest black level response, the Philips TV crushes out more shadow detail in dark corners than the Sony HX853 televisions do.
Second, while for the most part we felt very enamoured of the TV's backlight handling, we were occasionally distracted by some over-obvious shifts in the image's underlying brightness, caused by the TV reacting a bit too aggressively to a change in the brightness level of the image being shown.
Oddly this problem seemed most noticeable when we had the set's Dynamic Backlight feature set to Best for Picture; it seemed much less problematic if this feature was set to Standard.
Shifting our adoring gaze to 3D, the news is a little more mixed. On the upside, colours are punchy and rich, the set's presentation of depth is natural and engaging, detail levels are extremely high, and naturally there's no sign of the jagged edges and horizontal line structure you get with rival passive 3D technology.
However, although crosstalk is reduced from last year's Philips' 3D Max TVs, there's still enough of it over background areas to sometimes grab your attention. Or on other occasions, it causes a subtle but noticeable blurring effect over some detailed backdrops.
Motion in 3D footage is slightly problematic too. There's a little judder in the picture if you don't use the Perfect Natural Motion, yet if you do activate PNM, even on its lowest setting, it causes some really quite overt processing artefacts whenever there's a lot of motion in the 3D image.
A TV as feature-laden and expensive as the Philips 46PFL8007 clearly deserves to be fed as much HD content as possible.
But if you do have to watch standard definition from time to time, then don't worry: the exceptional processing power of the Perfect Pixel HD system does a great job of upscaling even very low-quality standard definition pictures, adding lots of sharpness while simultaneously reducing noise.
The lower settings of Philips' noise reduction routines work surprisingly well in this context too, smoothing away more noise without making the picture look excessively laggy or soft.
Please note, though, that Philips' Perfect Natural Motion system really doesn't work well with standard definition at all, causing some alarming blocking and flicker artefacts during camera pans.
As a gaming monitor, meanwhile, the Philips 46PFL8007 is a mixture of the awesome and slightly disappointing.
On the awesome front, the picture's extreme contrast and sharpness bring your game worlds to life like precious few other TVs.
A Dual Play feature that enables two gamers to enjoy simultaneous full-screen play via a switch on the 3D glasses also works decently - though you can sometimes see a faint ghost of the elements of the other player's screen over yours.
On the downside, even after selecting the TV's Game mode and fastidiously turning off everything we could find that might require on-the-hoof processing (including Ambilight), we still only managed to get input lag down to around 65ms. This is a bit higher than we'd like, and has the potential to occasionally reduce your gaming performance.
Usability, sound and value
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The Philips 46PFL8007's remote control is superb. It's fabulously weighty but comfortable to hold, with a mostly excellent button layout on one side and, rather brilliantly, a full QWERTY keyboard on the other.
The QWERTY keyboard is well thought through too, in that it's divided in half so that users can access all the keys via their thumb while holding the remote horizontally in both hands. The remote even knows which way up you're holding it, so that you can't accidentally press the buttons on the side you're not using.
Philips claims that it did lots of user research into the sort of alternative control systems introduced by some other brands this year - touchpad remotes, voice control, gesture control - but found that most users found such systems more frustrating than helpful.
And based on the impressively fluid experience of using the Philips 46PFL8007 with the remote and its integrated keyboard, it's hard to disagree with Philips' findings.
There's another great touch when using the Twitter app too - where possible the app uses the metadata sent with whatever TV programme you're watching (if metadata is available) to search Twitter for related hashtag feeds. This is ideal for people wanting to follow Twitter's thinking about popular shows such as The X-Factor.
The main Smart Menu is easy to read and navigate too, and you can adjust the order of the app icons to make sure your favourites sit at the top.
However, while the current layout of the Smart screen is pretty straightforward, it will likely start to seem pretty unwieldy should Philips get its service's content levels as high as we'd like them to be.
The Philips 46PFL8007's main set up and feature menus, meanwhile, are scary.
We generally applaud Philips' decision to give you a degree of control over pretty much every element of its processing and picture presentation, but it sure does lead to some seriously heavy duty text-only feature lists.
It's not always clear what some of these features do, either, and your experience of navigating the menus isn't improved by the fact that they tend to react rather sluggishly.
If you're a bit of a technophobe, it's going to be tempting not to bother delving into the deepest, darkest corners of the picture adjustments. But unfortunately you really need to if you're to consistently get the best out of the Philips 46PFL8007's pictures, since different aspects of its processing have different benefits and negative side effects on different types of source.
Just as well, then, that the TV rewards all your efforts with such scintillating pictures.
While we've already seen Sony reap great audio benefits from building some of its TVs' speakers into their stands, we weren't sure that the speaker-bearing stand/mount Philips provides with the Philips 46PFL8007 was big enough to deliver any serious oomph.
But thankfully it works rather well, presenting a warm, immersive, surprisingly bass-rich soundstage that also somehow delivers harshness-free treble details and even a fair amount of soundstage width. Very clever.
And needless to say, the results are miles better than the flimsy efforts usually heard from super-thin TVs.
The new TP Vision joint venture for Philips TVs is intended to help make the brand more price competitive. All the same, the Philips 46PFL8007's £1,700 (about AU$2,676/US$2,744) price tag looks quite high for a 46-inch TV.
After all, Sony's 46HX853 can be yours for just £1,250 (around AU$1,969/US$2,013).
However, the Philips set does have more picture processing power and options, Ambilight, a much slinkier design, and pictures that are, in some ways at least, even punchier than those of Sony's mighty flagship models.
After a lengthy absence, the 46-inch Philips 46PFL8007 marks a very strong return to the UK TV market for Philips. It's a truly high-end model with a super-slender design, Edge LED lighting and local dimming technology that also benefits from the brand's highest level of picture processing, Perfect Pixel HD.
Philips sensibly enables you to adjust almost every facet of this processing, as well as providing enough colour, gamma and white balance management options to earn the endorsement of the independent ISF calibration group.
It's also equipped with active 3D technology (two glasses are included), expansive multimedia support, and a nicely presented but currently rather content-lite smart TV service.
Best of all, it's the only LCD TV we've seen this year able to produce pictures good enough to give the all-conquering Sony 46HX853 models a run for their money.
The Philips 46PFL8007 sets the right tone immediately, by looking just lovely in its ultra-thin metallic bezel. Its connectivity is also outstanding, with the provision of five HDMIs being particularly welcome.
Its QWERTY keyboard-carrying remote control is brilliant too, and best of all both its picture and sound quality are outstanding.
As usual with high-end Philips TVs, you need to familiarise yourself with the many ins and outs of the reams of picture settings the Philips 46PFL8007 carries if you want to get the best out of it. This can be quite daunting initially.
Also disappointing is the shortage of content on Philips' Smart TV platform, and the slightly high input lag figure we measured even using the set's Game mode.
With the 46PFL8007, Philips isn't just back in the TV market, it's back with a vengeance. For starters, the Philips 46PFL8007's pictures are so good they rival those of the previously uniquely brilliant Sony HX853 series. The set has killer looks to go with its AV talent, too, and is supremely well connected and multimedia friendly.
Gamers might take umbrage at its slightly high input lag, and technophobes might feel daunted by its huge raft of critical picture adjustments. The set could be slightly, cheaper too.
Ultimately, though, the sheer quality of its performance wins the day.
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The greatest direct rival for the Philips 46PFL8007 is Sony's KDL-46HX853. This set delivers a similarly brilliant contrast performance, with perhaps even a bit more shadow detail - though it's not quite as punchy with its bright elements as the Philips. Nor does the Sony enjoy a super-slim design.
Samsung's UE46ES8000 is another challenger, offering a similar slim bezel design and feature list. Its online features are much more developed, but its backlight handling falls some distance short of that of the Philips 46PFL8007, and its motion and gesture control innovations frustrate more than they impress.
If you'd rather go the plasma route, your best bets would be either the Panasonic P50GT50 (which is slightly cheaper than the Philips 46PFL8007) or the P50VT50 (which is slightly more expensive than the Philips).
Both these models deliver superbly cinematic, high-contrast performances perfectly suited to movie viewing - though if you've got a light room, you might find both televisions looking a bit short of brightness at times.