Philips 46PFL8008S £1800
28th Aug 2013 | 08:31
A dark, brooding stainless steel design hides a home cinema sweetheart with convincing blacks
Philips has produced the TVs with the best build quality for as long as we can remember, and that continues with the ballistic Philips 46PFL8008S.
The unusual skeleton desktop stand is hardly there at all and creates an almost floating look, and unlike many, it swivels, too, while the TV's metallic materials are high-grade and gorgeous.
The 8mm (0.3 inch)-wide bezel (which tapers back to 12mm/0.5 inches) will impress, as will the 32.5mm (1.3-inch) depth, though it's what's going on behind that will really blow your socks off.
Ambilight in its three-sided XL flavour - an array of 36 LEDs studded to the back of the Philips 46PFL8008S's frame - puts on a dynamically changing light show across the walls behind the TV.
Tech-wise, the Philips 46PFL8008S uses a 200Hz, edge LED-lit panel that boasts a dual-core processor within - something that's increasingly crucial to make the extra smart TV-rated features usable.
Talking of which, this TV does have a half-decent collection of apps, though BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Blinkbox and Netflix are the only real highlights.
Perfect Pixel HD ties together some advanced picture options, while 3D - in the active shutter 3D Max guises - puts in a stunning appearance.
However, the real advance on rivals is the use of two subwoofers on the Philips 46PFL8008S's rear; they plump out the rear of the TV a tad, but by golly it's worth the sacrifice. Not only is it the best-looking TV around, the Philips 46PFL8008S is also one of the best-sounding we've heard since TVs got thin.
Best TV 2013: what TV should you buy?
This 46-inch Philips 46PFL8008S - priced at £1,500 - is the smallest in Philips' 8000 Series for 2013 below the range-topper, the 55-inch Philips 55PFL8008S (£2,500).
Further up is the flagship 9000 Series, whose annual iterations regularly bother the 'Best TV of the year' awards. Come September we fully expect the 9000 Series to be reborn as a lineup of rather large Ultra HD/4K TVs, but for now we can only tell you about 2012's stunner, the 46-inch Philips 46PFL9707S (£2,500).
The Philips 46PFL9707S could very well be the only LED backlit LCD TV remaining on sale that offers the slightly thicker, but far better, 'direct' LED system. Most other LED TVs on sale now - including the Philips 46PFL8008 - use Edge LED lighting that fires in the brightness from the sides of the screen. It's less accurate, but it can still produce marvellous results.
The Philips 46PFL8008 has a Full HD resolution, 200Hz panel, it sports cutting-edge good looks, and inside is a Freeview HD tuner, but the first thing you'll notice about the Philips 46PFL8008S will likely be its unique Ambilights. Here, the system is described by Philips as Ambilight three-sided XL, which constitutes strips of LED lights (nine on the sides and 18 across the top), though they're all around the back and totally out of sight from the normal viewing position.
It's clever stuff - once you've told the Philips 46PFL8008S what colour your living room (or home cinema) walls are, it monitors what colours are being displayed on the TV screen in real-time, picking out the dominant hues and projecting a calculated mix on to the walls around.
What you get is an ever-changing light show that's supposed to 'intensify' your involvement in whatever you're watching. If your living room is at the front of a building it can have an alarming effect on what light is projected out, but the dynamics of the system can be tweaked and relaxed quite easily. We love it.
High-end TVs rarely skimp on the ins and outs, and the Philips 46PFL8008S is no different. In the box are a couple of adaptors for those wanting to hook up Scart or component video, though the onboard slots are plentiful.
The rear holds three downward-facing HDMI inputs, an RF aerial for powering its built-in Freeview HD tuner, a Scart adaptor jack and a digital optical audio output. Just above is an outward-facing wired Ethernet LAN port, some basic audio ins and an adaptor jack for component video.
A side panel adds a fourth HDMI alongside a stunning three USB slots, a headphones jack and a CI slot. You'll need a 4GB USB flash drive for pause live TV features, and an HDD of at least 250GB for making recordings from Freeview.
There's a Wi-Fi module inside that gets the Philips 46PFL8008S online and also powers Wi-Fi Miracast, a screen mirroring tech for Android phones.
Wi-Fi also helps with the Skype system, which on the Philips 46PFL8008S enables native video calls thanks to its pop-down camera. We're pretty sure that's a unique design choice, since most such cameras on LG, Samsung and Panasonic TVs are situated on the top of the TV.
The Philips 46PFL8008S does have Philips Smart TV included, but don't expect industry-leading antics on this front. It's nothing to get upset about, since all the major apps are here, but there are plenty missing, too.
In our test we counted apps for BBC iPlayer, Blinkbox, Netflix, iConcerts, Muzu.tv, YouTube, Facebook and Absolute Radio on the front page, though around a dozen others are also available to download.
The email and web browser widgets demand the attentions of one of the Philips 46PFL8008S's star features - its double-sided remote control. It's a well-made item indeed, which uses great quality materials and holds a nicely spaced-out array of buttons on one side, and a QWERTY keyboard on the back.
The QWERTY keyboard is split into two halves, with a large space in between, to make it a thumbs-only experience. It's a wise move - and the remote control acts as a Nintendo Wii-style pointer remote, too.
A MyRemote app is available, which powers SimplyShare digital media sharing and some cloning of live TV channels (that run about 10 seconds behind), while the Philips 46PFL8008S also includes 3D Max (active shutter 3D) and 2D to 3D conversion of any video source.
However, it's the constant refinements of Philips' picture processing suite, Perfect Pixel HD, that proves to be the most critical to the Philips 46PFL8008S's success.
Although this is a TV with enough tweaks and management decisions to make it a favourite among AV geeks, we're relieved to say that the Philips 46PFL8008S's picture presets - in particular Movie, ISF Day and ISF Night - all provide an excellent picture with no messing around. You'll find them in the Picture Style folder on the Info button.
That's a great thing to see on a Philips TV, and the good news doesn't stop there, because the Philips 46PFL8008S at its best is virtually unbeatable. It hosts a supremely detailed image the like of which we've not seen before.
There's always a danger with LCD panels that this clarity can disappear with fast motion, but that's not the case here, and that's largely down to the 200Hz panel, which managed some pretty fluid images during our frenetic test disc of Star Trek.
Those sickened by the sight of on-screen judder ought to head to the menu's Perfect Natural Motion frame interpolation feature. Such technology - which is designed to retain the detailed image during fast-moving scenes and remove visible judder - often falls over by introducing a raw video-like high frame rate look as well as various artefacts around moving objects and actors.
For 2013 it seems that most manufacturers have at last got to grips with frame interpolation, and that includes Philips. Perfect Natural Motion left on its Minimum setting creates a very clean and precise image whose created fluidity is easy on the eye. There is the odd flicker or tear around fast-moving objects, but it's rare.
However, the picture is better than smooth. We're talking an immensely wide and carefully graded colour palette that is built around the Philips 46PFL8008S's core contrast and black levels.
With no LED light leakage to contend with, this edge-lit LED panel plays host to a dizzyingly deep interpretation of jet black that often contains plenty of shadow detail.
We did notice some glare from tiny bright objects when viewed on a jet black background (a panoramic of a city at night shows this up), though, as well as a viewing angle that isn't the widest in town.
Another key skill of the Philips 46PFL8008S is upscaling. Our aging test DVD of The West Wing looks really clean and involving, despite the massive drop in detail, while even some VGA-sized videos from YouTube are watchable despite the obvious digital blocking.
Best TV 2013: what TV should you buy?
As if the Philips 46PFL8008S's depth charges weren't enough, it's got Max 3D, too - active shutter in our language. This system uses two frames of Full HD video instead of the half-res polarised screens (which also happens to be common within Philips' lineup of TVs), and the added effect is palpable.
The 2D to 3D mode is hit-and-miss, showing graphics in a wobbly, confusing manner, but a close-up of some waterfalls while watching Orbit look stunning. 3D conversion appears to be a feature that's worth considering, especially since it works on any source.
Still, our natively 3D test disc Hugo is better - gorgeous, in fact - with the Philips 46PFL8008S displaying even more contrast than in 2D mode. Once again we preferred to engage Perfect Natural Motion, and the way it removes judder from the opening sequence of Paris panoramic scenes is just impossible to resist.
It's a largely crosstalk-free performance, too (if you ignore the option to increase 3D depth), though naysayers will argue that the paltry two pairs of 3D specs aren't nearly as comfortable as the polarised 3D system.
They also let in a lot of reflections, which buoys-up claims that the Philips 46PFL8008S is best used in home cinema blackout conditions.
Its stunning colours, detail, motion and especially black levels back up that impression still further.
Usability, sound and value
The Philips 46PFL8008S is a simple TV with few pretenses. The user interface's carousel of colourful icons for various features - inputs, smart TV and TV guide - is easy and very quick to skip around, thanks largely to the use of a dual-core processor. Moving between sources and using the eight-day TV guide is a cinch, and everything looks great.
As well as replacing the TV remote entirely, the Philips MyRemote app for Android and iOS devices enables you to stream photos, music and video from the smartphone or tablet it's installed on, as well as from networked computers.
The Wi-Fi smart screen feature clones the live TV channel you're watching and puts it on an Android or iOS device, but we weren't able to link the app to the TV in order to use it to inspect the TV's digital Guide features.
In theory it's possible, but the pairing code set-up information is wrong and it's not possible to generate a smartphone link code. We're surprised that nobody checked this.
Active vs passive 3D
Stick a USB flash drive into the side and the Philips 46PFL8008S supports MP3, M4A, WAV and WMA music files (adding lossless OGG and APE if you stream) as well as JPEG photos and AVI, MKV, MOV, WMV, AVC HD, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video.
Unfortunately MKV files can't be streamed. The media player software is also a bit fiddly, and needs streamlining.
Is this the best-sounding TV around? The frame-like desktop stand is a departure from 2012's stand-with-built-in-speakers idea, but the Philips 46PFL8008S does have thoroughly decent audio.
It's equipped with two 15W-rated speakers and a couple of rear-mounted subwoofers, which together produce a wide soundstage filled with treble detail and rich, bassy undertones. Both the Music and Movie modes are excellent.
It's always hard to judge value on a TV over £1,500, but the Philips 46PFL8008S makes a convincing case for its high price tag. Chief among our reasons are the unique Ambilight feature and those on-screen fireworks, though we're also conscious that few TVs even at this price-point are this well-made.
The remote control is also worth a mention - it's splendid - while the provision of two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses is pretty standard for this kind of 3D TV, whatever its price tag.
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Philips has always been firmly in the camp that believes that clever picture processing is the only way to create the best-ever picture quality, though that has sometimes meant that its TVs have been tricky to set up and have often hosted fake-looking images.
Happily, that's not the case with the Philips 46PFL8008S, which is both easy to configure and right up there among the best edge LED-backlit LCD TVs on sale.
The close-up detail, the profound black levels, skillful mixed brightness sequences, colour and fluid detail-retaining motion all impress. Ambilight is a stunning feature, while the double-sided remote and bottom-mounted built-in camera are unique.
Brilliantly though simply designed, the Philips 46PFL8008S's advanced sound system, well-judged picture presets and its dual-core processor make it a joy to listen to, to watch and to use.
Aside from a couple of problems with its second screen apps and a user interface that frankly isn't the very best around (though certainly isn't the worst, either), the only issue we have with the Philips 46PFL8008S is some slight glare from bright white objects on jet black backgrounds. However, most TVs can't produce jet black, so we're being picky.
The lack of a Lovefilm app will put some buyers off, and it must be said that Philips Smart TV isn't the most dynamic platform around. The absence of MKV streaming is also an issue.
Active vs passive 3D
Philips' top Full HD television for 2013 - with the exception of the larger Philips 55PFL8008S, perhaps - is one of the best in the business. Detail in both moving images and close-ups is excellent, blacks are profound and its Perfect Natural Motion circuitry adds an enjoyable high frame rate-look.
Ambilight impresses once again, while the floating design is incredibly effective. Its double-sided remote makes entering text on a TV at least a possibility, while the sound quality is nothing short of stunning.
Among the Philips 46PFL8008S's rivals at the key 46-inch size are the Sony KDL-46W905A - probably its closest challenger in terms of pure picture prowess - though it's also worth auditioning Edge LED TVs such as the Samsung UE46F8000, Samsung UE46F7000 and the Panasonic TX-L46DT65B.
If you're set on a big screen, however, it would be verging on an offence not to check out a few 50-inch plasma TVs, such as the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 and the Samsung PS51F8500, which both excel with 2D and 3D Blu-ray content.
First reviewed 28 August 2013