Technology

Philips' New LCD TV: Fuzzy Feelings


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Editor's Rating: star rating

The 42-in. TV is easy to set up and operate and has plenty of inputs, but the picture doesn't stand up to sets from Samsung or Sharp

Setting up the latest HD TV from Philips Electronics, I couldn't help but think how apt the company was in choosing its slogan, "Sense and Simplicity." Where many TV makers force their customers to suffer through a long and confusing setup, Philips offers one of the easiest on the market. Despite a tongue-twister of a name, the Philips 42PFL7432D/37 continues that tradition.

During setup, for example, users are prompted to choose an image on the left or right side of the screen to automatically set key functions such as contrast, picture sharpness, and color tone. But easy setup isn't enough to end Philips' struggle to compete in the U.S. against the big three (Samsung, Sharp, and Sony (SNE)) in LCD TVs. While Philips has set itself apart before with this neat "settings assistant" technology, its picture processing still doesn't quite stand up to rival offerings.

Selling for about $1,400, this 42-in. Philips set is an aggressively priced, feature-rich TV that should please bargain hunters. For starters, Philips pulls out all the stops to attract buyers looking to future-proof an expensive purchase, by offering a massive number of inputs for a set of this size and price.

Ready for Anything

On the back are three HD multimedia inputs for Blu-ray and HD DVD players, and video game consoles. There are also inputs for two cable or satellite set-top boxes, two composite video feeds, an S-Video connection, and an over-the-air antenna. The requisite connectors for digital and analog audio out also reside on the back panel. On the left side of the TV there's a recessed slot for composite and S-Video feeds, and a USB port to connect a computer, digital camera, or headphone jack.

Unfortunately this largesse was marred on my review unit by a misaligned labeling system on the back panel that was about half an inch off from where the inputs rested, making it very difficult to find the right slots in tight quarters. On the plus side, the glossy black set comes with a darkened glass swivel stand that makes it easier to get at the rear controls than with rival TVs.

The long, thin remote is not as cluttered as others on the market and offers color-coded buttons to help steer you more quickly to the desired action. However there's no backlighting for use in a darkened room—a likely scenario with a big-screen TV. It also can't be programmed to control other home theater components, so it can't serve as a universal remote.

Gets the High-Def Details

Philips is known for its Ambilight technology, which positions long LED lamps along the right and left sides of the screen. The LED light bounces off the wall to enhance the mood of what's on the screen and reduce eye strain. It's a gimmick you'll either love or hate; I found it distracting after a few minutes and turned the technology off. Another shortcoming—likely a way to keep the price down—the set doesn't support picture-in-picture mode to let you view images from two different inputs.

While Philips doesn't boast a screen nearly as bright as that of sets from Samsung or Sharp, I was impressed by its adept handling of high-definition details delivered from a variety of sources, including Philips' own SoundBar home theater system, a Pioneer Elite Blu-ray player, and Toshiba HD DVD player. The dark, shadowy details from a Blu-ray disk of Close Encounters of the Third Kind were clear, while the rich soundtrack sounded good even when delivered solely through the built-in speaker bar on the bottom of the TV's front bezel. When fed lower-resolution video, the TV "upconverts" the footage to its native resolution of 1920 by 1080 progressive.

A Family-Friendly Set

In terms of color, the set was among the best I've reviewed recently in delivering tones that look natural and lifelike without appearing to be over-processed. Yet that seemed to come with a price: Images did not look as sharp, particularly on the edges of the frame. Try as I might with manual adjustments, the images always looked like a very faint filter had been added to them. The five millisecond image refresh rate helped reduce motion blur during action scenes, and worked well when I watched college football, though it did suffer the occasional pixilation common to all LCD sets.

Overall, thanks to its attractive pricing and solid, if not exceptional, picture performance, this Philips 42-in. TV would serve perfectly well as the main set in the family room, or a second-use set in another room.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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