As good picture quality is expensive to implement and difficult to explain, manufacturers seeking to differentiate between scads of televisions are turning to increasingly esoteric extras like passive or active 3D, 120Hz/240Hz/480Hz, QWERTY remote controls, and laundry lists of streaming video services. Philips has a new one: Wi-Fi MediaConnect. The feature, available on the PFL5706/F7 series reviewed here, enables the TV to display whatever's on the screen of a laptop PC that's running special software, without a wired connection between the two.
When it works the system functions well, but after our initial "Wow, cool!" reaction, we found MediaConnect's appeal more limited than most of those other extras. After all, isn't the point of Internet TV to ditch your PC altogether, or at least make its interface more like a DVR and less like a computer? Moreover, there are devices that provide the same function that work better than MediaConnect, as we'll discuss below. If you must have wireless PC projection built in, however, and don't mind this TV's mediocre picture quality, Philips is the only game in town.
The Philips PFL5706/F7 isn't missing any major connection types: it has as many HDMI inputs as the best of the competition, and the standard number of analog connections. The downward-facing HDMI jacks were difficult to reach, however, and thicker cables required too much bending.
Philips' main differentiator for TVs is MediaConnect, discussed above, which allows the PFL5706 series to display the contents of a laptop PC screen wirelessly. The appeal of this feature is pretty limited, however. First off, with numerous streaming-video sources built into the TV (or your Blu-ray player or other device), using a laptop as a source seems kludgey and inconvenient. If you need to, however, you can get the same functionality by wiring any laptop via HDMI or VGA to any TV, or wirelessly via products like Veebeam and Intel's Wireless Display. MediaConnect is for someone who wants to watch Hulu.com or other free Web-only video sources, or display video files stored on a PC, frequently enough to demand a built-in wireless approach.
Unlike most other major TV makers, Philips doesn't put an app store on its TVs, although Vudu Apps is available with options like Twitter and Facebook as well as numerous others. Vudu's interface is clean and easy to navigate, and its apps are generally well-implemented, although most occupy the whole screen, so you can't watch TV while using them. Standouts include access to numerous full episodes of the PBS staples "Nova" and "Nature" (albeit in painfully low quality), Wikipedia, and a solid selection of podcasts. We love that the apps display star ratings, although we couldn't figure out where they came from, and we wish categories were more specific given the numerous choices. Check out the Vudu Apps site for a full listing of available apps, but know that most of the premium show-based apps (such as "Dexter" and "True Blood") offer clips and not full episodes.
The selection here is anemic. Philips doesn't include independent input memories, just a bunch of global presets that apply to all inputs. The presets can't be separately adjusted, and when you do adjust any of the picture parameters and then select another preset, you'll find that your adjustments have been erased. We were also peeved at the lack of a dedicated backlight control, something found on most other LCDs regardless of price.
Philips' Settings Assistant steps you through a few images and asks you to choose between them. It can be used for very basic settings if you don't have much time, but there are better ways to set up your TV by eye.
Although it's adequate for casual viewing, the Philips PFL5706/F7 won't impress careful watchers with its image quality. The biggest issue is color accuracy, a problem that could have been easily rectified with a better selection of settings or better default presets--options that many similarly priced LCDs do include. Its best feature is a matte screen, which helps reduce reflections in bright rooms, and its picture uniformity is average.