Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
Having the option to input the correct settings can go a long way toward improving the picture on an HDTV. Some TVs, such as the Philips PFL6704D series, have fewer settings than others, and despite relatively accurate picture quality after choosing the right presets, this TV could really use more manual settings. Meanwhile, automatic settings on the Philips abound, and while they don't improve picture quality--quite the opposite--they do have a major impact on energy consumption, and are largely responsible for its energy efficiency in default mode. But regardless of how much power it consumes, the PFL6704D's middling overall picture quality makes many other LCDs look more appealing in comparison.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 42-inch Philips 42PFL6704D, but this review also applies to the 32-inch 32PFL6704D and the 47-inch 47PFL6704D. The three members of the PFL6704D series offer identical specs and should have very similar picture quality.
Maybe it's the European heritage of Dutch Philips, but for whatever reason, the company's HDTV designs usually outclass your average flat-panel. The sleek lines of the PFL6704D series provide an understated but no less stylish example. We appreciated the relatively thin bezel around the screen and the elegant curves of the frame, marred only by a grouping of logos on the lower left corner. The matching swivel stand supports the panel with a simple bent metal arm.
In the past we've chided Philips for concentrating too much on the style of its remotes and too little on the ergonomics, but the clicker included with this TV is easier to use. The buttons around the central cursor are arranged logically, and placement is used well to allow you to find keys without having to look, once you get used to it. We also liked the feel of the rubberized buttons and the smooth underside of the wand.
The menu system is also simple and functional. We liked the presence of text explanations along the bottom of the screen and found navigation mostly intuitive. A quick-access menu allows access to a few items like closed captions and aspect ratio.
The biggest item on the Philips' spec sheet is 120Hz processing, which is designed to reduce blurring and, at the same time, smooth out judder in motion. Unlike Samsung's so-equipped models, the Philips doesn't allow you to separate the two functions; if you want to reduce blurring, you also have to engage dejudder. Check out performance for details.
Philips also touts its Settings Assistant as an easy way to adjust picture settings to your liking. It consists of a few pairs of images that you choose between, each of which affects the picture in a rather drastic way. As usual we preferred (and got much better results from) the manual controls.
Said controls are fairly light compared with those of other HDTVs. First off, five of the PFL6704D's six picture modes cannot be adjusted. In fact, changing any item in the picture settings menu automatically forces the TV into the sixth (and only adjustable) mode, called Preference, and annoyingly resets all of the items to their default positions--so be sure to write down your settings if you want to preserve them against accidental erasure. One of the five preset modes is called Energy Saving, and it reduces the backlight to save power.
The PFL6704D is one of the only LCDs we've tested recently without a dedicated backlight control, which really hurts its black-level performance after calibration. It also lacks detailed settings for color temperature, making do with just the three presets. Two kinds of noise reduction are on hand, but two of the other advanced picture settings--Dynamic Contrast and Active Control--change the picture automatically according to picture content and, in the latter case, ambient room lighting. We left both turned off for critical viewing since the changes were relatively drastic and distracting.
With 1080i and 1080p HD sources you get four aspect ratio modes, including an "Unscaled" option that we recommend using for 1080i and 1080p HD sources. That mode is designed to display those sources sans scaling, which eliminates overscan and takes full advantage of the TV's 1080p resolution. Other resolutions allow a choice between five aspect ratio modes.
The Philips is missing picture-in-picture as well as a mode that can freeze the image. It also lacks any kind of Web-based interactive capability, found on many newer HDTVs sets. It does have a USB port that allows playback of music, photos, and video files, including DivX.
A healthy total of four HDMI inputs grace Philips' connectivity suite, including three on the back panel and one on the side. The back also sprouts a pair of component-video inputs, one AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF input for antenna or cable, a coaxial (not optical) digital audio output, and a stereo analog audio output. The side is well-equipped with that fourth HDMI port, another AV output with composite and S-Video, the USB port, and even a headphone jack--a convenience missing from too many HDTVs today. We'd like to see an analog PC input, however.