Philips's new 34PW8520 is the entry-level representative in the company's 34-inch, direct-view, HD-capable line. Offering a decent feature package and good performance for a reasonable price, this sharp-looking set is a solid value in its category. Keep in mind, however, that you'll want to partner the 34PW8520 with a progressive-scan DVD player to take full advantage of its video prowess. Philips's new 34PW8520 is the entry-level representative in the company's 34-inch, direct-view, HD-capable line. Offering a decent feature package and good performance for a reasonable price, this sharp-looking set is a solid value in its category. Keep in mind, however, that you'll want to partner the 34PW8520 with a progressive-scan DVD player to take full advantage of its video prowess.
In terms of external design, Philips hasn't really done anything to its line of wide-screen, direct-view sets--why mess with a good thing? Like its older siblings, the 34PW8520 is a very handsome model, with a silver cabinet finish and a minimalist design that will add a touch of class to any A/V system. Make no mistake, though, this guy is heavy at 166 pounds and pretty deep, which is par for the course with direct-view sets.
The remote is logically laid out, intuitive to use, and unlike most other clickers, almost fully backlit, which is a nice bonus. Philips's graphical user interface is also pretty user-friendly--no problems there.
Features and connectivity
As with last year's models, we have to take a shot at Philips for not offering more comprehensive connectivity options. You get two component-video inputs, but only one of them accepts both 480p and 1080i signals; the other is exclusively 480i. This means that if you want to simultaneously hook up a progressive-scan DVD player (480p) and an HDTV-decoder box (1080i) to the set, you'll need a home-theater receiver with broadband component-video switching. If you don't have one of those, you'll have to buy an expensive outboard component-video switcher.
The set also sports a 15-pin RGB connection for 480p and 1080i sources; two S-Video inputs, one of which is on the side-panel A/V input; three sets of composite-video inputs; four sets of stereo-audio inputs--one for each video input; one set of monitor A/V outputs for composite video only; and one RF input.
When it comes to convenience, the 34PW8520's designers know exactly what discerning couch potatoes demand. Dual-tuner picture-in-picture will appeal to many folks, especially sports fans. When you're using the set's internal sound system, the automatic-volume-level feature dampens any sudden spikes in audio as you change channels or watch commercials. In addition to stereo, there is also the Incredible Surround mode, which gives a greater sense of stereo separation. The 34PW8520 also sports Dolby Virtual, which is designed to mimic the rear-sound auditory environment of a Dolby Surround system without the need for actual rear speakers. The aforementioned backlit remote is also universal and can control a wide variety of other A/V components.
Dynamic Contrast is a feature that changes the level of contrast in the picture automatically. We do not recommend that you use this feature in serious home-theater applications where black (brightness) and white (contrast) levels are extremely important, but it can be a minor boon when you're half-watching the news as the afternoon sun glares through the living-room window.
Under the Digital Options menu, you can choose between progressive (480p) and 1050i for video processing. We found that the progressive setting works best on interlaced DVDs. Three selectable color temperatures are a plus. The warm setting, which makes the picture subtly more reddish, was by far the closest to the NTSC standard and is therefore the one that you'd want to use as the default. However, you can also choose the normal and the cool settings to give the best results depending on the type of content that you're viewing.
This Philips offers no fewer than six aspect-ratio choices: 4:3; Zoom; Zoom 16:9 for letterboxed, nonanamorphic sources; Subtitle Zoom; Wide-screen, for anamorphic DVDs and HDTV; and Superwide, which is best used for blowing up 4:3 material to fill the screen.
During the calibration process, we discovered that blooming--hot spotting in white areas--and geometric distortion were introduced above a contrast level of 32. We also found that scan-velocity modulation, an edge-enhancement feature with the nasty side effect of reducing detail, is severe and, alas, undefeatable. The color decoder, while not perfect, is better than many. There's a bit of skewing toward redness in the picture, but after setting the color with SMPTE color bars and a blue filter, we had to back off by only a couple of clicks. Geometry was quite good, and convergence was more than acceptable, with just minor red fringing in the upper-left and -right corners. Color temperature in the warm setting was impressively close to 6,500 Kelvin, and after calibration, it was nearly perfect.
The set's internal video processing leaves something to be desired. Most notably, there's no 3:2 pull-down, a feature that eliminates jaggy artifacts introduced in the film-to-video transfer process. Using a Hitachi DVD player in interlaced mode to look at chapter 4 of Jurassic Park III--where the plane swoops down on the island--we found that obtrusive artifaction was much in evidence. Switching to the player's progressive-scan mode cleaned up these artifacts completely, so we'd say that owning a progressive-scan DVD player is a must if you plan to buy this TV.
The 34PW8520 carries a list price of $2,499, but it can be found on the Web for less than $2,300, which is pretty reasonable for a 34-inch, wide-screen, direct-view HDTV. Note, however, that a set-top box is required to view HD programming. Philips also makes a $1,999 30-inch version of this set that offers similar performance, as well as the step-up , which can be had for $2,999. That latter model has 3:2 pull-down, plus a picture-enhancement feature called Pixel Plus. It too comes in a 30-inch version, the $2,499 .