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Philips PFL5603D review: Philips PFL5603D

For our comparison and image quality tests we lined the Philips up next to a few other HDTVs, including the Panasonic TH-42PX80U and the Insignia NS-PSP42, both 42-inch plasma TVs, and the Westinghouse VK-40F580D, a 40-inch LCD. This time we checked out the Jumper Blu-ray starring Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker!) on the PlayStation 3.

Black level: Compared with two displays in our comparison, the Philips 42PFL5603D couldn't muster a convincing shade of black. The Westinghouse LCD delivered noticeably deeper blacks, and the Panasonic plasma, as expected, was much deeper still--only the lowly Insignia looked more washed-out, and not by much. The Philips' lighter black levels took the punch out of dark scenes, such as when older David returns to his house in the evening and surprises his father, and lighter scenes alike. Details in shadows, such as the folds in his dark jacket, also looked murkier and less distinct than on the other displays.

As we mentioned above, Active Control brightens and dims the backlight according to picture content, and we found its effects quite distracting (and no, dimming the backlight didn't improve black-level performance much). For example, when younger David enters the hotel room during the credit sequence and flips on the light, the letterbox bars above and below the screen suddenly and distractingly became quite a bit brighter, and brightened further and more distractingly when the camera follows him into the room toward the lamp. We noticed these quick changes in black level in many places throughout the film and in other program material, to the point where we decided to deactivate Active Control altogether. As you can see by comparing our Juice Box results for Default and Power Saver (which both engage Active Control) and Calibrated (which leave it turned off), the Active Control definitely increases efficiency, and some viewers may want to leave it on for that reason, but for best picture quality it should be disabled.

Color accuracy: While we appreciated the relative accuracy of the Philips' Warm color temperature preset, we still wished for the ability to improve it further, especially since it tended toward red in especially in mid-dark areas. The set's color decoding was solid, but because of the reddish color temperature, we still had to back down color a bit to let skin tones look their best. Colors looked less saturated than on most of the other displays, as well, owing to our reduced color control and, as always, lighter black levels.

Primary colors were the high point in this performance category; the set came quite close to the HD standard, as evinced by colors like the spot-on grass and trees in the jungle when Roland (Mace Windu!) knifes another jumper. The low point was the extremely blue tinge to dark and black areas, which is characteristic of many LCDs but as bad as any we've seen with the Philips.

Video processing: The Philips had no problem resolving every pixel of 1080i and 1080p test patterns, and unlike many sets it correctly de-interlaced 1080i material from both film and video sources. The image looked as sharp as expected, albeit a bit artificial for our taste in some scenes thanks to an inability to completely remove edge enhancement. The actors' faces against flat-field backgrounds, for example, had a slightly too-hard look compared with displays without enhanced edges. As usual, it was difficult to see any difference in detail between the 1080p Philips and the 1,024x768 Panasonic.

We also checked out the Philips' Digital Natural Motion (DNM) processing and, as with all de-judder circuits we've seen, we preferred to leave it turned off. It introduced that telltale steadying effect, where during camera movement especially, the image seemed to be "on rails" and look less like film and more like video. In addition, we saw quite a few artifacts, such as the distorted halo that appeared around the young Jumper as the camera circled him during his experiments in Central Park. We also noticed occasional tearing in moving objects and weird effects where judder would appear and then suddenly smooth out again as the mode "locked in." In its favor, however, the Philips didn't evince the "triple puck effect" we've seen on some de-judder modes, such as the LG 47LG60, where a quick-moving hockey puck or ball becomes elongated and doubles or triples as it moves.

A test disc designed specifically to demonstrate moving picture resolution revealed that the 42PFL5603D's DNM mode didn't do anything to address motion blur. Unlike the 120Hz Samsung LN52A650, a 120Hz LCD we had on hand to compare, the Philips didn't reduce blurring in shots of cars passing by a stationary camera or in shots scanning over a printed page. It looked as blurry in these shots as the standard Westinghouse, although to be fair we didn't notice any blurring in Jumper or other program material.

Uniformity: The screen of the 42PFL5603D stayed relatively even across its surface, with only one slightly brighter area in the top-left corner that was only visible in the darkest scenes. Unfortunately its picture became a good deal more washed-out and discolored (reddish) when we moved off-angle, which was most noticeable during darker scenes and about equal to the Westinghouse.

Bright lighting: Like most matte-screen LCDs, the Philips did a great job attenuating ambient light when we opened the shades and let light shine directly on the screen, equaling the Westinghouse in this regard and outclassing the other displays in our comparison.

Standard-definition: The Eco TV didn't perform very well in our SD tests, although it did resolve every detail of the DVD format, and details in the stone bridge and the grass looked relatively sharp. It was below average at removing jaggies from moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag. When we engaged noise reduction, we really couldn't see much difference at all in noisy shots of skies and sunsets; the Philips cleaned up less noise than any of the displays in our comparison. We did appreciate that 2:3 pull-down detection kicked in quickly, however.

PC: Connected via an HDMI input, the 42PFL5603D performed very well as a big PC monitor. It has a special "PC" mode that the manual recommends using for PC sources, but we preferred the look of text and other onscreen objects in the standard "TV" mode, which was the only one of the two to completely resolve every detail of a 1,920x1,080 signal. In TV mode we still saw some edge enhancement around some text, however, so PC performance wasn't perfect.

Before color temp (20/80) 6449/6908 Good
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation +/- 214K Good
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.641/0.332 Good
Color of green 0.29/0.61 Good
Color of blue 0.144/0.06 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement N Poor
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Philips 42PFL5603D Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 91.23 193.06 67.29
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.12 0.26 0.09
Standby (watts) 0.73 0.73 0.73
Cost per year $28.69 $60.21 $21.28
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

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