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The choice between plasma and LCD becomes increasingly difficult at the 42-inch screen size, where both offer similar features for around the same price. Philips' 42PFL7432D, a 42-inch flat-panel LCD, tries to compete against similarly priced 42-inch plasmas by bringing the company's trademark Ambilight system to the table. While we're not the biggest fans of Ambilight, you can always turn it off, and when you do so, the 42PFL74D's picture has a few items to recommend it, notably relatively accurate color, especially after proper adjustment. Its black-level performance, on the flipside, has plenty of room for improvement, making those plasmas and even better LCDs seem much more attractive at this price. But if the idea of colored lights playing on the wall behind the TV appeals to you, the 42PFL7432D becomes a lot more attractive.
For a company known for striking designs, Philips took a relatively conservative tack with the 42PFL9732D. Its handsome exterior is entirely black, with a somewhat thick, glossy-black bezel around the screen. The bezel in turn is set forward from the matte-black cabinet, for a double-frame look. A thin strip below the bezel consists of perforated speaker grille, which bends back subtly. The panel itself rests atop a stand with a silver pedestal and black glass base. Including stand, the set measures 41.2 inches wide by 29.5 inches tall by 10.4 inches deep and weighs 76.3 pounds; sans stand it measures 41.2 by 27 by 4.6 inches and weighs 60.8 pounds.
Though Philips has had some cool-looking but painful-to-use remotes in the past, this clicker is a bit better. Its angled lines and silver finish will look great on your glass-top coffee table, and it does include partial backlighting. Sure, there's no Exit key to back out of menus, and the color-coded soft keys are too close together for easy use, but otherwise its spacing and button choice is perfectly acceptable. We can't accept Philips' menu design though. It takes seemingly forever to get to the picture menu, and in general we found navigation confusing and counterintuitive. The menus obscure the entire screen most of the time, and when you finally do get to an adjustment, the menu parameter still obscures half of the screen--we'd prefer a discreet, smaller overlay.
Philips' trademark flat-panel extra is the Ambilight system, which, on the 42PFL3742D, consists of a set of colored fluorescent lights arranged vertically to either side of the back of the TV. Depending on the backdrop--a lighter wall produces brighter reflections--the lights create a colorful accompaniment to the onscreen image. A comprehensive set of controls handles the color and brightness of the lights, and you can choose whether to have the color and brightness mimic the onscreen image, display a constant color, or turn off completely (our preferred setting).
The 42PFL7432D is a 1080p HDTV, which means it has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080, enough pixels to fully resolve the detail of 1080i and 1080p sources. All other incoming resolutions, such as 720p and 480p, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
Philips' set offers three nonadjustable picture presets, and when you make adjustments it reverts to a "current" picture setting. Unfortunately, changing back to one of the presets erases your settings, so there's no way to use one preset for one kind of material or lighting condition and still save your settings. We did appreciate that, unlike previous Philips TVs, any changes are saved independently per input.
We definitely missed having a backlight control, which controls the intensity of the light emanating from the screen and can really improve black-level performance if adjusted properly (that is, turned down). Among the advanced controls the Philips does offer, we left most turned off. According to the manual, Pixel Perfect HD performs a host of enhancements designed to "make every single pixel the best it can be," although in our testing we couldn't tell much difference. Dynamic contrast, Active control, and the light sensor all automatically adjust the picture on the fly in response to content or room lighting, so we left them turned off. Color enhancement didn't seem to do anything, so we left it off. We did appreciate the noise reduction controls, however, and used the adjustable color temperature controls to good effect during calibration.
Philips also includes a Settings Assistant, which is a step-by-step tutorial designed to help you adjust the 42PFL7432D's picture. When you start the Settings Assistant, it splits the screen down the middle and shows you a series of images, then you determine whether you like the left or right side better. It's a decent idea in concept, but in reality it didn't work that well. For example, the first choice we had to make was between an image with full shadow detail and poor black levels and another image with crushed black and good black levels--we didn't want to pick either of those choices. The results of the settings assistant were poor--it looked more like the "torch" mode used by retailers on the showroom floor rather than a properly calibrated set.
Aspect-ratio control is a mixed bag, with the 42PFL7432D offering five modes for standard-def sources but only two for high-def sources. The two high-def choices are Unscaled, which is a "dot-by-dot" mode displaying every pixel of 1080i and 1080p sources with no overscan, and Widescreen, which produces some overscan if you want to eliminate interference on the outer edges of the picture. There are no zoom or stretch modes for high-def sources, which will disappoint anyone looking to eliminate black bars on 4:3 aspect ratio program material.
Connectivity is solid on the 42PFL7432D, beginning with the trio of HDMI inputs on the back panel. There's also a bank of analog AV inputs; the first offers a choice of component-video, S-Video, or composite video; the second only composite-video; and the third only component-video. Additional rear-panel connections include a coaxial optical digital output (most TVs use optical) and an unusual matching input for getting digital audio from source devices to play through the TV's sound system. Unlike most flat-panel LCDs, this Philips lacks an RGB-style PC input. A set of AV jacks on the left side of the panel, with composite and S-Video, offers easy access. The same-side panel bay also includes a headphone jack and a USB port, the latter for displaying digital photos on the screen and playing digital music files though the TVs speakers.
As we mentioned at the top of this review, the Philips' accurate post-calibration color was its major strength, but it didn't deliver the depth of black we've come to expect from late-model LCD HDTVs in its price range.
Prior to our comparison evaluation, we calibrated the 42PFL7432D for optimal picture quality in our completely darkened room, first by attenuating its torch-mode light output to a more comfortable 40 footlamberts (FTL). The lack of a backlight control probably contributed to the set's less than stellar black-level performance, but we did appreciate the full color temperature detail controls, which allowed us to improve quite a bit on the Warm preset's measurements. After calibration, the Philips' grayscale was excellent and quite linear, especially for an LCD. For details, check out the Geek box below, and for our full user-menu settings scroll down to the tips section or just click here.
For our comparison, we set the 42PFL7432D up next to a few other HDTVs we had on hand, including the similarly priced 40-inch Toshiba 40RF350U LCD and a couple of more expensive sets, namely the 46-inch Samsung LN-T4671F and the Sony KDS-55A3000 (our new color reference). We spun up the beautiful-looking Apocalypto on Blu-ray courtesy of the Samsung BD-P1200.
In more difficult darker scenes, such as the campfire gathering in chapter 4, we noticed that the Philips didn't produce quite as deep of a shade of black as the other sets in the room. The shadows along the ground and the dark sky behind the tribe appeared more washed out than we'd like to see. We also noticed that details in shadows, such as the shaded side of one of the tribeswomen's bodies as she faced the fire, looked a bit more distinct on the Sony and the Samsung, while on the Philips we couldn't really discern the deepest parts of the shadow as well.
In its favor, the Philips showed very good color accuracy in both light and dark scenes. The shadows and darker areas stayed neutral instead of shifting into blue/green as they did on the Toshiba. The prominent green of the jungle plants stood up well against the superb Sony, looking lush and realistic. We also appreciated the accurate tone of the tribesmen's skin, which looked entirely too bluish and strange on the Toshiba. Our main issue with the Philips' color has to do with saturation as opposed to accuracy; its less deep black levels made colors look less rich than those of any of the other sets and robbed those deep forest scenes of a little punch.
According to test patterns, the Philips, as we expect from any 1080p HDTV nowadays, had no trouble resolving all of the details of 1080i and 1080p sources. Apocalypto looked sharp and well-resolved, although we didn't detect any difference in detail on any of the HDTVs we compared; they're all 1080p models. Performing the 1080i deinterlacing tests from HQV on Blu-ray, the 42PF7432D handled film-based sources well--as evinced by the clean grille of the RV in Ghost Rider, our most-dependable real-world test--but failed with video-based sources. We don't consider this failure a major issue, however, since it will be difficult to spot in real-world situations. We watched some hockey on HDNet, for example, and couldn't spot any issues caused by the deinterlacing failure.
We also kept a close eye out for blurring, comparing the Philips to the 120Hz Samsung, and it was only really noticeable--and then only in a minor way--on a fast-moving ticker from ESPNHD. Finally, we checked out Philips Pixel Perfect HD mode and really couldn't discern any difference between leaving it on or off.
Uniformity across the Philips' screen was quite impressive for an LCD. With a dark field, such as the sky behind the storytelling elder near the campfire, we did notice that the upper-right quadrant was a bit brighter than the rest, but this brighter area wasn't as obvious as we've seen on many other LCDs. Compared with most other LCDs we've tested, the Philips' off-angle performance was below average, washing out in dark scenes when seen from one spot over on the couch, and was especially poor when seen from above or below.
We also spent some time with the Ambilight function, although to properly test it, we moved the TV in front of a white projection screen (the matte-black walls of our theater rendered the light basically invisible). As in the past, we found most of the modes that mimic the onscreen action with the colors of the lights--called Relaxed, Moderate, and Dynamic and offering progressively more saturation and quicker color change--relatively distracting. During the hunt of the tapir at the beginning of Apocalypto for example, the light would start as primarily green as the beast ran through the jungle, then shift to off-white when the screen became mostly dark (that was quite disconcerting), then brownish or reddish as the beast and the hunters careened across the screen. Of these three, Relaxed was the least distracting, and occasionally we appreciated how it seemed to open up the expanse of the screen, such as the shots of the morning sky and the sunset at the beginning of chapters 3 and 4, respectively. More often, however, the colors seemed incorrect, such as the strange fade to purple when the elder appears during the campfire scene; when this happened, we had a hard time maintaining focus on the film itself.
Vastly more preferable to our eyes was the Color option, which keeps the lights at a constant color. We determined that none of the three presets came close to the ideal backlight color temperature of 6,500K, although with a bit of tweaking we were able to calibrate the light to about 7,200K (see the picture settings tip below). This light is still a bit blue, however, so if you're interested in a correct backlight, which can help reduce eyestrain in a dark room, we'd recommend a separate one made specifically for home theater and attuned to 6,500K.
Standard-def video processing on the 42PFL7432D was superb, although if your cable or satellite box performs the upconverting to HD resolutions itself, you won't get the benefits of this aspect of the Philips' picture quality. If you feed it 480i sources, however, it may well outperform your box's converter. The set resolved every detail of the DVD according to HQV's color bars pattern, and details in the bricks on the bridge and the grass appeared relatively sharp. The set did a superb job of smoothing out jagged diagonal lines, such as the stripes of the waving American flag. We were also very impressed by the ability of the four noise-reduction settings to clean up the worst areas of moving motes and video "snow" in the skies and sunsets on the disc. Our only complaint--and it's minor--regarding the Philips' standard-def processing is that it takes a long second or so for the set to engage 2:3 pull-down detection.
|Before color temp (20/80)||9,495/7,434||Poor|
|After color temp||6,489/6,460||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||2,042K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||104K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.631/0.335||Good|
|Color of green||0.279/0.609||Average|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.066||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Yes||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Fail||Poor|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Philips 42PFL7432D||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||134.04||97.46||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.18||0.13||N/A|
|Cost per year||$41.96||$30.85||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Good|