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Philips PFL5603D review: Philips PFL5603D

Philips PFL5603D

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.

Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
10 min read

At the Consumer Electronics Show this year we selected the Philips 42PFL5603D as the best product overall because it addressed one big issue with today's flat-panel HDTVs: power consumption. Now that we've tested the "Eco TV," we can confirm that it does indeed use less power than any flat TV to ever grace our labs. The bad news is that despite appealing to our desire to save the planet, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, or simply save a few bucks on the ol' electric bill, the 42PFL5603D does not appeal to our desire to watch a high-quality home theater image. If your priorities lie less with black-level performance and more with saving black gold, however, the Eco TV's miserly power consumption more than offsets its mediocre picture quality.

6.2

Philips PFL5603D

The Good

Consumes less energy than any flat-panel TV we've tested; accurate primary colors; de-judder mode smoothes out motion; handsome styling; solid connectivity with four HDMI inputs.

The Bad

Produces light black levels; energy-saving mode creates distracting black-level fluctuations; dark areas tend toward blue; de-judder processing introduces artifacts; sub-par off-angle viewing.

The Bottom Line

Although it has its share of picture-quality problems, the Eco-friendliness of Philips' 42PFL5603D flat-panel LCD will win the day for consumption-conscious shoppers.

Design
There's a lot to like about the external appearance of the Eco TV. Its black frame is the same thickness all around and bordered by a rounded strip of see-through plastic. Otherwise the look is quite minimal, with few logos, LEDs, or other unsightly extras. The matching black stand swivels, and the downward-firing speakers are hidden under the cabinet. Including stand, the set measures about 41.2 inches wide by 28 inches tall by 10.3 inches deep, and weighs 60 pounds, while removing the stand shrinks it to 41.2 by 25.4 by 3.5 inches and 49 pounds.

Philips has always produced funky, if not exactly ergonomically friendly remotes, but the sad little clicker included with this TV represents a new low. Its few buttons aren't well differentiated at all, and the cursor control makes an annoying click when depressed. We're still not fans of the company's menu system, with its less-intuitive navigation and large sections that obscure the screen during adjustment.

Features
The Philips 42PFL5603D's greatest claim to fame is its energy-saving prowess. With its Power Saver mode engaged, which utilizes all of the set's energy-saving functions including a variable backlight, a brightness limiter, and a room-lighting sensor, it draws about as much power as a standard incandescent light bulb. Even in its default picture setting it's more efficient than just about any other 42-inch TV, and in fact uses less energy than even smaller sets we've tested. Check out the Juice Box below for the numbers, and this blog post for other comparisons.

Philips 42PFL5603D
The Power Saver picture mode assures maximum energy efficiency at the expense of picture brightness.

The key to the 42PFL5603's ability to sip power lies in its "Active Control" mode, which causes the TV to vary the intensity of its backlight on the fly according to picture content. Darker scenes cause the backlight to turn down and brighter scenes ratchet up its intensity. As you can imagine, this fluctuation in backlight brightness can become bothersome; the Performance section has the dirty details.

Like many 2008 flat-panel TVs, the Philips has a native resolution of 1080p, the highest currently available. Of course, it's always worth mentioning that at this screen size, it's difficult to appreciate the extra detail afforded by those extra pixels.

Philips 42PFL5603D
The Digital Natural Motion setting smoothes out judder in motion, much like similar modes available on 120Hz LCDs.

Philips' "Digital Natural Motion" is a de-judder processing mode that smoothes motion, much like those available in 120Hz LCDs (the 42PFL5603D is a standard 60Hz display). Active Control also has a light sensor that can detect ambient room lighting and adjust the picture accordingly. There's also a Dynamic Contrast control that again adjusts the picture on the fly--for best picture quality, we left all of these controls turned off. We also tried out the Settings Assistant, which is designed to quickly optimize the picture, but the results weren't nearly as satisfying as a true calibration.

Philips 42PFL5603D
Philips' built-in "Settings Assistant" includes a series of screens like this one, where you're supposed to choose between two images.

Speaking of picture adjustments, we were quite disappointed to discover that Philips didn't include independent input memories on the 42PFL5603D. All four of the HDMI inputs share the same "Personal" picture memory slot, and the two component video inputs share a different one as well. None of the other picture presets aside from Personal can be adjusted, and to top it off, you can't adjust color temperature beyond the three presets. We were also peeved by the lack of a dedicated backlight control, something found on most other LCDs regardless of price. In short, people who like tweaking the picture or having different picture settings for different components will want to choose another HDTV. We did appreciate the ability to choose from among four aspect ratios with HD sources, one of which introduced zero overscan with 1080 resolution signals.

Philips 42PFL5603D
With three HDMI inputs and two component-video inputs, the only missing link on the Philips' back panel is a VGA input for computers.

The input selection on the 42PFL5603D is quite generous, starting with three HDMI inputs on the back panel and a fourth on the side. There are also two component video inputs, an AV input with composite and S-Video, a coaxial digital audio output, and an analog audio input associated with one of the HDMI ports (so you can connect legacy DVI devices and still get audio). There's no analog VGA-style computer input, however. In addition to that fourth HDMI port, the side panel offers a second AV input with composite and S-Video, a USB port to display digital photos and play MP3 music files via the TV, and a headphone jack.

Performance
The Philips 42PFL5603D didn't do much to impress us under critical viewing conditions. Its black-level performance was relatively poor; its color, especially in dark areas, was less accurate; and its energy-saving mode made too many picture quality compromises.

Prior to our standard calibration we tried Settings Assistant, which is designed to set picture parameters by stepping you through a series of image pairs, and afterward the image was (as we expected) fairly poor. Black levels were too high along with light output, and color temperature was a ridiculously blue 12,000K on average. Adjusting the "personal" preset in our usual manner yielded much better results, although we would have really appreciated detailed color temperature controls to rein in the once again overly blue tinge. Our picture setting tip has all the details.

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.

TEST RESULT SCORE
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.

Learn more about how we test TVs.

6.2

Philips PFL5603D

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5
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