One of the key criticisms we have with some Philips TVs is their relatively high price. As much as we loved the 9703 range, it is more expensive by far than most of the competition. The good news is that the 7603 range is much better value for money, but has some very similar features.
We tuned in the Freeview, fired up the Blu-ray player and dimmed the lights to find out if it performs as well as its big brother. Sadly we didn't have any popcorn to hand, but there was a copy of the 80s classic Risky Business to help us evaluate this TV.
Philips has recently emerged as one of the shining stars of TV design, its newer models both original and aesthetically pleasing. There are also some distinct technical advantages to the way it has chosen to configure its televisions, especially when it comes to sound performance.
We liked the Philips 9703 range so we had high hopes for the 7603. The main differences between them is that the 7603 is substantially cheaper, and it doesn't offer the more advanced three-sided Ambilight system.
We're pleased to see that the 7603 features a significantly less annoying remote control. If you aren't familiar with the 9703, you won't know that it has a rotating dial which you can use to scroll around menus. Although we liked that idea, it was inaccurate and frustrating in practice. On the 7603 the dial has been replaced with a simple multi-directional button which is much simpler and much less frustrating. On the negative side, however, this new remote feels much cheaper.
The 7603, like quite a few modern televisions, has a USB interface which allows you to connect memory sticks containing music and photos for playback on the screen. Sadly, there is no video support on this particular model, which is a crying shame as it would add that little bit of extra zing to the TV.
The Ambilight is the two-sided version, which we like, but it's not quite as involving as the three-sided version. You do have the same choices with this system, including choosing a single colour to throw on the wall and the ability to adjust the response speed and brightness of the illumination.
It's probably worth pointing out that to make the most out of Ambilight, you really need to have the TV positioned close to a white or light coloured wall. If you get it just right, it can be a lovely experience, though not something that you would use all the time.
The 7603 does a passable job with Freeview. Sometimes the macro blocking that comes as part-and-parcel with low-bitrate digital TV was pretty noticeable. This is something that picture processing should minimise, but the Philips didn't seem to cope especially well. Generally though, with a good incoming signal, the 7603 managed to produce a decent picture.
Sound is really the strong suit of this TV. Philips uses a system that fires high-frequency sound out the front of the TV, using a sort of horn-shaped bezel. This means that speech is crisp and clear. At the back are a pair of woofers that pad out the low-end sound, providing a deep bass when needed. This makes watching movies a pleasure. At times we did think the bass could be a little overwhelming, but that's quite easy to overcome by reducing the bass level through the menus.
On the subject of menus, the Philips has a quite good menu system that's easy to navigate and seems logically laid out. It's not the most beautiful thing we've ever seen, but it's functional. The TV will even help you adjust the picture settings through a wizard system that shows you a series of images and asks you which you prefer. By answering these questions, you're adjusting the brightness, sharpness and other TV settings without even realising it. Very clever.
Blu-ray material looked terrific. We put on Spider-Man 3 and were impressed by the strong colours and image detail. We also noticed that the special effects in the movie are little cack at times, and it's fair to assume we noticed that because the Philips produced such a clear picture.
Black levels were good too, and the viewing angle was quite wide, so movie fans will appreciate that. We opted to turn off the motion smoothing mode -- but if you use it you'll probably be pleased by the job it does, especially on the lower setting, which smoothes the picture without totally removing all of the charm of film.
Overall, we were very happy with the TV's HD performance and thrilled by the sound system, and we found the Freeview performance to be fairly good, though not perfect.
The 42PFL7603 might be cheaper than the 9703, but considering the Freeview picture isn't that impressive and the Ambilight isn't anywhere near as involving, we think you should stick to the very capable 42PFL9703.
If you want better value for money, look at the Panasonic plasma range, which has 1080p TVs, some with built-in freesat, that cost significantly less than this TV. If you want an LCD, check out the Z-series Toshiba TVs or perhaps one of the new ultra-slim Samsung LCDs.
Edited by Marian Smith