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First looks: Philips 42PFL5604H 42″ LCD TV review 0

Posted on April 21, 2010 by Timothy Francis

The now end of life Philips 42PFL5604 represents the 42″ model of entry level 5000 series range. Despite it being Philips’ entry level 42″ LCD TV, it is still a Philips product; this means at around £650 it certainly is not entry-level pricing, but then it certainly does not deliver entry-level performance.

The 42PFL5604 is a compelling choice as an entry level Full-HD 42″ monitor. Large format, entry-level monitors are only capable of displaying screen resolutions of 1024×768, and carry a price tag similar to that of the 42PFL5604. Most TV’s, even Full HD ones, can only display VGA video at resolutions no higher than 1368×720, but Philips are different in this respect, it can natively display VGA at the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080. To get similar results, you would need to spend over  £1400 on a Full HD capable monitor, and you wouldn’t get built-in speakers or the same diversity of inputs.

First impressions

In the box you get a manual, CD manual, remote control and table-top stand.

First impressions of the set is that it is well built, but only as solid as a plastic trim can be. The styling and the bezel is similar to that of a BenQ monitor or even a Sharp LCD TV, nothing spectacular. The curved piano black plastic bezel is fairly chunky, but then it does need to hold a sizeable LCD panel in place. The unit has none of the high-end Philips features such as Ambilight or advanced video post processing.

The back of the unit has only a basic set of inputs, which should be sufficient for most applications, these include VGA, 3 HDMI, 2 SCART, Component, USB and composite. The table-top stand is sturdy and heavy, and provides solid support for the TV set and allows for the set to be pivoted on the base over a reasonable arc.

Usage tests

After powering on the unit you are run through a set-up menu, which is notably, err, prettier than most set-up menus, in fact it is better than most TV sets we have worked with. The same smooth graphical style reappears when the TV provides feedback on remote control commands (volume, input selection, etc). The set-up process also includes basic image calibration process which anybody can complete.

Our tests centred on typical ‘TEA London’ usage scenarios which is almost exclusively computer generated video – Windows Media Centre  et al, so although this is a TV, we have not conducted intensive testing on its tuner capabilities – and given that over half of the FreeView channels are highly compressed, there seemed little point to test this as our viewing would invariably settle on the best, BBC and the worst, Viva/ITV/Five.

VGA output is clear, well defined and sharp. Using standards Windows applications are displayed legibly at our test distance of 3 metres away from the screen. There is a slight softness to text and hairlines, so the display output is not as well defined as a professional monitor, such as the Panasonic TH-42PF11 series plasma monitors, so this monitor is perhaps not the best choice for the display of text based video output, such as spreadsheets, high resolution charts and small text.

With graphics applications it is certainly is comfortable size to be working off. The TV’s settings give you quite a number of display calibration settings, and with some work you can get accurate colour reproduction on the screen, although I would not go so far as to recommend that professional photographers, publishers and graphic designers would use the 42PFL5604 as a primary reference, but if you don’t have the cash for a monitor, this is the next best thing you can buy, although to any professional I would always recommend they spend their £850 on a high-end sub 26″ monitor instead.

When it comes to video, this is where the 42PFL5604 starts to shine. The TV did need some image calibration, the out of the box settings are not bad, but the image can be greatly improved by applying some manual tweaks to the settings applied by the set after running the initial Philips Image Set Up routine. No matter what video we threw at the monitor, it produced an excellent images, that is well defined and shows no strong or visible motion blurring in fast moving scenes. The set smooths out lower resolution video cleanly, and shows pin-sharp definition with HD content such as blu-ray movies. In fact we can find very little wrong with the 42PFL5604′s performance considering its price point, you would be hard pressed to find something with similar performance for the same money.

So what we have is a TV set that is capable of being used as a monitor which opens up a number of possibilities at this very compelling price point. To put it simply, no TV can match the sharpness and brightness of a professional monitor, nor would a TV be flexible to reliably display resolutions other than its native resolution. The build quality of professional monitors is far better than any entry to mid-high level TV, the monitor will have a glass front, normally uses a higher quality display panel and is engineered to have a very long lifespan – so please do not take this review as an endorsement that a TV should be chosen over a monitor for computer generated video, but the Philips 42PFL5604 does provide you with a compelling choice for an entry level large format LCD display.

Freeview HD ire fuelled by a tech-ignorant press 2

Posted on January 20, 2010 by Timothy Francis

freeview hd logoI have noticed an increase in the press about the recent announcement of high definition (HD) broadcasts that will be made over the UK terrestrial digital TV service known as FreeView; these announcements that HD broadcasts will be broadcast over our airwaves, rather than exclusively over satellite services is a big boon. We are very happy that almost everyone home in the UK will be able to receive HD TV without the need for a satellite dish is good news.

What is perhaps not good news is that the vast majority of FreeView receivers, being both the set-top box variety and those tuners that are built-in to your TV, will not be capable of receiving, or at least, decoding these HD broadcasts over the FreeView service.

The press, not all of the press, but the sort of press that is aimed at the lowest common denominator, and has some ties to BSKYB (like those owned by News International, or those that broadcast their Porn channels on Sky), have decided to call foul on this limitation found within the vast majority FreeView tuners.

The theme that most of these news articles follow is consumers are being deceived, no conned, when they are sold an HD-Ready, or Full HD capable TV without the ability to tune in and decode these HD broadcasts. Not 5 minutes after FreeView made the announcement that they will begin HD broadcasts in 2010, did the alarmist and techno-ignorant press jump on the caveat emptor bandwagon stating that if you buy a TV set today, you will not be able to receieve HD TV. Surely the consumer will expect to be able to receive HD broadcasts out of the box, especially when their TV set has an ‘HD-Ready’ logo sticker on it?

I would agree that it is a realistic expectation for consumers to expect to receive HD TV from their TV set, but the reality is that out-of-the-box, almost all TV sets require some sort of additional hardware to in order to watch HD pictures. Think about it… if you want:

  • High definition films, your DVD player will not cut the mustard; you need to get yourself a blu-ray player; and yes… blu-ray movies to play on the blu-ray player. These players can play DVD’s, so this does not mean you have to chuck away you entire DVD collection, but it does mean that these discs are standard definition, and whilst your player, TV or AV receiver may be able to upscale the standard definition picture to a high-definition picture (like 1080p), the source still remains standard definition
  • HD TV, you need a HD TV service. TV’s that have FreeSAT tuners are capable of receiving HD TV broadcasts through a satellite dish, but more often than not those consumer who are serious about receiving HD TV will subscribe to a pay-TV service like SKY HD or Virgin HD; this will enable them to receive more channels than the standard FreeSAT offerings. This is my biggest suspicion as to who’s agenda is being circulated around the press… the press is stating you will need to buy a new HD FreeView receiver in order to receive the FreeView HD broadcasts, but none of saying that the same applies to existing SKY and Virgin Media subscribers too. If you are a SKY subscriber, and you purchase an HD ready TV, it does not mean you will receive HD TV. Only once you have ordered this service, had a new box installed (which does carry an installation cost) and subscribed to a HD TV package, which costs more than a standard SKY/Virgin subscription, will your HD Ready TV show off its capabilities. The FreeView HD service will incur a once-off cost for the purchase of a HD capable receiver, and these are very modestly priced, some cost as much as the installation costs of the pay-TV services, or a modest £140 will get you a HD capable PVR.
  • Games consoles: Nintendo Wii does not display HD, Xbox 360 and PS3 games consoles do, all you need to purchase is an HDMI cable… the PS3 has the added bonus of being able to play blu-ray movies
  • Audio: Most older AV receivers are not capable of decoding the newer high-definition audio soundtracks found on newer blu-ray moview releases, meaning that for those who really love their home surround sound will likely need to purchase new kit here… again the press has nothing to say about this, this of course is merely the advancement of technology; why is the announcement of FeeView HD any different?

Consumers should not confuse the the ‘HD Ready’ moniker as being description of the capabilities of the TV tuner, no more than you can expect to view HD using a standard SKY receiver, Virgin Media cable box, DVD player, video machine or games console, unless these devices are HD capable themselves.

Quite simply there are no HD channels at the present time being broadcast on terrestrial services, so how on earth can TV manufacturers be realistically be expected to have this capability ready, this is also a very recent announcement by the FreeView group, and thus manufacturers will need to ‘catch-up’ with this announcement to their commitment to the broadcast of HD TV.

A set that is ‘HD ready’ has nothing to do with what TV signals it is capable of receiving and displaying, it merely describes the maximum level of resolution, or detail the TV is capable of displaying; this does not mean the TV set is magically going to be able to take a lower resolution (standard definition) picture and magically convert it into anything better than what it receives in the first place.

What the press are also failing to mention is that the announcement of the FreeView HD services, due for launch in 2010, is actually an outstanding technical achievement. They have developed a technology that was first launched as the doomed ITV Digital service, a service that is well over 10 years old (and its technology equally old) into something that was initially thought to be impossible to achieve. Yes, they have made a technological achievement that means if you want these new features, you will have to upgrade your existing set-top box, or simply be patient and wait for the TV manufacturers to announce when their TV sets will be capable of receiving Terrestrial Digital HD TV. Buy a TV set today, you will most definitely need new hardware only if you want FreeView HD, otherwise you can continue using FreeView unhindered without any changes required to your TV or set-top box. You can even have HD TV today if you opt for FreeSAT (available on Panasonic TV’s), or you can wait for the TV manufacturers to catch-up and develop tuners that will take advantage of this very positive announcement.

Remember, whenever a new innovation and positive announcement is made in the TV broadcast arena, and this is quickly slagged off by the press, always question what the true motives are… more often than not it will be something that threatens someone’s comfortable and unchallenged position in the TV market, and will bring about some healthy competition.

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