Look at enough HDTVs, and you'll find that each has its own personality. Specifically, by checking the out-of-box image on the different video presets, and the design and options for the menus, you can get a pretty quick feel for whether a set's maker takes its TV seriously and did its homework.
Using that logic, Philips is that geeky kid who sat up-front in your third-grade class and raised his hand a bit too energetically, a bit too often. But here, that's a good thing. The new Philips 42PFL7432D 42-inch LCD HDTV is an overachiever that's both a solid performer and a standout for its user interface - a clear sign that the company thought long and hard before slapping on its logo.
With its gloss-black bezel, smoked-glass base, and swiveling, silver post, this Philips strikes the same understated pose as most other LCDs. But starting with its 1080p-resolution screen and Ambilight glow panels (now a Philips trademark), there's a wealth of features to help you get the most out of the display. Especially notable is an innovative Settings Assistant. Turning on the TV for the first time, you're stepped through a series of screens showing split images of landscapes and people, each side reflecting a different setting for key contrast, brightness, sharpness, and color-enhancement controls. You simply select your preference and move on. This clever feature should at least help nontechnical viewers get their Philips sets out of the hyperbright "torch" mode intended for retail floors - a very good thing, indeed.
Along with the obligatory trio of HDMI inputs found on most new HDTVs, the Philips has the usual complement of component-, composite-, and S-video connections. A convenience pack on the left side of the screen offers up a headphone jack and a USB input for viewing photos straight from a camera. There's no VGA input, but computers are supported via HDMI.
It took me a while to get through all of the TV's menu options. The interface is clean and intuitive - attractive to look at and easy to use after a brief initiation. However, I was bummed at how much of the screen image was blocked by the menu while making adjustments, as well as how the menu fully covered the image until a specific adjustment was selected.
I loved this set's remote. It's artfully uncluttered and partially backlit - and keys that aren't backlit are smartly placed. Hitting the Input key calls up a menu from which to select your sources or toggle through them, and the Aspect key offers several zoom options and a pixel-for-pixel mode that shows HDTV with no overscan.
The TV has three picture presets, labeled Vivid, Natural, and Movie. When you select one, it's automatically applied to all inputs. Fortunately, you can still make the full range of video adjustments for each input, and your results are stored.
There's a wider than usual variety of auto picture settings, but only the Dynamic Contrast feature had a noticeably positive effect. Although measurements showed it pushed the grays a bit blue on dark scenes, it made for blacker blacks and more punch than I could achieve with it turned off. So after calibrating the set, I left it on its minimum setting for most viewing. In Movie mode with Warm color temperature, grayscale tracked a tad toward blue, but it was much improved after tweaking the red, green, and blue controls in the user menu.
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