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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Philips 42PFL6188S review: a handsom Ambilight TV

Philips doesn't hide its lights under a bushel. Instead it bolts them to the back of its TVs, like the 42PFL6188S reviewed here, and calls them Ambilight. Take a look at Group test: what's the best TV?

Still very much a signature technology of the brand (not least because patents probably prevent anyone else from doing it), Ambilight sets this often byzantine brand apart from the rest, and once you've lived with those pools of multi-coloured light it can be difficult to imagine migrating to less flashy alternatives. See all TV reviews.

Philips 6000 Series is available in four screen sizes. Our featured 42-in model is joined by the 32-in 32PFL6188S, 47-in 47PFL6188S and 55-in 55PFL6188S.

All come with Ambilight in a basic two-sided XL configuration. You can select complementary hues based on video content, or isolated illumination in red, green or blue. Either way looks great.

Indeed, cosmetically this screen is a winner. With edge-to-edge glass and the narrowest of wraparound bezels, the TV is triumphantly futuristic. Even the wire-frame stand looks ace – although it proved a fiddly nuisance to assemble. And there's the rub with Philips TVs, they're always more complicated than you might imagine.

Fine tuning the picture on this TV is certainly a challenge. The set's Pixel Precise HD bouquet comprises all manner of proprietary processing, from Perfect Natural Motion and Clear LCD to Dynamic Contrast and Backlight Enhancement.

Menu settings are largely a matter of taste, but we found image sharpness should never be set higher than One on the sliding scale, because more was a clear invitation to ugly edge enhancement.

While this set's HD imagery is natively sharp, all the  Natural Motion settings invoke some level motion artefacting; Minimum is the only sensible option, but it also comes with that high frame sheen to movement which while great on sport looks rather distracting for movies. We'd advocate turning it off when watching a film, although there is a hit to motion resolution. Black level performance is good, with clear shadow detail retained; backlight uniformity is also impressive.

Connectivity includes four HDMIs, component, SCART via an adpator, optical audio out, ethernet plus a trio of USB inputs. The set also has integrated Wi-Fi. There's a choice of either Freeview HD or DVB-S2 satellite tuner.

While the set is physically flamboyant, the user interface is surprisingly pedestrian, with a basic programme EPG and texty menus.

Philips' Smart portal is also somewhat lacklustre. Streaming services are primarily limited to BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, YouTube, Blinkbox, Viewster and iConcerts.

Bizarrely, perhaps in an effort to attract a different audience from its rivals, the set also has an astonishingly high quota of adult material on tap: Brazzers, Private, Forno and Hustler all compete for VOD attention. While you can age restrict access to these services, it's a pretty limp safeguard. We can't imagine parents would want younger viewers to browse the content on display here.

The 42PFL6188S offers passive rather than active 3D, or as it's known in Philips parlance “Easy 3D” and comes with four pairs of glasses. The system works well enough, offering tangible stereoscopy without any significant loss of brightness. The set also boasts an effective stereo sound system which is not short of volume.

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