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The 37PF9731D we mentioned earlier was one of the most feature-laden TVs we’ve seen to date. The 42PF5421, by comparison, could scarcely be more basic. For as well as sporting no digital tuner or Ambilight technology, it also avoids any form of Philips’ Pixel Plus picture processing (not even an old version), any form of Philips’ new ClearLCD advanced backlight technology, and pretty much everything else in between, except for noise reduction/contrast-boosting options, and some limited picture in picture functionality.
Clearly, then, if the 42PF5421 is really going to turn out the bargain it initially appeared, it’s going to have to win us over with its picture quality - which, for the most part, is exactly what it does. Its single most surprising trick is how excellently crisp and detailed HD sources look on it. Be it a hyper-detailed HD Xbox 360 game like Gears of War or a beautifully sharp HD movie scene like Spider-Man scrapping with Doc Ock on the side of a building in Spider-Man 2, the 42PF5421 makes it look outstandingly sharp. And it does this, let’s not forget, without any help from Pixel Plus.
Nearly as surprising as the set’s sharpness is its black level performance. That 800:1 contrast ratio quote is made to look very pessimistic by a perfectly respectable stab at making dark scenes and corners look, well, dark. Sure, there’s some level of greyness visible while viewing the shots of outer space during Alien, or in the darkest corners of Gears of War. But this doesn’t make dark scenes as depressingly flat as might have been anticipated – not least because the set shows good finesse when it comes to portraying subtle colour and shade shifts in darker areas.
Another potential budget LCD pitfall neatly sidestepped by the 42PF5421 concerns colours, as they combine plenty of vibrancy and brightness with mostly very natural tones, even during dark film scenes. In this respect the 42PF5421 strikes a particularly strong contrast with some previous budget LCD sets we’ve seen from Philips. There’s even a likeable degree of subtlety about the way it portrays colour blends and gradations.