A 42in HD Ready TV from one of the flat TV world’s most respected brands costing just £650? What’s not to like, for heaven’s sake? Um, quite a lot, actually…
The uncertainties about Philips’ 42PF5521D start to gather as soon as you clap eyes on it. For while it’s not exactly ugly, there’s no doubt that the brash contrast of deep black screen frame with slightly cheap-looking silver speaker section certainly lacks the refinement and build quality of many TV rivals these days. Still, we guess we can live with aesthetic compromises for £650, provided the performance quality turns out to be there.
The set’s connections are mixed too. The provision of two HDMIs seems actually pretty generous, but the gloss is taken off this by the fact that there’s no dedicated analogue PC interface, meaning that one of the HDMIs has to do double duty as a digital PC input as well as a jack for HDMI video sources.
The 42PF5521D’s feature count is frankly disappointing. You do, at least, get a built-in digital tuner – something we guess you shouldn’t necessarily expect as a given on a £650 42in TV. But aside from this the only things even remotely interesting are a Virtual Dolby Surround audio processor for delivering a pseudo surround sound performance from the TV’s two speakers; a contrast booster; picture in picture options (single tuner, naturally); and a very limited version of Philips’ Active Control system, which analyses incoming pictures and adjusts one or two facets of the picture automatically in a bid to make the image always look as good as possible.
You’ll note from this that there are two Philips feature stalwarts that the 42PF5521D does not sport: Pixel Plus or Ambilight. Regarding the former, Philips’ acclaimed picture processing engine, the 42PF5521D doesn’t even, like some of Philips’ other fordable flat TVs, get an old version of the technology. So the 42PF5521D’s pictures will not be able to avail themselves of Pixel Plus’s considerable abilities at improving image detail and colour saturations. Darn.
Regarding Ambilight, it’s always disappointing now when a Philips TV doesn’t include pools of coloured light spilling from its sides. But then we guess this really is a luxury feature that was never likely to filter so far down the Philips range.
The 42PF5521D’s specifications throw up a sky-high – and obviously very promising – claimed contrast ratio of 10,000:1, together with a peculiar-looking native resolution of 1,024 x 1,080.
This ratio does not mean, of course, that the TV is actually higher than it is wide! The key to the apparent conundrum lies in the 42PF5521D’s use of a technology called ALIS – or ‘Alternate Lighting of Surfaces’, to give it its full name. Without unnecessarily blinding you with science, ALIS uses an expanded phosphor covering and electrodes positioned between lines of horizontal pixels rather than directly under them to effectively double the screen’s horizontal resolution. Which would be all well and good if we hadn’t found ourselves distinctly underwhelmed by other recent ALIS-based screens. Here’s hoping the 42PF5521D can restore our faith in the technology.
Sadly, it can’t. Not by a long chalk.