Aside from the new Philips 4K TV we’ll be looking at in the next few days, the 55-inch Philips 55PFL8008 is the Dutch brand’s flagship TV. It thus enjoys Philips’ premium picture processing system, premium edge LED lighting technology, active 3D playback, and a three-sided version of Philips’ unique Ambilight technology. It's not a bad return at all for the set’s £1900 asking price, but can Philips really compete with the big boys with the big budgets?
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Philips has done a canny job this year of establishing a unique, instantly recognisable look for its TVs. And the Philips 55PFL8008 is the ultimate expression of that design theme thanks to its stunningly slender gun-metal grey bezel, exceptionally robust build quality, swanky open-framed stand, and three-sided Ambilight system.
If you’ve never heard of Ambilight before, it involves an array of LED lamps arranged down the rear edges of the TV able to output colours that can be matched to the ever-changing picture content on the screen. Or you can just choose your favourite colour and set that as a static light halo around the TV. There’s even a tone calibrated by the independent Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) as being the best for serious movie viewing.
We’re big fans of Ambilight, especially when it’s used in the three-sided configuration employed by the Philips 55PFL8008, where extra LEDs along the top join – literally – the lighting at the left and right sides.
The 55PFL8008’s pictures use an edge LED illumination system powered by Philips’ top-line Perfect Pixel HD processing system - a system which experience suggests is capable of delivering outstanding picture enhancements but only if handled carefully. More on this later.
Philips remains firmly of the opinion that active 3D is the premium 3D format, and so it’s this system you find on the Philips 55PFL8008. The set ships with two pairs of 3D glasses which can, interestingly, be switched between normal 3D playback and dual screen playback – a system that uses active 3D’s double stream approach to enable two gamers to enjoy full-screen playback simultaneously. Albeit at a reduced resolution and with traces of cross-image ghosting.
As a flagship TV, the Philips 55PFL8008 is very keen to get its hands on all your multimedia sources, be they photo, video or music files stored on networked DLNA PCs or USB storage devices. It’s got three USBs and both LAN and integrated Wi-Fi connectivity to support this multimedia craving – and of course, the network options can also be used to take the TV online via an integrated web browser or Philips’ ring-fenced area of easily accessible content.
While Philips Smart TV platform is designed to offer an easier online option than the open web stuff, though, it’s let down by a lack of specially prepared content versus the online platforms of some rival TV brands.
There are just over 50 apps in total, which isn’t a shockingly bad figure, but unfortunately most of these apps are of limited scope or interest. The highlights include a recently bolstered suite of radio ‘channels’ (Capital FM, Heart, Classic.fm, gold, Capital Xtra, XFM and LBC); National Rail and Tom Tom HD Traffic apps; and, on the all-important video streaming side, Netflix, the BBC iPlayer, Blinkbox, YouTube, Vimeo, Muzu.tv – plus a host of adult channels.
What the platform does not currently have is LoveFilm, Know How Movies, the ITV Player, 4OD, and no Demand 5.
Even though the 55PFL8008 is one of Philips’ most powerful and high-end TVs, its Smart TV system works aggravatingly slowly at times. And as a final Smart TV problem it’s a shame Philips’ stab at delivering a recommendations system (highlighting content based on your viewing history) is totally hamstrung by the fact that the only services it works with are Euronews and The Washington Post.
There are some good touches too, such as the provision of a full QWERTY keyboard on the rear of the remote, a built-in camera to enable Skyping, and a ‘connected’ Twitter app that can automatically find threads connected to the TV show you’re watching.
Overall, though, while things are showing gentle signs of improvement, Philips’ online TV service still has a ways to go before it hits the levels exhibited elsewhere – especially on the latest TVs from the big two Korean manufacturers.
For a full investigation of the, read our full Philips 2013 Smart TV review system.
Much as we like Ambilight, we recommend that you only run it at a fairly subdued brightness level and with a relaxed level of ‘dynamism’ (the aggressiveness with which it responds to changes in image content), as otherwise it can become distracting rather than helping immerse you in the action.
Philips has for many years now adopted a ‘processing heavy’ approach that hasn’t appealed to some AV enthusiasts and purists. These days, though, the brand is much more pragmatic in its approach in that while it still provides on its top-end TV a video engine of unprecedented power and sophistication, it also goes almost to extremes in providing options for either adjusting the strength of or turning off completely most of the processing system’s many facets.
This doesn’t make the TV the easiest to use, of course. We certainly advise that you dedicate a good hour or so to exploring all of the settings the TV offers – paying special attention to the following areas.
First, while the TV’s contrast performance benefits greatly from using the dynamic backlight feature, we’d suggest using this only on its Standard setting, for the other two options cause heavy handed jumps in brightness distracting you from what you’re watching.
Also tricky is the TV’s motion handling. While the processing is exceptionally clever in the way it can remove all judder and motion blur from images it can also leave images looking rather over-processed and certainly does away with that ‘filmic’ look associated with 24Hz Blu-rays. This means most film enthusiasts will probably fair best with the Perfect Motion feature turned off during 2D Blu-ray viewing. Though we’d suggest you at least experiment with the lower power levels of the motion processing when watching broadcasts and 3D Blu-rays.
When it comes to the set’s noise reduction and sharpness boosting features, meanwhile, we’d say all are better left off when watching HD footage, to stop the picture looking either unnecessarily soft or over-harsh.
One final point worth making here is that the 55PFL8008’s Eco picture preset, with its Light Sensor support to help it continually adjust images in relation to your ambient light levels, is unusually good. In fact, if you’re looking to set pictures up for dark room conditions you could do worse than choose this setting as your start point.