Philips 42PUS7809 – Picture Quality
Unfortunately we have to kick off the performance section with an all-too-predictable problem. As with so many TVs that use IPS panels, the 42PUS7809 struggles to produce a convincing black colour.
Any parts of the picture that should be black actually look grey. Or to be more precise, blacks seems to be viewed through a grey mist.
This greyness issue stops dark scenes from looking as involving as they should, hides shadow detail in the darkest picture areas and upsets the appearance of dark colours, making them look a little wan and off-key.
The black-level problems are particularly obvious with shots that combine very bright and very dark content. The need to inject enough backlight into the image to handle the bright parts means that the screen can’t simultaneously keep the dark parts dark enough. It’s also noticeable that predominantly gloomy images really do have to sacrifice a lot of luminance to deliver something approaching a decent black colour.
SEE ALSO: What is 4K/UHD?
Yet more evidence of how hard the 42PUS7809 has to work to combat its native black-level limitations can be seen in the way the picture’s brightness levels sometimes fluctuate distractingly when using either the Dynamic Contrast setting or any of the advanced Contrast Modes. Yet if you turn off all the dynamic contrast features, then black levels really become very average by modern LCD TV standards.
Shifting at last to what we’d hoped to start our discussions of the 42PUS7809’s picture performance with – its 4K performance – there’s mixed news. On the plus side, the screen reproduces the resolution, depth of field and flawless finish we associate with native 4K content perfectly well. The set’s motion handling stops the screen from losing much of this 4K resolution during action scenes, too.
Our issue is that while the 42PUS7809 can deliver 4K’s strengths, the relatively small 42-inch screen means you have to look to see them rather than them just jumping out at you.
This is an interesting discovery, as we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the 4K experience we had recently with the 48-inch Samsung UE48HU7500. Maybe the 42-inch screen level is the ‘tipping point’ where investing in 4K over HD starts to make less sense.
We’re not saying that putting 4K in a 42-inch TV delivers no tangible benefit from normal viewing distances. It does. But the benefits tend to only make themselves felt at certain times – such as in the blades of grass on a football pitch, for instance, or ripples on water – rather than making a constant impact.
It doesn’t help, perhaps, that this affordable Philips set doesn’t have quite as much colour finesse as the current 4K TV superstars, meaning it’s not quite as good at delivering the colour subtleties that help maximise 4K’s quality boost. Also, while Philips’ motion processing does reduce blur, it can also throw up the occasional flicker or halo artefact, which diminishes the sense of life-like purity we associate with premium 4K.
One final point to add here is that you can make the 42PUS7809’s pictures look more 4K via an ‘Ultra Resolution’ processor. But even with this feature active, really palpable 4K ‘moments’ only crop up sporadically.
It’s a similar story with the 42PUS7809’s 4K upscaling. When sitting closer to the TV than you normally would, you can see that the upscaling engine is pretty good, at least with HD sources, adding the necessary millions of extra pixels with a good understanding of what’s noise in the source images and what isn’t. There’s also enough brainpower and picture know-how in this set to be able to calculate the colour and luminance content of each new pixel it’s creating, even during fairly action-packed content. But from normal viewing distances some, if not most, of this upscaling cleverness passes you by.
The 42PUS7809 struggles with upscaling standard definition, with its colours starting to look much less subtly blended and naturally toned than they do with HD and native 4K content. Although Philips could rightly argue that feeding a 4K TV with standard-def video is a crime against AV.
Overall the 42PUS7809’s pictures are OK. No more, no less. Which is just about fair enough given its self-consciously affordable status – except perhaps that a more accomplished TV may have done a better job of convincing us that 4K is truly worthwhile at 42 inches.