There's no doubt about it, LCD television is the Danny Zucco of the gadget world. And as if this ruling denizen of the technological schoolyard weren't cocky enough, Philips greased up its hair and gave it a brand new leather jacket when it released the Ambilight version of its flat-screen TV. The 42PF9986, otherwise known as the trendiest mainstream television in the world, has a set of fluorescent lights in the back of the TV that reacts to the colours on screen and supposedly relaxes the eyes. Fashion never comes cheap, though, and the Ambilight LCD carries a hefty £1,000 premium.
With the 26PF5520D, Philips has done a complete U-turn, offering what is currently the most feature-packed LCD at under £1,000. It offers everything that you could reasonably want on a modern TV, including full high-definition compatibility and built-in Freeview, all for the miserly sum of £700 (from online specialists; it's closer to £900 on the high street) -- which would have been unthinkable just six months ago. It doesn't offer any of the picture processing or NXT speakers that have become standard on more expensive Philips sets, but with a decent picture quality and a shopping list of features, this is a true bargain.
Bar an abundance of stickers that have been awkwardly placed on the TV (one of which promises that 'excitement' has been turned up to the max), Philips' LCD looks great. The desktop stand is packaged separately, so if you don't want to wall-mount it, you'll need to do some DIY assembly work. When it's all set up, the package easily captures that trademark Philips style. The screen itself is surrounded by a 40mm black bezel, with speakers sitting on either side, making the TV look like it costs substantially more than it actually does.
In order for Philips to get that coveted 'HD Ready' badge, the connectivity requirements are hefty. For consumers, this is a plus point, because it means you can connect up all your AV equipment now and in the future without needing to worry. The TV itself has a DVI input, with PC input, two Scarts (one RGB), S-video and composite. Like a standalone Freeview tuner, the TV itself also has a digital audio output so you can connect it up to a home cinema system, in this case a coaxial type.
Philips' TV package bulges like a bare-chested Geordie's beer gut. There's a nifty selection of interconnects and adaptors which allow even more connectivity to the television. The converter that lets you plug S-video and composite into Scart may be of limited use, but if you have an older computer you can use the VGA-DVI connector to plug it in and use the TV as a monitor. Bear in mind that you'll need a fairly modern graphics card to support a widescreen resolution, though. The most important adaptor is component-VGA, which makes the screen compatible with most modern DVD players.
Freeview is no simple add-on -- it has been integrated into the TV well. The PC Card slot allows you to add a subscription card for the TopUp TV service, which may not be such a big attraction now that E4's freely available, but it's nice to have the option.
The 26PF5520D has a remote control that's very well constructed, with a sturdy frame that feels like it will survive the rigours of everyday use. However, the buttons don't feel well mapped-out and the menu structures have a random feel to them. When choosing an AV channel, the TV does nothing when you press OK -- for some reason you have to press direction right instead.