The Philips 40PFL8605H/12 is rather an odd fish. On the one hand, it has numerous advanced features, including 3D support, 200Hz motion-processing technology and Philip's own Ambilight system. On the other hand, despite costing about £1,100, it lacks some features that are now standard on cheaper competing sets, such as a Freeview HD tuner and support for BBC iPlayer. The question is, then: can this 40-inch, 1080p LED TV make up for these omissions with its performance?
Philips has certainly done a great job with the TV's design. Key to its charm is the transparent panel that sits on top of the glossy black bezel. We particularly like the clear panel's gorgeous, rounded corners. The aluminium control panel that swoops down from the bottom of the screen adds an extra helping of elegance.
Peek around the back of the TV, and you'll find two strips of LED lights running down the sides. They're used in the set's Ambilight Spectra 2 system. This system projects subtle colours onto the wall behind the TV, matching the video that's showing on the screen. Ambilight won't be to everyone's taste, but we really like the effect, as it adds an extra sense of warmth to the material you're viewing.
The rear of the TV also houses larger-than-usual, 20W speakers. These really help to beef up the audio, making the 40PFL8605H/12 one of the better-sounding LED TVs on the market.
Rage against the machine
As with most of today's mid-range tellies, this TV supports online video services. Among them are YouTube and Dailymotion, but iPlayer is notable by its absence, and the selection of available services falls far short of what you get on Sony and LG TVs. But the TV does have a full Web browser, so you can view pretty much any website you like. That said, navigation is quite slow and Flash content isn't supported.
This telly can play DivX, Xvid and MKV files either via its USB port or over a network, using its Ethernet socket. The playback quality is generally good, although we found we couldn't get the set to fast-forward or rewind through videos when they were being streamed across a network, which is pretty damn annoying.
Like many of Philips' recent TVs, this one lacks a Freeview HD tuner. If you've already got access to high-definition content from the likes of Sky or Virgin, this won't be much of an issue, but it's a feature that's pretty much standard on similarly priced sets from competitors, so it's odd that Philips is taking so long to catch up in this regard.
Another issue is the menu system. Instead of standard pop-up menus, most of the TV's features are accessed via a home screen, which is needlessly complicated. Ironically, the company has also simplified the remote control to such a degree that it's actually annoying to use. Straightforward actions that are one button press away on other sets, such as calling up the electronic programme guide, require two or more button pushes.
Thankfully, matters improve dramatically when it comes to picture quality. The set's contrast levels and shadow detail are particularly striking, thanks in no small part to its extremely deep black levels. It's also surprising how the set manages to produce such deep blacks without adversely affecting the picture's overall brightness.
In fact, the TV produces pictures that are among the brightest you'll get from an LED set -- and that's saying something. The extra brightness gives colours an uncommon intensity, so landscapes in movies, for example, have a lushness that's as natural as it is beautiful.
The Perfect Pixel HD processing engine also delivers exemplary detail, smooth motion, and clarity. High-definition pictures, for instance, look extremely crisp and clean, and motion is handled with a finesse that other sets struggle to achieve. If there's a downside to the processing engine, it's that standard-definition content from the on-board Freeview tuner tends to suffer from a fair amount of mosquito noise around the edges of objects, particularly in the case of text on news channels.
Like most of Philips' recent sets, this one can be used for viewing 3D content, but you have to buy the 3D glasses and transmitter separately. The 3D kit with the transmitter and two sets of glasses costs around £250, which is a considerable sum.
The 3D transmitter connects to the back of the TV via a fairly long cable. When it's perched on top of the screen, it looks like the Nintendo Wii receiver. It's a messy system, and we would much prefer the transmitter to be built into the set as usual, so you only needed to buy the glasses separately.
The TV's 3D performance is disappointing anyway. Although the glasses are quite comfortable, 3D images are plagued by ghosting around their edges. This ghosting doesn't just affect objects in the background -- it's very noticeable in the foreground too.
The Philips 40PFL8605H/12 is a mixed bag. We like its elegant design, and the TV makes HD movies look fantastic. But its 3D performance is poor and the lack of support for BBC iPlayer and Freeview HD is very disappointing at this price.
Edited by Charles Kloet