Philips 7404 (32PFL7404H) LCD TV Review

AVForums checks out a 32'' LCD at the higher end of the price scale.

by AVForums
TV Review

14

Philips 7404 (32PFL7404H) LCD TV Review
SRP: £830.00

Introduction

I always find Philips to be a really interesting company. Their elegance, focus on simplicity and lifestyle characteristics, coupled with their willingness to do things a little differently, means that they're probably the HDTV world's closest equivalent to Apple. The company makes products that range from toothbrushes to sex aids, and seems to have a vested interest in people's wellbeing, which is always nice to see. As a result, I'm always curious to see their latest take on what they think an HDTV should be like.

This one is the 32PFL7404H, which is a 32”, 1920x1080p LCD-based TV. The only difference I can find (going from Philips' specifications) over the cheaper 5000-series model is that this 7000-series based display includes Philips' “Pixel Precise HD” video processor, whereas the cheaper model includes “Pixel Plus HD”. There's also a third HDMI input. At this price level, we don't get access to higher-up features such as Ambilight, Internet TV access, or LED backlighting.

Design and Connections

The 32PFL7404H loses the sleek brushed metal look that I liked so much on the higher-up Philips displays, and instead goes with... sigh, you guessed it... gloss black. The TV comes with protective material on the gloss black frame, which I assume is an admission that it will become scratched quickly during cleaning. Philips do differentiate their product from the many other gloss black LCD TVs out there, though, by including a transparent plastic “outline” with curved edges, around the frame. The back of the display features 3 HDMI inputs, 2 SCART terminals (both RGB capable), Component video inputs, an RF aerial input, and a PC “VGA” connector. On the side, there are Composite video, S-Video and stereo audio inputs, a USB port, and a 4th HDMI input.

Menus

Philips' focus on simplicity is present from the moment the 32PFL7404H is powered on. After showing a garish-blue company logo, the TV auto-tunes and then takes the user through a wizard which allows them to set up the picture “to their preferences”. The user is shown a series of images, and is invited to pick the side they prefer: clipped blacks versus pictures with shadow detail left intact, and oversaturated and oversharpened video versus more a natural look. None of this makes any effort to match industry standards, though: Philips could take a lesson or two from LG, who include a “Picture Wizard” mode which displays test patterns and brief instructions to the user on how to properly configure some aspects of the picture. The only personal preferences I want to see reflected on my TV screen are those of the camera operators, lighting experts, colourists, photographers, and directors; there is no need to have the TV abstract these peoples' work in this way.

Once this is done, pressing the HOME button on the remote displays a 3x3 grid view. Here, the devices conneted to the TV are displayed as icons (after they've been added to the menu), making changing inputs easy even for technophobic users. Selecting “Setup” allows us to delve further into the controls. The top level adjustment is “Smart Settings”; from here, I chose “Cinema” and then moved onto the “Picture” menu to make modifications. Like other Philips displays, there is no dedicated Backlight control, but instead it is bundled together with white level control in a setting called “Contrast”. Lowering this control will at first dim the intensity of the backlight lamps, and when these are at their lowest allowed light level, the TV will then begin digitally altering white level. Ideally, these should be two separate controls, because White Level sometimes has to be adjusted by a few clicks to improve Greyscale purity in the brightest areas.

Next, we have a traditional black level control (“Brightness”), a Colour control, a sometimes-accessible Hue adjustment, a Sharpness control, and “Noise Reduction” (temporal averaging, which reduces background noise movement). The next control is “Tint”, which controls Greyscale (the colour of grey). If we set it to “Custom”, “Custom Tint” (User-accessible Greyscale control) is unlocked. We can use this option with a measuring device and specialised software to correctly set Greyscale; more on this later.

The next option is labelled “Pixel Precise HD”, and reveals a host of video processing controls. The first is “HD Natural Motion”, the name of which left me somewhat puzzled. Turning this option on will engage a motion-vector steered frame interpolation mode, which means that the TV analyses frames from the video signal it's receiving, detects the direction that objects in the frame are travelling in, and then generates new in-between frames to increase the motion fluidity. I suppose this is “natural” when compared to the real world, but in cinematic terms, it's a no-no, because it gives movies the video-like “soap opera” movement. Furthermore, these systems, especially at consumer-level pricing, only serve to introduce errors into the image: there is nothing “Natural” about actors walking around dragging chunks of the background behind them. Off it goes!

Enabling the aforementioned option also allows the user to turn on “100 Hz Clear LCD”, which uses the same motion estimation principles to improve the motion resolution of the screen. At least one LCD manufacturer (Samsung) is allowing the user to gain the motion resolution improvements brought about by 100hz/200hz LCD technology without introducing the irritating “smooth motion” effect – it would be nice to see other manufacturers follow suit here. ”Advanced Sharpness” selectively enhances edges in the image, and “Dynamic contrast” and “Dynamic backlight” control the white level and backlight intensity in an attempt to produce a punchier image (at the expense of stability), and are better disabled. There is also a subtle MPEG Artefact Reduction control.

Backing up a level, we have “PC Mode”. This is an important option for image quality. Many HDTVs are coming with “Game Mode” or “PC Mode” options, the primary use of which is to cut out extraneous processing and avoid input lag. Most extraneous processing is just that – extraneous; unnecessary for those of us interested in high quality video, so these controls are often worth turning on even if you have no interest in using a computer with the display. In this case, “PC Mode” turns off any sharpening, overscan, motion estimation, and chroma degradation. With “PC Mode” on, the TV processes the coloured components of the picture in full resolution (4:4:4 sampling); and it avoids a colour misalignment (Y/C Delay) issue that exists normally. Fortunately, turning “PC Mode” on did not impair the TV's ability to deliver smooth results from 24p sources (some computer-centric modes are based around the normal PC rate of 60hz and cause problems, but not here).

Features

Like so many TVs nowadays, Philips' display is equipped with a USB input, which allows users to connect a compatible storage device (hard disk, USB pen drive, etc.) and view JPEG pictures, select movie files, and MP3 music files via the TV. I don't have a lot of interest in this feature myself, but it did work correctly in my testing.

Test Results

After a basic calibration (setting only Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness and selecting the “Warm” colour temperature, as well as turning off extraneous processing), the 32PFL7404H was producing decent quality results. There was an emphasis of Green in the Greyscale mix, leaving a slightly sickly tinge, but for an out of the box preset, the results were not too bad. Thankfully, Colour was not too far deviated from the Rec.709 HDTV mastering standard – I say “thankfully” because this display does not feature a Colour Management System, so improving colour reproduction far beyond what we're given won't be possible. The most obvious errors were with Cyan and Magenta, which were both visibly off-hue. These often fall further into place after Greyscale calibration (which this TV does support), so I was hopeful for these.

Philips' Greyscale calibration menu is somewhat strange in that it allows limited control of Red, as well as control of Green and Blue for the brighter intensities, but only allows us to control Red and Green for the low end of the scale. Normally, TVs will allow full adjustment of Red, Green and Blue for both the high and low ends (six controls compared to five). Nevertheless, it was possible to improve Greyscale tracking using this unconventional system, and after calibration, all errors were below 3 (according to the dE 1994 measurement). This means that most users would never be able to spot inconsistencies, although they do exist, particularly at 100 IRE. Had Philips implemented a dedicated White Level control (rather than a shared Backlight/White Level adjustment), we may have been able to improve this. Colour saw an incidental improvement, but this was only the result of the single “Colour” control to better balance out remaining errors. Cyan remained the biggest offender, being pushed towards green, but aside from this and the remaining magenta hue shift, there were no obviously abstracted colours on show.

The 32PFL7404H failed to detect and compensate for the 2-2 PAL film cadence (regardless of whether “PC Mode” was On or Off) with the tough HQV test disc, but real-world usage was more forgiving (although clearly not entirely robust). In fact, the only cadence the TV successfully detected with the HQV test disc was the American 3-2 NTSC one! You know we live in a 60hz-led world when a TV from a Dutch manufacturer works better with the US TV system than the one used in the home territory! To be fair, though, the resulting jaggies from this improper deinterlacing will probably not be too visible given the small size of a 32” TV.

For video content, the TV did a somewhat decent job of smoothing jagged diagonals, but they were still visible for the most part. Finally, scaling was decent, but not exceptional: fine details were a little soft, but there was also no excessive ringing.

With 1080p HD content, I made sure that there was no distortion going on. When the TV is not in “PC Mode”, very high frequencies can become distorted and “busy”, however as usual, “PC Mode” sorts this out. Also, there's the aforementioned Y/C Delay (colour bleed), which, again, PC Mode sorts out. In this configuration, there were no Luma or Chroma bandwidth limitations, so the entire picture was reaching the screen.

In its default, processing-heavy mode, the 32PFL7404H lags by an eye-watering 180ms! That's not a typo – one hundred and eighty milliseconds! Fortunately, enabling “PC Mode” cuts this ridiculous figure to a much more reasonable 30ms, which is perfectly suitable for almost all gaming.

After calibration, with Contrast (which controls the Backlight on this screen) set to 85, power consumption measured 99 watts.

Picture Quality

Packing 1920x1080's worth of pixels into a 32” display leaves the screen with a very pleasant “silky” appearance. It's impossible to see the actual pixels themselves, unless you look incredibly closely. This works in the 32PFL7404H's favour, but the display is let down by its black level. The TV produces a shade off-grey which never allows video to look truly deep. On the plus side, the viewing angle falloff is not quite as bad as other displays, so the same consistent shade of mediocre grey is visible from most angles, and at least it's grey, rather than being tinted purpley-blue. There's also no stand-out motion issues, other than the usual LCD blurring upon movement (some displays have had obvious trailing issues with black, for instance, the Sharp ASV panel found in Philips' premium 21:9 cinema display, but there is no such problem here).

The fairly accurate Greyscale and Colour did help the image's appeal, but these characteristics, while very important, cannot make up for limited contrast. Still, on the plus side, 24p content from Blu-ray Disc played back without judder, and when correctly configured, the TV was showing every drop of detail present in the source without any degradation (well, except for when the somewhat blurry movement – this is an LCD, after all).

Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • 4 HDMI inputs is more than usual
  • Device-driven on screen display is good for ease of use
  • Built-in speakers better than many other displays
  • PC Mode allows user to disable unwanted processing
  • 24p input handled correctly

Cons

  • Black level is lacking, robs picture of depth, especially in darker environments
  • No 3D Colour Management System for picture fine-tuning
  • Menus are slow to react, EPG is especially tiring

Philips 7404 (32PFL7404H) LCD TV Review

Philips' 32PFL7404H is a nicely-designed, overpriced 32” display that doesn't really bring anything special to the table to justify its price tag. Most of Philips' claims-to-fame seem to involve their image processing chipsets, which appear to have taken on mythical status in the subjective mass-market AV press, but in reality bring little valuable processing to the table. Case in point: one of the best features of the 32PFL7404H is the “PC Mode” which cuts much of the unwanted processing out!

If you somehow land up with one, the 32PFL7404H isn't a terrible display and would do the trick in a non-critical viewing environment such as a bedroom. My biggest concerns with it aren't necessarily confined to one area - it's just that better LCD displays can be had for less money.

Scores

Sound Quality

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.
8

Smart Features

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.
.
7

Ease Of Use

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.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
.
.
4

Verdict

.
.
.
.
6

Picture Quality

.
.
.
.
6

Video Processing

.
.
.
.
.
5

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
.
6

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
.
6
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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