As good picture quality is expensive to implement and difficult to explain, manufacturers seeking to differentiate between scads of televisions are turning to increasingly esoteric extras like passive or active 3D, 120Hz/240Hz/480Hz, QWERTY remote controls, and laundry lists of streaming video services. Philips has a new one: Wi-Fi MediaConnect. The feature, available on the PFL5706/F7 series reviewed here, enables the TV to display whatever's on the screen of a laptop PC that's running special software, without a wired connection between the two.
When it works the system functions well, but after our initial "Wow, cool!" reaction, we found MediaConnect's appeal more limited than most of those other extras. After all, isn't the point of Internet TV to ditch your PC altogether, or at least make its interface more like a DVR and less like a computer? Moreover, there are devices that provide the same function that work better than MediaConnect, as we'll discuss below. If you must have wireless PC projection built in, however, and don't mind this TV's mediocre picture quality, Philips is the only game in town.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 40-inch Philips 40PFL5706/F7, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Philips 40PFL5706/F7 (reviewed)||40 inches|
|Philips 46PFL5706/F7||46 inches|
|Philips 55PFL5706/F7||55 inches|
|Panel depth||4.3 inches||Bezel width||2 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||No|
Nobody will mistake the PFL5706/F7 for a fashion-forward TV. Its biggest concession to style is the rounded shape of the corners and stand base. The thick bezel is basic glossy black, the stand doesn't swivel, and the panel itself appears chunky by today's standards--more so than many other non-LED LCDs.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||8.7x1.8 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||No||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||No||Onscreen manual||No|
The PFL5760 has a pretty basic remote and menu system. The remote lacks any illumination, and while the layout is fine, its buttons are too similar in size and shape, the labels are in tiny print, and Exit and Menu inconveniently occupy the same key. The menu is sparse with minimal icons and no explanatory text, and we often found the transparent settings background made values difficult to read. On the other hand, we liked the Home menu with its big icons for selecting from the major functions and found the overall system fairly simple to navigate.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||N/A||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Matte||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Wi-Fi MediaConnect PC screen projection|
Philips' main differentiator for TVs is MediaConnect, discussed above, which allows the PFL5706 series to display the contents of a laptop PC screen wirelessly. The appeal of this feature is pretty limited, however. First off, with numerous streaming-video sources built into the TV (or your Blu-ray player or other device), using a laptop as a source seems kludgy and inconvenient. If you need to, however, you can get the same functionality by wiring any laptop via HDMI or VGA to any TV, or wirelessly via products like Veebeam and Intel Wireless Display. MediaConnect is for someone who wants to watch Hulu.com or other free Web-only video sources, or display video files stored on a PC, frequently enough to demand a built-in wireless approach.
Having installed the MediaConnect software, which is only available for PCs and comes with robust hardware requirements, we found using the feature was a mixed bag. When it worked the experience was good: picture quality was basically identical to what we saw on the PC's screen, audio was in sync, and playback was stable as long as we remained in range. The only issue was a 2-second delay in the TV's response that--similar to Veebeam--makes performing input-dependent tasks on the big screen well-nigh impossible.
Unfortunately the system only worked with one of the two routers we tried, a new Apple AirPort Extreme, and failed when used with an older SMC Barricade--our current AV lab workhorse that works flawlessly with many other Wi-Fi home theater products. While Philips doesn't provide an official list of recommended routers, a company contact gave us a list of models his lab has tested and confirmed to be compatible. Others may work fine, but then again they may not.
Distance was also a major factor. We couldn't get MediaConnect to work from the next room, about 40 feet away, even though the TV's other streaming services like Netflix worked fine from there via Wi-Fi. Philips claims a maximum range of 70 feet with no obstructions, and says the closer the PC and TV are to the router, the better. We experienced better stability and range when we connected the TV via Ethernet instead of using the TV's Wi-Fi connection. See Philips' FAQ for more information.
As with any such system, your mileage will vary depending on local conditions and hardware, and our testing lab is a pretty unforgiving location. Overall, however, we prefer Veebeam or Intel Wireless Display, both of which use dedicated hardware that doesn't depend on your home network's wireless router.
Aside from MediaConnect, and the welcome inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi, the PFL5706 is a fairly standard midrange non-LED LCD TV.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||No||Hulu Plus||No|
|Other: Blockbuster, Film Fresh, vTuner, CloudTV, Vudu Apps|
Philips' Net TV service has a good selection but nonetheless lacks quite a few major services that its competitors support, as shown in the chart above. Still, we're happy it uses the newer Netflix interface, including search.
The main Net TV interface for accessing applications and services was relatively sluggish at times. Backing out of apps was also annoying; many times we had to exit Net TV completely, then re-enter. Streaming quality was fine, although we missed having picture controls for the video services.
Unlike most other major TV makers, Philips doesn't put an app store on its TVs, although Vudu Apps is available with items like Twitter and Facebook as well as numerous others. Vudu's interface is clean and easy to navigate, and its apps are generally well-implemented, although most occupy the whole screen, so you can't watch TV while using them. Standouts include access to numerous full episodes of the PBS staples "Nova" and "Nature" (albeit in painfully low quality), Wikipedia, and a solid selection of podcasts. We love that the apps display star ratings, although we couldn't figure out where they came from, and we wish categories were more specific given the numerous choices. Check out the Vudu Apps site for a full listing of available apps, but know that most of the premium show-based apps (such as "Dexter" and "True Blood") offer clips and not full episodes.
The CloudTV service is something we haven't seen on other TVs. It's a sort of meta-app that offers a second Facebook app as well as a clock/weather/stocks/scores widget (which again occupies the whole screen) and a bunch of ad-supported games--none of them widescreen, unfortunately. Also unique to Philips TVs in our experience is Film Fresh, DivX's pay-per-view cloud video rent/buy service with both movies and TV shows. In vTuner's video section you'll find a bunch of podcasts broken down nicely by genre, many of which populate the main Net TV page as well. The TV also has vTuner's Internet radio app.
|Adjustable picture modes||1||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||No|
|Gamma presets||0||Color management system||No|
|Other: Settings assistant|
The selection here is anemic. Philips doesn't include independent input memories, just a bunch of global presets that apply to all inputs. The presets can't be separately adjusted, and when you do adjust any of the picture parameters and then select another preset, you'll find that your adjustments have been erased. We were also peeved at the lack of a dedicated backlight control, something found on most other LCDs regardless of price. In short, people who like tweaking the picture will want to choose another HDTV.
Philips' Settings Assistant shows you a few images and asks you to choose between them. It can be used for very basic settings if you don't have much time, but there are better ways to set up your TV by eye.