Philips 42PFL7666

Active shutter or passive 3D? Expensive glasses and awesome detail, or cheap glasses and a slightly softer image? Can't make up your mind? Don’t worry, neither can Philips, which is why its forever delayed 2011 crop of 3D TVs are divided between the two technologies.

This 42-inch Edge LED TV in the brand's 7000 Series sports Easy 3D - Philips' name for passive tech - as opposed to its Max 3D-toting brethren, but it's no poorer for it. Surprisingly for a TV using cheap-as-chips 3D specs there are only two pairs in the box, though a few trips to your local 3D cinema ought to solve that little problem.

Good specification

Generosity abounds elsewhere, with Wi-Fi fuelling a Smart TV platform called Net TV, a deliciously high-end looking metallic finish, and Ambilight, Philips' patented system that creates a halo of light around the TV that changes according to the dominant colours on the LCD panel.

We do love Ambilight. Forget slimness, brushed aluminium surrounds, and flashy remote controls; flatscreen TVs were made to give wow factor, and that's exactly what Ambilight does. It's a gift that keeps on giving, too, since Ambilight can be used in its Lounge Light mode to add soft lighting to a room. And for those with odd coloured walls, the 42PFL7666’s ‘wall colour adaptive’ option changes the colour of the light so it appears to be normal on almost any colour wall - there are 24 choices in a virtual palette. Meanwhile, Ambilight can be used in various degrees of separation, as well as in several moods including Fresh Nature (green), Hot Lava (a red-pink), Deep Water (blue) and Bright Light (white).

Still, a lava lamp from IKEA would be cheaper, so there's got to be more under the 42PFL7666's hood.

Network activity

The engine room is Pixel Precise HD, a suite of processing gubbins including HD Natural Motion and a 400Hz anti-blur mode, but what we're really interested in is Net TV. Once a network connection wizard has walked us through the steps for connecting via wired or wireless - we chose the latter for extra reliability, but still consider the former absolutely essential on any ‘smart’ product - we're up and running.

The TV does possess the BBC iPlayer, in its usual guise, but in terms of genuinely engaging apps, it's elsewhere rather thin on the ground. That said, it's always good to see YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Picasa make an appearance, not to mention movie streaming from Acetrax and web radio from TuneIn.

Other less inviting apps include Cartoon Network and HiT Entertainment - largely on-demand kids’ programmes - Viewster, MeteoNews and a raft of Euro-centric news channels such as France24, TV5Monde and Euronews, as well as CNBC (US business news), CineTrailer, Funspot, Vimeo, Daily Motion and iConcerts (an actually quite engaging online archive of live gigs). There’s also a link to an online app shop, which contains downloads for the likes of TomTom - on a TV?! - Ebay and some more weather apps.

What Net TV doesn't have - unlike similar, and much more polished, online platforms from the likes of Sony and Samsung - is an app offering the latest 3D movie trailers and showcase footage.

There is a web browser, which has been part of Philips’ smart TV experience for some time, though it's never been executed particularly impressively, and that remains the case on the 42PFL7666 - it’s just so slow to operate from the remote.

That remote control is otherwise good, but there's also an app for phones and tablets - Android as well as iOS-based. What we love about MyRemote, however, isn’t its TV controls, but its novel Slideshow feature, which instantly puts photos stored on a smartphone onto the TV’s screen, with no set-up needed. Apple TV owners may balk, but it’s the kind of feature we can see being used a lot by owners of this TV - it’s just a shame that it doesn't extend to music and movies.

Picture and sound

The 42PFL7666 can record from its Freeview HD tuner to a HDD as well as play digital files over a network or from a USB stick. Two of those features are powered by a brace of USB inputs in the TV’s side, which is also home to an SD card slot, ostensibly for storing purchased video downloads from various Net TV apps, a Common Interface slot and a sole HDMI input.

Nearby, in the same connections panel is a rear-facing RGB Scart, a set of component video inputs and associated analogue audio-ins, and an oddly-placed headphone jack. Just below are three HDMI inputs (one of them Audio Return Channel-compatible), a VGA D-sub 15-pin PC input, an RF aerial connection to power the Freeview HD tuner, and a wired Ethernet LAN port.

Also down here is an optical digital audio input for routing audio to an AV amplifier, though integrated audio is one of the 42PFL7666's major strong points with speakers are among the most powerful available on the TV market. This has been the case for some time on Philips TVs, but it's great to see the unique combination of two rear-firing woofers and two forward-facing drivers that together create a 28W soundstage. That’s at least double what most TVs can muster, and should be enough for most content.

They sound great – full, bassy and with plenty of detail – and the onscreen action isn’t bad, either.

Blu-ray and 3D

Blu-ray is spotless, sharp and smooth, with the only real issue being a slight lack of contrast. Easy 3D, meanwhile, turns in a performance that's best described as 'good value'. Anything close to the camera stands out impressively, although there is almost always a slight shimmer around it. Like any kind of 3D, slow motion shots with very obvious depth affects do look impressive, but as soon as the action hots-up it can all get quite confusing; a splash of water in the direction of the camera in The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti brings an almost nonsensical 3D image that our brain just isn't quick enough to process. At least the use of passive 3D glasses means there are no headaches or eyestrain.

Overall, Easy 3D is indeed all about sacrificing ultimate detail, relative to active shutter 3DTVs, but that won't matter a jot to watchers of Sky's 3D channel, which doesn't broadcast in Full HD anyway.

The viewing angle is about normal for an LED TV of this size; that is to say, if you watch from the wings there is a definite draining of darkness from the opposite side, though it's only truly obvious when you're watching a very dark picture. It’s also good to see an even backlight on a LED TV; many big name brands’ efforts are stained with light leakage. It’s indicative of the high build quality obvious in almost every aspect of the 42PFL7666.

Verdict

It’s more highly polished on the outside than in, but this good value Edge LED TV has a new passive 3D system that's as easy on the eye as on the wallet. As well as using cheaper 3D specs and offering the unique Ambilight system, this telly exudes quality across the spectrum though lacks the refinement of other 'smart' TV's apps and user interfaces.