The landscape of TVs has thinned in recent years - and we don't mean the shrinking bezels and ever more slender panels. Pioneer vanished from the fold yonks back and Philips announced in January that it was to stop making its TVs and turn over everything to TP Vision, a company it has only a small stake in. One of the last "pure" Philips bastions is the current, but approaching end of life, Philips 8000 series LED-backlit LCD TV, as reviewed here in its 46-inch 46PFL8007 form.
You might not immediately think of Philips when it comes to buying a TV. And while the name arguably carries less momentum than the Japanese and Korean giants out there, don't let that put you off. Indeed, why should it? If you're after something a bit different, but that still delivers the goods where it matters, then the Philips 8000 series certainly stands out from the crowd thanks to its Ambilight Spectra XL technology. Those colours splashed on the surrounding walls are no accident: that's the dynamic ambilight's RGB LED lights in action, as we've already seen before in the 9000 series.
But with an asking price of £1,500 the 8000 series certainly isn't a budget set. Different, yes, but the big question is whether it's good enough to impress throughout and deliver a picture as eye-catching and stand-out as its aforementioned ambilight tech.
Philips has opted for not only a 29mm slim screen, but also a trim bezel with rounded corners that surrounds the screen, measuring in at under 18mm all-in. Problem is the metal bezel meets a plasticky part with a join-line finish; it doesn't look like a £1,500 TV when up close and personal. That's less of a problem from a distance, as the often silhouetted metal bezel instead shows off what little of its all-important size there is - it wonderfully frames up the image and, ultimately, looks more than excusable from a normal viewing position.
The TV's stand is an attractive and intelligent bit of kit too. It screws into the rear of the screen and folds down to hold the weight of the TV or, if you're after a wall mount, then it can also fold backwards and be used to screw into the wall instead. How about that?
The stand also houses the speakers and seems able to project quality audio around effortlessly. In fact of all the tellies that have passed through the Pocket-lint offices of late we'd say that the Philips has the clearest, most encompassing audio experience straight out of the box compared to other models. It's a quality listen.
Of course a pivotal part of the 46PFL8007's design is the ambilight technology. We know what you're probably thinking: why the heck would anyone want LED lights on the back of the TV to project a "bleed" of light onto the surrounding wall? It sounds rather gimmicky and, arguably, it could be. But we're totally sold on it, as were plenty of this Pocket-linter's friends who popped over during the duration of testing.
It looks undeniably cool and can be used in a variety of ways: you can set a single colour of light to be always on, allow the set to dynamically adjust the colour based on what's on the screen, or emit a wall-colour-matched backlight. Of course if it's not for you it can also be turned off, but then anyone that's going to consider buying this telly that doesn't like the ambilight would do better to look elsewhere really.
The reason for the technology is two fold: it's designed to make for a more immersive viewing experience where the screen image takes on a life beyond its edges and, secondly, the backlight helps to improve perceived image quality. With a brighter light to the rear, blacks will appear yet more black and it gives an overall increased feeling of depth.
Setting the TV up for the ambilight to look at its best is crucial - the closer to the wall the screen is the better the performance is said to be. This makes stand-mounting the set a little trickier than a a more conventional TV. We suspect that the wall-mounted version would look extra special, but without the tools - or indeed the permission - to drill holes in the office's walls we've not been able to check it out in both formats. It's also worth noting that the LED lights aren't mounted across the bottom potion of the screen's rear which makes for a three-quarter effect - something that's not particularly noticeable from a stand-mounted position - but the projection of light has a good spread to the surrounding areas, including under the screen.
In terms of picture quality we found the 46PFL8007 to impress for the most part. Its biggest letdown - which we'll get out of the way first - is some light bleed, a common issue from any edge-LED backlit LCD screens. This is a problem for darker scenes, and we noticed some "peaks" of light towards the lower edges of the screen that, while not significant, ultimately holds this screen back from being best in class. If anything we'd still say that this Philips outperforms the likes of the Samsung ES8000 mode for uniformity and with the Philips ambilight added to the equation there's an extra mask to pretty up viewing.
Otherwise there are a whole host of positives to talk about. The screen is sharp, and we mean really sharp. Game of Thrones on Blu-ray was a crystal clear experience that gave Sean Bean's bristly beard a new degree of clarity. Not that the gent's facial grizzle is the driving force of the series by any means, but one example of where HD prevails, as made good by this particular telly.
There are stacks of customisation options too. From multiple pre-sets, including ISF image calibration, there's a richness to colour and range that looks exceptional when everything's set up right. It may take a fair bit of tinkering though as there are lots of options to churn through: gamma, colour temperature (presets and custom), brightness, noise reduction, backlight contrast, colour, MPEG artefact reduction and yet more. A TV or movie buff's dream should they want to dig deep.
Each of the five HDMI inputs can also be individually assigned their own settings, so a Blu-ray player on HDMI 1 can be set up for deep, dark and moody movie watching with limited picture processing, while a set top box on HDMI 2 can be set up for a brighter, more contrasty picture, for example. Lovely stuff.
Black levels aren't quite class-leading even if the 500,000:1 contrast ratio would suggest that they might be, as affected by the aforemetnioned light leaks. Still, we were impressed with the richness of the picture overall and reckon that the 46PFL8007 isn't a million miles behind the Sony Bravia HX853.
The other thing that's worth raising is Philips' Perfect Pixel HD engine with Perfect Natural Motion that's designed to smooth out motion. We've experimented with it over the three weeks that we've been using the TV and, ultimately, reverted back to leaving this mode off. The 8000 Series' 200Hz panel delivers clear motion without the need for additional motion processing in our book: selecting between minimum, medium and maximum Perfect Natural Motion options to give a perceived "800Hz" just makes everything look and feel overly false - that typical soap opera effect that we'd rather do without. It's personal preference really, but one not for us.
Then there's the Philip's Smart Home. It's the hub for all things online and app-based. The included remote control even reverses for a full keypad, which would suggest that the company's hitting hard in this smart space.
But that's not really the case as we found the Philips "smart" experience to be among the weaker of those options out there. Yes there's the usual iPlayer and YouTube apps, but there's a lack of extra featured apps, including the omission of Netflix. Blinkbox is on board - something that lacked when the set was launched back in 2012 - but these apps and more are available on most competitor models.
Another niggle came down to connection issues - not the TV's fault, but when it gets slow it's all too easy to get stuck in a never-ending loading bar sequence. No matter how many buttons you press on the remote control it won't help escape this cycle which can results in a fair bit of waiting around. A nuisance.
If the whole "smart TV" thing is an essential to your purchase then Philips lags behind in this area. However, those with a set top box are likely to already have access to the majority of services that they want so it's not a huge hindrance for many. And, at the end of that day, this TV's all about its ambilight tech first and foremost.
As a "smart" TV the Philips 8000 series 46PFL8007 may lack a larger selection of - what we'd imagine are little-used - apps, but aside from the lack of Netflix we almost don't care.
Why? Because there's so much else to like here. The ambilight technology is a definite show-stopper that we've grown really fond of, sharpness is sublime, the degree of picture customisation is exceptional and makes an already good image all the better. Add decent sound from the built-in stand - which cleverly offers stand or wall mounting direct from the box - and it's an impressive box of tricks overall.
It's not perfect though: the metal bezel's join-like to its plasticky behind as revealed on that rare close-up inspection feels at odds with the £1500 asking price and the light peaks from the edge LED lighting can be too visible in some darker scenes. A bit of a shame.
If ambilight has caught your attention then the Philips 8000 series sells itself, even if it does demand that extra cash injection for the pleasure. The price may well be a sticking point given that larger, equal-to-better quality tellies such as the Sony HX853 series can be picked up for less money, but that doesn't stop the 46PFL8007 from being one corker of a TV. It really is rather good and definitely different. Well worth a look.