Philips 42PFL7403D/F7 42-Inch HDTV

There's a lot to like about the Philips 42PFL7403D/F7. For a street price of US$1100 (as of March 10, 2009), you get a 42-inch HDTV with USB-based multimedia capabilities. The only lower-priced 42-inch HDTV we've looked at recently, the , costs only $60 less and is a far less polished set. The Philips HDTV does a fantastic job of simulating surround sound, and some intelligent thinking obviously went into designing the remote. Nevertheless, weak image quality neutralizes much of this TV's strong feature set.

This Philips set does not handle skin tones well at all. More than one judge used the word lobster to describe the look it gave Caucasian skin tones in our image quality tests. The set had problems with movement as well, producing blurs and pixilation. In a panning sequence from Mission Impossible III (at 1080p), a highly-detailed brick wall shimmered so much that I felt as though I had taken some bad drugs. And while processing 720p video, the 42PFL7403D/F7 exhibited a serious overscan problem, cutting off significant content on all four sides of the screen.

You can't expect a TV's speakers to deliver true surround sound, but the 42PFL7403D/F7 simulates surround sound as well as any HDTV I've ever heard. The speakers could have used a little more bass, however.

Thanks to its built-in USB port, the 42PFL7403D/F7 can play photo slideshows (JPEG files only) and MP3 audio files from any USB-based drive. And in case you want to watch TV without waking the family, it has a headphone jack as well.

The on-screen menus are reasonably easy to use. Some menu options have on-screen descriptions, but not the ones that need interpretation most. For instance, the menu explains Brightness--a rather obvious attribute--but not the oxymoronic Digital Natural Motion. One particularly cool submenu shows you how much electricity is used by the various picture modes.

Speaking of picture modes, the 42PFL7403D/F7 has a separate, convenient menu just for changing this option. Another small menu, called Quick Access, lets you change audio settings, closed captioning, and other features without navigating through the more complex master menu.