Design Quality and BuildPhilips' new 'gold standard' has Edge LED backlighting, instead of the Full LED system used on the Platinum version. Given how little the system brings to the S8PFL9956H, that's not really much of a problem. But with LEDs around the outside of the screen, rather than behind the display, the whole unit is only half as thick, measuring 3.2 cm from front to back.
There are four HDMI ports, two USB ports and Ethernet and WiFi connectivity. The last two both work with the DLNA 1.5 standard and also give users access to Philips' Net TV service.
The built-in media player is good: USB storage devices formatted using NTFS were supported, and the majority of video formats we tried worked without any problems. However, only newer versions of MKV files were readable; older files didn't work. Individual subtitle tracks and chapters weren't supported either.
The remote control looks great, but doesn't, unfortunately, have backlit buttons.
As you'd expect, Philips has included its Ambilight technology—the 'Spectra 3' version in this case. Three rows of LEDs along each side of the TV and at the top project coloured lighting that matches what's on screen on to the wall behind. If you're really scared of the dark, then it can be fun, and it also helps make black levels look darker.
Ghosting and Input Lag
Our lab tests didn't get off to a good start for the 50PFL7956H. We measured an average ghosting time of 19 ms, which certainly isn't great. The average for other TVs is closer to 12 ms, so you can expect to see some ghosting in films.
The input lag is also pretty high. We recorded a delay of 66 ms, or four whole frames. Avid gamers will find themselves at a disadvantage if their rivals are using CRT displays or LCD monitors with no input lag.
Image Quality: 2DBoth this TV and the Philips PFL7606H have a polarised IPS display that's compatible with 3D, and the results are pretty similar.
With the default settings, the picture is bright and eye-catching, so you need to move from 'Standard' to 'Cinema' mode, which leaves things much better. Once you've done that, the 50PFL7956H has perfect colour reproduction, with a deltaE of 1.7, smooth, even gamma and a steady colour temperature of 6500 K.
Contrast ratio in Cinema mode: 900:1
The only real problem is caused by the use of an IPS display. Like most other TVs that rely on this technology, the contrast here is pretty weak. We measured a contrast ratio of 900:1, meaning that blacks look washed out and grey if you're watching with the lights off. Rather than enjoying a movie in the dark, we suggest you leave a minimal amount of light in the room—something the Ambilight system provides. It might only give you the impression that the blacks on screen are nice and deep, but it works pretty well.
Our opinion on the 21:9 (or 2.35) aspect ratio hasn't changed since we last tried it on the 58PFL9956 Platinum. The 2560 x 1080 pixel resolution isn't appropriate for the 21:9 aspect ratio, because HD films are encoded at 1920 x 1080 pixels. And when you're watching a 2.35 film, only 1920 x 817 pixels will be used, the rest remaining as black bars above and below the screen. For more information about this particular aspect, you can read our review of the 58PFL9956H.
As is often the case, SD content ends up looking a bit blurry when you upscale it to HD, and boosting the sharpness is a useful tweak. We got rid of nearly all of the filters found in Philips' Pixel Precise HD system, but the 100 Hz mode and the HD Natural Motion filter keeps ghosting and jerkiness in check.
Despite the relatively weak contrast, the 50PF7956H still manages to suffer from clouding. As you can see in the photo above, light leaking out onto the display is particularly visible in the corners of the screen, which can be annoying when watching a film.
Image Quality: 3DFor this more affordable 21:9 TV—the 'Platinum' version is the more expensive of the two—Philips has used passive 3D. This system relies on lighter, more comfortable 3D glasses that are much cheaper to produce because they don't contain any electronics. The flipside is that the vertical resolution is halved, falling to 1920 x 540 pixels, because very other line is reserved for either the left or the right eye. You can sometimes spot the individual lines if you're closer than around 2.5 metres.
The vertical viewing angles are also pretty narrow. If you move more than around 20° away from the centre line, crosstalk becomes visible, leaving some viewers seeing double.
But if you're sat right in front of the TV, and far enough back, the 3D picture looks good, with objects really appearing to jump out of the screen and as much depth of field as with active 3D technology. That's complemented by how much easier passive 3D glasses are to use: the lenses are polarised, rather than tinted, so there is less of a drop in brightness, and the overall experience is much less tiring for the eyes. Better still, crosstalk is largely absent, despite the display not being particularly fast.
Here's what we saw through the glasses (Philips 50PFL7956H above, LG 55LW980T below):
Two pairs of glasses are included, but we would have preferred to see five or six to be sure to have enough for the whole family or to have our friends over. Passive glasses aren't very expensive, so it's a bit tight of Philips not to give more.
Green area: good. Orange area: satisfactory. White area: unacceptable.
Treble and mid-range sounds (from 180 Hz to 10 kHz) are well covered, but there isn't much bass.
The 50PFL7956H produces pretty good audio, covering a wide range of frequencies from 180 Hz to around 10 kHz without too much distortion. The bass, however, isn't always there, so you'll be better off with a speaker system for watching films.