The raison d'être behind Philips' latest TV is to offer 28in pictures from a big-name brand for as little hard cash as possible. A laudable aim, providing not too many corners have been cut to meet the price. There's nothing cheap about the 28PW6518's looks, at any rate. While we're not particularly big fans of its largewinged, grille-finished design, there's no denying that the solid build quality and angular sculpting are reasonably smart.

Connectivity fits the budget mould perfectly, however, comprising just a couple of Scarts on top and front AV jacks. In fact, it's slightly worse than normal as there's no four-pin S-video option. The 28PW6518's operating system is utterly foolproof, with fuss-free, sensibly organised onscreen menus and a clear, helpful, if unglamorous remote control.

Inevitably for this money, part of the reason the 28PW6518 is so easy to use is that there aren't exactly piles of features to wade your way through. We got some joy out of a contrast booster, noise reduction system, Dolby Virtual audio and a picture rotator for correcting distortions caused by the earth's magnetic field, but that's about it.

Where the 28PW6518 suddenly becomes hugely more likeable, however, is with its picture quality. This is a considerable cut above what we've come to expect at this sort of price point. The most unexpected treasure is the vibrancy of the colours. Compared to even the eminently respectable same-price Sony KV-28HX15, the Philips' colours are outstandingly rich.

The flattening dullness that afflicts so many budget TVs is almost completely side-stepped - especially as the 28PW6518 backs up the colour radiance with some exceptionally solid black levels. It's rare, indeed, to find such an accomplished contrast range - and resulting depth of field - for under £500.

The colours aren't merely noteworthy for their vibrancy, either. They also look wonderfully natural in tone - particularly during brighter scenes - and stay immaculately contained within their proper boundaries. The 28PW6518 also scores over the Sony with its fine detail response.

Picture problems

The Philips picture looks sharper and more textured - a feeling borne out by our laboratory tests. Also confirmed by our lab tests is the fact that the 28PW6518's screen geometry is very accurate, with next to no curvature even in its extreme corners.

There are, of course, one or two niggles with the 28PW6518's picture. There's some evidence of the 50Hz flicker, for starters, especially with tuner broadcasts. Also, tuner broadcasts look noticeably more noisy than RGB Sky or DVD feeds - to a greater extent, in fact, than with the Sony 28HX15.

Finally, edges can look a bit untidy thanks to a slight over-emphasis of peak whites and sporadic moiring interference. But come on, if the 28PW6518's pictures were perfect, there wouldn't be any point in anyone building a more expensive TV, would there?!

The 28PW6518's sonics stand out rather less than its picture, with its speakers failing to serve up anything like the bass levels necessary to really make a sound mix sing. Voices can sound weedy and explosions a bit forced and distorted. There is, at least, enough treble subtlety to give the soundstage a sense of space and clarity, however.

And there's certainly nothing remotely bad enough about the 28PW6518's sound to stop it from being a true budget TV star overall. Really, it's just not cricket for Philips to go making pictures this good available for just £400. After all, how is anyone else meant to compete?! John Archer