Philips' flat TV output never ceases to astound us: it seems that hardly a month goes by without another of the brand's screens landing on our test benches. It's also one of the most versatile manufacturers around, releasing LCDs (and one plasma) ranging from 15in to 42in, and both budget and high-end sets. This latest offering, the 15in 15PF8946, fits nicely into the 'budget' category, at around just £350 - but does it live up to its predecessors?

Added value

With the usual silver finish and tapered edges, it isn't going to win any design awards - but then who wants a 'style TV' of this size? At 15in, the 15PF8946 will no doubt find a home as a second-room set in the bedroom, kitchen or study, and in this respect it boasts two handy, space-saving features that should certainly catch the eye - PC compatibility (so the set can double up as a luxury monitor) and an FM radio tuner. Dolby Virtual audio processing - for giving more 'oomph' to movie soundtracks - and a contrast booster are also on-board, both of which are slightly unusual at this size.

Connectivity is less surprising, with just the key video essentials of RGB Scart, S-video and composite sitting alongside the above-mentioned PC input. A second Scart input would have been nice, but were weren't really expecting one at this price.

What we do expect a second-room TV to offer is ease of use, and here we have no complaints: a deceptively simple remote control links up nicely with the no-brainer on-screen menus.

We're pleased to say that the 15PF8946 doesn't mess with Philips' winning streak when it comes to picture performance. First on the hit list is the fine detail response. Footage from our test DVD, the patchy but sometimes-hilarious Anchorman, was sharp and textured, and even the tricky skin tones of the film's ensemble cast retained detail.

What's more, black levels are impressive. Dark picture areas certainly aren't immune to the 'greying over' that often afflicts LCD - just check out the dark background as Will Ferrell dive-bombs into a swimming pool at night - but this set does a better job of delivering a believable, textured black than we commonly find at this price point.

Clean colours

Colours, meanwhile, manage to be both vibrant and natural - the latter point being something that often trips up small, low-cost LCDs. There's no colour bleed or 'fizzing', and even the rich hues from our test disc's '70s costumes were free of dot crawl.

We're not saying the 15PF8946 is perfect, however. It exhibits traces of image lag on movement, while small strips of backlight seepage are sometimes visible at the top and bottom of the screen. And we've already mentioned that there's room for improvement in terms of black level.

Still, audio is better than we expected. The speakers manage good volumes without rattle or distortion, can handle a good pop tune through the FM radio tuner, and even deliver a bit of bass and soundstage width.

Despite our criticisms, the 15PF8946 betters our expectations in most areas, and offers the versatility required of a second-room set. Another victory for Philips.