This latest LCD set from Philips' remarkably extensive range isn't exactly the best specified on the company's books - but it makes up for this with a tempting price tag. Despite its relative cheapness the 42PF5421 looks pretty sweet, maintaining the glossy black finish of more expensive Philips sets, and feeling surprisingly solid.

Connectivity also bucks budget trends by including two HDMIs alongside the customary component video input for HD inputs. There is a little catch, mind, as the only way to get a PC signal into the TV is via an HDMI, since there's no dedicated VGA computer input.

With Philips currently offering more feature options across its flat TV range than any other brand, it's probably easier to say what this budget TV does not have. Namely a digital tuner, AmbiLight technology, ClearLCD technology, or any Pixel Plus processing.

So what do you get? Noise reduction and contrast boosting systems for non-digital sources, a 1,366 x 768 native resolution, picture-in-picture facilities, and Dolby Virtual audio processing.

Even without Pixel Plus around to help 'make things better', the 42PF5421's pictures are actually rather good. Particularly unexpected is how sharp the picture looks with HD sources, delivering levels of clarity and texture that do justice to higher-definition sources. Clearly Philips doesn't need Pixel Plus to deliver the HD goods.

Impressive hues

Next to impress is the set's black level. We measured its real world contrast of 555:1 after calibration. A very good figure. Colour fidelity is reasonable, able to explode into spectacularly vivid life where the picture content permits it. Even after calibration though, whites are a little on the blue side.

We liked the way hues are maintained even during darker scenes, a problem experienced with many of Philips' previous lower-end LCDs. That's not the only past problem Philips has improved on either, as moving objects in the 42PF5421's picture look noticeably less blurred and unfocused.

Only one thing takes the edge off the 42PF5421's HD performance: the appearance of minor grain with some HD pictures. Perhaps inevitably, though, the TV is less accomplished with standard-definition, as the absence of Pixel Plus is felt in a sudden upsurge in motion smearing and general noise. DVD pictures or high-quality channels from a Sky receiver still look fine, but the presentation gap between these and average-to-poor quality channels is unusually marked.

Sonically the 42PF5421 is respectable. It doesn't have the bass handling of its Loewe and Panny rivals, reviewed elsewhere, but it's got plenty of power and a sufficiently expansive mid-range to make casual viewing a pleasant experience. Provided you've got good quality sources to feed it - especially HD - this accomplished set represents really outstanding value for money.... if you can live without the convenience of an onboard digital TV tuner.