Philips 30PF9946 review

Looks the business, and with a price to match

Our Verdict

A great budget option if you can do without prog scan and high def

For

  • Great looking picture

    Good value

Against

  • No hi-def/prog-scan inputs

One of the main advantages of building your own LCD screens rather than having to buy them from a rival manufacturer is that you can opt to sell off your older generation models at a discount to draw in the sort of people that wouldn't ordinarily be able to afford them.

This is precisely what's happened with Philips' delightful 30in 30PF9946 that you see here. Okay, so it might not offer the delights of Pixel Plus 2 processing, but it does sell for just £2,000 - or as little as £1,700 if you take some time to search online. This makes it the Dutch manufacturer's cheapest big screen LCD yet and potentially one of the year's best bargains.

The look is vintage Philips, with a rather large silver frame, curved to top and bottom and angled away at each side, and built-in speakers. Although old-fashioned, it's certainly not ugly.

Connectivity is underwhelming, though. There's just a pair of Scarts, only one of which can take RGB signals. Even worse, there are neither futureproof digital (DVI or HDMI) or component video inputs. This means there's no way of getting progressive scan or high definition signals into the screen.

Even the provided 15-pin VGA jack won't play ball. With progressive-scan DVD decks common and high-definition broadcasts due from Sky in 2006, this has to count as a serious early black mark against the set.

Our mood improves as we try out the excellent remote control and useful onscreen menus. These interfaces give access to what is, for the money, a solid set of features.

The highlight is Active Control, which continually assesses incoming pictures and (if you require it) the ambient light in your room, and makes suitable adjustments to the numerous picture settings accordingly. A contrast booster and noise reduction provide further assistance.

Performance

Happily, such assistance isn't needed, since the 30PF9946's pictures are far and away the best we've seen on a sub-£2k 30in LCD TV. Much of this success is down to black-level response. Black parts of the picture actually look black, not grey as on all the other budget (and some not-so-budget) LCD TVs we can think of.

As well as instantly giving pictures much more depth and solidity, this talent also boosts colours, ensuring levels of vigour and naturalness that elude all direct rivals.

Another huge bonus is the picture's sharpness. Even without Pixel Plus on hand to boost detail perception, images look pin-sharp and immaculately textured. Our concerns that a slightly older panel might result in smearing over motion also proved to be largely unfounded, with even the flurry of arms, legs, racquets and balls that was the US Open Tennis tournament failing to cause trouble.

Inevitably for a sub-£2k screen, the 30PF9946's pictures aren't entirely niggle-free. First, if you switch the TV into full Wide mode, small black bars remain visible at the top and bottom of the screen. Curious indeed.

Second, analogue TV broadcasts and, surprisingly, DVDs, can look a touch grainier than normal and more smear-prone than RGB-fed digital TV fodder. And third, it sure would have been great to see how progressive scan and hi-def sources looked.

The sound is average. There's enough power around to deliver good volumes, but as with many budget panel TVs, too much emphasis is placed on the midrange, meaning that busy soundstages can hit your ears rather harshly.

If the 30PF9946 could take progressive scan or HD, you'd be looking at an absolute dead cert Best Buy review here. But it doesn't. If you have an inkling that you might one day fancy some hi-def or progscan action, you're just going to have to save up a few more pennies and look elsewhere.

But if you're just after a cheap LCD TV that knows how to make standard analogue TV, digital TV or DVD sources look great, this Philips will do nicely.