The one thing that's been keeping CRT afloat - its cheapness relative to LCD - is looking increasingly tenuous. And there's no better evidence of this than Philips' 30PF9946 - a 30in LCD TV that can be yours for the eye-bulgingly attractive sum of just £1,600.
Don't expect this to get you the last word in designer beauty, though. While the 30PF9946 isn't ugly, its simple, slightly chunky frame is a far cry from the futuristic chic of Philips' new flagship LCDs. Don't expect £1,600 to buy you loads of features either. Philips' new Pixel Plus 2 processing? Gone. Philips' new AmbiLight technology? AWOL. High-definition compatibility? Er... Hang on a minute.
Not having Pixel Plus 2 and AmbiLight is fair enough, but no HD? With Sky's HD broadcasts, isn't this an unforgivable oversight on Philips' part? Maybe. More on this later...Connectivity is hit and miss. There are just two Scarts and no DVI, HDMI or component inputs. Boo. At least there's a 15-pin PC jack, which means the screen can double as a computer monitor.
Thankfully - and surprisingly after the uninspiring build-up - the 30PF9946's pictures are terrific. In fact, they're unmatched by any other sub-£2,000 LCD we've seen. For starters, we felt the lack of Pixel Plus 2's detail-boosting processing far less acutely than we expected to. Sharp scenes on our exceptionally detailed Star Wars: Episode IV DVD looked immaculate during our test, in terms of both edges and textures.
The Philips has scorching colours too. During bright scenes - like those amid the sun-drenched deserts of Luke's home planet - they're arguably more vibrant than even the brand's CRT TVs. With darker pictures, meanwhile, the 30PF9946 managed to retain an entirely natural tone, even with skin - both alien and human.
Tip-top colours usually partner a good black level response, and the 30PF9946 scores here too. As the Millennium Falcon first approaches the Death Star, the contrast range was good enough to let the 30PF9946 show masses of stars and plenty of definition on the Death Star's surface.
Philips has probably used one of its older LCD panels here to keep the price low - but thankfully that it doesn't suffer old-school LCD problems like colour banding and smearing. In fact, the motionpacked approach of the Republic's fighters towards the Death Star looked impeccably smooth and sharp. Smearing can crop up with TV broadcasts, but the only thing we could really complain about with Star Wars was a bit of grain.
The 30PF9946's sound isn't as accomplished as its pictures. The screen can go loud, but too much is crammed into the mid-range, causing sporadic harshness. And for someone who wants great pictures from a cheap but goodsized LCD and has no interest in Pay TV services, it's still nigh-on irresistible. But for anyone after the joys of HD and Pay TV, this is probably a non-starter. We reckon you'd be better off saving for the 32PF9986.