Philips' new generation of LCD televisions has raised the bar when it comes to providing features and performance, and this elegant 32- inch widescreen illustrates the fact perfectly. Buying it, you'll probably contribute to the national debt, but you get a lot back on the interest.
In a market of sometimes stark monotony, Philips has given its big TV a distinctive edge in style. The black and silver finish might not be particularly imaginative, but it works, and a narrow transparent plastic frame around the whole thing rounds it off well. The TV isn't particularly compact for a 32-inch model, but as all the connections and the analogue tuner are integrated into the body of the screen, it doesn't need an external AV box.
There are basic AV connections on a side panel, including S-Video and headphone ports, while the bulk of the sockets are located at the rear of the TV. At first glance, the line-up seems meagre: you get the regulation trio of Scarts (two of which are compatible with RGB video), a smattering of audio connections and a DVI input.
Component video is left out completely, which seems a little odd given the otherwise plentiful supply of features and functions found on the TV, but thankfully the DVI connection is compatible with both PCs and AV kit, including all-digital HDMI gear.
Like the new 37-inch and 42-inch models already reviewed in previous issues, the 32PF9986 incorporates two of Philips' latest technological advances: Pixel Plus 2 and Ambilight. Pixel Plus 2 is a vastly improved version of the Pixel Plus image processing wizardry that has appeared on many of Philips' TVs in the past couple of years.
It makes basic analogue TV images look surprisingly crisp, but stick in a DVD and the difference is immense. Detail and depth of field is increased across the whole picture, but you notice it most in fine minutiae such as skin and the grain of wood, which clarify and sharpen almost to the point of a high definition picture.
All the while Pixel Plus 2 is working its magic (and it can be turned off, incidentally), you barely notice any distracting side effects or artefacts. We still don't recommend you use it with all movies, as it tends to make certain scenes look oddly realistic - as if they were filmed with a digital video camera - but there is the somewhat toned down Movie Plus setting, which works effectively with most films.
The Ambilight is intriguing: a backlight which changes colour and brightness depending on the material on-screen (you can opt to have it fixed in colour), affecting the way the eye perceives the image. The result is improved contrast and reduced eye-strain.
Audio has evidently been given thorough consideration by the designers, and the TV comes equipped with NXT speakers, a built-in sub, and Virtual Dolby Surround; the latter is often derided by purists as a mere shadow of 'real' surround sound, but it works well here.
Last but not least, we're happy to report that this is an extremely user-friendly TV. The automatic tuning is speedy, the menu is logically designed and the remote not only looks gorgeous but sits nicely in the hand.
And that's the end of the review. Barely a negative thought in mind. We love this screen. As we said, it isn't cheap, but quality rarely is.