The Philips 32PFL9705's hottest feature is its use of LED Pro direct backlighting (where the lights sit behind the whole screen, rather than just around its edges), complete with local dimming: a very unexpected, but promising discovery on a 32-inch TV.
This enables the screen to adjust clusters of its 1,000 light-emitting diodes individually, opening the door to a much higher potential contrast performance than is possible either with edge-mounted LED or traditional, fluorescent lamp-lit (CCFL) LCD.
Being able to individually control the luminance level of different parts of the picture enables one part of the picture to be in almost complete darkness while an immediately adjacent section is at maximum brightness.
Philips, as you might expect, is keen to put a contrast ratio number on the 32PFL9705's local dimming contrast potential: 5,000,000:1. This is the same figure quoted by Panasonic for its latest NeoPDP plasma TVs, and so raises the exciting prospect of an LCD TV able to rival plasma in the black level department.
Many of the 32PFL9705's killer apps are more instantly obvious than the two we've covered so far. First, there's the set's design. It's not quite as dramatic as last year's 9000 Series, but its deep grey colour scheme offset by a slender transparent outer layer is certainly striking. It's not super-slim, but then directly-lit sets tend not to be.
Another neat design touch is the extremely solid metallic stand the 32PFL9705 ships with, since this can either support the TV on a desk, or rotate behind the TV to be used as a wall bracket.
It does no harm at all to its aesthetic appeal, either, that the TV sports Philips' Ambilight Spectra 3 system. This uses an array of LED lights down the rear edges of the screen to produce a coloured aura around the bezel sympathetic to the colour content of the picture.
What's particularly excellent about this in the 32PFL9705's case is that, as indicated by the '3' part of Ambilight Spectra 3, the coloured lights spill from the top of the screen as well as the left and right sides.
Having the top edge in play makes the Ambilight effect look more immersive and effective, and really helps emphasise just how uncannily accurate the system is at matching itself, in terms of tone and locality, to the colours in the image.
The only catch with Ambilight Spectra 3 occurs when you're watching 'Cinemascope', 2.35:1 material, with black bars above and below the picture.
For while the Ambilight system takes its colour cues from the image between the black bars rather than just reacting to the blackness of the bars, the gap the top bar creates between the picture and the glowing colours around the TV frame can be a bit distracting, especially if you've got the Ambilight brightness level set high.
Connectivity and web
Connections are prodigious and introduce an impressive number of really handy multimedia features. The set can go online, for starters, either via the built-in Ethernet port, or wirelessly. And unlike any other brand, Philips' NetTV system lets you access the Internet at large, rather than just a ring-fenced section of it.
An Opera browser is provided for the web, which means it's not quite so all-encompassing as a full PC browser and occasionally fails to render a page or two. But we really didn't come across many issues during our time with the set and enjoyed not having our surfing controlled in any way.
The interface for choosing hyperlinks and inputting web addresses works reasonably well, too, though an optional keyboard for use with the TV would be welcome.
If the full Internet scares you, Philips does also offer pre-selected content with a streamlined, TV-friendly interface.
Stuff available here includes Box Office 365 (a subscription 'channel' offering music from Audiolounge, and TV content from ITV's drama, film, comedy and kids channels plus the Cartoon Network), YouTube, DailyMotion, ScreenDreams (providing a selection of HD video films showing pretty nature scenes or artworks) and two photo album services: Picasa and MyAlbum.com.
The 32PFL9705's Ethernet/Wi-Fi capabilities also let it hook up to DLNA computers for multimedia streaming.
Or you can use either of two provided USB ports for playing back video, photo or music files.
Philips has equipped the 32PFL9705 with an SD card slot. And, rather handily, the main purpose of this is to give you a means of storing downloaded standard def or HD video content to 4GB or 8GB cards.
This storage option will doubtless seem preferable to some people to the stability issues and 'watch once and it's gone' situation associated with the usual downstreaming video approach.
The last interesting connections of the 32PFL9705 are its four HDMI inputs, three of which are built to the v1.3 spec, and one of which is a v1.4 affair offering an audio return channel.
The 32PFL9705 introduces one final new and excellent multimedia feature beyond anything we've seen before. If you install the provided Wi-Fi MediaConnect software on your XP or Windows Vista/7 PC enables the TV to function as a remote PC monitor, showing exactly what's on your computer screen, and enabling you to access content on that PC wirelessly using the remote control.
The appeal of this system is that it enables the TV to exploit all the applications you might have on your PC. And it works strikingly well, even handling high resolution video streaming with reasonable stability and quality.
All this and we haven't yet mentioned the other key strand of features that makes the 32PFL9705 a cut above normal TVs: its extreme levels of video processing. This kicks off with the newest version of Philips' Perfect Pixel HD engine.
As far as we are aware, this is the most powerful picture processing engine used in mainstream TVs and it works on every element of TV image reproduction, from contrast and colour to motion handling and sharpness.
Philips now makes almost every one of Perfect Pixel HD's elements controllable/adjustable via the TV's epic onscreen menus, as well as other key elements of the 32PFL9705's performance-enhancing processing pot like 200Hz (100Hz plus a scanning backlight) and the intensity of the local dimming process.
Omitting Freeview HD is bizarre decision, though, especially considering how expensive the TV is. We guess the company might argue that such a premium TV would probably be attached to an external HD tuner, most likely a Sky HD receiver.
We should also add that, unlike the larger sets in the PFL9705 series, this 32in model isn't enabled for 3D. Apparently Philips didn't think 3D was effective enough on such a small screen size. The lack of 3D also explains why the 32PFL9705 uses 200Hz while the larger models in the range employ 400Hz.