Philips 32pfl9705 6

Considering it costs £1,300, the 32PFL9705's pictures ought to be among the best we've ever seen.

The number of strengths they display is really quite spectacular - so numerous, in fact, that it makes it difficult to dissect in the normal way.

The more we watched the 32PFL9705, the more one particular aspect of its performance stood out: its contrast. For the latest generation of Philips local dimming direct LED technology does a wondrous job of delivering deep, rich blacks within the same frame as bright, punchy whites and vibrant colours.

What's even more impressive about this is the way the set manages to reproduce shadow detail in its dark bits, such as the texture in Bond's coat as he sits in his target's office in the black and white sequence at the start of Casino Royale.

Shadow contrast performance

Struggling with shadow detail is generally accepted to be a weakness of direct LED technology, but the 32PFL9705 overcoming this traditional problem brilliantly.

Colours are also exceptional. They explode off the screen in truly dazzling fashion, injecting new life into Blu-rays and TV shows we thought we knew inside out.

What's even better about this is the fact that the exceptionally rich saturations are amazingly natural in tone; there's no sense of them being forced into moving beyond the bounds of video reality. No other small LCD we've seen has ever managed to reproduce skin tones with such a striking combination of vibrancy and authenticity.

Sharpness

Then there's the picture's sharpness. Philips' processing has long led the way in this respect, and 32PFL9705 continues the trend.

HD images are spectacularly crisp and full of detail. Anyone who doubts that hi-def can make an impact on a screen as small as 32in will need about one second with the 32PFL9705 to have their mind changed.

What's more, we're not just talking here about high levels of detail. For also playing a hugely significant role in the 32PFL9705's clarity is its motion processing. We've long believed Philips' HD Natural Motion system to be the most powerful suppressor of LCD motion blur and judder, and this is borne out again by the liquid smoothness and total clarity of moving objects on the 32PFL9705.

The power of the 32PFL9705's Perfect Pixel HD engine makes its presence felt in sublime style, too, with standard def material. In fact, it's able to add so much detail and sharpness to standard def images, while also being clever enough to identify and remove source noise, that the results often make standard def images; even really quite low quality broadcast channels resemble high-definition.

All these picture quality features add up to the best video performance we've seen from a 32in TV to date.

Setting up

The only caveat is that it is possible to mess pictures up royally if you don't spend time learning your way around, and then regularly revisiting, the TV's long list of picture tweaks. For instance, while there's abundant evidence that Philips has really improved its recurring issue of processing side effects for the 9705 series, you still need to treat HD Natural Motion with kid gloves.

We never used it above its minimum setting, for anything higher causes too many twitches and glitches for comfort. And while its minimum setting works well for films, we turned the feature off completely during fast-moving sports footage.

We'd strongly suggest you don't use the Super Resolution feature either unless you're watching something extremely soft and fuzzy, since it can tip pictures into looking gritty and noisy.

Then there's the Perfect Contrast feature. Here again, while it definitely enhances the picture, we would only use it on its Minimum setting, since anything higher can cause over-obvious brightness jumps as the image content changes.

Local dimming issues

The sheer aggression and vibrancy of the 32PFL9705's picture, meanwhile, occasionally causes the operation of the local dimming system to become too obvious.

For instance, during the opening credit sequence to Casino Royale, you can sometimes clearly see localised blocks of light and saturation variance as the TV adjusts clusters of backlights in response to changes in the image.

And so as a trail of red blood seeps out onto a bright green backdrop, you can see the green around the seeping blood trail shift in tone until it looks quite distinct from the rest of the green it's supposed to match.

This problem is particularly overt if you set the Dynamic Backlight system to Best For Picture, ironically, so we left this feature set to Standard for the majority of the time. Though you might find it best to turn it off altogether if you're watching a very bright, colour-rich animated film.

There are two final issues you should be aware of. The first is that the 32PFL9705 struggles a bit if viewed from an angle of around 40° or greater, since from there you can clearly discern the haloing effect caused by local dimming, where cloudy grey auras spread beyond the edge of bright picture elements when they appear against dark backgrounds.

The other issue might affect gamers, as we detected a slight degree of input lag, where there is a small time difference between the picture leaving a source and arriving on the screen. It's not massive, but it is noticeable, even using the TV's provided game picture preset.

Crucially, though, these latter two problems are the only ones you can't get round by tweaking the TV's settings. Everything else is just stuff to you need to take care with to get the very best out of what is ultimately a benchmark-setting performer.