The Philips 37PFL9603D is one of the finest 37in LCDs ever built.

It's loaded with top technology designed to battle LCD's shortcomings and produce a picture as smooth as a plasma's.

The high price is partly down to Philips' Ambilight technology, presented here in stereo form. This ingenious sympathetic lighting system is probably one of the main reasons why you might buy this mid-to-high-end LCD TV instead of a Panasonic or a Sony.

Ambilight appeal

Ambilight consists of two strip lights on the set's rear, one on each side. In its Spectra 2 embodiment, Ambilight is designed to increase perceived contrast by being easier on the eyes, depending on the settings you choose.

Operating at varying sensitivity levels, it can be brightened or dimmed, used as a permanent white light or completely switched off via a button on the remote control.

The 37PFL9603D's charms aren't limited to just Ambilight, though. A USB slot provides support for music, photos and even MPEG video from a memory stick, although similar potential is hinted at by dint of the inclusion of an Ethernet port.

Hi-def connectivity

Along with its 1,920 x 1,080-pixel screen, the four HDMI inputs will appeal to those with hi-def equipment. One is on a side panel next to the USB, although using either blocks part of the Ambilight strip running alongside.

With so many sources of video available, from digital and analogue signals and DVD, to three separate HD formats (720p, 1080i and 1080p) as well as games consoles, a good TV has to be versatile. Perfect Pixel helps the 37PFL9603D deal with whatever is fed into it by monitoring every pixel for colour, sharpness, contrast and detail.

Two of Philips' own 'wOOx' subwoofers can be found around the back of the panel and, although it
does mean the 37PFL9603D is a touch bigger than many sets, the sound is so good that the trend for ultra-slim LCD sets seems like a huge step backwards.

Picture settings

'Settings assistant' software guides you through a seven-step process that makes you choose between two very differently treated pictures.

Black boost, brightness, sharpness, colour and sound are all covered and the set stores your preferences for each input, although the regular movie/eco 'smart settings' also feature.

The remote is a let-down. While well-designed and weighted, the clickwheel is too sensitive and oft-used buttons are tiny. Dedicated buttons control the intensity of Ambilight.

If you connect up the TV to your home network, it can display lists and details of digital music, pictures and video on any connected PC or Mac. Both MP3 and JPEG files work fine. There's no 'screen off' mode if you want to use the TV as a hi-fi, but it does show you which track it's going to play next.

Dodgy black levels

Dynamic contrast really helps to counter the backlight's adverse effect on black levels and provides some impressively rich tones.

It's admittedly slightly overcooked, though, on Freeview and DVDs. In a dimly lit scene from Elizabethtown on Film4, individual airplane seats that are in shadow disappear into the murk.

More varied and brighter footage fares much better with contrast-heavy pictures providing a basis for some of the most vivid and expertly blended colours we've seen on an LCD screen for some time.
Although Freeview pictures lack depth, they're very clean for a panel of this size. The set's MPEG artefact reduction circuitry seems to work overtime on DVDs, too, which look clean and free of noise.

Using Perfect Pixel HD on Blu-ray discs creates finer detail, noticeably in close-ups of skin and hair, a touch more contrast and even better saturated colours. Most impressive is the HD Natural Motion option, which almost completely gets rid of the all-too-common judder that can plague 24fps playback.

The 100Hz Clear LCD processing works well enough, inserting frames to remove blur on fast-moving objects and camera pans, but it's not perfect. Hi-def games, meanwhile, are fabulously colourful and precise.

Enviable audio

Integral subwoofers combine with the wraparound invisible speakers to deliver sound that very few flat TVs can match.

Especially good with music, the 37PFL9603D is also kind to dialogue-heavy TV and even games, while its Virtual Dolby Surround widens the soundstage enough to deliver great effects in movies.

There's much to like about the Philips 37PFL9603D that goes far beyond Ambilight. Expensive as it is, the Perfect Pixel processing produces as natural an all-round picture as we've seen on a bigscreen LCD TV.