With a price tag far higher than any of its immediate rivals, Philips' 42PF9731D has to pack a mighty punch if it's going to justify an hefty outlay.
This 42-inch TV gets off on the right foot thanks to an robust, yet pretty, design rounded by Ambilight Surround, which projects pools of coloured light sympathetic to what's on-screen around the TV's frame.
The 42PF9731D is well connected with two HDMIs, a PC input, and a component video input being joined by outstanding multimedia support in the form of two USB sockets, a memory card reader, and an Ethernet link for streaming content from a computer. The final thing of note is a digital audio jack for outputting Dolby Digital sound - something that alerts us to the presence of a built-in digital TV tuner.
The 42PF9731D's onscreen menus hold a staggeringly long list of tweaks and features, the main highlight of which is Pixel Plus 3 HD.
This version of Philips' acclaimed Pixel Plus picture processing system adds some key new noise reduction routines, so that you can enjoy all the customary Pixel Plus benefits - more detail, richer colours, more natural edges and contours, etc. - without so many unwanted side effects.
The system also has MPEG noise reduction for cleaning up low-quality digital tuner sources, picture-in-picture options, a seven-day Freeview electronic programme guide (EPG), and an Active Control option that can automatically adjust a startlingly high number of picture variables in response to an ongoing assessment of the picture's content. And all this really is just the tip of the feature iceberg.
The only pity is that for all its immense flexibility, the 42PF9731D can't take accept 1080p sources. But it does at least map 1080i hi-def sources to its 'full HD' pixel count on a 1:1 basis, with no overscanning.
No TV in this class makes better use of its full HD resolution in delivering hi-def pictures. The high pixel count works in harmony with Pixel Plus 3 HD to deliver frequently breathtaking levels of fine detail. For instance, as the Grimms head for the real witch's home every last branch, twig and even leaf is so immaculately rendered that the world of The Brothers Grimm achieves a believability and solidity unmatched by any of its rivals. What's more, Pixel Plus makes good quality standard-def sources look almost hi-def.
Sharpness isn't the only thing the 42PF9731D's pictures have going for them, though. Colours during Delatombe's dinner party are also scintillatingly vibrant and saturated, while still retaining a totally natural flavour. Motion is handled cleanly provided you avoid the TV's weird Digital Natural Motion option. And the picture is remarkably clean and free of noise considering how much image processing is going into making it happen.
While the 42PF9731D's sonics aren't as class-leadingly good as its pictures, they're more than potent and clean enough to handle The Brothers Grimm's action set pieces with authority and richness.
The only thing wrongs with the 42PF9731D are its price and the lack of 1080p support, which could be a big problem if you want to get the most from a Blu-ray or HD DVD player. So this is something of a considered purchase, considering the high price tag.