Once in a while a flat-panel set comes along that defies the laws of TV design, boasting an appearance so original and extravagant that it makes grown men drop to their knees and cry.

Philips' 42PF9831D is one such TV. To start it comes with Ambilight Surround, the latest version of the company's acclaimed system which casts coloured light around all four sides of the TV.

Despite Philips' claims about its picture quality benefits and how it creates a more relaxing viewing experience, there's only one reason why people love Ambilight - because it looks damn cool.

To make the most of this feature, the gorgeous glossy black frame around the screen is surrounded by a larger white frame, onto which the light is cast. This makes it possible to get the full benefit of Ambilight even if the TV isn't against a wall.

Of course, there's more to this TV than just looks, and being a Philips set it's packed with more cutting- edge technology than a space shuttle. Chief among its processing features is ClearLCD, designed to combat the traditional problems associated with liquid crystal technology such as smearing over motion and black levels. We'll spare you the technobabble, but the end result should be cleaner, snappier moving objects and deeper blacks.

Also on board is Pixel Plus 3 HD, the latest version of Philips' picture processing technology, which adds improved colour processing and MPEG noise control to its long list of image-enhancing capabilities.

Philips has also included Overdrive Control and a Dimmable Scanning Backlight. The former speeds up the reaction time of the set's crystals, cutting their response time to just 6ms, while the latter can light selected pixels for shorter periods, and so improving contrast and black levels.

Sharp and speedy

Elsewhere, you'll find a digital TV tuner and seven-day electronic programme guide (EPG), and an impressive range of multimedia inputs, such as two USB ports, a seven-in-one memory card slot and an Ethernet port. A wide range of file formats can be played back using these sockets.

Picture quality is sensational thanks to the fact that ClearLCD keeps every one of its promises. Black levels are the finest we've seen on an LCD set, while quick movement is free from smearing and artefacts.

ClearLCD is helped along by Pixel Plus 3 HD, which noticeably ups the levels of fine detail in the picture without introducing all sorts of messy processing artefacts (unlike previous versions of the technology). This system works wonders with both high- and standard-def fare, which means you don't have to worry about the quality of your source. Superb sound quality rounds off an exceptional performance.

While the 42PF9831D might be expensive, but the money gets you a sumptuous LCD TV that you'll be proud to have as the centrepiece of your lounge.