Philips 42PF9986 review

A luxury LCD at an affordable price

Our Verdict

A very capable and innovative Philips LCD

Previously dominant in the 42in market, plasma is now fighting head-to-head with LCD, and it is companies like Philips that are driving this change. The brand now produces only one plasma in its LCD-dominated range, so it's clear how the Dutch giant see things panning out...

A hunt online finds some discounts that make the 42PF9986 a luxury LCD at an affordable price - but what performance?

It shares many of the features found on Philips' 42in plasma. The display resolution may be different, with the plasma's ALiS panel being replaced by a 1,366 x 768 pixel WXGA one, but you still get the new Pixel Plus 2 picture processing system, as well as the Ambilight rear lighting arrangement.

Light fantastic

Ambilight creates a dynamic, coloured ambient light using a pair of lamps at the back of the screen. These lamps then change colour and intensity, depending on what is being shown on the screen at any one time. The idea - dreamt up by a crack team of Philips boffins - is that the light works with your eye to reduce the effect of glare on the screen, maximise contrast and ultimately cut down on eye strain. And, odd as it may sound on paper, it's quite effective in practice; the ambient light makes black areas look darker, for example.

The 42PF9986's styling is attractive - it appears to have had more attention lavished on it by the industrial styling team than the Philips plasma - and we have no complaints about the build quality.

Connectivity is a another strong point, with Philips providing three Scarts and a DVI-I input that is compatible with HDMI and both digital and analogue PC video. As with the rest of Philips' current range, there's no component video input, but with built-in progressive scan and the DVI-I input providing HDTV compatibility, we don't feel that this is a huge drawback.

Twice as nice

Pixel Plus 2 proves to be marked improvement over the first generation of the technology, increasing the effectiveness of the digital scaling while cutting down on the artefacts that accompany it. Images from our Lost in Translation test disc took on a more detailed, defined and 3D quality. This isn't always ideal for DVDs, however, as it can 'drain' the cinematic feel of a film, so Philips has wisely included a slightly milder Movie Plus mode, as well as a basic progressive scan setting that includes no scaling at all.

There is also a host of other picture enhancing features. These are too numerous to name here, but they improve contrast, movement, video noise and the like; all in all, this TV has a fantastic range of clever little technologies that work together to create an excellent picture. Colour reproduction is also strong, and while the contrast ratio of 500:1 doesn't sound particularly good, the picture doesn't seem to suffer. The delicate Lost in Translation scenes where Charlotte visits a Japanese temple looked both vibrant and textured.

The 42PF9986's audio output is another high point, with built-in Virtual Dolby and a reasonably effective subwoofer providing a touch of class. Flat panel NXT technology also means that almost the entire frame of the screen works as a speaker.

While the great LCD price crash is almost in full swing, plasmas are getting down to the £1,000 mark and, for now, will continue to attract those after a basic big screen. Yet, fully equipped with HDTV-proof connections and armed with superb colour reproduction, this is a very capable and innovative Philips LCD. It just misses out on the top prizes to Loewe and Sharp's superior blacks and overall picture prowess, but still gets an worthy thumbs-up from us.