Philips has always been a leader in television picture improvement technology, and Pixel Plus is its best yet. Developed for CRT, it eventually found its way onto plasma sets, and was recently upgraded to the even-better Pixel Plus 2. So it was with some excitement that we checked out Philips' first plasma to offer Pixel Plus 2, along with its new innovation, Ambilight.

Ambilight continually changes the colour output from the TV's strip lights in sympathy with the colour content of the pictures you're watching. Philips developed this in response to research suggesting that such sympathetic lighting significantly reduces eye strain.

Black sheep

Less easy on the eye are the 42PF9966's aesthetics, which are quite unlike its LCD brother, the 42PF9986. Gone is the black and silver frame-within-a-frame approach, replaced by a more straightforward silver finish, given a touch of distinction by an unusual segregated speaker bar positioned along the screen's underside.

Connectivity highlights include a video-friendly DVI jack, three Scarts and a subwoofer line out. There are no component video inputs, meaning that most of us can only enjoy high-def or prog scan pictures via adaptors, which are supplied.

Analogue tuner broadcasts and an RGB Sky digital feed provided mostly - though not entirely - impressive pictures. On the plus side, there's the extraordinary extra detail added to the picture by PIxel Plus 2. With a high-quality, noiseless source we almost believed Sky had started its high-def broadcasts early! What's more, impact isn't reduced by haloing around sharp edges.

Park life

On the subject of colour, the 42PF9966's images possess a richness, vitality and brightness that few rivals can compete with - Jurassic Park looked simply marvellous, particularly in the colourful daylight scenes.

Also impressive is the lack of motion side effects, relative to the original Pixel Plus - objects travelling across the screen suffer little from Pixel Plus's shimmering haloing.

Ambilight warrants a positive mention, too. It proves much more than an afterdinner conversation piece, and seems to make long-term viewing more relaxing.

Before we get to the negatives, we should note that the 42PF9966 is a fair progressive scan and high-def performer. We're not entirely convinced of the merits of using Pixel Plus 2 with high-def, and found switching to prog scan mode yielded the cleanest results.

And so to the down sides. The biggest problem is noise with lower quality sources. While results are okay with artefact-free digital broadcasts, the moment things get a bit uglier the 42PF9966's processing tends to emphasise the shimmering around edges inherent to many digital broadcasts, and throws up smearing and image lag with analogue material. Broadcast sources can also suffer with fizzing over moving objects.

Our other main problem concerns contrast. The black level response is only average by today's standards, which means dark movies lack depth and background texture - that T-Rex scene simply doesn't have the impact it should.

The thin speaker strip under the screen slightly out-performs our expectations. It pumps prodigious volume levels without distorting too badly. There's a fair degree of attack to aggressive movie moments, and dialogue is generally clear.

The 42PF9966 is a good all-round performer, with bags of features. However, concerns over picture noise and contrast levels deny it top marks. Not quite the classic we hoped for - more Jurassic Park II than Jurassic Park.