The Philips 42PFL7603D looks almost as nice from the back as it does from the front.

The latest in a recent slew of flatscreens to benefit from '360º styling', the 42PFL7603D is decked out in a striking mixture of black and white, but beneath that handsome exterior lies some pretty serious TV technology.

There are so many features, it's hard to know where to begin.

The panel, for a start, is 1080p-capable, which futureproofs it for the foreseeable, the processing electronics (of which a little more later) are state of the art and able to handle and optimise the very highest quality feeds; there are four HDMI inputs as well as just about every other connection you can think of (and a couple more besides, including USB) and you'll even find eco-friendly technology touches such as a light sensor that combines with an intelligent backlight to adjust power usage according to viewing conditions.

Simple menus

The menu is Philips' usual mixture of easy-on-the-eye pastel shades and smart architecture that
manages to be comprehensive enough to satisfy hardened video freaks while remaining sufficiently intuitive for those of us with rather more pressing concerns than digital noise reduction.

The remote, however, is a bizarre departure from Philips' norm. Small and unadventurously styled, it looks like something you'd expect to find with a supermarket-bought set from an obscure manufacturer.

It's perfectly logically laid out, though, and despite being a touch fiddly, works well.

Powerful processing

Philips was one of the first big-name manufacturers to start banging on about image 'engines'
several years ago and its Pixel Plus series has always been at the forefront of this aspect of TV technology.

The Pixel Plus 3 HD on offer here renders both high and standard-def discs precisely and with masses of detail, but with the sort of naturalism and warmth that you'd expect to see in a cinema.

DVDs and Blu-ray discs look magnificent, with both benefiting from a broad and extremely accurate palette that is able to move from blistering intensity to carefully nuanced without breaking stride.

Passing the HD test

An HD copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a splendid showcase for the set's skill, with the frequent forays into eye-popping CGI matching up seamlessly to the verdant Highland hues of the scenery around Hogwarts.

Black levels are also notably good for an LCD, with the varying shades of darkness at the lower end of the register managing to remain distinct rather than merging into an inky sameness.

Even (and in some ways, especially) old black and white films scrub up a treat on this set: we were captivated by Black Magic that defied its 64 years to look fresh, detailed and free of grain, as if it were a modern movie that just happened to have been shot in monochrome for artistic reasons.

Everything else we saw on terrestrial TV looked pretty average, but that says more about the quality of broadcasts than the telly itself.

Ambilight magic

And then, of course, there's Ambilight. The surprising longevity of what at first seemed like a blatant novelty bound for the chop as soon as it failed to pay its way is presumably down to the fact that it works.

Okay, it won't magically polish a TV shopping channel up to look like an expensive high-definition Hollywood production, but the 'softening' of the image by the sympathetic diffuse glow definitely makes the experience easier on the eye.

Ambilight also makes the experience somehow more absorbing, so that you feel more involved in the picture; try switching it off after an hour or so and notice how divorced you suddenly seem to be from something in which you were completely immersed.

Having said that, the technology can be distracting when you're not used to it. In general, though, we like it and enjoy seeing innovation rewarded with success.

Precise audio

The Philips 42PFL7603D features a pair of backwards-firing subwoofers mounted in the rear panel to give the bass a bit of extra kick and these combine nicely with already above-average speakers hidden in the main chassis.

Soundtracks are precise and clear and have a degree of muscle not usually found in flatscreen televisions. The menus give enough scope to tweak the audio and the speakers are able to handle everything from daytime burble to barnstorming movie soundtracks with aplomb.

A grand for a telelvision is a lot of money, but the size, comprehensive features list and sheer overall quality of the Philips 42PFL7603D make it seem perfectly reasonable.