If we were basing this group test on features alone, this would win hands down.

The Philips 42PFL9603H's design, uses an innovative transparent 'shroud' that curves forward around the slender black bezel to bounce sound forward from rear-mounted speakers.

Ambilight Stereo, meanwhile, creates pools of coloured light at the TV's sides.

The 42PFL9603H is also darn well connected, with four HDMIs; a USB jack able to play .alb slideshows and MPEG video files, as well as the more common MP3/ JPEGs. There's even an ethernet port that enables AV file streaming from a PC.

Perfect pixels

There's no significant aspect of a TV's picture that the 42PFL9603H's Perfect Pixel Engine picture processing doesn't tackle; sharpness, contrast, colours, motion handling and noise reduction all get the treatment. These can all be tinkered with via the TV's endless picture setup onscreen menus.

Such outstanding flexibility does, of course, make the 42PFL9603H a rather intimidating prospect for technophobes. Especially since the processing is so strong that you really do have to regularly tweak aspects of it to keep pictures looking natural.

For instance, while the HD Natural Motion/100Hz combination is uniquely good at smoothing out/sharpening motion during relatively static footage, it can cause glitches with fast action scenes, and so is probably best left off for sports and action films.

Tinkering under the hood

Clearly, the idea of regularly having to tinker with your TV's long list of video settings isn't ideal. But the key point is that, provided you are willing to get your hands dirty with the 42PFL9603H, it's capable of producing pictures that are little short of extraordinary.

When it comes to sharpness, for instance, the Philips is breathtakingly clean and crisp with HD, but also elevates standard definition to a much higher definition state than any of its rivals.

The 42PFL9603H's colours, meanwhile, are so intense they almost hurt, yet hold onto terrifically natural tones that seem to play out over a noticeably wider gamut than any of our other contenders in this test.

The picture's contrast is extreme too, with ultra-bright peak whites sitting alongside some of the most impressive black levels around.

Add the 42PFL9603H's sharpness, colour richness and contrast together, and you get a picture that combines sensational solidity with subtlety.

With that cleverly conceived audio system also merrily throwing out a dynamic, clear and potent soundstage, it's fair to say that the 42PFL9603H really is in a class of its own. As it should be, given its price, we guess.