Philips’ technological ambition hasn’t always been matched by perfect pictures, but this time the Dutch company has hit the jackpot. Dressed in an ‘anthracite dark’ gloss, this full HD 42in screen possesses just about every feature you could wish for.
More importantly, these features work so well they raise this TV well above the other brands that seek to make LCD a viable alternative to plasma for movie buffs.
Manufacturers are constantly trying to out-do each other with a variety of gimmicks, but Philips’ effort is one innovation genuinely worth having. Its Ambilight system is presented here in its ‘stereo’ format, whereby light sympathetic to what’s playing onscreen is emitted from illuminated strips around the screen edges.
This technology has been around for a few years, but the 42PFL9632D uses LED lighting in an effort to achieve more colours while using less power.
Beyond this novelty feature lies the real reason why we think the Dutch firm has at last got LCD right: its Perfect Pixel Engine. This comprises the latest 100Hz Clear LCD processing, which doubles the refresh rate on PAL sources in an effort to create the smooth picture that’s so essential on high-end sets.
HD Natural Motion is another successful innovation. It’s an update of Philips’ previous Digital Natural Motion system, which tended to over-process pictures and create a slightly unnatural look.
Other additions to the telly include a 14-bit colour engine to widen the colour palette and the ability to display 24fps material from suitably equipped Blu-ray or HD DVD disc spinners. More exciting is its use of scanning Hot Cathode Fluorescent Lamps (HCFLs) instead of a static backlight, which means the set should display deeper blacks than we’ve previously seen.
In complete contrasts, its suite of connections is ultimately disappointing, since there’s no dedicated PC input and its USB port is only capable of displaying JPEG pictures and playing MP3 music files. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it to recognise any video files.
Ease of use
As well as that new tech, the TV comes with a completely new remote control. It’s robust, laid-out well and offers problem-free control.
The Ambilight function can be set to various modes by a dedicated button. Easiest on the eye is a relaxed constant colour mode, which outputs soft light from each side permanently. It changes hue with every new image, but it’s far subtler than this set’s dynamic mode. With the light changing in intensity and colour, Ambilight can be distracting, but it can also be switched off very easily.
Calibration really couldn’t be easier There’s a choice of cool, normal or warm and the temperature of each hue can be customised and saved.
In fact, all of the advanced features, such as Perfect Pixel HD or HD Natural Motion, can be set to high, low or just switched off, depending on your personal taste.
Put to work on a recording of Ganges from the BBC HD channel, it’s immediately obvious that Philips has created a very natural picture. Close-ups enjoy a terrific level of detail, while only the quickest and harshest of camera pans suffer from any discernable judder. Vertical pans in particular create a blur and it’s fair to say that Philips hasn’t yet solved LCD technology’s most persistent problems.
It’s a decent effort though, and Perfect Pixel drags out more than enough detail from the superlative scenery and high-octane river shots.
The colour palette has indeed been increased to something close to reality. Shots of tigers, peacocks and monkeys are all natural-looking, while human skin tones are particularly impressive.
Fast action of a totally different kind is also treated well: 1080p pictures from Pro Evolution Soccer look stunning fed from a Xbox360 Elite.
Black levels are deep enough when viewed directly in front of the screen – and Ambilight definitely increases the perceived contrast – but the viewing angle in this respect is rather narrow. Blacks very quickly turn to blues if you watch from the sidelines.
Despite all this HD-specific trickery, it’s a simple show of SD that leaves the most lasting impression. Bold, detailed and completely clean of noisey MPEG artefacts, it’s quite simply the finest Freeview picture we’ve ever seen at this huge size.
The 42PFL9632D’s 8W speakers may sound weedy, but they do impress with everyday fare. The choice between stereo and Virtual Dolby Surround is not difficult: both sound unerringly similar, although stereo delivers a stronger dialogue track. Put a movie on the screen, though, and it’s only fair to use the set’s built-in coaxial digital audio output to route all sound to an amp.
Free of the erstwhile nasty side-effects, its advanced picture trickery is hardly needed. Great colours, clean pictures and only occasional blurring make this TV one of Philips’ finest and challenges plasma with its cinematic pictures.