Can Philips' first 42in LCD panel - one of the biggest of its type to be commercially released in the UK - hold its own against the more familiar (and affordable) plasma alternatives?
So long as you like your technology futuristic, you'll love the 42PF9986. Its frame-within-a-frame-within-a-frame-within-a-frame design is aggressively styled with a capital A. And I haven't even mentioned Ambilight yet...
As with the other LCD screens in Philips' range, this 42in model doesn't have component video inputs, which will infuriate those with component-enabled DVD players. But all the accessories necessary to get analogue high-def and progressive scan feeds to the screen via a DVI jack are provided.
And at least the DVI jack should ensure that the 42PF9986 is compatible with Sky's high-def feeds when they begin next year. Elsewhere the main connection talking point is the provision of three Scarts.
There are plenty of features, so I'll keep it to a list:
Philips' Pixel Plus 2 processing for adding detail and countless other enhancements to the picture; Ambilight, whereby two fluorescent strip lights emit a backlight glow sympathetic to the picture you're watching to reduce eye strain; Active Control for automatically assessing incoming pictures and optimising their appearance on screen; noise reduction; dynamic contrast; NXT flatpanel speaker technology; and picture-in-picture tools. Phew!
The 42PF9986's image quality is extraordinary. The most unexpected revelation, especially versus the plasma screens in this group, is its lack of noise. A complete absence of those twin plasma nasties of residual green/grey dot crawl and fizzing over motion leaves the LCD 42PF9986 looking more direct and intense than any plasma in this round-up.
The picture is also predictably bright, with colours achieving almost frightening levels of vibrancy. And yet they seem astonishingly naturalistic.
As usual, Philips proprietary Pixel Plus 2 image processing delivers breathtaking fine details. But since there's less inherent noise than with plasma screens, the system works more effectively (in terms of reining in unwanted digital side effects) on this LCD model than on Philips' plasma alternatives - particularly when it comes to moving objects.
I'm not talking perfection, of course. Skin tones and other finely textured surfaces can take on a slightly waxy look; peak whites can look blanched; and dark scenes are not true black. With regard to the latter point, though, while the lower end of the contrast range might not rival a good plasma screen, it's a lot closer than you might suspect.
For me, the NXT speakers used on this set don't quite cut it. They look great and sound pleasantly toppy, but push them hard and they either fail to go deep or else phut quite unpleasantly.
The plasma versus LCD scrap has entered a new phase. And in the stunning shape of the 42PF9986, LCD has found a worthy (if expensive) early champion. Plasma should be afraid. Very afraid.