It's easy to be cynical about Philips' Aurea TVs. After all, shouldn't a TV be more about picture and sound quality than having loads of brightly-coloured flashing lights around its edges?
If you forced yourself to look past the marketing twaddle and gave the first Aurea time to grow on you, its eye-catching tech proved to be more than just hollow chest-thumping.
So I'm glad to see Philips persevering with its Aurea concept in the form of the 42PFL9903H. Especially as the improvements made to the technology here are quite considerable.
Better looking LCD
The basic chassis design is much more stylish than that of the original Aurea. The bezel is slimmer and fronted by glass, giving it a sleek, modern look. The set also sports the distinctive transparent shroud found on other current high-end Philips TVs.
More importantly, the Aurea Light Frame effect quickly proves much more accurate, and therefore more effective, than it was first time out This is due to two factors.
Firstly, thanks to the inclusion of 22 extra LED light sources, the placement of coloured light around Aurea II's bezel fits much more accurately with the content of the image you're watching.
So now if a couple of inches of the picture on the left are blue, an almost exactly corresponding two-inch section of the left-hand bezel will also turn blue, with less chance that the frame's blue part will be slightly distant from, or distractingly bigger than, the blue part of the image.
Secondly, the Light Frame's oscillating colours look much more like the colours onscreen. This massively improves the natural sense of 'flow' from the display to the frame.
At times the misplaced or mis-toned colours of the original Aurea used to jar, distracting you from what you were watching. But Aurea II's improvements make such 'dislocating' moments far rarer. Because of this, I lapped up the new Light Frame effect pretty much instantly.
Despite all the Light Frame/Ambilight improvements, there will still be people who not only aren't convinced by the whole Aurea proposition, but actively dislike it.
So it's good for Philips that the 42PFL9903H has more to offer, including four v1.3 HDMIs, a USB input for playback of a wide variety of multimedia formats from USB storage devices, and even a DLNA-certified Ethernet port for access to files stored on your PC.
The good times continue with the 42PFL9903H's AV performance.
Pictures come courtesy of the same screen employed to best buy-winning effect on Philips' 42PFL9703D, meaning they combine Philips' Perfect Pixel HD video processing engine with a Full HD pixel count and wide colour-gamut LCD display. The results are as mesmerising as the antics of the Light Frame.
Images look remarkably sharp and detailed. HD material pulls off the seemingly impossible feat of appearing to contain more resolution than the screen's 1920 x 1080 pixels, with awe-inspiring results. The detail level in the planetary flyby in WALL-E (Blu-ray) has never looked more acute.
Crucially, though, Perfect Pixel HD has a profoundly positive impact on standard-definition sources. In my opinion these look sharper than on any other Full HD TV from any other brand. This sharpness is added with remarkably little accompanying video noise. Objects move fluidly and with clarity.
Overt processing artefacts, which Philips sets have fallen foul of in the past, are fairly infrequent – provided you've accurately configured the TV's huge quantity of picture settings.
The 42PFL9903H's colour reproduction is excellent. Hues (while watching WALL-E on Blu-ray) are stunningly intense – especially when reinforced by the Light Frame.
They're also emphatically natural in tone, with more 'real' scenes – as opposed to CG robots – like those in the Chinese jail near the start of Batman Begins. This diverse response reveals the full benefit of the screen's Wide Colour Gamut backlight.
It's in the area of black levels where, perhaps, Philips has most to do to keep up with its high street rivals. With WALL-E there's notably less greyness during dark scenes than I still find on budget LCD TVs, and the picture remains bright enough to pick out plenty of background shadow detailing.
Our Tech Labs measured the Aurea II's contrast ratio at 5,118:1 after calibration – very good, but not up to the levels of some of its rivals.
I've seen more impressive black levels from some Panasonic, Samsung and especially Pioneer plasmas, and from recent LCD TVs sporting LED-backlighting – specifically models from Samsung and Sharp Now, while Philips has its own LED-lit LCD hitting the shops (the 42PFL9803H), the Aurea II misses out. Something for the Aurea III perhaps?
Oh, and I should mention that another benefit of the Light Frame's luminosity is that it handily exaggerates the screen's black level response. Everything's an illusion.
The Philips 42PFL9903H's sound doesn't let the side down at all. In fact, with two subwoofers tucked away on the TV's rear, you get a reasonably dynamic, wide-ranging and clear soundstage that goes well beyond the flat TV norm.
I mentioned earlier that you have to be careful with the 42PFL9903H's bountiful settings, and this is pretty much my main level of criticism.
To avoid nasty artefacting sneaking in, you do need to commit to regular visits to the TV's onscreen menus, tweaking various elements of the Perfect Pixel HD engine (especially the noise reduction and HD Natural Motion features) according to the specific demands of different source types.
Only you can know if you're willing to take on this level of commitment to ensure image perfection (or
as near to it as this set offers).
Personally I found it a small price to pay for the picture results the Philips 42PFL9903H delivers when running at its best – especially given the added impact they enjoy thanks to that much-improved Light Frame.