Big on screen and big on price, but the HD picture quality is to die for
Superb HD pictures
Good build quality
Get ready to empty your wallet
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Philips' Ambilight-gone-wild Aurea HDTV may be getting the lion's share of attention right now, but it's worth sparing a thought for the other models in the company's range, like the 52PFL9632D – a largely wonderful 52-incher, that actually works out about £1,000 cheaper than the Aurea.
Despite the lower price tag, the 52PFL9632D offers the same Perfect Pixel HD Engine suite of image processing technologies as the Aurea – as well as an extra 10in of screen and a superior contrast ratio and brightness rating (according to Philips).
It lacks the Aurea's full-frame Ambilight Spectra lighting system, instead sporting a two-lamp setup, with one back-facing light on the left side of the set, and one on the right.
Full HD splendor
With a 1920 x 1080 resolution, the 52PFL9632D is geared up to display 1080p content in all its glory – and we're happy to report that high definition material looks the business on it.
First of all, the TV accepts pictures running at 24 frames per second, which means that you're able to watch hi-def movies at the exact speed at which they were filmed.
As well as having a more cinematic quality than movies running at 50 or 60Hz, these movies don't judder during camera pans and other steady movement – something that has often crops up when watching Blu-ray or HD DVD movies on some older sets.
Then there's the image quality itself. The Perfect Pixel HD Engine manages to elevate hi-def's glorious pictures to new levels of enjoyment.
Getting to grips with our HD DVD of Spartan blood bath 300, the 52PFL9632D sharpens up details and cleans up what little noise there is, doing the latter without removing the grain that's supposed to be present in the movie.
Motion is even more impressive, thanks to a new 100Hz Clear LCD mode that doubles the number of frames used. Many new LCD TVs are now using similar technology, but Philips' implementation seems a notch higher than its rivals', as moving objects remain cleaner and sharper than we've seen before, and there is no smearing evident over fast-moving shots.
Colour reproduction is also a major strong point. The 52PFL9632D shows an aptitude for displaying clean, bright colours without going down the overtly saturated route.
Colours are vibrant, but not unrealistically so, and the 52PFL9632D is able to show gradual shifts in brightness without any off-putting contouring effects.
Impressive black levels can be a bit of a problem for LCD TVs, but the 52PFL9632D manages to deliver convincing blacks without obscuring fine details in the shadows. It's not up to the standards of a top class plasma TV, but it's very good for LCD tech.
We noticed that its blacks don't look particularly grey and washed out either, even when watching in a dimly lit room – always a good sign.
The features list makes impressive reading too. With no fewer than three HDMI sockets located at the back (all the latest v1.3 specification), plus a component video input, you can easily hook up four pieces of high definition kit at once.
Philips has also included a digital Freeview tuner, a couple of RGB capable Scart sockets and a range of basic connections on the side panel, including a USB port that lets you view photos and listen to MP3 music straight from a memory stick.
The only glaring omission is a dedicated VGA PC input, which Philips has decided to drop from its current range. Computer users will have to make do with one of the HDMI inputs instead.
As mentioned earlier, you also get two-channel Ambilight, which takes the dominant colours on the left and right portions of the screen and shines light and replicates them onto the wall behind the TV.
It's a cool, showy effect, and according to Philips it both improves picture quality (or at least the human eye's perception of it) and reduces eye strain. And if you don't like it, you can tone it down or switch it off.
Disappointingly, sound quality isn't as wonderful as the visual performance.
The speakers are largely invisible – incorporated into the glossy frame – which perhaps explains why audio isn't as crisp and clear as we'd have hoped. That said, the sonic output is fine for basic TV watching, gaming and movies.
The 52PFL9632D is an excellent HDTV. Its pictures, features and design are all first class, and the price tag isn't too off-putting. If you're in the market for a big screen with all the trimmings, definitely give this one some serious thought.
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