As always, we began our evaluation by setting the television up in our darkened lab and adjusting the picture for optimal home-theater quality (see the Tips & Tricks section for our complete settings). To do so, we used the Personal picture preset and chose the Warm color temperature. We also performed a service-menu-level calibration, which did improve the television's grayscale performance somewhat (see the Geek box, below). We compared the Philips to a few other flat-panel TVs we had onhand: the Sharp LC-46D6U LCD, the JVC LT-40FN97 LCD, the Westinghouse LVM-47w1 LCD, and the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK plasma; then watched the Hitch Blu-ray disc played via the Samsung BD-P1000. We chose 720p because, as with the Philips 37PF9631D, test patterns revealed that the 42PF9631D resolved more detail with 720p sources.
Right off the bat, we were impressed by the Philips's ability to render a deep shade of black. The film's letterbox bars appeared darker than those of the JVC and the Westinghouse, for example, and only slightly lighter than the Panasonic's and the Sharp's. During the initial scene in the bar, the shadows near the seats and the pool table were relatively inky, as was the black sweater of Ben (Michael Rappaport). The depth of black added impact to every scene and also increased color saturation.
We still felt the Philips 42PF9631D looked a bit less saturated than it should have, however. In the scene with younger, nerdier Hitch (Will Smith) at Columbia, the grass in the quad, his skin tones and those of the girl, as well as her red sweater all appeared slightly less punchy than on the other displays. The grass was also yellower than we would have liked, a result of the Philips's inaccurate color of green. Blue and red looked good, however, and overall color temperature was acceptable in the Warm preset before calibration.
Although most displays we've reviewed recently haven't had any issues with false contouring, the Philips 42PF9631D did exhibit that artifact occasionally, In the bar scene, for example, there's a shot with Ben in the foreground and out of focus, and a couple of the shadows on his face took on precipitous edges that appeared smoother and more-realistic on the other displays. Similar artifacts cropped up in other areas, such as the sky behind the window in the office of Albert (Kevin James). We also noticed a bit more noise in some of the flat fields, such as the walls of Albert's conference room, and in shadows, such as the wood paneling behind his boss. These artifacts weren't so obtrusive as to be distracting in most scenes, but all of the other displays we had onhand did look a bit cleaner than the Philips 42PF9631D overall.
As we expected, the Philips stayed true when seen from off-angle, unlike the LCDs, which washed out more in varying degrees. Most plasmas have perfect screen uniformity as well, something few LCDs can claim, but in the Philips's case, we noticed slight discoloration across the screen. Mostly visible in bright fields, such as the white walls of Albert's office or the overcast sky when Hitch takes Sara (Eva Mendes) jet-skiing, it manifested as four distinct areas that alternated between green and red several times. It's not something that was visible in every scene, but it was unusual compared to other plasmas we've reviewed.
Turning from Hitch, we tested the Philips 42PF9631D's ability to handle 480i standard-def sources via its component-video input, using our trusty HQV test disc, and results were mostly good. The set resolved all of the detail of the 480i source, as it should, and also passed the 2:3 pull-down test quickly, eliminating moiré in the stands behind the race car. The waving American flag and the test patterns featuring moving diagonal lines did cause the set to display jagged edges, however, and we noticed that the detail shot, with the statue and the stone bridge, appeared a bit soft. Noise reduction wasn't nearly as effective as it was with the aforementioned 37PF9631D or the Sharp; even at the Maximum, the noisy shots of sky and clouds appeared only slightly less noisy than with NR turned off.
Ambilight To test the Ambilight feature we set the Philips 42PF9631D up in front of a large Da-Lite Da Mat movie screen, which helped maximize its effect. Of course the color of the surface behind the TV has a big impact on Ambilight; Philips recommends a white or neutral gray wall for best results. In the past we've complained that the Ambilight modes where the lights followed the onscreen action--the dynamic modes--distracted our attention from the picture, and that was the case again with the 42PF9631D. Once again the lights were most noticeable during dark scenes, when they seemed too bright, regardless of the brightness setting. Strangely, however, the Ambilights on the 42-inch plasma weren't nearly as bright as those on the 37-inch 37PF9631D LCD. Of all the dynamic modes, we liked the least intense one, called Relaxed, the best, but it still changed too abruptly. We also noticed disconnect between the lights and the screen material again contributed to distraction.
Then again, maybe we're just easily distracted; at least one CNET staffer who watched the lights didn't seem to mind the effect. We all preferred the static backlight, however, and the Cool White setting looked the most neutral. When we measured it, Cool White came commendably close to the ideal for a home-theater-quality backlight. It's an important benefit of Ambilight that, especially with a midsize television, it can help reduce the incidence of eyestrain when you watch TV in a darkened room. Of course, you could buy a backlight to use with any TV and get the same effect.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,452/6,992K||Average|
|After color temp||7,126/6,754K||Poor|
|Before grayscale variation||483K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||180K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.651/0.335||Average|
|Color of green||0.257/0.679||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.059||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|