Philips Ambilight LCDs are the pretty young things of the flat-screen world. As well as boasting excellent picture quality and an abundance of features, they also feature swanky backlight panels that adapt to whatever's happening onscreen. This not only looks cool (and you can take advantage of Ambilight even when there's nothing on-screen), but it also boosts the perceived contrast of the picture as well. The result is a premium television that panders to both high-level home cinema fans and those more concerned with style.
While the 32PF9830 is one of the most expensive TVs in its size, Philips has included plenty of premium features to justify the price. Aside from Abilight, the set features a motorised table stand and Pixel Plus 2 HD, which is the best picture-processing technology around. The high-definition picture can't be beaten, but there are still some areas for improvement. The TV really needs a digital tuner and there are some connectivity issues, both of which we know for certain will be solved by the next model.
Discounting efforts from trendsetters Bang & Olufsen and Loewe, the Philips 32PF9830 is the coolest looking LCD TV around. It's up for debate of course -- other members of the CNET.co.uk team have said that the frame is too large and the Ambilight panels are distracting, but the understated style should appeal to fans of modern design. The motorised stand only adds to the allure.
Connectivity on the Philips is excellent, with three high-definition-compatible inputs, two of which are HDCP-compatible (for Sky HD). There's an HDMI input for digital video and audio, while the DVI input has accompanying stereo audio connectors. The component video inputs sit next to two coaxial audio inputs and one output, so you shouldn't have any trouble connecting a DVD player, as most of them feature coaxial outs. However, the Xbox 360 doesn't, so you can't actually play your 360 with audio unless you buy an adaptor. Philips' Web site suggests you buy a component-to-DVI convertor, but we think it will be easier to buy an optical audio to coaxial audio adaptor, which will be around £15. True, many buyers will run the 32PF9830's audio through home-cinema speakers, but it's an annoying connectivity issue for those that don't.
Standard-definition connectivity is also well catered-for, with three Scarts (two of which are RGB-compatible). Since the TV doesn't have an integrated digital tuner, you'll want to use one of these RGB inputs for your Freeview or Sky tuner, and possibly the other one for a games console. Lower-quality composite and S-Video inputs are located on the left side panel for easy access, along with the headphone socket.
The remote control and interface design are as good as they get, with a brand new sub-menu layout that hides plenty more advanced options. In addition to the usual picture and sound options, there are a number of tweaks that you can make to the Ambilight setup. The remote control is pleasingly heavy and the button layout is nigh-on perfect. We particularly liked the way you can turn Ambilight off at the touch of a button as well as being able to control a whole host of other devices such as DVD players and amps.
Where do we start on such a fully featured television? Philips' Pixel Plus 2 HD tech has been employed to great effect, taking high-definition material and making it look crisper than we've ever seen on an LCD. Philips provided us with a high-definition showreel from a PC, and the picture quality from Windows Media Video made us anticipate the arrival of Blu-ray even more. Picture quality is best described as the cleanest on the market -- with pure, deep blacks, no motion artefacting and a razor-sharp level of detail.
While extensive, the amount of picture-processing options available makes setup a lengthier process than we've seen on other TVs. When Philips came in to demonstrate the television, the representative set up the picture as he said he had it at home. The demonstration looked great, but when we took the television into a darker room and calibrated it for DVD, we ended up using quite different picture settings. We also tended to change settings depending on which source we were using -- some of the processing added an unnatural quality to analogue sources. Luckily, the TV memorises different settings for each of the separate inputs.
Ambilight is the clear talking point of this TV, and with the second generation of the technology Philips has really made it an attractive selling point. The lights can be set for a variety of modes, some of which are designed to relax the eyes, others are more dynamic modes for movie viewing. The two strips of light can now also act independently, meaning that each of the two lights emit a colour consistent with that side of the picture. True, this can be slightly distracting at first, and it's more suited to movies than fast-cutting videogames or TV, but you'll stop noticing it in minutes. It also gives the television more visible presence, with a picture that seems to stretch outside of the TV itself.
Philips doesn't promote it in the accompanying literature, but the TV features excellent multimedia functionality. It can play media from a variety of formats, including CompactFlash, Memory Stick, MMC, Secure Digital and SmartMedia. Cleverly, it can also read directly from USB flash drives, so if you grab some photos of the work party from a colleague, you can take them home and watch them directly back on the TV.
NXT's flat-speaker technology is also brilliantly hidden in the frame of the television -- in fact, there's very little evidence of any speakers being in the TV at all. While there is a subwoofer included, we found the speakers lacked some bass, and were more suited to television and videogames rather than movies. As we've mentioned, it's a shame that there's no integrated digital tuner with the television, although the allocation of Scart inputs means that there's plenty of space to plug in a Freeview box. We spoke to Philips about this, and they promised that its new range will be IDTVs and they will be launching in mid-2006.
Picture quality from the Philips LCD is superb from high definition, and very good from standard definition. We've seen good efforts from Panasonic and Sony recently, so the Philips has a lot to live up to, but these are certainly the best HD images we've seen. When you sit down and begin to watch some high-quality footage, you're presented with a picture that seems to drip with colour, something which is undoubtedly helped by Ambilight. Even up-close, we had a hard time picking out any dot crawl or colour bleed.
If you use Pixel Plus processing on standard definition, you might find some of the images over-processed and slightly unnatural. The lower quality the source, the more the processing seems to amplify its imperfections, so if you have a DVD player you'll want to use the component video outputs to ensure the best picture. Other than the artificial sharpness that seemed to occur on Freeview, Pixel Plus kept the signal solid and colourful, and if you turn the processing off then it looks just as good as the Samsung and Toshiba LCD TVs we've seen recently. This is the ideal LCD for buyers with high-definition and style considerations, and it just about manages to justify its premium price.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide