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NB: This review has been updated. See additional note at the end for more details.
This is Philips' replacement for the highly regarded 37PF9830, boasting the same 37-inch 1,920x1,080-pixel high-definition screen, but some spanking new technology and a revamped design. That 1080-line panel makes it the highest resolution screen in the Philips range -- there are more pixels here than on the 42-inch flagship model, the 42PF9831D. Even so, its designers have not made it able to accept a 1080p source (more on the significance of that later).
It's a pricey television by today's standards -- around £2,500 on the high street and £2,000 online -- but recent Philips LCD efforts have been nothing short of stunning.
Thanks to its glossy black finish, this is a fantastic-looking set. Because it doesn't have the full four-sided Ambilight of the (it's a three-way one instead), Philips has not implemented the large, white background board used on the bigger set. While this can render Ambilight a little less effective -- the board on the 9831 acts as a 'screen' for the coloured light to shine on -- it also keeps the size of the television down. The result is a more compact TV that's prettier and a lot easier to live with.
The build quality is up there with the best, too. The 37PF9731D feels far more solid than similar-sized models from Samsung and Toshiba, and on a par with Sony's fantastically well-made.
The screen comes with a glass desktop stand, which swivels, but isn't motorised like the one supplied with Philips' previous 37-inch model. If you prefer, you can buy a floor-stand or wall-mount it.
A set of basic controls are located on the right side panel, while the left features basic composite video, S-Video and analogue stereo inputs as well as two USB ports and a 2-in-1 memory card reader.
Around the back you'll find the interesting stuff: two HDMI inputs; one component video input; two RGB-capable Scarts; a VGA PC input; coaxial digital audio in and outputs; analogue stereo in and outputs; centre channel speaker inputs and an Ethernet connection. The latter allows you to connect the TV to a home network for photo, video and music streaming.
It's a decent set of connections, but aside for the component video and coaxial audio ports, they're all stuck under the screen and can be a little tricky to get to if you've used the desk stand -- it blocks space and only leaves a bit of room. It's a minor issue but it can be annoying if you're plugging and unplugging stuff on a regular basis.
The remote is a nice-looking bit of shiny whiteness, and the controls are all in reasonably logical places -- so it gets a thumbs-up from us.
As we said earlier, this TV will not accept a 1080p signal, despite having a 'Full HD' 1,920x1,080 screen. 1080p sources are few and far between at this moment in time, but Blu-ray and HD DVD will soon be making use of it, along with the Xbox 360 and PS3 at some point in the future, so some will be a tad miffed that Philips has decided not to add support for it on its high-end tellies.
Tech-wise, it's disappointing, but we're leaning towards the opinion that only someone with superhuman vision will be able to tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p on a 37-inch TV. The screen is simply not big enough, and the picture is deinterlaced by the TV's internal processing anyway, which should eliminate the jaggies around moving objects -- so our advice is not to worry too much about it.
Resolution aside, this TV has a truly superb set of features. There's a list of picture processing modes as long as a Russian art film (Pixel Plus 3 HD, Clear LCD, Digital Natural Motion, Active Control), plus a three-sided Ambilight. For the uninitiated, the latter shines coloured light on to the wall behind the TV; the colours and brightness are determined by what is on screen at the time, resulting a more immersive viewing experience -- and less eye strain.
The picture can be adjusted in a huge variety of ways. There are the usual colour, contrast, brightness and sharpness settings to tweak, and all of the processing features mentioned above can be turned on and off, and some can be set at different levels. The menu system you use to do all this is nicely straightforward, and the fact you can set different configurations for different inputs (say a bright, non-processed picture for your Xbox 360 and a darker image with noise reduction turned up high for the built-in Freeview tuner) is a big plus point.
We should also mention the media playback functions. Thanks to the card reader, USB ports and networking capabilities, you can use the TV to view videos and photos and listen to music. Sadly, the implementation is poor -- the aspect ratio of videos cannot be altered, for instance -- and we suggest you look at it as merely an occasionally useful bonus feature, not a main selling point.
Like other high-end Philips LCDs, the picture quality here is nothing short of excellent. If you're viewing in the right conditions -- for example, with a little bit of ambient light in the room -- the black levels are truly stunning for an LCD. They're not up to CRT standards, but as long as you're not sitting too far off-centre they don't fall far short.
Colour reproduction is also a strong point. If you've ever seen a sunrise on a flat-panel TV, then you've probably seen the 'banding effect' -- where differing shades are displayed by contours of a colour rather than a smooth transition. That isn't the case here -- skies look really convincing.
Gamers will be happy with the smooth movement -- Project Gotham Racing 3 on the Xbox 360 glides along in blur-free brilliance -- and there's almost no judder thanks to Digital Natural Motion and Clear LCD. Sadly, these only work with standard-definition sources at present -- but hi-def still looks fantastic on this screen.
There are problems, though. The screen supports 1:1 pixel mapping, so every single pixel from, say, a 1080i Sky HD feed is displayed. Ordinarily this would be a positive, especially for owners of home cinema PCs, but Philips has messed up by leaving a bright green line at the top of the screen -- it's distracting. Expect a firmware update to rub this problem out before long -- but it'll also likely kill off the 1:1 mapping feature.
Edited by Kate Macefield
Additional editing by Kate Macefield
Update: Philips has informed us that the green line at the top of the screen is a result of a "gap" in the 1080i signal generated by certain sources. Sky HD is certainly one of the sources that causes the line to appear, and we had no trouble from our upscaling DVD player or Xbox 360.
The company would not confirm that a fix or update was on the way, but mentioned that viewers could avoid the issue by setting the aspect ratio format to "automatic". We found the automatic aspect shifting to be a little unreliable, though, as it tended to needlessly zoom in and squash certain material, and of course you will lose 1:1 pixel mapping by changing the format to anything but "full".
Further update: Cnet.co.uk reader Toby Cook has emailed us to let us know that Philips has now released updated firmware to solve this problem. It can be downloaded from the Philips support site and transferred to the TV using a USB memory key.