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Philips 42PFL9803: Best LCD contrast ever?

For an LCD TV to get near the amazing black levels of plasmas, you need to ditch the traditional backlight and use LEDs, which is exactly what Philips has done with its latest Ambilight TV

TVs

The world has gone LED crazy -- you can't throw a light bulb without hitting something lit by LEDs these days. Your TV is no exception, with companies such as Samsung and Sony offering models with an LED backlight. Philips wants in on the diode action, so its Cineos PFL9803 Ambilight range features an LCD panel backlit by white LEDs, rather than the traditional cold cathode florescent lamps.

The advantage of LED backlighting is that it's possible to dim or switch off the illumination in areas of the screen that are supposed to be dark. This means Serenity fans should be able to appreciate the inky blackness of space without a nasty grey tint to it, and horror fans should be able to enjoy suspenseful night-time scenes as they were intended by the director.

The backlight in the 42-inch 42PFL9803 is provided by 1,152 individual LEDs, which are arranged into eight rows. Each row is, in turn, made up of 16 LED 'segments' and each segment has nine LEDs. Philips claims this means you'll see a contrast ratio of around 2,000,000:1, which is better than pretty much anything else on the market. We remain sceptical, as always, when it comes to manufacturers' quoted figures.

But this wouldn't be consumer tech without some outrageous claims being made, so we weren't surprised when Philips told us this TV can produce "deeper blacks than a plasma". While we're sure the TV is capable of some impressive light-absence, we remain concerned about scenes with a bright object on a black background. Such material can cause LED backlights to produce halos round the bright area. This is especially noticeable on credits at the end of a movie, which are generally white text on a black background.

Ignoring the LED, this is a fantastic TV, offering all the latest picture-processing modes Philips has to offer and the Ambilight Spectra 2 system, which we're really fond of. It's also a 100Hz TV, with a claimed response time of 2ms, which should mean there's no motion blur, even in the fastest-moving sports.

You also get four HDMI inputs, which is about the correct number for a TV this size, and of course the usual array of component, VGA, Scart and composite inputs. The 42PFL9803 costs around £2,000 -- which puts it in Pioneer LX-5090 territory -- and we're getting a review sample in very soon, so we'll be sure to tell you what we think.

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