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Philips 37PF9631D review: Philips 37PF9631D

Philips 37PF9631D

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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9 min read

The silver remote looks pretty cool and has a decent button layout, with plenty of space between the keys and logical placement of the various functions. We would have appreciated illumination of some kind, but that's our only complaint. Philips's menu system is mostly intuitive, but we were annoyed that hitting the OK button took us back a level instead of advancing after we'd made a selection. One we got used to that, navigating the menus was relatively painless--although we did wish that the graphics for picture parameters didn't obscure so much of the screen. As with many Philips flat-panel HDTVs, the 37PF9631D uses Ambilight to differentiate itself from the pack. In the case of this set, the Ambilight is of the stereo variety, which essentially means that there are two multicolored fluorescent lights on the back of the television, one to either side. (Other Ambilight variations may place additional lights above or below the screen.) When activated, the lights can be set to cast a constant color on the wall behind the set--Color mode--or to follow the onscreen action, becoming brighter or dimmer and casting different colors as the picture changes. A variety of modes are available with different rates of change, brightness, and separation, which determines how the right and left lights react independently); you can also adjust the hue of the Color setting or choose from three preset colors.

6.6

Philips 37PF9631D

The Good

Built-in backlighting can help reduce eyestrain; produced a deep color of black; uniform picture across the screen with wide viewing angle; attractive design.

The Bad

Inaccurate color; only one HDMI input and no dedicated PC input; cannot change aspect ratios with HD sources; no independent input memories; side-mounted speakers increase width.

The Bottom Line

With a built-in backlight, attractive looks, and a decent picture, the Philips 37PF9631D makes a case for spending a bit more.
Intro
Philips has, by now, established its maverick street cred by installing Ambilight on a large number of its flat-panel HDTVs. The 37-inch 37PF9631D LCD TV is one of the least expensive, and its back panel does indeed bear those two multicolored banks of fluorescent lights, designed to shine upon the wall behind the set, either mimicking the action onscreen or providing a constant color. We strongly prefer the latter effect, but tastes vary and some viewers might like the dancing lights--hey, they're definitely more entertaining than most prime-time TV shows. Ambilight aside, the Philips 37PF9631D is a capable-enough flat-panel LCD, with a slick design and ample features for most setups. Its performance exhibited solid depth of black, countered by color temperature that could certainly have been more accurate. All in all, the Philips doesn't match up to the best LCDs out there in picture quality, but it does hold its own, and some buyers might feel Ambilight is worth the slight premium. The Philips 37PF9631D cuts an eye-catching figure, with a thick, glossy black border surrounding the screen and the black speaker grilles. The only accent is provided by the big Philips logo and the matching silver stand, which sets off the all-black panel nicely. Unlike most LCD TVs available these days, the 37-inch Philips 37PF9631D has side-mounted speakers, so its overall look is much wider than normal for sets of this size. Its dimensions follow suit, totaling 38.9 by 27.8 by 10 inches (WHD) atop the stand; divorced from the stand, the panel measures 38.9 by 24.5 by 4.5 inches.

Aside from Ambilight, the 37PF9631D has fewer features than most LCDs in its price range. Its native resolution, 1,366x768, is standard for the breed, which allows it to display all of the detail of 720p HDTV programs. All material, whether HDTV, DVD, or standard television, is scaled to fit the pixels. The Philips lacks picture-in-picture, so it can't display two programs at once by itself, and it also lacks the ability to freeze the picture. Naturally the 37PF9631D has an ATSC tuner for pulling in high-def stations over the air.

Philips includes a fine selection of six aspect-ratio modes for standard-def sources, but you don't get any with high-def. It does however, offer limited multimedia capability. A USB port on the side panel can interface with thumbdrives to display digital photos and play music files on the TV.

People who like to adjust the picture will probably be disappointed that the Philips 37PF9731D lacks any kind of independent input memories. Instead, it offers just one Personal preset that applies to all of the inputs, making it impossible to adjust different sources separately. None of the five picture presets can be adjusted--doing so just reverts to Personal, erasing all of your settings in the process. We also missed having a backlight control, which, in other LCDs, can be adjusted to achieve better black levels.

The range of additional picture controls includes three adjustable color-temperature presets, among which Warm comes closest to the standard; a digital processing menu offering Pixel Plus and Standard choices (see Performance); four steps of dynamic contrast, where Off was the best choice since the others modified light output on the fly; four levels of noise reduction; a color enhancement control that's best left off to maintain the best color temperature; and four steps of active control, which, for critical viewing, we left set to Off as well, because it modified the picture on the fly.

Another picture adjustment we did like is what Philips calls Nudge. By pressing the directional keypad you can shift the position of the picture to the right or left with HD sources, and with standard-def sources you're able to also shift it up or down.

Connectivity on the Philips 37PF9631D is below average. Unlike most LCD displays available these days, it has just one HDMI input instead of two, which limits the amount of equipment you can connect to the TV directly. In addition, the set provides two A/V inputs that both offer a choice of component-video or composite-video, another with S-Video or composite video, an RF-style antenna input, a digital audio output, and an analog audio out. There's also a side-panel A/V input with composite and S-Video alongside the aforementioned USB port. To connect a PC, you'll need to monopolize the HDMI input and utilize your computer's DVI output along with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter; resolution is limited to 1,024x768.

The picture quality of the Philips 37PF9631D had its good and bad points. It exhibited some of the deepest black levels we've seen on an LCD, which lent plenty of punch and depth to the picture. On the flipside, its color accuracy left something to be desired, especially in darker scenes.

As always, we began by setting the 37-inch LCD up in our darkened home theater and adjusting its picture for optimal quality in that environment (for our full picture settings, see Tips & Tricks above). We chose to leave Ambilight turned off for the most critical portions of the test, but see below for our impressions. During setup, we noticed that even the Warm color-temperature preset became quite blue in the darkest areas, and despite giving the set a service-menu-level calibration, we couldn't improve this aspect much.

Once the Philips was adjusted, we arranged it next to a few other flat-panel sets we had on hand--namely the Sharp LC-46D6U LCD, the JVC LT-40FN97 LCD, Philips's own 42-inch 42PF9631D plasma, and the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK plasma--and slipped SWAT into our Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player. Note that we used the player's 720p output, because according to our tests, 1080i looked softer; we recommend using 720p with the Philips whenever possible.

It wasn't long before the two most noticeable aspects of the Philips's image quality came through. The depth of black it produced, from the letterbox bars to the black guns and the underside of a helicopter, to the shadows as the team descends from the roof into the back halls of the bank, was very good--nearly as deep as that of the Sharp and the Panasonic, and noticeably deeper than the JVC's. As always, deep black levels contributed plenty of impact to the image, and also helped increase color saturation. We did notice that shadows didn't have quite as much detail as with the plasma, but they were comparable to other LCDs' in the room.

The other aspect we immediately noticed, however, was not so desirable. The dark areas of the picture, especially those letterbox bars, near-black shadows, and dark police uniforms, were tinged with too much blue, more so than on any of the other sets we had on hand. This was due to the set's inaccurate color temperature in dark areas, which persisted regardless of which preset we chose or what we did to calibrate the Philips. Luckily, it didn't extend into brighter areas, which generally exhibited much more accurate color, although they still weren't as good as we'd like to see. Color accuracy wasn't helped by the Philips's slight red push, which limited saturation somewhat, and its significant de-accentuation of green areas, which made areas such as the grass on the training range appear less saturated than we'd like to see. Finally, the primary color of red was off by quite a bit, causing red areas to appear somewhat more shifted toward orange than they should.

As we mentioned above, resolution patterns revealed that the Philips 37PF9631D delivered superior sharpness with 720p sources than with 1080i. It was difficult to see the difference between the two in program material, so it's not a huge issue, but we recommend going with 720p when you can. In its favor, the Philips didn't introduce any edge enhancement when we turned the sharpness down all the way.

The Philips showed better uniformity across its screen than many LCDs we've tested. When the image went black, there was only a slightly brighter area on the left edge, which basically disappeared on almost all program material. Compared to other LCDs we've seen, the 37PF9631D stayed relatively true from off-angle, although its darker areas did wash out somewhat more than did those on the Sharp, for example.

When we ran the Philips 37PF9631D through the HQV test DVD via 480i component-video to evaluate its standard-def performance, the results were mixed. It passed the 2:3 pull-down test well, quickly engaging film mode to eliminate moving lines in the bleachers behind the race car. It also aced the noise reduction sections; engaging maximum DRN cleaned up the noisy images extremely well, with little loss in sharpness. The Philips did little to smooth the jagged edges in moving diagonal lines, however, and details in a stone bridge and a gold statue were somewhat soft. We tried engaging the Pixel Plus processing in many of these tests, and it did sharpen the edge of moving text slightly, so we'd recommend leaving it engaged.

Ambilight
Next, we tested the Ambilight feature. As in the past, we didn't find the modes where the lights aped the onscreen action--the dynamic modes--all that desirable. The lights shining on the back wall tended to distract us from the action, especially during dark scenes when they seemed too bright, regardless of the brightness setting. Of all the dynamic modes, we liked the least intense one, called Relaxed, the best, but it still changed too abruptly. In a scene from SWAT in a dark restaurant, for example, our attention to the film was diverted by the sudden increase in the intensity of the backlight as the shot switched between a mostly dark wide shot and a mostly light close-up. Soon afterward, the light seemed to become too red, then dimmed for little reason. The 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.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 9,441/7,069K Poor
After color temp 7,918/6,502K Poor
Before grayscale variation +/- 774K Poor
After grayscale variation +/- 256K Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.614/0.340 Poor
Color of green 0.270/0.601 Average
Color of blue 0.144/0.063 Good
Overscan 3.5 percent Average
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Yes Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good

6.6

Philips 37PF9631D

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6
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