The tremendous popularity of flat-panel HDTVs shows no signs of slowing down, and it doesn't seem to matter whether they're plasmas or LCDs, as long as they're flat. Philips's 2005 lineup includes both technologies and doesn't do much to differentiate between them; the company's flagship 42-inch flat-panel LCD, model 42PF9830A, is a perfect example of plasma/LCD conflation. When turned off, it hauntingly resembles a similarly named 42-inch Philips plasma, the , at least until you compare the price tags--the LCD is quite a bit more expensive. We've always preferred the best plasmas to the best LCDs for home-theater image quality, but HDTVs such as the 42PF9830A narrow the gap considerably. It has a higher resolution than any 42-inch plasma, and its other image-quality characteristics are also improved, although it lacks the crucial ability to provide custom picture settings for more than one source. That complaint aside, the Philips 42PF9830A is one of the best-performing LCDs we've reviewed. The Philips 42PF9830A has an attractive two-tone design, with the area surrounding the screen tinged a glossy black, while the left and right speakers flanking the screen are finished in silver. The table stand is also silver, and the base has a clear plastic piece covering it. The base sits on a motorized swivel so that the screen can be rotated about 30 degrees left or right via remote control. This is a great feature especially for an LCD, which can look more dim or discolored to viewers who sit off-center. The Philips 42PF9830A measures about 49 by 27 by 4 inches and weighs 77 pounds.
The silver remote is long, slender, and weighty, giving it a substantial feel in the hand. The keys are logically laid out, and it was easy to use overall. We wish we could say the same thing about the internal menu system (GUI), which we found awkward and unintuitive to navigate. After a while, we got somewhat used to it. It's an improvement over previous Philips interfaces, but the company still has a long way to go before its new "sense and simplicity" corporate motto applies to the menus of its TVs. As we mentioned at the outset, the 42-inch Philips 42PF9830A LCD surpasses the native resolution of its plasma competitors--it has 1,366x768 pixels, while 42-inch plasmas currently max out at 1,024x768. The result is that it provides somewhat more detail with HD and computer sources, although the difference is slight. All sources, including HDTV, DVD, standard TV, and computers are scaled to fit the pixels.
As is typical with all HDTVs, the Philips 42PF9830A has some useful features and a few that have detrimental effects on picture quality. It also suffers from one glaring omission: unlike just about every other HDTV on the market, the 42PF9830A lacks independent memory per input. This is very limiting in terms of calibrating and optimizing picture quality for a variety of video sources and is a problem that virtually every other manufacturer in the industry has fixed. There is no excuse for it, and as a result, we docked it a full point in Features.
The Philips 42PF9830A includes one unique feature not found on any other brand of TV: Ambilight, which employs a pair of rear-mounted fluorescent tubes to illuminate the wall behind the panel. You can control the color and intensity of the backlights, choose from a number of presets, and set the lights to a constant color or have them imitate the colors on the screen, turning green during a wide shot of the football field and blue during a shot of the blimp in the sky, for example. As Philips's most-expensive LCD TV this year, the 42PF9830A boasts Ambilight 2, which allows the colored lights on either side of the rear of the panel to react independently of one another. For example, if the picture is of Big Bird standing next to a firetruck, the one backlight will glow yellow and the other red.
While some viewers might enjoy the splash of colored light, we recommend leaving Ambilight turned off for critical viewing. That's because the colored backlight skews your perception of the true color emanating from the screen, an effect that's detrimental to accurate color reproduction from the video source. Another problem is that, with some settings, the intensity of the light changes with the content of the picture, which we found distracting. If the Movie setting, which looked to be the most neutral of all the Ambilight's colors, were set to a neutral 6,500K gray--or were at least close--Ambilight would be a very useful feature for reducing reduce eyestrain in a dark room. Unfortunately, the Movie setting measured between 2,500K and 3,500K, which is way too red.
Otherwise, the Philips's feature set befits a high-end HDTV. The TV includes an ASTC tuner and is Digital Cable Ready, and while it lacks the TV Guide EPG found on many other HDTVs, that's no big loss in our book since TV Guide can be unreliable with digital cable systems. Other conveniences include picture-in-picture with both split-screen and inset modes, numerous sound settings, and six aspect-ratio selections for standard-def sources. Finally, Philips includes a USB input and a memory card slot that accepts SD, CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick media. Using a card or a USB keychain drive, you can listen to MP3 audio and view digital photos via the TV.
In terms of picture-affecting options, the Philips offers three selectable color temperatures: Normal, Warm, and Cool. Warm came closest to the broadcast color temperature but was still somewhat blue, while Normal and Cool were effectively bluer and bluest. Picture modes include Personal--the only mode that allows you to change the preset picture settings--as well as Rich, Natural, Soft, Multimedia, and ECO.
An Active Control feature automatically adjusts contrast and brightness by sensing the amount of light in the room and should be shut off for peak performance. The Dynamic Contrast feature boosts white level, a function that is unnecessary with a panel that is capable of such high brightness; it should also be turned off. A Color Enhancement feature is another gimmicky feature that should be disabled for the most accurate color reproduction.
Connection options on the Philips 42PF9830A are generous. Two HDMI inputs head up the digital connectivity, and while the panel lacks a dedicated PC input, you can connect a PC to either HDMI port at as much as 1,280x768 resolution. There are also two component-video inputs, one of which can be configured for RGBHV but overrides one of the A/V inputs with S-Video, and another that's independent but paired with only a coaxial digital audio input--as well as a second set of A/V inputs with S-Video. A CableCard slot is also on board. A coaxial digital audio output, a set of monitor A/V outputs with composite video only, and an RF input round out the rear jack panel. In addition, a headphone jack and a set of A/V inputs with S-Video are all located behind the left speaker on the side of the panel. Overall, we were impressed by the image quality of the Philips 42PF9830A. One of its strengths is the ability to produce a relatively deep color of black. Although its blacks are not as inky and rich as those of the best plasma sets, they are better than those of most other LCD TVs we've reviewed.
The Philips's color accuracy was certainly not perfect, but it was again among the best we've seen from an LCD panel. The 42PF9830A rendered a reasonably accurate red and green and a nearly perfect blue, while the color decoding pushes red only very slightly. Color accuracy on LCD panels is an industry-wide problem, with inaccurate reds and greens and very poor color decoding being the norm, so the fact that the Philips is significantly better than competitive models in these areas is refreshing indeed.
The video processing includes 2:3 pull-down in both the standard and the Pixel Plus modes, as evidenced by the pristine rendering of the opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection. This addition is new to Philips, which, up until now, didn't include 2:3 pull-down in any of its processing modes, and we applaud the company for it.
The panel's native resolution of 1,366x768 is not fully realized at the component-video inputs, where the horizontal resolution is truncated by about 15 percent, according to a 720p multiburst pattern. Thankfully, the HDMI inputs passed all the resolution of 720p, so we recommend using the HDMI inputs for your HDTV source in order to let the panel perform its best with HD sources.
Dark space shots from the excellent DVD transfer of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back revealed decent blacks, although not as good as the best plasmas. Bright scenes from the Seabiscuit DVD had solid detail and color saturation, and skin tone rendition was excellent thanks to a decent grayscale after calibration. There were no visible false-contouring artifacts in dark scenes, but there was a little bit of visible low-level noise.
HDTV from our Time Warner Cable HD feed looked very crisp with excellent detail and rich color saturation. Interestingly, there was more visible noise in bright scenes from HD sources than from DVD. Dark concert footage on HDNet appeared impressive for an LCD panel, with decent shadow detail and fairly rich blacks.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,425/7,550K||Average|
|After color temp||6,400/6,375K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,088K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 130K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.633/0.342||Average|
|Color of green||0.282/0.610||Good|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.070||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|