We love it when a TV manufacturer remembers that most people don't live in enormous mansions. It's great for us plebs who live in lowly flats and modest houses to have a TV with the latest technology and excellent picture quality. Philips' 9603 does just that, and tops it off with sleek styling and Ambilight
At some point over the last five years TV manufacturers seem to have forgotten that we Brits don't have massive homes. Generally speaking, your average TV room really isn't the sort of size that comfortably accommodates a 50-inch screen.
Philips seems to understand this, but also understands that not having a football-pitch-sized living room doesn't necessarily preclude you from wanting the latest technology and the best picture quality. As a result, the Cineos 32PFL9603 looks great on paper. Let's take a look at how it performs in the real world. It's available now for around £800.
The styling of the 32-inch 9603 is the same as its big brother, the 42-inch 9703. This is no bad thing at all, because the TV is incredibly well styled, and is certainly one of Philips' best efforts. There's a lip that surrounds the TV -- both a styling feature and a practical one, because the TV has two sets of speakers. One set delivers vocal-range sound (high and mid-range) out of a 'horn' and the others are located round the back, and deal with the bass and low-end sounds.
The front of the TV is unbroken, with no controls. There's only a power LED light in the form of a long white strip -- you expect this to double as a power switch, but it doesn't, which is a disappointment. If you want to adjust the volume, the channel or turn the TV on or off, there are some controls on the right-hand side.
At the rear of the TV are the usual connection options. You've got four HDMI sockets -- one of which is on the side, alongside a set of standard-definition composite inputs. You also get component and VGA inputs for analogue sources, such as games consoles and some upscaling DVD players.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the remote control at some point here. In the past we've not minded the Philips remote, which features a scroll wheel. But this method of doing things is starting to grate a little now.
The problem is that when going through menus it's too easy to skip over the item you want. This might sound like a minor irritation, but do it often enough and it'll make you scream. Most of the buttons on the remote are pretty good, but we could happily never use that wheel again.
One of this TV's big selling points is the fact that it features the same high-end picture processing as the more expensive models. This means that even though you've opted for the smaller screen size, you aren't penalised for doing so.
The main attraction is Philips' competent Perfect Pixel HD engine, which maintains a high standard of picture quality. These days you can't totally turn it off, but that's fine by us, because on the minimum settings it does a great job and is unobtrusive. We don't recommend cranking everything up though, unless you're a fan of over-processed pictures.
It's also fair to say that people will be drawn to this TV for its Ambilight feature. We were quite impressed to see the coloured backlights on such a small TV, although here it's the two-sided version, rather than the much more immersive three-sided version we saw on the 9703.
Let's dive straight in with Freeview performance, which was very good indeed, on the whole. We found the picture to be bright, with plenty of detail. A concern for us on previous Philips screens has been over-zealous picture processing. Happily, on this particular model, the company seems to have got it right. That didn't stop us from turning off dynamic contrast and some of the motion-smoothing functionality, however.
One setting we do think you need is the MPEG noise reduction -- though this isn't necessary on HD sources, it really helps with Freeview compression artefacts.
Hooking up a PlayStation 3 also resulted in a magnificent, bright image. If you're buying this TV to play games on, you'll almost certainly be thrilled -- and the Ambilight will also add another level to your game playing. LCDs usually make great gaming screens, and the Philips is no exception.
Burnout Paradise looked terrific, with wonderful sharpness -- do note that we needed to set the sharpness setting to 50 per cent when using the PS3 for games. Any more than that and it looked too rough around the edges; any less and it looked too soft.
Blu-ray films were, as you would hope, also brilliant. We stuck on the re-make of the classic film Rollerball, and while this version might not have any of the grit or appeal of the original, it does look stunning in HD. The 'natural motion' setting does a good job of smoothing out film judder, if you want to do that. We preferred to watch it in its more authentic, slightly juddery style.
In dark scenes we did notice that the panel's backlight was overly bright. You can turn it down quite a bit, but that almost always means either the picture is too dim or the blacks are washed out. Still, it's far from the worst we've seen, and the picture quality overall more than makes up for it.
On the face of it, the Philips Cineos 32PFL9603D is expensive. But since it features high-end performance and some welcome extras, such as the Ambilight, it's not your average TV -- and the styling alone almost makes it worth that little bit more.
In terms of competition, you won't find anything else as packed with features for this kind of cash. Even so, we'd suggest you look at the 32-inch version of the Loewe Connect 37 Media Full-HD+ DR+. If you want pretty styling, you'll probably like the 40-inch Toshiba picture frame TVs as well, but they're much bigger, so they won't suit everyone.
Edited by Marian Smith