The Ambilight TVs are now pretty well known and although the concept of lighting the wall behind the TV isn't to everyone's taste, they're very well liked by many of the people who actually own one. Philips clearly believes in the technology too, and has continued to develop it with products such as Aurea taking Ambilight to a whole new level.
The Cineos 9703 doesn't have the forward-facing Ambilight, but it does now have the third, top-mounted strip that promises to improve the level of immersion you feel when watching a film or TV programme. But there's more to this TV than some flashing lights, so let's take a look at it in more detail. We tested the 42-inch version, the Philips Cineos 42PFL9703, which is available now for around £1,700.
The 9703 is one of the most gorgeous Philips TVs we've ever seen. The company tended towards rather dull-looking screens in the past, but happily those days seem to be behind them. The rounded edges and glossy black finish on this TV are very appealing indeed.
The front is largely undisturbed by any controls, with the only visible break in the bezel a lip that runs around the whole outer edge of the TV. We'll talk about this a little more later, but it's not just here for aesthetic reasons: it's designed to help with the TV's sound.
At the rear of the set there are three HDMI sockets and a pair of Scart inputs, as well as component and VGA for connecting analogue HD sources. On the side there's a fourth HDMI socket, as well as a USB connection, which as far as we can tell isn't especially functional.
The remote control is light, and has one especially interesting feature: a scroll wheel to navigate around the menu systems. In practice it can be a pain, sometimes skipping too far down a list or going a bit mad. We do like the one-button option to switch off the Ambilight, which you will want to do during the day, or when you're watching certain TV shows.
The 9703's stand-out feature is the Ambilight, which for the uninitiated projects a gentle glow of light behind the TV in a colour that complements what's happening on screen. There are several modes and many settings for you to play about with. For a start, you can either have the lights on or off. Then there are various brightness settings, which will probably be useful if you watch in a dark room, where there's no need to have it up full whack.
Interestingly, there's also an option to manually set the colour of the Ambilight. This won't be much use for watching films, but if you're just watching TV and want a little ambient light to reduce eye-strain, or if you don't want a constantly changing backlight, this feature might appeal.
Philips has told us it has adjusted the way the picture processing works in this range. In the past, it was possible to turn everything off, and have the raw, unprocessed picture on screen. Now the company has altered its strategy slightly, and maintains some processing at all times. If we hadn't seen the TV in the flesh, we might be annoyed by that, but we really didn't see any problems.
From the outset, we were impressed by the picture quality of the 42PFL9703. Our Blu-ray test material looked excellent in full 1080p: we thoroughly enjoyed both Spider-Man and our current favourite disc, Batman Begins. Some fiddling with the picture settings was required, but once backlight, colour and contrast were tweaked we found ourselves with a lovely picture.
Popping in our Live from Abbey Road disc yielded a beautiful picture, with natural colour and amazing, noise-free detail. Every hair on Mary J Blige's head was visible and there was simply massive amounts of detail everywhere we looked.
We tried to use the USB socket on the 9703 to look at some photos and play some MP3s, but we simply couldn't make it do what we wanted. We aren't sure what the purpose of this socket is, but we're fairly sure it isn't just there for decoration, so why won't it do such simple tasks?
The question on the tip of your tongue is obviously, "What about the Ambilight?" We were actually quite impressed with it. Movies definitely benefited from having it on, and watching TV with a backlight does help boost the apparent contrast -- even though it's an illusion. Adding the third light strip on the top of the TV makes a big difference compared to older Ambilights. It somehow seems less jarring than the two-strip system. We also think Philips has done a good job of improving the responsiveness of the Ambilight, which seems very sprightly and able to handle quick on-screen changes with poise.
Also impressive was the standard-definition Freeview picture. Noise was minimal and the TV seemed to do a good job of reducing MPEG compression artefacts. If you watch plenty of programmes on Freeview, you won't be disappointed at all.
The sound performance was very, very good. Listening to the music channels on Freeview proved this TV can generate deep bass, while maintaining control over the high end. That has much to do with the baffle around the edge of the TV we mentioned earlier. Essentially it's designed to pushout high-frequency sound without obstruction. It allows the speakers to be largely invisible, and lower-frequency sound comes from woofers facing out of the back of the TV. This arrangement makes a good deal of sense, given that bass is much less directional than the upper end of the sound spectrum.
If you were to watch a movie on this TV, we think you'd be very pleased with the noise it pumps out. It's certainly the best we've heard on an LCD TV in some considerable time, and more than good enough for day-to-day listening.
This is, without doubt, the best Philips TV we've seen for a long time. The picture quality is superb, and the Ambilight adds enough to the movie experience to make it worth considering, but obviously the feature also adds to the price, which is higher than most of the competition at this screen size.
In terms of picture quality, there isn't anything we can complain about. There are minor niggles with some aspects of the TV, but none are serious enough to be a problem. If you want a TV that matches this screen, you'll probably want to consider a Panasonic plasma or one of the recent high-end LCDs from Toshiba with the thin bezel.
Edited by Nick Hide