In the current economic climate, releasing a 32in TV costing £1,300 initially looks like utter madness. In fact, there can really be only two justifications for Philips charging so much for the 32PFL9705: either it offers something extraordinary on the design and features front, or else it produces a truly remarkable AV performance. Fair to say it’s got its work cut out, then!
It starts promisingly, though. For while it might not have as much flair as last year’s 9000 series models, it’s still extremely easy on the eye thanks to its exceptionally robust metal stand (which can cleverly fold over to become a wall mount) and polished deep grey bezel, wrapped up in the sort of transparent shroud thingy that’s becoming something of a Philips trademark.
The 32PFL9705 also boasts another more instantly recognisable Philips signature: Ambilight. In the 32PFL9705’s case, you get strips of LED lights on the left, right and top rear edges of the screen that can pump out coloured light in sympathy with the content of the image you’re watching.
As well as making long-term viewing less tiring, Ambilight now echoes the content of the image you’re watching uncannily accurately, in terms both of the tones of the colours produced and the positioning of different colours along the screen’s edges. For instance, if a picture has blue in the top left, red in the top centre and yellow in the top right, that’s exactly what will appear from the Ambilight system.
Be careful not to leave Ambilight set too bright, or it can become a lightshow distraction rather than a subtle, immersive enhancement to your viewing. Otherwise, it remains a feature we’re very fond of. Plus, of course, it sure helps the set stand out from the crowd in just the sort of way a £1,300 32in TV really should.
The 32PFL9705 also helps justify its price with its expansive feature count. For starters, it offers full Internet access courtesy of an Opera browser and surprisingly well-implemented text input system. We loved being free of the restrictions imposed by the purely 'ring-fenced' content provided by other brands’ online TV services. It’s just a shame Philips refuses to sell an optional wireless keyboard.
If you find the full Web browsing too time-consuming or fiddly, though, Philips also provides a selection of ring-fenced, streamlined content, including Picasa, ScreenDreams (a kind of HD video screensaver site offering pretty nature and artwork streams), DailyMotion, Box Office 365 (a subs-driven platform offering content from ITV and the Cartoon Network), and the inevitable YouTube.
In an ideal world, Philips would have added a few more service providers to this list since debuting its Net TV service last year. But the open Internet access remains a unique selling point.
Given the tendency for online TVs to force you to cough up as much as £100 extra for Wi-Fi dongles, it’s nice to find that the 32PFL9705 has Wi-Fi built in as standard.
This Wi-Fi system can be used, too, for streaming in a huge variety of video, music and photo file formats from suitable, DLNA-ready PCs. Or, in a new feature for 2010, you can actually reproduce your complete PC desktop on the TV. Once you have it working, this is a great way of simplifying PC access for people who struggle to get their heads round more traditional but less intuitive TV/PC interfaces.
We’re not done with the 32PFL9705’s multimedia obsession yet, either. For surprisingly it also allows you to record downloaded video – including HD - to 4GB or 8GB SD cards, and can play back photo, music or video files stored on USB devices courtesy of two USB inputs.