After being ever so slightly disappointed by the pictures of one of Philips' mid-range TVs last week, the 42PFL8404, I approached the 42PFL9664's images with a touch of trepidation. Especially as its claimed contrast ratio is the same 80,000:1 figure quoted by the 42PFL8404, which for me exhibited definite signs of LCD's grey mist problem when trying to show dark scenes.
But thankfully my concerns prove entirely unwarranted. The Perfect Contrast bit of the 42PFL9664's Perfect Pixel HD engine enables it to deliver clearly superior black level response to that of its cheaper sibling. I wouldn't say there's no greyness at all; Philips LED models can go even deeper, and thus portray more detail in dark picture areas. But by 'straight' LCD standards the 42PFL9664's handling of dark scenes is excellent.
Its motion handing is also very impressive indeed. Philips' motion handling processing has historically generated some serious debate in AV circles, with some people just unable to live with the visible side effects the processing engine can sometimes generate. But the latest Perfect Pixel HD engine takes another huge stride towards eradicating these artefacts.
They're not completely gone; edges of moving objects can still sometimes show a sort of shimmering halo around them, and really fast motion can occasionally flicker. However, the regularity and severity with which these problems arise is vastly reduced even over last year's flagship Philips TVs - so long, at least, that you're careful with some of the picture processing settings. For instance, make sure you only set the HD Natural Motion system to minimum for films, and potentially turn it off completely for anything sporty you might be watching.
With the pseudo-200Hz system also doing a subtly effective job of keeping motion blur out of the picture, it's easy to appreciate the phenomenal sharpness of the 42PFL9664's images. HD sources are portrayed with all their detail looking almost exaggeratedly intact. But even standard definition pictures look far sharper than usual, as Philips' exemplary rescaling processing avoids the softness and noise problems associated with lesser video engines.
Yet more good news concerns the 42PFL9664's colours. The set employs 17-bit RGB colour processing at a time when many other TVs are struggling to get past 12 or 14-bit, and as I'd expect this results in some of the most finely defined colour blends and tonal shifts around. This fact joins forces with the great black levels and sharpness to help the 42PFL9664's pictures look exceptionally solid and three-dimensional. As well as being subtly defined, colours are resolutely natural in tone, so long as you use the Standard or, possibly, Cinema presets.