The key black level and motion enhancements are happily joined on the 32PFL9604 by plenty of evidence of Philips’ traditional strengths. And so, for instance, colours are spectacularly vivid, exploding off the screen with a vigour but also tonal authenticity that’s very rare when you get below the 40in screen size.
Then, of course, there’s the phenomenal sharpness that’s been a key feature of Philips’ TV game for a number of years now. HD images look absolutely pristine, as exceptional levels of fine detail and texture are presented without a trace of harshness. But if anything it’s actually the 32PFL9604’s standard definition pictures that are the most remarkable. Not because they look better than HD pictures; clearly they don’t. But because they look more like HD pictures than they do on any other TV I can recall bar, possibly, Toshiba’s latest Resolution+ TVs. What’s more, it seems as if Philips has managed to add all of the extra detailing while at the same time completely suppressing the old dot crawl and edge-stressing problems that used to accompany Philips’ detail-boosting processing talents.
As ever, I’m bound to point out that the 32PFL9604’s pictures need regular visits to the TV’s onscreen menus to keep them looking their best with different types of source, especially where motion is concerned. And I still feel there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the presets the TV uses. For instance, when the TV detects a Blu-ray source and you’ve got the Cinema picture preset selected, is it too much to ask for a TV as apparently clever as this one to turn off all of its noise reduction routines automatically, rather than leaving them set to the softening ‘Medium’ level until you intervene and manually change things?
But the improvements Philips has made to its motion-handling processing do at least make trips to the TV’s onscreen menus less frequent than before, while the results of your efforts in picture quality terms are even more impressive.
Not content with outgunning its 32in rivals with its picture quality, the 32PFL9604 also blasts most if not all of them out of the water with its audio. A couple of unusually large mid-bass drivers sit boldly on the TV’s rear, while two high-efficiency dome tweeters are integrated into the TV’s front, and separating the speakers out in this way pays off handsomely. The volumes the TV manages to achieve without succumbing to a trace of distortion or muffling are prodigious, as is the amount of bass the set can produce without overwhelming the mid-range.
Trebles occasionally sound fractionally harsh at really loud volumes, but for most of the time they’re very impressive for their clarity and the way they help develop a sense of space in a busy audio sequence.
Philips hasn’t had the best time in the press recently, with tales of plummeting sales and earnings. But if the 32PFL9604 is anything to go by, it looks like the brand will at least have another clutch of positive reviews to help keep its pecker up through 2009. For this is yet another high quality, expansively featured and genuinely innovative TV that deserves to find a healthy following despite its relatively high price.