- Review Price: £2600.00
With LCD prices plummeting faster than an overweight skydiver, there’s no denying that at £2,600, Philips’ 37PF9830 seems a bit on the expensive side. After all, you can get 37in LCD TVs elsewhere for as little as £1,300. But then to be fair, the 37PF9830 is no ordinary 37in LCD TV.
For starters, there’s the way it looks. With its black inner frame, slick silver ‘middle’ frame and further black outer frame, it’s strikingly pretty. Its svelte frame hides a couple of groovy design tricks, too. First, the seemingly plain left and right sides of the TV’s fascia are in fact stereo speakers. You can’t see them because they use NXT flat panel speaker technology, but we assure you they’re there. Fancy.
‘Secret’ design element number two becomes extremely unsecret as soon as you switch the TV on, as a blaze of coloured light erupts from either side of it, giving you your first glorious taste of Philips’ unique Ambilight technology. Ambilight works by using two fluorescent tubes built into the TV’s rear to pump out light coloured either in sympathy with what you’re watching, or else set manually to any hue you like. The processing which analyses the picture to automatically choose a sympathetic colour works continually too, providing a kaleidoscope of ever changing colours as you watch a film or TV programme. The version of Ambilight on the 37PF9830 even works in ‘stereo’, putting out one colour on the right and another on the left should the picture content dictate it.
This isn’t just some fancy design gimmick, either. The idea for Ambilight was borne out of independent research suggesting that casting a sympathetic aura of light around a TV can make the viewing experience easier on the eye and more relaxing. And from our experience, this really does seem to be the case.
Dragging our eyes away from the Ambilight effect for a moment, we find a decent collection of connections on the 37PF9830’s rear. Not least among these are separate HDMI and DVI digital inputs, both capable of taking either HD video or PC feeds. More HD goodness comes from a set of component video jacks, while elsewhere there are two USB ports and a multi-format memory card slot via which you can enjoy MP3, JPEG or ‘.alb’multimedia files played directly on the TV.
Other features of the TV are headed up by Pixel Plus 2 HD. Pixel Plus, for those of you not familiar with it, is a highly sophisticated Philips picture processing engine that delivers all manner of improvements to pictures, including better colour toning, superior edging, reduced noise and, most of all, enhanced fine detailing. As its name suggests, Pixel Plus 2 HD is the very latest, most powerful version of this technology, optimised for high definition pictures.
This latter point is important, since previous/lesser versions of Pixel Plus rather bizarrely have to actually downscale HD pictures to standard definition before they can then add their own extra detailing! Pixel Plus 2 HD works on HD in its native resolution, raising the prospect of the most detailed high definition pictures yet.
Another feature of the 37PF9830 that goes a long way towards explaining its relatively high cost is its native resolution of 1920×1080. This makes it one of only a handful of screens able to show full 1080i high definition sources without downscaling them to 768 lines or less. Now we’re talking specifications, other impressive claimed stats include a contrast ratio of 5000:1 (using the set’s Dynamic Contrast setting), and a response time of just 6ms – one of the lowest we’ve seen.
Before checking out if the 37PF9830’s native 1080 panel and Pixel Plus 2 HD processing makes all our HD dreams come true, it occurs to us that there is one glaring omission from this TV’s otherwise crowded feature table: a digital tuner. We know it’s hardly expensive to buy yourself an external Freeview receiver these days, but even so it’s surprising that such an otherwise cutting edge TV doesn’t save you the trouble.
Getting straight down to business by feeding the 37PF9830 HD signals from both an Xbox 360 and a JVC DVHS deck, the detail-boosting impact of Pixel Plus 2 HD is actually pretty amazing. HD images clearly exhibit even more texture and fine detail than normal, making you feel like you’re watching high definition times two.
Pixel Plus 2 isn’t just for HD stuff, though; it also works considerable magic on standard definition pictures from an attached Sky receiver, making the usually rather soft, unfocussed digital images look much sharper than we’re accustomed to seeing them.
The 37PF9830’s colours are exemplary too; among the most vibrant, solid, noiseless and naturally toned in the LCD world. Part of their impact, meanwhile, is down to the screen having an exceptionally far-reaching contrast range that leaves peak whites looking positively radiant while deep blacks are free of LCD’s common greying over problem. The set also handles rapid motion remarkably well considering how much pressure such material puts on the real time picture processing engine.
In fact, the only time the 37PF9830’s picture engine struggles is with low quality source pictures, be they a grainy old TV show, or a low bit-rate digital TV channel/DVD. For clever though Pixel Plus 2 HD is, it doesn’t always successfully weed out noise from true picture information. This means that sometimes it actually sharpens and therefore exaggerates a source’s grain and digital blocking artefacts.
But you can’t really blame a TV as classy as this for not liking to be fed a low quality diet. This is a premium TV and it expects to be fed a premium diet as regularly as possible. And anyway, if you don’t like what Pixel Plus is doing with a specific source, you can always turn it off for a bit.
We piped an action scene or two into the 37PF9830’s NXT speakers not, in truth, expecting very much. After all, similar speakers built into a previous generation of Philips LCD TVs were pretty darned average. But Philips’ engineers appear to have sat down with NXT over a few beers and come up with improvements galore, to the point where the amount of power, bass, and clarity now on show at least rivals if not betters the audio from the normal speakers found on other high quality LCD TVs.
The 37PF9830 is a true LCD TV masterclass. Yes it’s expensive. But what do you expect from a TV that manages to give you a native 1080-line resolution, more features than the rest of the LCD world put together, a sumptuous design, and arguably the best high definition picture quality known to man?
Score in detail
Image Quality 10
Sound Quality 8
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