By the time we had to let the 42PFL9900D go, our only serious gripe with the Light Frame system was its performance with letterboxed programmes, such as films shown with an aspect ratio wider than the TV’s native 16:9. Unfortunately the TV’s Ambilight processors read the edge of the image to see how the lighting sources should react, so if there’s a black bar there, the lights on the bezel next to those bars are left continually dull and thus distractingly at odds with the frenetic colour action taking place on the sides of the TV where the picture goes right to the edge.
Thankfully, though, Philips agrees that this is a problem, and has issued a firmware fix that reads colour information deeper into the picture when you’re watching letterboxed material. This firmware update is now being applied on the 42PFL9900D production lines, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it. But if you do happen to get your hands on a sample that came out before the firmware update was introduced, call 0800 7445477 to find out what you should do.
Of course, all this Ambilight Spectra/Light Frame fanciness would be no more than sheep’s clothing if the 42PFL9900’s pictures turned out to be wolfishly bad. But they’re not.
On the contrary, they’re quite possibly the finest pictures yet witnessed on a large LCD TV. Detail levels, for instance, are truly intense, producing a near-3D solidity to HD footage, but also holding up remarkably well with standard definition sources (thank you, Perfect Pixel HD).
Colours are emphatically vibrant and rich, while also enjoying terrifically natural tones by LCD standards. Helping to make this possible, meanwhile, are some really impressive black levels which, though still not as deep and rich as those found on good plasma TVs, are certainly among the very best we’ve seen on an LCD TV.
Still more goodness comes from the 42PFL9900D’s class-leading handling of motion, as the triple combi of HD Natural Motion, 100Hz processing and the Clear LCD backlighting system leaves objects passing across the screen more smoothly and clearly than on any other LCD TV we can think of.
Perhaps the single most remarkable thing about the 42PFL9900D’s pictures, though, is the fact that the huge amount of processing that goes into making them possible seems to do its thing in ‘real time’ with nary a hint of any unwanted processing side effects like smearing or dot crawl. Result!
You might think from looking at the 42PFL9900D’s colourful bezel that Philips has forgotten to include speakers. But in fact, not only are they hidden away in there somewhere, but they actually sound pretty good, with solid levels of bass handling, a rich mid-range and more treble clarity than is customary. We experienced one or two minor moments of lip synch trouble, perhaps caused by the image processing slightly delaying the video signal, but such moments are far too rare to prove irritating. Though we guess such AV synch issues might cause die-hard console gamers the odd ‘issue’…
In wrapping this review up we’re clearly bound to point out that at the best part of three grand, the 42PFL9900D is prohibitively if not grotesquely expensive for a 42in flat TV. But then the 42PFL9900D is no ordinary 42in TV, as its dazzling if divisive design and matchless feature count make it more like something we’d expect to see from B&O than a mainstream brand.
In the end, since we’re not your bank manager, all we can do is tell you that a) the Ambilight Spectra/Light Frame system found on this Aurea TV works really well once you’ve ‘tamed’ it and got used to it, and b) the TV also happens to produce mind-bogglingly good picture quality. And these two reasons are more than enough to warrant us making the 42PFL9900D very much a Recommended product no matter how much it costs.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10
Sound Quality 8