- Review Price: £1629.00
Until we get our hands on Philips’ new generation of Aurea TVs, with their unique light-frame design, the brand’s PFL9703D models represent the pinnacle of the brand’s current TV range.
So not surprisingly we’re pretty excited to have the 42in 42PFL9703D/10 sat in our test rooms today. Especially considering how impressed we’ve been recently with many of the sets further down the Philips TV tree.
Without doubt the simplest way to start getting a handle on what makes the 42PFL9703D tick is to consider what it does differently to the 42PFL9603D/10 we looked at a couple of weeks back. Especially as it turns out there are actually only two differences of note.
The first and potentially most important extra trick of the 42PFL9703D/10 is its use of a wide colour gamut LCD panel, designed to produce a more brilliant and wide-ranging colour palette. When we think how aggressive and vibrant colours have been on previous recent Philips sets, the thought of things being ratcheted up another notch is actually a touch scary!
The other big trump card in the 42PFL9703D/10’s hand is its step up to Ambilight Spectra 3 versus the Spectra 2 incarnation found on the 42PFL9603D/10. What this means is that the 42PFL9703D/10 pumps out coloured light from its upper edge as well as its left and right sides, producing a true ‘wall of colour’ around the TV.
While we’ll come back to the wide colour gamut situation later, we might as well make the point right away that adding the third side of Ambilight for the 42PFL9703D/10 really does have quite a profound effect, enhancing Ambilight’s immersive, stylish and relaxational properties to a surprising degree.
Let’s not forget, either, that the Ambilight 3 system is working its magic around one of the most attractive LCD TVs we’ve seen. The way the set’s slender glossy black bezel works in tandem with a distinctive transparent shroud curving forward around from the rear really is a sight to behold.
As is the fashion, these days, the 42PFL9703D/10 doesn’t sport any speakers on its fascia; that would be far too ugly, obviously! Instead sound emerges from around the TV’s rear, with the transparent shroud potentially helping to focus the sound forwards at your seating position.
One interesting little point about the rear-firing sound is that the 42PFL9703D/10 doesn’t have the WooX technology used to up the bass quotient of Philips’ lower-end 42PFL7603D LCD model.
On the surface it seems odd that the top-end 42PFL9703D/10 should ship without a performance-enhancing feature found on a lower-end model. But Philips claims there is method to its apparent madness. For it believes the sort of buyer likely to invest in a TV as luxurious as this one will likely have a separate sound system to run alongside the TV, and so is less likely to need the same sort of audio oomph as buyers of the cheaper model.
Personally, I would have preferred to have the WooX audio onboard the 42PFL9703D/10 so that I could make the decision myself as to whether I use it or not. But hey – I’ve always been demanding that way.
The 42PFL9703D/10 sports exactly the same connections as the 42PFL9603D/10 – and that can only be considered a very good thing. For highlights include four v1.3 HDMIs, an Ethernet port for integrating the TV into a home network, and a USB port for direct playback from USB devices of not just JPEGs but also MP3 audio files, .alb slideshows, and even MPEG video formats.
People have been banging on for ages about TVs converging the PC and TV worlds, but the 42PFL9703D/10 is one of only a handful we’ve seen that really has a credible stab at it.
At this point, it would be customary for us to dive off into the deep end of the really quite frightening amount of picture processing technology Philips has thrown at the 42PFL9703D/10. But we kind of feel like we’ve done this to death with our previous reviews of the 32PFL9603D/10 and, more pertinently, the 42PFL9603D/10, so we’ll keep things stripped down here and refer you to those other reviews for more in-depth analysis.
In stripped down form, then, what you’ve got here is the very latest and easily greatest version of Philips Perfect Pixel HD technology. This includes and improves upon the old elements for boosting motion handling, clarity and sharpness, and adds new components focussed on colour and contrast.
Plus you get 100Hz thrown in for good measure, just in case the so-called ‘HD Natural Motion’ processing doesn’t do a good enough job of sorting out LCD’s traditional motion blur and stutter problems.
As part of the new Perfect Colour processing element, meanwhile, you get a hugely powerful 17-bit colour processor reckoned to produce 2,250 trillion colours. Given how impressive this looked with the 9603D sets, we frankly can’t wait to see how it fares in the company of the 42PFL9703D/10’s wide colour gamut panel.
Feeling particularly mean, we put the 42PFL9703D/10 through its paces for the most parts with some sumptuous HD coverage of the athletics phase of the Olympics, viewed via a combination of BBC HD and Eurosport HD.
With its fast motion, sport is traditionally the bane of many an LCD TV’s life. But the 42PFL9703D/10 amazingly appears to love sport as much as I do.
Leaving me agog right from the off are the set’s truly spectacular colours. These are clearly better than those of even the already superb 42PFL9603D/10, with the wide colour gamut panel helping the new set show all the different national team colours with a level of jaw-dropping intensity I don’t think I’ve ever seen before from a flat TV. Mesmerising.
Of course, though, all the colour intensity in the world counts for zilch if it only comes at the expense of hideously forced, unnatural tones. But here again the combination of the wide colour gamut panel and ultra-sophisticated processing plays a blinder, delivering tones that are actually phenomenally natural in terms of both their toning and blend finesse.
It doubtless doesn’t hurt in this latter regard, either, that the 42PFL9703D/10 sports a Full HD pixel resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. And this fact also joins with the superlative sharpness-boosting elements of Perfect Pixel HD to produce an image of almost outrageous sharpness and detail.
Every pore, every rippling muscle, every tensed sinew, every bead of sweat, every blade of grass, every face in the 90,000 crowd – no TV I’ve seen to date has brought the Full HD impact of all these Olympic traits home quite so sharply and clearly as the 42PFL9703D/10, thanks in no small part to the extra ‘three-dimensionality’ introduced by the wide colour gamut functionality.
Also key to the impression of clarity delivered by the 42PFL9703D/10 with HD sources, is how little unwanted noise the TV’s picture processing induces. For as anyone who’s been following Philips TVs over the years will know, while Philips TVs have long excelled at looking vibrant and sharp, there’s traditionally been a trade-off in the form of troublesome processing side effects such as shimmering around moving objects and a rather ‘gritty’ overall feel.
However, the massive extra power Philips has thrown into the latest Perfect Pixel Engine in conjunction with some clearly significant tweaks to its processing algorithms means this TV can really deliver all of the processing benefits with practically none of the old, unwanted side effects. Even standard definition pictures look great, for heaven’s sake, as the Perfect Pixel Engine does a great job of resizing standard PAL sources to the Full HD resolution.
Once you’ve got over the picture’s sharpness and vibrancy, it’s time to also take in the sensational fluidity and clarity of its motion reproduction (with HD Natural Motion set, sensibly, to its minimal level, and with 100Hz engaged), and the really outstanding depth of its black level response.
This doesn’t touch the levels seen with Pioneer’s KURO plasma sets, of course, but it’s unquestionably as good as anything we’ve seen from an LCD TV, and is easily enough to make dark scenes look packed with detail and generally free from LCD’s traditional grey clouding.
It should be said, though, that all the superb qualities I’m talking about are dependent to some extent on how carefully you’ve been with the 42PFL9703D/10’s phenomenal array of picture adjustments.
For instance, leave noise reduction settings on while watching HD, and the picture won’t look as sharp as it should. Leave HD Natural Motion on high while watching sport, and you’ll definitely get some twitching over edges of fast-moving image components. Leave the Dynamic Contrast function set too high while watching a film and you might see some slight flickering in dark areas. Leave sharpness high while watching standard definition, and edges can look bitty and forced. Apply HD Natural Motion without additionally engaging 100Hz, and edges can start to flicker quite aggressively during fast camera pans. Leave Advanced Sharpness on with an HD source that’s got quite a lot of inherent grain, and that grain can be exaggerated quite distractingly.
In other words, the 42PFL9703D/10, as with its less well specified Philips siblings, demands rather more love, attention and quality time in its menus than most TVs if you want to continually get the best from it.
But honestly, by the time you’ve had the TV a week and experimented fully with everything the TV has to offer, all the key tweaks will likely have become second nature, leaving you free to amaze your friends with what are, for my money, the finest LCD pictures I’ve seen.
Yes, it’s possible that even with everything calibrated to within an inch of its life you might still see the occasional little glitch, especially with HD Natural Motion switched on.
But while one or two people writing in the ”comments” section may be willing to disagree with me, it’s my considered opinion that the positives of all the processing on show outweigh the remaining negatives by so huge a margin that the 42PFL9703D/10 is capable of delivering the single best picture quality I’ve yet seen from an LCD TV.
The only real negative I can raise about the 42PFL9703D/10’s images, in fact, concerns the set’s viewing angle. For if you watch from even as little as 40 degrees off axis, the picture’s black levels start to drop off quite markedly.
After all the 42PFL9703D/10’s picture glories, it’s nice to be able to report that the set’s audio is very good too. Not as rich in bass as that of the WooX-equipped 42PFL7603D, but certainly possessing levels of power, clarity and dynamics demoralisingly absent from most of its flat TV rivals.
In the 42PFL9703D/10, Philips has brought together its latest picture processing engine with a cutting edge wide-colour gamut LCD panel to deliver what is undeniably one of the best pictures we’ve yet seen from an LCD TV.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10
Sound Quality 8