Philips 32PF9731D £1800

6th Apr 2007 | 23:00

Philips 32PF9731D

Philips finds a solution to LCD's traditional Achilles' heel

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

While the £1,800 asking price might seem a little much, the picture quality justifies it

Like:

<p>Excellent high-def and standard-def pictures</p>

Dislike:

<p>Quite expensive</p>

In the head-to-head between plasma and LCD, the main weaknesses of the latter are black levels and motion handling, which often sees plasma TVs coming out on top. So, LCD fans should be delighted to hear that Philips has a solution: ClearLCD.

The 32in 32PF9731D uses new hot cathode fluorescent lamps (HCFLs) as its backlight, which can reduce the light they output by 30 per cent more than a normal LCD backlight. Philips claims this significantly reduces the residual black level greyness that's the blight of many an LCD.

There are two elements of the ClearLCD package that improve motion handling - Overdrive Control and Dimmable Scanning Backlight. Overdrive Control claims to boost the voltage applied to the liquid crystal array in order to speed up reaction time, whereas Dimmable Scanning Backlight drives the HCFLs in a way that imitates the scanning effect of a CRT TV, so pixels can be lit progressively for shorter time periods.

On paper, everything's as it should be for a TV that has an HD-ready badge. The native resolution is an HD-ready 1366 x 768, claimed brightness is 550cd/sqm, and the claimed contrast ratio is a healthy 7,000:1. The 32PF9731D is also 480p, 576p and 720p capable, so no full HD action here.

As soon as you switch this TV on, Ambilight makes its presence felt. Coloured light, sympathetic to the hues of the picture radiates from fluorescent tubes built into the set's bodywork. Philips claims this makes viewing more relaxing and adds impact, and it does - to a degree.

A quick glance at the features list also reveals the welcome presence of Pixel Plus 3 HD. Pixel Plus 3 HD is meant to offer more sophisticated noise reduction techniques and a more intelligent monitoring approach. This assesses the image content and reduces the degree of processing if its either not needed or may be detrimental to the picture quality - clever stuff. There's also a digital tuner, so this TV's all prepared for the analogue switch-off in 2012.

Plasma-like pictures

The 32PF9731D's connections are healthy. Two HDMIs head the cast, and there are key appearances from component video inputs, three Scarts (two RGB enabled), and the usual support from S-video and composite video (not that we reckon that you'll be using these much).

Elsewhere there's a D-Sub PC input, digital audio input and output, a CAM slot (for adding subscription- only digital TV services), a multi-format memory card reader, two USB connections and an Ethernet port: not a bad haul.

Let's get down to the main event - picture performance. Firstly, this TV pulls off some of the best standard-def pictures we've seen on an LCD screen this size. Pixel Plus 3 HD is earning its keep, as the sharpness of images is quite striking, rather than the soft and hazy images that we've encountered with some rival screens. This revelatory sharpness is achieved without causing noise.

With ClearLCD activated, there's less smearing of horizontal motion, but the pictures look slightly softer. Still, this is a minor criticism, considering the overall glorious nature of standard-def images.

Cranking up a hi-def feed from Sky HD, Pixel Plus 3 HD impresses again, this time adopting a more sensitive approach to picture processing. Hi-def images look superbly natural, rather than looking heavily processed. Pictures also look as sharp as a pin without attendant noise.

The good news continues with black levels - this Philips delivers some of the best blacks we've seen on an LCD TV, which is some going. In all fairness, the black levels aren't a road to Damascus moment (for that, see some of the best plasma TVs out there), but it certainly points to a bright (or should we say dark) future for ClearLCD- equipped flatscreens.

Colours also impress, having a visceral impact without seeming gaudy. The palette is wide and there's a real subtlety when it comes to colour blending and skin tones.

The combined effect of these picture improvements is nothing short of amazing with both high- and standard-def material, clearly (pardon the pun) showing us how far LCD technology has advanced.

We would recommend that you turn down the contrast setting from its factory preset to avoid highlighting MPEG noise, take care with the level of noise reduction you use, and handle the Digital Natural Motion processing gently. Bear these issues in mind and you'll have some brilliant flatscreen pictures lighting up your living room.

Sonically, the 32PF9731D has chops to match the classy pictures on display, with a soundstage equipped with plenty of depth, a decent frequency range and real clarity.

Make no mistake, this is the shape of things to come for LCD. At £1,800, it's a little on the pricey side, but it's also a TV that we can heartily recommend.

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