Philips 40PFL9705 £1800
20th Jan 2011 | 11:13
A bit small for 3D, but nothing touches this TV for image quality
Philips 40PFL9705 review: Overview
Sandwiched between two very well reviewed 32-inch 32PFL9705 and 46-inch 46PFL9705H sets in Philips' high-end 9000 Series, the 40-inch 40PFL9705 is an expensive TV and is closer to the spec of the stunning £4,000 58-incher 58PFL9955H than it is to supermarket cheapies.
Alongside Philips' unique Ambilight mood-lighting feature, the 40PFL9705's cutting edge credentials include direct, – or 'full' – LED backlighting, connected TV status and 3D readiness.
The light source arranges 224 individually controlled diodes behind the LCD panel to enable local dimming and therefore wider contrast and deeper blacks. It's the costliest, but most effective way of implementing LED backlighting.
It's largely being phased out by other brands, which are increasingly relying on cheaper, and slimmer edge LED designs (where LEDs fire only from the sides of the panel), so it's nice to see Philips' high-end credentials continue.
The 40PFL9705 is also 3D capable, though you'll have to attach the bundled 3D transmitter to add that third dimension.
There is, however, one small omission that may seriously hamper the 40PFL9705's chances of mass-adoption (apart from its high price). Due to a misjudgement concerning Freeview HD's popularity, the 40PFL9705 is fitted with a bog-standard Freeview tuner only.
That could compromise the appeal of this otherwise delectable TV – and that's a huge shame, because nothing in the 40-inch category touches the 40PFL9705 for sheer image quality.
Philips 40PFL9705 review: Features
Forget Freeview HD and 3D for a while; the most important feature on the 40PFL9705 is its Perfect Pixel HD picture processing suite. Designed to help it combat the dreaded crosstalk problem while displaying 3D video, the 400Hz feature deserves some explaining.
It is a 200Hz panel plus a 200Hz scanning backlight that, Philips claims, only illuminates the pixels once the LCD crystals have had a chance to settle on the new image, rather than in the transition period (which causes the echoes and artefacts on almost all 3D LED LCD TVs). In this way it achieves a stunning (again, claimed) response time of 0.5 milliseconds.
Perfect Natural Motion is a frame interpolation engine that's worth investigating, though it can introduce artefacts to moving objects as it goes about its job removing judder from Blu-ray discs.
Classy on the outside, too, this 40-incher has a brushed aluminium frame and is among the most solidly built TVs you'll see. Weighing a hefty 20kg, it is a relatively portly 69mm deep.
Ambilight is here in its Spectra 3 guise. Three strips of LED lights on the set's rear adjust in colour and brightness to match the onscreen picture, creating a dynamic light show that's arguably more immersive than 3D video.
Away from the lights are plenty of in and outputs, all of which are housed in an extraordinarily compact design that crams almost everything into the TV's rear left-hand corner. Three HDMI inputs – one featuring an audio return channel – sit alongside a couple of Scarts, component video, a PC input, optical audio output and Ethernet LAN.
Although as a basic Freeview set it doesn't require Ethernet connectivity, it's included here to power its DLNA networking and Net TV functions – though there's also a built-in Wi-Fi module.
A side panel adds a fourth HDMI input, a Common Interface slot (for Top-Up TV viewing cards), an SD Card slot (for the possibility of future movie downloads via Net TV, but not capable of playing back digital media files of any sort) and two USB 2.0 ports, though the latter are squashed rather too close together; attaching external USB hard-disk drives is possible, but two USB sticks can clash.
Net TV now includes widgets for Box Office 365 alongside YouTube, Picasa, Dailymotion, Screen Dreams, radiotime, funspot, MeteoConsult, France 24 and an open Opera web browser. Box Office 365 contains some old comedy and drama from ITV alongside Audiolounge's small selection of films and MOR live music largely from the 1970s and 1980s.
On-demand IPTV may be the future, but for now there's nowhere near enough content to threaten the likes of Virgin, iPlayer, Sky or the Xbox.
Lastly, don't underestimate the usefulness of the 40PFL9705's 30W speakers that are about three times more powerful than most flat TVs.
Philips 40PFL9705 review: Ease of use
Philips has bundled its PTA 3D upgrade pack – comprising two sets of active shutter 3D glasses and a 3D transmitter – with the 40PFL9705. This is a wise move, because no corners (Freeview HD notwithstanding) should be cut on a £1,800 TV.
The XpanD-made glasses come with three interchangeable nose grips and are certainly lighter than most, though 'best 3D glasses' is a rather empty title at present.
Whether you can excuse the 40PFL9705's lack of BBC One HD, ITV 1 HD and BBC HD et al is another matter entirely, but the standard digital tuner is impressive. An eight-day electronic programme guide is easy to use, but while it fits in stylistically with the 40PFL9705's user interface, it's not nearly as attractive as on other digital TVs. There's also a channel list presented as a grid, again, in keeping with the overall feel of the TV.
Hidden far away in the settings menu is the full suite of picture processing Philips calls Perfect Pixel HD, some of the major features of which should probably be more prominent – perhaps Perfect Natural Motion, 400Hz Clear LCD and the Surround sound option should have dedicated shortcuts either (much) higher-up in the interface, or on the remote.
The latter would partially spoil what is one of the loveliest remote controls ever made. Rounded, metallic and soft to the touch, Philips – unlike most manufacturers – clearly spends a bit of money on its remotes
Digital file support from a USB stick or external hard-disk drive is pretty good. MP3 and WMA music plays, while photos are restricted to JPEG only. Video is well covered, with the 40PFL9705 playing virtually everything we threw at it; DivX (AVI), DivX HD (MKV), MP4 and MPEG all play.
The only files it tripped-up on were WMV HD, MOV and AVCHD (M2TS and MTS) files – the latter from HD camcorders, which could be an issue for some. When attached to a Mac on the same network, the 40PFL9705 managed to stream DivX (AVI) and MP4 video files only.
Net TV may have some new content, but it's so slow to respond and refresh. The open web browser is just as frustrating; without Flash or other plug-ins, the kind of video-rich websites you'll most likely want to view on the 40PFL9705 just won't work.
Philips 40PFL9705 review: Picture
When it comes to 3D, plasma sets from the likes of Samsung and Panasonic have the lead – and the 40PFL9705 does nothing to change that. What it does do is offer one of the most comfortable 3D viewing experiences – thanks to some incredibly lightweight glasses – while mustering a cleaner picture than you'll find on any other 3D ready LCD TV.
What those glasses also do is increase the perceived contrast on the screen to a level that is roughly on a par with plasma, but crosstalk still lurks; even in a still 3D image it's still possible to spot double images and echoes.
A moving truck in Open Season on 3D Blu-ray swings into a car park, causing a stepped image that's uncomfortable to watch. In another sequence a background of fir trees is a messy mix of left and right-eye images that looks totally unreal, while a solitary large red truck in the foreground of another shot appears to have a lot of company.
Back in the 2D world, the 40PFL9705 does a sterling job. Philips aptly named processing engine, Perfect Pixel HD, is here equipped not only with a 400Hz mode, but also a Super Resolution mode.
The most controversial effect is given by Perfect Natural Motion, which is available in three strengths and seeks to add some fluidity to Blu-ray discs. Neither setting is particularly subtle, with even the weakest setting introducing a shimmer around fast (and even some slow) moving objects during Open Season, though whether it's worth the trade-off with judder-free images will be up to the individual.
Super Resolution adds an extra few percent to both the still and moving image's full HD detail, while that 400Hz setting virtually obliterates any motion blur. Having said that, exceptional colour and contrast – thanks to than LED backlighting – are the key traits of the 40PFL9705's hi-def 2D picture.
Switch to Freeview and it's obvious that there's some powerful upscaling going on, though it's a shame there aren't any HD channels to gawp at on this highly capable set.
Across all sources the viewing angle doesn't appear to be a huge issue, though if you do watch the 40PFL9705 from the wings you will notice some colour drain.
Philips 40PFL9705 review: Sound and value
It's lacking slightly in the mid-range, but there's no denying that the 40PFL9705 has the finest speakers you'll find on a 40-inch TV. With plenty of room to play with, Philips has put a subwoofer at the centre of the back of the TV and reserved the underslung space for the tweeters.
A sound field high on low frequency and treble detail proves just about right for movies, and music doesn't sound too bad, either – a motley collection of MP3 files on a USB stick get a decent treatment. Meanwhile, the Surround mode on the 40PFL9705 proves a little disappointing, with no noticeable widening of the stage.
Few TVs enjoy the serious build quality of Philips' high-end sets, and the 40PFL9705 maintains that tradition. Direct LED technology is expensive and it's certainly possible to bag a much bigger plasma TV for less cash.
The lack of Freeview – or even a built-in 3D transmitter – might also put some off, but the 40PFL9705 does have some unique talents. Net TV still isn't up to much, despite the open web browser, but Ambilight is as impressive as ever, and the remote control is something else: you won't find anything nearly as slinky partnering a cheaper.
Add some cutting-edge 2D images and acceptable 3D pictures and the 40PFL9705 seems well positioned.
Philips 40PFL9705 review: Verdict
The battle between edge and full LED arrays is not yet settled, but the 40PFL9705's performance suggests that the former is for those after a slim TV with decent contrast, whereas the latter is for anyone after a TV with exceptional all-round skills – and the 40PFL9705 is certainly that.
Rich in contrast and colour, this set's 2D pictures – with hardly a trace of motion blur – are among the finest around. A user-friendly interface, peerless remote control, adaptable Ambilight features and luscious build quality make for a TV that exudes class.
Perfect Pixel HD is a wide and powerful suite of enhancements, but it is rather hidden from view and it would be no surprise if many customers never experiment with it. That's a shame, because they'll miss out on the 40PFL9705's top-draw 2D pics.
For now, 3D on the 40PFL9705 rates as merely average, but it's a slightly less uncomfortable experience than on other 3D LCD TVs. It's also probably 10 or so inches too small to provide fully immersive 3D action. The lack of Freeview HD is also a massive ommission.
With flatscreen TVs now such a common commodity it's becoming almost impossible to find something unique. Almost, but not quite; Philips has long been a brand you might expect to find selling TVs for peanuts in the high street – and that hasn't changed – but it's also the only mainstream brand whose high-end TVs have retained both their high price and delectable mix of style and brilliance.
The highly capable 40PFL9705's combination of fine 2D with half-decent 3D, brilliant build quality, Ambilight and some of the best speakers around – together with a thoroughly high-end feel – carry on that tradition.