Philips 46PFL9705H £2300
15th Nov 2010 | 14:58
Probably the best 3D LCD TV in the world today
Philips 46PFL9705H: Overview
After making a passable 3D debut Philips has set its sights on something rather more refined.
The 46PFL9705H is the largest screen in the Dutch brand's flagship 9000 TV series after the incredible 58-inch Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum and is bristling with technology designed to get really stuck into the crosstalk problem that's so far blighted 3D LCD.
The 3D capabilities represent only a small fraction of the 46PFL9705H's features: it's stuffed to bursting point with multimedia tools, including open internet browsing.
It's equipped with a version of Philips' all-conquering processing engine, Perfect Pixel HD that has been optimised for use with the set's locally dimmed direct LED backlight.
Philips' step-down 3D TVs, the PFL8605 series (including the 40PFL8605H), use edge LED lighting and feature a very different design approach. If you're not fussed about 3D, you can drop down one more rung to the (still LED-backlit) PFL7605H series.
Philips 46PFL9705H: Features
Philips now includes its originally optional 3D kit as standard within the set's (recently reduced) £2,300 price. This 3D kit gives you an external 3D transmitter and two pairs of 3D glasses.
It almost goes without saying that the 3D system supported by the 46PFL9705H is the latest full HD, active shutter one.
As part of its efforts to tackle the crosstalk issues associated with 3D on LCD TVs, Philips has equipped the 46PFL9705H with 400Hz processing. Or to be more precise, 200Hz accompanied by a scanning backlight, a system that, with a claimed panel response of 0.5ms, reportedly makes the 46PFL9705H the fastest LCD in the world.
This is on top of the fact that direct LED lighting should carry more innate resistance to crosstalk than the edge-mounted array of the 40PFL8605, because the scanning backlight in direct-lit displays only generates light in parts of the screen where pixels have already 'settled down', rather than when a pixel is first addressed.
The other string to the 46PFL9705H's picture processing bow is Philips' formidable Perfect Pixel HD engine. With 500-megapixels of raw power at its disposal, this applies itself to contrast, colour, sharpness, noise reduction, motion clarity, judder... if it's involved in building a TV picture, Perfect Pixel HD will try to improve it.
Of course, heavy processing won't be to everyone's taste, so it's reassuring to find that Philips has provided the tools to adjust the intensity of all the key components of the Perfect Pixel system.
Turning to less technical matters, the 46PFL9705H's design could fairly be described as a feature, for as well applying a metallic silver face to a strikingly svelte (for a direct LED set) rear end, the frame also carries Ambilight.
This strip of LED lights down the TV's edges pumps out pools of light coloured sympathetically to whatever is onscreen and, while there is a whiff of gimmickry about it, Philips is able to cite scientific research that suggests that Ambilight makes long-term viewing more relaxing and immersive.
A scan of the 46PFL9705's sockets delivers a swift reminder of another of its key features: it's got a USB input, an Ethernet port for hooking up to networked PCs, and most impressively, built-in Wi-Fi. What's more, the amount of file formats supported via these inputs is truly exceptional, running well beyond the now-standard JPEG, MP3 and DivX options.
The Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections can also be used to access Philips' NetTV online service, which combines a selection of handpicked content with open internet surfing via a built-in Opera browser.
The ring-fenced stuff is a bit uninspiring compared to what Sony and Samsung are offering these days, with precious little non-subscription video streaming; even the subscription stuff is lacking in volume and short on appeal. But the open browsing is a real boon, especially as Philips has made a surprisingly good job of enabling you to input web addresses and navigate links via the remote control.
It's a nice touch, too, that you can save downloaded content to SD card via a provided slot.
A final interesting multimedia touch of the 46PFL9705 finds it able to reproduce your PC desktop on the TV screen, using software supplied with the TV.
Given that the 46PFL9705H appears to have been built without compromise, there is one surprising absentee from the features list: a Freeview HD tuner. This is clearly an oversight, given how commonplace these have suddenly become and in recognition of this Philips recently reduced the price of the TV by more than it would cost you to buy a typical external hi-def terrestrial set-top box.
Philips 46PFL9705H: Picture quality
The 46PFL9705H's 3D performance is the cleanest from an LCD TV to date.
Impressive suppression of crosstalk noise immediately reduces the eye and brain fatigue, making it just about possible to watch a full-length film without getting a headache. It hasn't been completely eradicated, though and is noticeably more recurrent than on Panasonic and Samsung's plasma 3D TVs.
Before 3D fans write the 46PFL9705H off and head out to bag a plasma TV, though, this liquid crystal set does hold a couple of significant advantages over its gas rival.
Its three-dimensional pictures are much more vibrant and colour-rich than those of any 3D plasma screen, enabling it to push the sharpness of full HD 3D pictures more strongly.
It's likely that different people will have different feelings about whether they prefer plasma's reduced crosstalk or the 46PFL9705H's extra 3D brightness and colour richness, so if you can, try to arrange a side-by-side comparison between it and, say, Panasonic's P50VT20 before making your decision.
Whipping off Philips' comfortable and effective 3D glasses reveals sensational 2D performance, provided that you keep on top of the processing issues with different source types mentioned earlier.
Colour response is breathtaking, with a huge, dynamic, yet also subtle and finely delineated palette.
Also playing a big part in this is the set's outstanding contrast. Philips' grasp of direct LED technology with local dimming enables almost miraculously inky blackness to occupy the same frame as blisteringly bright content, with scarcely a trace of the usual 'haloing' around the bright object.
Another palpable hit with the 46PFL9705H's pictures is their exceptional sharpness. This is due at least in part to the screen's almost total freedom from all traces of LCD's usual issue with motion blur.
You can remove all judder from the picture too using the set's HD Natural Motion processing, though be warned that you shouldn't use this processing set too high if you don't want the picture to start looking unnatural and suffer with artefacts such as shimmering around moving objects.
The 46PFL9705H is also capable of upscaling standard-definition pictures from its Freeview tuner remarkably well, again thanks to the efforts of its Perfect Pixel HD system. Once more you need to be careful not to overcook any of the set's processing here; too much noise reduction can soften and blur standard-def pictures, while too much sharpness and contrast can make them look noisy.
But it doesn't take a great deal of time to get a processing balance that leaves standard-definition pictures looking nearer to HD at times than you'd probably believe possible.
Another processing concern is the way the local dimming technology can become too extreme on its most aggressive setting, causing obvious discrepancies in areas containing varying degrees of brightness. Once again, though, on the rare occasion that you're watching something that generates this issue, you can get round it reasonably easily via the set's picture setting options.
The only significant unavoidable problem detected with the 46PFL9705H's pictures – aside from the effort required to keep them looking their best – is that they degrade quite markedly if viewed from a wide angle. This is because the direct LED 'haloing' effect around bright objects that's so hard to spot when viewing the screen straight on suddenly becomes distractingly apparent when viewing the TV from the side.
Philips 46PFL9705H: Sound, value and ease of use
In what turns out to be a stroke of genius, Philips has separated the tweeters from the woofers, with the former under the bezel and the latter on the set's rear. This arrangement produces a much more dynamic, powerful, bass-rich and detailed soundstage than the vast majority of slim TVs.
In fact, you'd probably have to step up to a set from B&O or Loewe to get a sound as good as or better than that produced by the 46PFL9705H – and sets from either of those brands would, of course, cost significantly more.
Ease of use
The 46PFL9705 is a real mixed bag when it comes to accessibility. Its biggest achievement has to be its brilliant remote control, which combines sleek looks with a remarkably simple layout and, despite the extremely complex nature of the TV, manages to achieve one of the lowest button counts you'll see without resorting to lots of confusing double-function keys.
Also useful is the way the TV guides you through a simple picture preference calibration procedure when you first switch on for the first time. The onscreen menus, meanwhile, are reasonably well presented, especially the first Home screen that enables you to leap off into the TV's various functions.
The only problem is one common to all high-spec Philips sets: you need to familiarise yourself reasonably thoroughly with the intricacies of the various processing options contained within the TV's onscreen menus.
For if you don't, and don't revisit the processing menus reasonably regularly, you'll find that some of the settings – especially those related to motion and sharpness – can make some types of picture source look worse, rather than better.
There is, of course, no denying that £2,300 is a pretty hefty sum for a 46-inch TV. Especially when you consider that Samsung's 50-inch P50C6900 3D plasma TV can be had for a whole £1,000 less.
But the Philips has prodigious picture processing power on its side, along with exceptional multimedia talents, superb audio, a great design boosted by Philips' Ambilight system and the small matter of 3D pictures much brighter and more colourful than those of any plasma rivals, even if they do also suffer from more crosstalk noise.
So all in all, despite the missing Freeview HD tuner, the price seems just about fair, especially now the 3D kit is included as standard.
Philips 46PFL9705H: Verdict
The 46PFL9705H reads like a 'what's what' of current TV technology, with Philips throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it. In many ways, the brand's efforts pay off handsomely.
The set hits the ground running with a stunning design, combining an aluminium finish with the eye-catching Ambilight. It is also surprisingly easy to use for a Philips TV, thanks to an excellent remote control and icon-heavy main menu screen.
Exploring all the set's features, meanwhile, will take you hours, especially if you're the sort of person likely to benefit from its extravagant online and self-contained multimedia provision.
Where the 46PFL9705H most makes its premium status count, though, is where it really matters: with its all-round AV performance. Its audio performance is without peer among mainstream TVs, its 2D pictures are barnstormingly good and its 3D performance rates as the best yet from an LCD TV. Crosstalk noise, while reduced, remains sufficiently apparent to leave rival plasma technology some wiggle room, provided you can live without the 46PFL9705H's extra dynamism and brightness.
The 46PFL9705H looks glorious. It's also extremely well connected, with plenty of HD video inputs and bags of multimedia sockets that are put to extremely good use by the TV's expansive format compatibility.
The set's picture processing is extremely powerful and combines with the direct LED lighting system to produce some of the best pictures ever achieved by a flat TV. Even the 46PFL9705H's audio is streets ahead of its competitors.
Some fairly evident haloing around bright objects appears during-off axis viewing. In keeping with most high-end Philips TVs, you need to exercise care with all the processing options provided if you want pictures to always look their best.
The external 3D transmitter might annoy some, too, though for some people the TV's most irritating flaw will be its lack of a Freeview HD tuner.
The 46PFL9705H isn't perfect. It lacks a Freeview HD tuner, its picture processing needs to be used with care to get the best out of it, and there's evidence of crosstalk noise with 3D pictures.
However, the latter are also spectacularly vivid and bright by alternate-frame standards. It's also an object of beauty, boasts unprecedented multimedia capability (including open internet access), delivers superb sound, and (provided you handle it with care) its 2D pictures are unrivalled.
If you're up to the challenge of exploiting all its potential to the full, it is a sensational bit of kit.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview