Philips 46PFL9706H £2300
25th Nov 2011 | 09:45
Is this the greatest LCD TV ever built? This moth eye filter says it is
As well as being the long-awaited first TV from Philips' 2011 (just!) range, the 46-inch 46PFL9706H also happens to be the only TV from that range - indeed, the only set in the world, as far as we know - that uses a Moth Eye filter.
This being a flagship Philips TV, though, the 46PFL9706 certainly doesn't rely exclusively on its Moth Eye filter innovation.
It's also distinguished by direct (where the lights sit directly behind the screen) rather than edge LED lighting, and looks a million dollars in its brushed aluminium bodywork.
You also get Philips' unique Ambilight technology where the TV casts coloured light out of the TV's sides and top, as well as one of the most comprehensive multimedia support systems in the business - complete with a much-improved online service.
And then, of course, the 46PFL9706 carries the second generation of Philips' active 3D technology (called '3D Max').
The Philips 46PFL9706 is joined in the 9000 series range by the 52-inch 52PFL9706H - though this model doesn't get the Moth Eye filter.
If the 46PFL9706's £2,300 price is too rich for your blood, then you could shift down to the 8000 series, comprising the 52-inch 52PFL8605H, the 46-inch 46PFL8605H and the 40-inch 40PFL8606H. This series is cheaper because it uses edge LED lighting, and a less powerful processing engine.
For now, though, let's get back to finding out if Philips' new flagship TV lives up to is phenomenal promise.
Moth eye introduction
In many ways the 46PFL9706H is the most feature-heavy TV ever. The headliner, of course, is the Moth Eye filter. This carries tiny nodules on it that mimic similar structures found on moth's eyes and are used to eliminate reflections on the screen, resulting in a greatly enhanced perceived contrast range.
Certainly the presence of this filter seemed to help the 46PFL9706 produce stand-out performance quality at all of the technology shows it's been featured at this year, where any screen that can 'defend itself' from the high light levels of a typical show floor is going to look special.
If you're the sort of person who likes to put numbers on things, then consider this: whereas the 52PFL9706H without the Moth Eye filter boasts a contrast ratio of 5,000,000:1, the 46PFL9706H claims, incredibly, 50,000,000:1.
Or if you're struggling to get your head round all those zeros, the Moth Eye filter potentially delivers 10 times the contrast of a non-Moth Eye TV.
Obviously all these sorts of numbers have to be treated with an enormous pinch of salt, but nonetheless it's impossible not to get at least a bit excited at the thought of what the filter might do.
Design and features
The Philips 46PFL9706's design is more of a 'feature' than it is with most TVs.
Catching the eye right away is its lovely brushed aluminium bezel, and the extremely high quality of the similarly metallic desktop stand. The exceptional quality of its finish isn't the only attraction of the stand either, because in an intriguing move it also contains the TV's speakers, with a short plug-in cable connecting it to the main TV.
Obviously this means that anyone wanting to wall hang the TV will also need to hang the stand (flat) right under the screen. The stand has been designed to support such mounting, of course, but while it might look very pretty, it's possible that some people really won't want to have a rectangular slab of metal hanging on the wall under their television.
Given how preposterously slim many TVs have been this year, it has to be said that the Philips 46PFL9706 feels chunkier than most flagship TVs. The reason for this, most likely, is the set's use of direct rather than LED lighting, because the direct approach means the illumination has to be sited directly behind the screen, and so needs some sort of 'throw' distance.
Using direct LED lighting rather than the more common edge-based system is potentially key to the Philips 46PFL9706's performance, though, because it enables Philips to deliver much more local control over the illumination of the picture.
In fact, the TV has the processing power to individually handle, in real time, 224 separate LED clusters, meaning that the picture can deliver 224 different luminance 'zones'. This number is clearly well short of the number of pixels (1920 x 1080) contained in the screen, so there's potential for light haloing around very bright objects if they appear against very dark backdrops.
But the potential for this flaw should be vastly reduced compared with the situation on LG's 55LW980T http://www.techradar.com/reviews/audio-visual/televisions/plasma-and-lcd-tvs/lg-55lw980t-1031942/review, with its mere 96 local illumination zones.
Philips has long been at the forefront of multimedia support in the TV world, and this trend continues with the 46PFL9706.
For instance, a pair of USBs can be used for playing back video, photo and music files across all these formats: AVI, MKV, H264/MPEG-4 AVC, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV9/VC1, AAC, MP3, WMA (v2 up to v9.2), and JPEG.
The TV also carries built-in DLNA 1.5 certification, and can access your network via LAN or built-in Wi-Fi.
These network options also, of course, enable you to get online, via Philips' NetTV platform. This is an enhanced beast from last year's offering, following the common delivery model of providing direct access to a selection of high-profile apps, and a further app gallery where people can find and download smaller, more minority-interest apps.
The highlighted apps comprise (at the time of writing): YouTube, BBC iPlayer (the first time this has appeared on NetTV); MeteoConsult; Facebook; Aupeo Personal Radio; HiT Entertainment; CNBC Real Time; TuneIn Radio; iConcerts; Twitter; Viewster; Euronews; Vimeo; Picasa; Meteonews; Box Office 365; Cartoon Network; France 24 On Demand; TV5 Monde; the Funspot gaming network; DailyMotion; ScreenDreams; and CineTrailer.
There's also an internet browser which, unlike those found on many TVs, is decently usable thanks to an impressive text input interface and more legible text than you usually get on a TV browser.
Extra apps you can download comprise TomTom HD Traffic; the Foreca weather forecaster; ebay; TED Talks; the Films and Stars, network delivering movie reports, 1-on-1 interviews with actors and directors, plus award show and festival reports; the MyAlbum photo storage site; a Volkswagen promotional site; and last but not least, the cloud-based AceTrax movie purchase/rental service.
It seems odd, actually, that AceTrax isn't given more prominence in the list of highlighted services, but there you go.
Anyone who's followed the progress of Philips' TVs over the past few years will know that any new high-end set will feature an extremely powerful video processing engine. These have been sources of controversy at times, with some people feeling that they do more harm than good, making pictures look too processed.
But while there were certainly issues in the early days of Philips' focus on processing, and while you invariably have to be careful with many of the processing setting options, the simple fact is that the more powerful Philips' processing systems have become, the more capable they've become of delivering all the positives of video processing with fewer of the negatives.
The latest Perfect Pixel HD Engine employed in the Philips 46PFL9706 astonishingly doubles the power of the previous version, and as such it's claimed that it can process on the fly an extraordinary two billion pixels a second. This is extremely significant, because as well as speeding up the processing, it enables the processing to work more intelligently on pictures to give more accurate and artefact-free improvements.
To give some idea of how many picture elements the processing now covers, tucked away under the Perfect Pixel HD header in the on-screen menus are tweaks that affect motion, sharpness/resolution, contrast, backlight control, MPEG noise reduction, colour and gamma.
As you would expect, it's motion handling that potentially benefits the most from all the extra power in the Philips 46PFL9706. The set claims a 1200Hz Perfect Motion Rate - the highest such figure in the business - achieved via a combination of frame interpolation processing, a 200Hz panel, and a 200Hz scanning backlight.
Crucially, moreover, the new processing power allows Philips to apply its Perfect Natural Motion system to full HD 3D for the first time.
The new processing engine in the Philips 46PFL9706 additionally enables you to adjust the depth of native Full HD 3D sources as well as 2D to 3D converted images - something Philips believes is a first for the TV market, although similar functionality is available on Panasonic's AT5000 projector.
Staying with 3D-related features, Philips has introduced new measures aimed at tackling active 3D's problems with crosstalk noise. First, the panel is driven faster. Also, the scanning backlight inside the Philips 46PFL09706 should prove more effective than the cheaper blinking backlight alternative.
Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Philips has officially recognised the commonly seen situation whereby crosstalk is worse when TVs are 'cold', developing a system where the TV can deliver both a more unified heat level across the whole screen and a higher uniform temperature, thanks to the direct LED illumination system.
Enthusiasts still troubled by the amount of options and processing delivered by the Philips 46PFL9706 could well have their concerns greatly allayed by the discovery that for the first time ever Philips has sought and obtained the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF).
This indicates that this is a TV with sufficient picture flexibility - especially where colour is concerned, via a new Colour Control centre - to be professionally calibrated by a trained ISF engineer. This really should enhance the 46PFL9706's appeal in the eyes of the enthusiast market, and is perhaps an endorsement Philips should have sought years ago.
Wrapping up this section of the review in relatively prosaic fashion are the Philips 46PFL9706's connections, which add four HDMIs, a D-Sub PC port and an SD card slot to the aforementioned USBs, LAN, and Wi-Fi connection options.
Please note that the USBs can also be used for attaching a USB HDD, to enable recording from the integrated Freeview HD tuner. Because yes, it's a huge relief to find that Philips has put right its major 2010 mistake by building Freeview HD tuners into all of its TVs this year.
The 46PFL9706 carries Philips' latest Full HD 3D engine too (AKA 3D Max), which is reckoned to have reduced crosstalk noise compared to the brand's 2010 3D TVs. You currently get a couple of pairs of 3D glasses included (as a promotion) with the TV, and unlike Philips' 2010 TVs, the 3D transmitter is built into the TV rather than being an add-on extra.
A fun extra feature of the new 3D system enables two video gamers to enjoy full screen playback simultaneously, rather than having to stick with the usual split-screen approach.
This works by pushing two separate 2D streams through the same 'alternate frame' delivery system usually used by each 'eye' of a 3D signal, with each player then setting their glasses to only show one half of the twin-feed stream.
Impressively, the glasses that Philips includes with the TV are able to accommodate such use via a simple built-in switch - you don't have to buy special, separate glasses.
Ease of use
As always with a high-end Philips TV, there are two sides to this part of the 46PFL9706's story. On the one hand, the design of its on-screen menus and especially its remote control is really very good.
The menus are clear and mostly straightforward to navigate, despite having to handle a vast amount of features and adjustments, and the remote control does a mostly sublime job of helping you do everything from getting around the menus, to typing text into the web browser and surfing channels from remarkably few buttons.
The button layout is inspired too, aside from the positioning of the 'Back/return' button directly under the 'Navigate down' button. It's all too easy to hit 'Back' when you meant to hit 'Down'.
While the actual interface for the Philips 46PFL9706 might be remarkably straightforward for such a sophisticated TV, though, getting the best from the TV is made trickier than some people might like by the amount of effort you need to put into tinkering with the set's myriad processing options.
Because different source types seem to benefit from different settings, and for all its processing brainpower, the Philips 46PFL9706 isn't as clever as it ideally would be at figuring out for itself the best settings to use with different types of source material.
The Philips 46PFL9706 ships with its instructions manual built into its on-screen menus, under a 'Help' icon. This is fair enough in some ways, although tracking down specific features (such as the two player gaming option) through these menus is much harder than it would be with a paper manual.
A system like that found on Samsung's TVs, where you're told what a feature does when you select it on the menus, would have helped, too.
There are additionally a couple of issues surrounding the TV's design that require a little extra care. First, attaching the stand to the TV is a really very fiddly process, actually made rather scary by the amount of warnings that Philips gives you about how much you need to take care of the screen on account of the delicacy of the Moth Eye filter.
The other issue is also to do with the Moth Eye filter, as it turns out that if you manage to get your fingers on it, is causes a startling amount of mess. So much so that at first you might think you've actually broken the screen.
With this in mind, Philips is shipping a special cleaning fluid and cloth with every 46PFL9706; and you certainly shouldn't try to clean a finger mark with anything else!
Picture quality and moth eye
The impression of outstanding picture quality exhibited by the Philips 46PFL9706 at various displays and shows over the past 12 months is immediately and spectacularly borne out by the experience of watching the TV in a more intimate testing environment.
In fact, there are many times - a great many times - when the Philips 46PFL9706 produces the best pictures yet seen from a flat TV. Seriously.
Right away images look spectacularly punchy, thanks to a combination of three separate elements.
First, the set's brightness output is remarkable.
Second, the TV's colour saturations are gorgeously fully saturated and aggressive.
Thirdly and most eye-catchingly of all, the black levels able to appear right alongside the brightest of whites and most extreme of colours are profoundly deep and rich.
This result of the set's local dimming technology more than anything else separates the Philips 46PFL9706's performance from the flatter, less dynamic look of pictures produced by edge LED or CCFL LCD TVs - even Samsung's 7000 and 8000 televisions.
Regarding the brightness, what's remarkable is how the extreme brightness levels still always look controlled - there's no sense of peak bright areas or the pictures 'flaring out' and losing detail.
As for colours, their intensity does not in any way preclude them from containing almost infinite subtleties of blend and tone. In fact, you might well see some shades of colour distinction in some of your favourite sources that you've not seen before on previous HD sets.
Where the black level response is concerned, the Philips 46PFL9706 produces the most exquisitely deep and rich black colours ever seen from an LCD TV. Period. In fact, remarkably they're even deeper than those of plasma TVs.
The Moth Eye filter undoubtedly plays a huge role in this monumental achievement, as even if the test room lights were turned up to maximum it was practically impossible to see even a trace of reflected light on the TV's screen.
The difference this makes to contrast is astonishing - so much so, in fact, that it has to be seen to be believed.
Closer examination of the set's delicious portrayal of dark scenes reveals that a) there's still a highly credible amount of shadow detailing in dark areas and b) the direct LED problem of haloing/clouding around bright objects against dark backdrops appears only rarely. And even when it does appear, it's very subtle in terms of both its brightness and spread distance.
Furthermore, the brightness of the light picture elements is so extreme on the Philips 46PFL9706H that it distracts you from any slight haloing that might appear.
The haloing effect becomes more obvious and distracting if you watch from an angle - anything more than 30 degrees or so. But this isn't necessarily a big deal unless your room layout routinely requires people to watch from down the TV's sides.
Once you've recovered from the impact of the Philips 46PFL9706's brightness, colour and contrast, you'll also realise that it excels in another key area: sharpness. With HD, its pictures look immaculately crisp and full of pure, noise-free texture and detail, yet this exceptional sharpness is delivered without grain, without fizzing noise, and without edges looking over-sharpened - so long, at least, as you don't overcook the TV's sharpness enhancement circuitry.
The quality of Philips' processing is further apparent with the 46PFL9706's handling of standard definition sources and even online content. Both are upscaled to the screen's full HD resolution with exceptional levels of added sharpness, yet unlike early versions of Philips' processing systems, this sharpness is added without exaggerating noise.
On the contrary, the upscaling processing does a superb job of taking noise out of the picture. Certainly video streamed from the internet has never looked better on such a large screen.
The most controversial part of Philips' mostly outstanding processing effort on the 46PFL9706 is, inevitably, Perfect Natural Motion. And it's definitely true to say, as usual, that applying this even on its lowest setting to films - especially Blu-rays - isn't generally a good idea. The silky fluidity of motion it produces just doesn't look 'filmic', for want of a better word.
Also, if the film has a lot of grain in it, the motion processing does some very strange things indeed, making the grain look like it's flowing like some kind of river across the screen!
Making Perfect Natural Motion even more unnecessary with films is the fact that even without any motion processing active, the Philips 46PFL9706 suffers with scarcely any motion blur or resolution loss at all - so long as you're also careful not to set the noise reduction features too high!
There's no harm with trying Perfect Natural Motion for viewing non-film content, though. Especially since, for the first time ever, Philips has managed to deliver the processing's promised freedom from judder without causing the unwelcome side effect of a shimmering halo around moving objects.
What's really crucial to stress in all this talk of how good the Philips 46PFL9706's 2D pictures are is that all the many and varied benefits palpably introduced to the TV's picture quality by the latest Perfect Pixel HD processing do not make the picture look unnatural.
Because not only does the set produce the most natural picture ever seen from a Philips flat TV, it also produces one of the most natural pictures seen from any TV, period. And ironic though it might sound, its kind of 'invisibility' is ultimately the latest processing engine's most impressive achievement.
Turning to 3D after the Philips 46PFL9706's 2D heroics is slightly disappointing, thanks to that old active 3D nemesis of crosstalk noise. Despite Philips' claims to have addressed this double ghosting concern, it crops up quite regularly on a variety of 3D sources, especially over backgrounds, sometimes to the extent that they look slightly out of focus.
There is, however, a crosstalk fix - delve into the menus, find the 3D Depth control, and select the 'Lower' setting. This instantly kills off almost all crosstalk. Phew. But... it also reduces the depth of the 3D image considerably, so much so that sometimes the picture scarcely looks 3D any more.
Plus, of course, there's the argument that if you reduce the depth of the picture, you're actually not watching it in the way it was designed to be watched.
In all other ways the Philips 46PFL9706's 3D images are exemplary. The set does a brilliant job of rendering all the detail of full HD 3D sources (except for where the ghosting gets in the way).
Motion looks super-sharp too now that the Perfect Natural Motion circuitry can work in three dimensions (though it did seem that there were a fraction more processing artefacts than were visible with 2D).
And Philips' light and comfortable 3D glasses seem to reduce brightness less than most active shutter models, a fact which joins with the screen's innate brightness and dynamism to ensure that its 3D images are arguably the brightest, most colour-rich examples we've seen from an active 3D TV.
Sound, value and gaming
While building the Philips 46PFL9706's speakers into its stand is certainly a novel idea, it's not necessarily one that you'd expect to lead to brilliant sound.
But actually, while the Philips 46PFL9706's sound isn't quite as clear and refined as that of last year's 9000 series (which used rear-mounted bass woofers on the main TV chassis), it's still way more powerful, well-rounded and bass-heavy than that of the vast majority of its peers.
Clearly £2,300 is a hefty amount to cough up for a 46-inch TV. But the Philips 46PFL9706 isn't just any 46-inch TV. It's the very definition of a flagship model, all the way from its sumptuous build quality through to its massive feature list and a fantastic innovation in the Moth Eye filter that has lead to it delivering the best 2D picture of this TV generation.
Finishing up with the 46PFL9706's performance as a gaming monitor, it's pretty brilliant in most ways.
Its combination of sharpness, dynamism and terrific black levels gives HD games an almost unbelievable amount of 'snap', while the set's motion handling avoids the sort of blurring as you pan around that's common with LCD TVs.
The split-screen into full-screen two-player feature works well to some extent too (once you've tracked the feature down through the 'Adjust' button's menu).
The only catches are that you can see a faint representation of the other player's screen 'under' your own, and that during our tests the processing required to resize the top/bottom split-screen image to a full-screen one led to a couple of inches of the picture disappearing off the left side of the screen so that, for instance, you couldn't see much of a Call of Duty map.
The first 46PFL9706 review sample tested disappointingly registered a quite high input lag figure of 80ms. But a second set Philips sent over thankfully produced a vastly more satisfying result of around 30ms, which is easily low enough to 'keep up' with all but the most frenetic of twitch gamers.
Few if any TVs shout 'flagship' at you quite as loudly as the Philips 46PFL9706. Its metallic silver bodywork looks posher than a Harrods hamper, especially when you've got all those lovely Ambilight LEDs turned on, and its feature list reads like a what's what of the cutting edge TV world.
Naturally this feature list includes 3D (of the active Full HD variety) as well as Smart TV functionality including DLNA support, playback of multimedia files from USB sticks, recording from the Freeview HD tuner to USB HDDs, and access to Philips' Net TV service.
Where the Philips 46PFL9706 most earns its corn, though, is with its picture technology - particularly its Moth Eye filter, its direct LED lighting system and its ultra-powerful Perfect Pixel HD processing engine.
The combination of the Moth Eye filter and direct LED lighting helps the Philips 46PFL9706 to deliver exactly what we'd hoped it would: the best picture quality yet seen from an LCD TV. With HD and standard definition alike, its images are ground-breakingly spectacular.
Its multimedia tools are superbly wide-ranging and brilliantly implemented too, and the design of both its remote and its on-screen menus is inspired, making a potentially brain-bending TV surprisingly easy to use.
The TV's audio is good too, with plenty of volume and even a bit of bass to keep you company.
The set's biggest flaw is the appearance of crosstalk with 3D images. It's not terrible by any means, but at its worst it can make backdrops look slightly out of focus.
There's also some very minor light haloing around bright objects if they're against dark backgrounds, but really this only becomes a significant issue if you're watching from a fairly wide angle.
Another issue is that you will have to devote time - potentially quite a lot of time - to learning your way round the pros and cons of all the TV's many processing elements.
Watch any 2D Blu-ray on the Philips 46PFL9706, and you'll scarcely be able to believe that the stunning picture before you is being produced from an LCD TV.
Its simply phenomenal contrast range helps it deliver a genuine leap forward in LCD picture quality that its hard to imagine any other brands being able to get close to for at least a couple of generations, if their current TVs are anything to go by.
The set also looks beautiful, and has every feature anyone could reasonably - or even unreasonably! - expect a TV to carry.
Crosstalk with 3D stops it from being a truly flawless gem, but it still represents a genuine TV milestone.