Philips 46PFL9707 £2500
11th Dec 2012 | 17:20
Moth Eye returns on this rare direct LED TV
The annual winter release of Philips' flagship TV has become a bit of an occasion at TechRadar, with the Dutch brand's 9000 Series regularly at the forefront of LED TV tech - and the arrival of this 46-inch TV doesn't change that.
We are slightly confused as to why Philips puts its top TV tech on a 46-inch TV rather than something huger, but the luscious-looking Philips 46PFL9707 is nevertheless welcome.
Its brushed metallic bezel measures 17mm (0.67 inches), which may not be the slimmest around (its depth of 46mm (1.81 inches) isn't class-leading at this price, either), but the Philips 46PFL9707 has plenty of cutting edge quality elsewhere.
The Philips 46PFL9707 receives the most comprehensive, three-sided Ambilight Spectra XL, whereby strips of LED lights line the sides and top of the TV's rear; during TV and/or video, dynamically changing coloured lights inspired by what's showing on the screen create a light show in the area of the wall behind the TV.
Adaptable to the colour of the wall, it's a feature that's said to reduce eye strain, but it's also got to be said that Ambilight is one of the few TV features left that's truly unique - and a real show-off feature.
It can also be set to an ISF (Imaging Science Foundation)-approved 'ISF Warm White', the science being that a soft white light behind the area of viewing helps create the illusion of deeper contrast.
The Philips 46PFL9707 has no truck with reflections, and nor does it need help with contrast, since the use of that Moth Eye tech helps create a spec that boasts of the highest figures we're yet seen; a staggering 150,000,000:1 contrast ratio. Blimey.
There is other tech at work in this department on the Philips 46PFL9707, though it's Philips' use of a 'direct' LED Pro Full HD panel - one of the few left in the flatscreen TV market - that helps the TV accurately display mixed brightness images. It has 240 separate segments each lit by an LED.
Net TV sees a refresh, as does the core user interface, while Zeitgest features such as Wi-Fi and digital file playback from USB flash drives and networked computers, as well as recordings from the Philips 46PFL9707's Freeview HD tuner, also feature.
Lastly, the Philips 46PFL9707 includes 3D Max, an active shutter-based 3D system whose extra dollop of detail (compared to passive 3D systems) is a no-brainer on a flagship TV destined for home cinemas.
The 9000 Series is always an exclusive collection, with our review sample, the Philips 46PFL9707, playing the starring role and being priced at £2,500 (around AU$3,833/US$4,029).
For the first time the Philips 9000 Series doesn't feature a 40-inch option, though there is a 60-inch version, the Philips 60PFL9707, which may also be coming to the UK. Sadly, it doesn't use a Moth Eye filter, though - the Philips 46PFL9707 is a true one-off.
We realise that smart TV is largely about convenience and catch-up TV that's most important in the living room, but anyone prepared to spend £2,500 (around AU$3,833/US$4,029) on a TV will probably expect a more polished smart TV platform than the Philips 46PFL9707 provides.
Called Net TV and Smart TV depending on where you look, the Philips 46PFL9707' app platform is accessed either from the TV's central carousel of icons, or via a shortcut on the remote.
Pleasingly it now includes a 'Now on TV' thumbnail with audio that's about 1/6 of the size of the screen, though the effect is tempered by the inclusion of an advert for one of the available apps.
The home screen also includes the date, time, outside temperature and a basic icon representing the weather. There's even a Twitter icon in the top-right of the live TV thumbnail, though when we selected it the Philips 46PFL9707 showed us a pop-up blank screen. We didn't Tweet that.
Apps, arranged along the bottom of the screen, are in two chunks; the first contains icons for an App Gallery, Social TV, BBC iPlayer, a web browser, Facebook, Acetrax, Absolute Radio, YouTube, Napster, Aupeo radio and CNBC Real-Time.
The second panel, which needs navigating to, comprises Picasa, Viewster, Euronews, Meteonews, iConcerts, Screendreams, Funspot and CineTrailer. Luckily there are Fasttext commands to move, lock and remove apps, so it's easy to customize Net TV.
However, the best is yet to come; select the blue Fasttext button and the remote magically turns into a Nintendo Wii-style pointer. It works really well; it's fast, accurate and responsive - but it sadly only works on this apps screen, and not with the TV's core user interface.
With this in mind the double-sided remote control - which sports a full QWERTY keyboard on one side - might seem like overkill. It's primarily for operating the open web browser found on Net TV, though that's still not as slick as on the smartphone most of us have in our pockets.
One 'missing' app, Skype, is found on the Philips 46PFL9707's core user interface away from Net TV. Powered by an optional add-on TV camera, Skype sits on the end of a slick new interface that's built around a simple carousel of icons for all main TV functions.
Ambilight we've already explained, but what's Moth Eye? It's a contrast-boosting filter deep down in the panel's construction, a nanostructure that takes its inspiration from the way insects' eyes are constructed so as to avoid giving away their location to predators. By blocking out light, says Philips, the filter deepens black tones and boosts peak whites without the usual side-effect of haloing.
Expect to see this tech used on other brand's TVs very soon - as well as on TVs lower down in Philips' ranges in 2013.
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Meanwhile, endemic to this direct LED panel's skills at creating both black and brightness are two slabs of technology; Bright Pro and Micro Dimming Premium.
Elsewhere the Philips 46PFL9707 is similarly advanced, with its Pixel Perfect HD suite of picture processing tech including Clear LCD to remove blur from fast-moving images. An 'ISF expert settings' menu is also available for ambitious tweakers, with options to alter gamma, video contrast, and colour temperature.
It's no surprise that the Philips 46PFL9707 uses what Philips calls 3D Max, an active shutter array, though unusually there's a choice between Flicker Free and Maximum Clarity. More about that later.
Our sample arrived with two pairs of Philips PTA507 3D specs, which recharge using a USB cable.
Ins and outs are plentiful. Along the bottom on the TV set's connectivity panel is a 15-pin D-sub input for hooking up a PC, a Scart (via an adaptor), RF in, a USB port and three HDMI inputs, while just above that line-up is a LAN port and three adaptor points for composite video, component video and phonos.
On the side, though still comfortably withdrawn from the edge of the TV, are two more HDMI inputs - taking the total count to an unbeatable five - alongside two more USB slots, a digital optical audio output, headphones slot, and a Common Interface sot.
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In our often gloomy Blu-ray test disc War Horse we immediately discovered that the Moth Eye and Micro Dimming Premium technologies are indeed an advance on last year's flagship attempt. Areas of black during sequences of Joey galloping through no-man's land are utterly profound, while shadow detail in the shirt of a farmer in a gloomy stable also impresses.
However, peak whites are just as pure, with mixed brightness images the most impressive; the farmer's stable is dark, but bright light streams in from a series of small windows - and still there's profound black on either side.
We noticed only a small amount of haloing and glare around the brightest of white segments within an image that boasts luscious, subtle colouring as well as excellent contrast and black levels.
This is direct LED local dimming - a tech that's virtually died out among other brands - at its unbeatable best, though arguably it's still not as fluid a picture as, say, a top-end Panasonic plasma TV.
In War Horse, as Albert runs out of the farm, arms flailing behind him, there's a distinct flicker, and when he arrives in the village there's an uncomfortable shimmer around him as he swivels and stops.
This is down to some frame interpolation tech called Perfect Natural Motion (PNM) being on its highest setting; for most films it's best left on its lowest setting - or de-activated, as it is on our preset picture mode of choice, ISF Night.
We found that War Horse was smoother with PNM on its minimum power, though in some sequences it worked well even on full power. A jerky, high-paced sequence involving a calvary invasion of an army camp is made watchable by PNM, while watching the same scenes jerk and judder without it activated seems a step backwards.
That's not to say that PNM doesn't introduce some flicker around moving objects. It definitely does, but it's worth auditioning to see whether its smother, video-like imagery is to your taste.
Reflections, too, are kept to an absolute minimum in daylight, though the Philips 46PFL9707's impressive images are still best viewed in dingy light with ISF Night mode, and with both Perfect Contrast and the Dynamic Backlight disengaged; the latter tends to introduce crushed blacks and a loss of shadow detail.
Granted, it does take some experimenting and the odd tweak here and there, but the best aspect about this potentially complicated TV is that its images rarely look processed. And that, as anyone who's encountered Pixel Plus through the ages, is a rare feat.
Put all of this together and we'd judge the Philips 46PFL9707 as having the finest 2D Blu-ray performance of any LCD-based TV on the planet.
Unfortunately that doesn't extend to 3D. Turning to a 3D Blu-ray disc of Hugo, we tinkered with two key settings beyond the '3D Experience' tab; Max Clarity and Flicker Free - and it's a straight choice between the two.
In whatever conditions we tried, Flicker Free introduced crosstalk, where images meant for one eye can be seen by the other, and vice versa. Yuck.
The opening panoramic sequence to Hugo is impressive in either mode, but as soon as actors and close-ups are introduced, it's got to be Max Clarity - and even then we noticed some image echos. Oddly we didn't get distracted by flicker on Max Clarity, anyway.
Either way, a quick blast of PNM on its medium setting makes 3D more fluid and watchable, though it can't do much about that crosstalk.
Usability, sound and value
We like the new Philips user interface largely for its simplicity; hit the Home button and a carousel of icons appears. TV, Smart TV, Source, TV Guide, Recordings, Skype and Setup are included by default.
Net TV benefits hugely from the use of a dual-core processor inside the Philips 46PFL9707, though it's the 'magic' pointer remote control and QWERTY keyboard options we like most of all.
While using the pointer to operate the home screen of apps is nothing to get excited about, we're initially ecstatic to use it while operating the open web browser.
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However, beyond the easy clicking of tabs and web links on any given page, it soon becomes apparent that it's almost impossible to scan down pages if you want to read them. Sadly it's not possible to use the remote's arrow keys for scanning while the pointer is engaged.
The remote itself is impressive, with a brushed metallic finish and buttons within rockers that spread across the remote. Commands are clearly labelled and easily accessible, while the QWERTY keyboard on the reverse is sensibly divided into two parts either side of the battery cover.
The latter takes a little bit of time to get to know, but features handy shortcuts such as .com and www.
Accessed from an icon on the Sources carousel, a USB's contents can be accessed without first having to choose between photo, video or music. In our test we managed to get AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPEG, WMV and WMV HD video files, but only the JPEG format of photos.
Music support includes MP3, M4A and WMA. Choose Network on the source list and it's hence possible to browse a connected PC or Mac sporting UPnP software, though only AVI and MP4 video files were playable in our test.
The Philips 46PFL9707 has awesome sound; emanating from two 20W speakers in the desktop stand, War Horse's soundtrack of the bombs and blasts of the Somme are wide and detailed - especially on the excellent Movie mode.
Bass levels are just high enough to contend with films, though treble detail can be a touch harsh at the limits. However, Auto Incredible Surround 3D doesn't improve on Movie mode.
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It's difficult to judge any television that costs £2,500 (around AU$3,833/US$4,029) as good value per se, but at least the Philips 46PFL9707 can be said to be a reference-quality product - though strictly only for 2D Blu-ray.
It's got all the features one might want from a TV, including myriad HDMI ports, Wi-Fi and a luscious metallic design that's backed up by quality manufacturing.
However, with disappointing 3D and a smart TV platform that lacks pizazz, the Philips 46PFL9707 is hardly the bargain of the year.
The Philips 46PFL9707 is one of the nicest looking TVs around - and in more ways than one. With an awesome build quality that extends to unusually good quality speakers, too, Philips' flagship TV is something very special for 2D Blu-ray playback.
Spin a Blu-ray disc and the Philips 46PFL9707 is capable of producing the best-ever black levels, contrast and detail from an LED-backlit LCD TV. Mixed brightness sequences amaze, and rarely look processed.
Net TV is much improved, largely because of the new double-sided remote control - another slab of high quality hardware - and its clever cursor-style navigation.
Though refreshed, Net TV remains relatively weak, with only BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Acetrax of much interest - and no sign of the likes of ITV Player, Netflix or Lovefilm.
If you're after a home cinema screen then that issue won't be important, but the Philips 46PFL9707's crosstalk-scared 3D very well might be.
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Wrapped in both the finest brushed metallic build quality around and an Ambilight glow, and supplied with an innovative and powerful speaker system, the Philips 46PFL9707 is special in so many ways.
A new user interface proves flexible, and the TV's keyboard-backed pointer remote dazzles, though it's mixed brightness sequences and total black that are this Direct LED-backlit LCD TV's clear highlights.
It's just such a shame that Net TV offers few apps and, worse, that 3D is plagued by crosstalk. Still, there's no arguing about the Philips 46PFL9707's title as king of 2D Blu-ray.
In terms of flagship TVs there are some awesome choices out there, from the uncompromising Samsung UE55ES8000 with voice control and a sci-fi design (and a super-slim bezel), the elegant (though with a very similar 3D crosstalk problem as this Philips) Sony KDL-46HX853 to two from Panasonic; the TX-L47WT50B and the fluid of movement, intense of black 'king of plasma', the Panasonic TX-P50VT50B.