Philips 42PF9966 42-inch Ambilight Plasma HDTV Monitor Page 2

SETUP To get things rolling, I connected my DVD player to the TV's DVI jack and my high-def cable box to one of its component-video inputs. You can select from five video presets with names like Natural and Eco, but there's only one global custom picture memory for standard- and another for high-def signals. I found this somewhat limiting since I couldn't store separate picture adjustments for my DVD player and cable box. The set accepts 720p-format HDTV programs, but because it displays them "pixel for pixel" with no vertical scaling, you'll see a "windowboxed" image with black bars on the top and sides. For this reason, I recommend setting your high-def tuner, satellite receiver, or cable box to feed only 1080i-format signals to the TV. Ambilight back

PICTURE QUALITY DVD images looked superb after I made a few adjustments in the TV's hidden service menu (see "in the lab" below). Contrast was solid, with deep blacks and punchy whites, in the sunlit scene from Master and Commander where sailors trade goods with natives, and the blue-green hues of the ocean looked vivid. On closer inspection, the image did have a red bias - something we see on many HDTVs out of the box - which made the sailors look like they'd spent too much time in the sun. I was able to achieve a more natural look by turning the color control down.

The Philips also did a generally good job of rendering dark scenes shot in the ship's interior. For example, there was a decent amount of shadow detail in the post-battle shots of the ship surgeon in his dim, cramped workspace. I did notice some false contouring - bands of color instead of a smooth progression of dark to light tones - but only during fog-enshrouded scenes.

PLUSCrisp high-def performance. Stylish remote control. Image-enhancing backlighting.

MINUSNo custom picture memory for all inputs. Slightly reddish picture.

Any review of this TV would be incomplete without an evaluation of Ambilight, and I'm happy to report that it's a worthwhile feature. Results will vary from room to room, but in my neutral gray-toned space the Cool White setting was just about perfect. Watching the HDTV broadcast of CSI: Miami with Ambilight switched on (the default setting is off) was a truly engaging experience. The backlighting helped bring out the contrast in both the sunny outdoors and dark crime-lab scenes, making the show's already candy-colored palette look even richer. And detail was stunning in the expansive shots of the Miami skyline and the closeups of the scruffy yet serious lab technicians - I could make out the individual hair strands on their furrowed brows.

BOTTOM LINE In the competitive landscape of 42-inch plasma HDTVs, the stylish looks, cool features, and crisp high-def performance of the Philips 42PF9966 make it stand out from the crowd. And its Ambilight system is more than a gimmick - when used correctly it's a picture-enhancing feature that's long overdue.

In the Lab

Color temperature (Warm setting before/after calibration) Low window (20-IRE) .............. 5,073/6,453 K High window (100-IRE) ........... 5,463/6,474 K Brightness (Warm setting before/after calibration, 100-IRE): 24.2/30.5 ftL

With its Warm color temperature selected, the Philips 42PF9966 displayed excellent grayscale tracking after calibration, deviating only ±150 K from the 6,500-K standard throughout its range. (Calibration needs to be performed by a qualified technician with specialized equipment, so discuss it with your dealer before purchase, or call the Imaging Science Foundation at 561-997-9073.) The backlight provided by the Cool White Ambilight setting also measured close to the standard when bounced off a neutral gray wall. Picture overscan was 3% on all sides for both the standard- and high-definition inputs, which is average. Using the color-decoder-error pattern from the Avia test DVD, I measured +10% and -15% errors on the red and green channels, respectively, the effect of which was to skew the color balance slightly toward red. - A.G.