Philips 55PP9701HD-ready rear-projection televison

Because of manufacturing and publishing lead times, Christmas-season products are shown in June. That's when I had my first encounter with the Philips 55PP9701—at a line show, a press event at which a company shows its entire line of new products. There the 55PP9701 was, along with Philips' new light bulbs, shavers, blood-pressure monitors, and budget-priced A/V receivers.

By the time of this encounter, I'd seen plenty of high-definition televisions at home and elsewhere. But one glance at this baby and I forgot about light bulbs and shavers, though I wished I had that blood-pressure monitor—my blood pressure went through the roof when I first eyed this $4700 set displaying high-definition football via a Sencore hard drive.

The 55PP9701 struck me as something special, and I asked for a review sample to be sent as soon as one became available. The Philips guy who ran me through the set's features seemed pretty cocky at the time—he knew the set was top-shelf. I couldn't wait to get one. It took a few months, but here it is, and here it will stay.

Inside and Out
The Philips 55PP9701 is one sleek, attractive big-screener, and the small footprint of its base makes the set seem smaller than it really is. Its appearance could help sell it to significant others, but the picture is what sold me. And once Kevin Miller, my ISF calibrator, had finished focusing and calibrating the color temperature, not only was the picture even better, but I knew why the set had looked so good to begin with.

Miller didn't have to disable the velocity-scan modulation circuitry because Philips wisely chose to not include it in the first place. As you can see from the graph in the "Gray-Scale Tracking" sidebar, when he'd finished his work (which included physical and electronic focusing), the 55PP9701 did an excellent job of tracking a gray scale from 100 to 20 IRE. The bright end of the scale, from 90 to 55 IRE, was up a few hundred degrees. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find better performance from a rear-projection television at any price, as a perusal of SGHT back issues proved. "Among the best I've seen from a rear-projection television," Miller commented.

My later tests, using both the Avia and Video Essentials test DVDs, indicated a very accurate NTSC decoder with only a tiny amount (the least I've seen yet) of red "push," virtually perfect geometry out of the box, around 500 lines of horizontal resolution from the 7-inch CRTs, great color uniformity across the screen, and only a slight pinking of a white field on the right side of the screen. Color bars looked outstanding, with particularly good rendering of yellow—not surprising, given the accurate decoding of red. Convergence was impressive, with only a slight amount of the fringing at the edges that's typical of rear-screeners, while the focus, not surprisingly, also diminished somewhat at the edges. The zone-plate frame indicated the line doubler's inclusion of 3:2 pulldown. Black-level restoration was right on the money as well. A fairly objectionable crescent-shaped screen reflection was visible in the black/white frame, but this, too, is typical of rear-projection sets. Overall, you couldn't ask for better measured performance from a rear projector.

Features, Connectivity, Operation
The HD input section includes a 15-pin RGB/VGA input, a component-video input (which the manual claims can also serve as an RGB input, though there's no selector switch), plus H/H+V sync. Thus, one can use RCA's DTC100 without an adapter box. However, the DTC100's odd retrace timing will still result in a somewhat squeezed picture with non-HD material, though I've been told a downloadable software fix will come soon that will solve that problem for good. If you have an HD tuner with component-video outputs and a progressive-scan DVD player, you'll need to use the component-video switching on your A/V receiver (make sure it has sufficient bandwidth for HDTV), or add an external component-video switcher.

There are three sets of non-HD A/V inputs, two of which include component video as well as S-video and composite. The third set is on the right side of the base, but this shouldn't create an access problem, as the screen is wider than the base.

Features include dual-tuner PIP, APAC (automatic phosphor-aging compensation), three color-temperature settings, the usual V-chip nonsense, channel labeling, a universal remote control with programming codes, and Guide Plus+, an electronic program guide that includes automatic VCR recording using supplied IR devices. Guide Plus+ downloads programming information daily from broadcast and cable and creates a grid display from which you can choose programs to tape to VCR, or just watch by selecting a show and pushing a button. It's a very nice extra, but if you're using an outboard digital tuner, it's moot—unless you connect your antenna and/or cable to the set, which you may want to do anyway to make use of the PIP.

Other features include Clearview, which removes snow and noise (didn't use it), Video Enhancement for extra sharpness (didn't use it), and Flesh Correction (didn't use it). Convergence is a multi-point system similar to Toshiba's. Once you've made your adjustments, you hit an onscreen Save Data prompt, for a nice confirmation that all of your work has been saved in memory.

Selecting the video input is convenient: you scroll down to the one you want and choose it instead of having to toggle through each one, as you must on some sets. In the analog input modes you can choose 4:3, 16:9, Theater 1 or 2, and Panoramic 16:9. Never mind that the instructions tell you that there are two Zoom modes that don't exist, and fail to tell you about 16:9 and Panoramic 16:9. The set is loaded with other useful features, including a convenient speaker terminal so you can use the built-in speakers for your center channel. I didn't audition the built-in audio, figuring anyone spending this kind of money will have an A/V receiver and outboard loudspeakers.

One useful feature is Auto Picture, which gives you five memory settings for video and audio. You can select one, and customize all A/V parameters (Tint, Color, Brightness, etc.) to suit a particular kind of picture. The five memories are labeled Sports, Movies, Weak Signal, Cartoons, and Custom, but you can rename them to your liking. For instance, your spouse may not like to watch TV in the calibrated Movies mode. ("It's too damn dark!") You can name one memory setting after her and let her run wild!