Philips Ambilight 42PF9731D 42-inch LCD HDTV Page 2

The Short Form
$2,850 ($2,999 LIST) / 43.1 x 31.3 x 4.5 IN / 68 LBS / / 888-744-5477
•Passive Ambilight modes reduce eyestrain •Clean video processing •Well-detailed shadows for an LCD
•Active Ambilight modes can be distracting •Inaccurate color of green •Image washes out from off-angle
Key Features
•42-inch 1,366 x 768 resolution flat-panel LCD •Three-way Ambilight active backlights •2 HDMI, 2 component-video inputs (one can accept PC or other RGB sources) •CableCARD slot
Test Bench
The 42PF9731D's Warm color temperature, which is available only in the Personal picture mode, came relatively close to the 6,500K standard but varied quite a bit across its range from dark to light. The 6,500K standard is also ideal for a neutral backlight, and the Ambilight in Cool White mode was relatively accurate, if noticeably blue, at about 7,574K. The screen's primary colors of red and blue were accurate, although green was both a bit yellowish and undersaturated. Black-level performance was average among flat-panel LCDs I've tested. Full Lab Results
PICTURE QUALITY I started my evaluation with the DVD of Munich, and it soon became clear that, Ambilight aside, the Philips performs fairly well for an LCD HDTV. The film begins in darkness as the terrorists sneak into the Olympic facility. While the depth of black could have been better - the letterbox bars and night sky above the facility were lighter than on some LCDs I've evaluated - details in shadows were excellent, something not often seen on LCD panels. I could note the texture of the brick dormitory wall behind the terrorists and the expressions in the shadowed faces of their unknowing American helpers. The image also looked quite clean, with smooth gradations in the light filtering through the trees. I did notice an area in the upper right of the screen that was lighter than the rest of the image, generally more noticeable in darker scenes. This is something I've seen in other flat-panel LCDs, and it wasn't terribly bothersome. I also noticed that, when viewed from the sides or above or below, the image became more washed-out than on a lot of other LCDs I've tested, which could be a problem for people sitting far off center.

Keeping with the German theme, I watched a bit of World Cup soccer, Germany vs. Argentina, on ESPNHD. Detail was excellent via HDMI: I could see differences in the haircuts of the players from the wide shot, examine the fine netting of the goal, and discern the black stripes in the ball even as it swung through the air. As usual with late-generation LCD displays, I didn't see any lag, no matter how quickly the ball traveled. I did notice that the grass on the field appeared a bit too yellow and slightly less intense than it should have, though.

AMBILIGHT Philips makes much of the Ambilight feature on its flat-panel TVs and cites studies demonstrating its popularity and effectiveness for reducing eyestrain and enhancing the viewing experience. For maximum effect, the company recommends you turn the room lighting down or completely off, as well as place the set close to a white or light gray background. I did both (since I couldn't wall-mount the TV, I set up a white screen about 3 inches behind the panel).

The idea of the dynamic modes, the ones that cause the Ambilights to follow onscreen action, is to expand the picture beyond the screen itself. Sometimes Ambilight succeeds at this, but more often I found it simply distracting. For example, during scenes in Munich with gradual changes - such as when Avner (Eric Bana) walks along a waterfront - the backlighting was relatively docile, mostly throwing a neutral palette behind the screen. But when the onscreen colors changed quickly, as in a sequence where the camera moves over a row of rapidly opening, flashy brass safe-deposit boxes, my attention shifted to the backlights. Even at Ambilight's least intense setting, Relaxed, I was distracted by the fluctuations in brightness and intensity of the background lighting.

Occasional disconnects between the color of the Ambilight and the onscreen colors didn't help. During a shot of blue sky behind the Eiffel tower, for example, instead of complementing the shot by turning bluer, Ambilight maintained the same reddish white until a green tree came into view and then shifted lighting toward green. The dynamic modes were less distracting while watching the soccer game, with its essentially unchanging brightness and wide shots of similar colors. I liked the Cool White mode even better; it doesn't change in concert with the screen image and comes relatively close to the ideal color for a backlight. Even set at minimum it was too bright in my dark room, but when I turned up the room lights a bit, its effect was entirely welcome: It made the whole backdrop appear more neutral, with a smooth transition from the screen to the rest of the room.

BOTTOM LINE The Philips Ambilight 42PF9731D 42-inch LCD HDTV can produce a commendable picture in bright light, although its home theater image falls a bit short of what the best LCDs out there can produce. And though I wasn't overly impressed by Ambilight, it's obvious that Philips put a lot of thought and research into it, and I have little doubt that many viewers less critical about home theater image fidelity than I would find the effect more soothing. If you're looking for an HDTV with that extra flair, it's hard to imagine anything that will make more of a statement.

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