Philips Ambilight 42PF9731D 42-inch LCD HDTV

As anyone who has ever fallen asleep in front of Leno can tell you, watching a small, bright television from across a dark room can cause headaches. One of the best ways to alleviate this is to reduce the brightness difference between the screen and the rest of your field of vision. You can turn down the brightness on your TV or increase ambient lighting in the room, but if you turn up the room lighting too much, you'll wash out the picture.

What We Think
This bigscreen LCD offers slick style and a clean picture, but its splashy Ambilight backlight might distract some home theater buffs
Often, the best solution is to put a dim backlight behind the screen itself. That's the idea behind the Philips Ambilight HDTVs, including the new 42PF9731D 42-inch LCD. This flat-panel HDTV has three fluorescent backlights on the top and sides of its back cabinet. Place it on or near a white wall, and the colored lights project past the frame around the screen. Ambilight can be set to respond to the onscreen image - turning blue during a wide shot of a blimp in the summer sky over a sporting event, for example, then green when the camera returns to the grassy field. In effect, it extends the screen's colors toward the edges of your walls and ceiling.

Seen from the front, the Philips Ambilight 42PF9731D gives no hint that it's anything but a normal flat-panel TV. Glossy is the new black, and while this sleek set looks cooler than matte black, it does collect fingerprints and reflect some room light, and the inside edge of the frame itself catches bright light from the screen. A black speaker grille ringed with silver extends below the frame the width of the set, while the whole thing is mounted on a slick swivel pedestal with a frosted glass base.

The large, angular remote reminded me of one of Superman's crystal shards. It lacks backlighting and was a stretch to operate with one thumb, but it looks so distinctive that I'd feel guilty retiring it for a universal model.

0609_philips_remoteSETUP With a pair of HDMI jacks, two component-video inputs, and an assortment of lower-rez connections, the 42PF9731D can handle just about any home theater gear. Although I would've liked a dedicated VGA PC input, the RGB input can accept computer signals up to 1,024 x 768. Philips throws in a CableCARD slot but no built-in electronic program guide. There are also side USB ports to accommodate digital files from thumb drives.

After hooking up all my gear, I set about tweaking the picture for optimal quality in my darkened room. Unfortunately, none of the five picture presets can be adjusted and none uses the most accurate color temperature preset, Warm, so I stuck with the only adjustable setting, Personal. I was disappointed that Personal applied globally to every input, which stymied my plans to fine-tune my DVD and HDTV sources individually.

Philips offers numerous proprietary-sounding picture controls, and I worked my way through them all. In the end, I left on only the ClearLCD function (though I couldn't detect any benefit from it); Pixel Plus processing, which smoothed jagged lines on some low-quality sources; and Noise reduction, which did a great job of cleaning up those pesky, snowy-looking motes on noisy S-video material.