Philips has been making a name for itself recently with some of the finest flatscreen TVs around, and its latest ramps it up still further. Instead of an "always on" LCD panel that often makes pure black look grey or blue, its new 42-inch 42PFL9803H uses 1152 LED lights. Better able to cope with drastic changes in colours (primarily between bright white and deep black), Philips’ aim is surely plasma-like comparisons.

And we’re happy to oblige. This is a stunning television that’s able to lend an almost 3D-like picture from high-def sources equal to any pricey plasma. It does indeed boast a stunning colour palette that’s just as at home with gloomy fare as it with bright scenes, though just as impressive is the stunning clarity of high-def material.

Termed "LED Lux", the 42PFL9803H is also something of a throwback in terms of style. Instead of the usual cheap gloss black plastic frame, Philips has chosen to use a brushed aluminium style that used to be more common on flatscreen TVs. It’s a nice break from the norm, a conclusion that’s forced further by the frame’s unique curled plastic surround. It’s there primarily to catch the glare of Ambilight Spectra 2, a feature that’s built around two strips of LED lights on the set’s sides. It exudes light matching those onscreen, a light show that may sound like a gimmick. Put it to work, and watching a film suddenly becomes a more dynamic experience, with the changing lights seeming to lift the action from the screen in a giddy, intensely involving fashion.

With deep and detailed blacks, intense whites and a complete lack of blur or smear during fast-moving scenes, this highly detailed LED Lux panel hosts a cinematic treat - but only for those who know what they’re doing.

Using the fiddly remote (it’s hamstrung by a very sensitive clickwheel design), it’s only possible to create those stunning pictures by diving into the onscreen menus. Head for picture settings and there’s a lot there to trip-up the casual users, so much so that we would recommend getting an expert to set-up this set for you.

At this price it’s likely you’re prepared to invest some time, or get help from the independent dealer you bought it from, to get the most from the 42PFL9803H. If neither is likely, here’s some quick tips on how to use this TV’s Perfect Pixel HD suite of processing options - the secret behind its success: set HD Natural Motion to "maximum" and 100Hz Clear LCD to "on". Bypass its Advanced Sharpness mode - it can bring some nasty dotty picture noise despite its appealing name. Set the Dynamic Contrast to "medium", then put the Dynamic Backlight on "best picture". The 42PFL9803H LED panel will now be on its best blur-bashing and black-boosting behaviour.

Verdict

Fiddly, but worth it, the 42PFL9803H is a versatile beast offering cinematic brilliance across the spectrum. A whizz at upscaling DVDs and even Freeview pictures to fit its Full HD screen without any video nasties, the 42PFL9803H is also fitted with four HDMI inputs, a USB slot and even some basic wired PC networking for streaming, though limited file compatibility for video makes this latter feature a frustrating experience. Not so the speakers, which push out impressive power and clarity that’s hard to equal in the flatscreen world.

The 42PFL9803H’s use of LED lights behind the screen enable it to do things that few LCD TVs can - but it comes at a high price. Bear in mind that a plasma from the likes of Panasonic costs half as much, and even Pioneer sell a 50-inch plasma for the same dosh. But if you’re a wealthy LCD TV addict, the feature-loaded 42PFL9803H is a real treat.