Philips Ambilight 32PFL9604 television

Occasionally we come across a TV that can take days to review properly, and the feature-packed Philips 32PFL9604 is certainly one of them. A diminutive 32-inch size, this aluminium-framed LCD TV is also one of the most tempting - not because of its unusual looks or endless ingredients, but because it boasts a precision with high-def and digital TV that we’ve not often come across.

Wi-Fi, web browsing, a clever USB slot that shows DivX video, dynamic lighting that projects onto walls, and internet radio are just a few of the drawcards Philips has lined-up inside the 32PFL9604.

The most impressive of which is actually Perfect Pixel HD, a processing system that boosts contrast and colour and removes blur and judder. It’s tremendously successful, even if the de-juddering technology - called HD Natural Motion - brings some artefacts around fast-moving objects. It’s a necessary evil because that same tech also helps produce a graceful picture from Blu-ray that shows a lot of depth and helps increase the detail and keep it consistently high, whatever the shot. This is a really special high-def picture, no question. Colour and contrast and also stronger than on most LCD screens, with little blur visible either.

The highly detailed and blur-free picture carries onto Freeview, where the blocking and shimmering edges so common on LCD TVs of this size are nowhere to be seen. No wonder the 32PFL9604 is so expensive.

The hefty outlay also secures a novel light show for your lounge. The 32PFL9604 is fitted with a stereo version of Ambilight, which is capable of spraying your living room walls with coloured lights on both sides. How those lights change colour - or, indeed, if they show anything other than blue or white light - is up to you, by dint of a series of menus accessed straight from the remote control allowing almost endless customisation.

Now using four separate zones of colour, Ambilight at its best is very involving and also (it’s claimed, quite reasonably if our experience is anything to go by) reduces eyestrain. There’s also an argument for Ambilight increasing the perceived contrast of what’s playing onscreen.

Accessed through Wi-Fi (just enter your WEP key) or by the 32PFL9604’s Ethernet LAN port, Net TV proves one of the best stabs at internet TV yet. Its six content partners (which Philips promises us will increase) include streaming from YouTube, Tunin FM internet radio, Myalbum.com photo streaming, social networking via Netlog (who?), Funspot games (such as Blackjack and Solitaire) and weather forecasts and satellite imagery from MeteoConsult. You can also access the web en masse by laboriously entering web addresses on a virtual keyboard. That’s odd, because entering search items on YouTube - whose interface is good, though not as attractive or as quick as Panasonic’s Viera Cast - involves using the remote control number keys, as you would send a text message on a phone. Much easier.

Web surfing is OK; pages load reasonably quickly and though scrolling down pages and selecting items to "click" are both terribly slow, the biggest problem is video - or lack of it. The BBC’s iPlayer, for instance, is off-limits because Flash media is not supported, something that rules out playing videos from most news sites, too.

More content partners and features are promised, and it shows, these (so far very few) icons can be sorted into various genres, demonstrating that there’s a lot more to come. Although not perfect, Net TV is more user friendly - and useful - than comparable features such as Sony’s Applicast, just shading Samsung’s Internet@TV.

Significantly its Wi-Fi networking, which runs on the usually PC-centric DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) protocol, does work with Macs running TwonkyMedia media server software though loading times are often frustrating. The 32PFL960’s USB input is also impressive, coping with everything from DivX video files to MP3.

Verdict

TV brands often try to differentiate themselves by offering unique features, but Philips has gone the whole hog by stuffing this great looking 32-incher with top tech. Encompassing everything from internet access to Wi-Fi connection to a computer, the 32PFL9604 proves, above all, to be a stellar performer with any video source - and boasts the best-ever Blu-ray picture on a 32-inch TV. Expensive, but you know what they say…


>