Philips 40PFL9704 television review

With flatscreen TVs now a commodity market, finding a high-end set that represents the pinnacle of engineering is increasingly tricky – but Philips’ latest LED set strives for just that.

And it just about succeeds. Fitted with what Philips calls a LED Pro panel, this 40-inch LCD TV has a grid of over 1,000 LED lights arranged in a grid behind the screen. Many LED TVs uses ‘edge’ LED lighting, where lights are lined-up only around the sides – hence the high price of this far more extensive incarnation of the LED backlight.

That makes the 40PFL9704 capable of bright light and total darkness, but there’s plenty more that might snag your interest. The most obvious is Ambilight Spectra 3, a three-sided version of Philips’ signature feature. Matching the onscreen colours with coloured lights projected onto the wall behind the TV, it adds a touch of wow factor – although it can be dulled, tuned to be more or less dynamic, or switched off completely.

 

Meanwhile, the 40PFL9704’s five HDMI inputs is almost unheard of, though the side-mounted USB port only covers the minimum we expect – playback of DivX, MP4, MPEG, WMV and JPEG files.

Those same files can be streamed wirelessly from a PC or Mac, while the 40PFL9704 can also connect to the internet to power its Net TV feature. Stuffed with apps, the only ones of any interest are YouTube and Ebay, though both are presented in a rather basic fashion.

These gimmicks may be included to convince you to buy, but one look at how the 40PFL9704 deal with Blu-ray should be enough.

Not surprisingly, the 40PFL9704’s key strength is at reproducing black. Those tiny LED lights are able to switch off dynamically – unlike a regular ‘always on’ LCD backlight – so even tiny areas of the screen can appear to be totally dark, even if there’s a brightly-lit area right beside.

It’s clever stuff, and lends Blu-ray, games, and even Freeview pictures a lot of depth, solidity and – above all – a large dose of realism that makes it one of the most effective HDTVs around.

It’s skill with contrast and blacks makes all the difference to the detail you can actually see in shadowed areas of pictures, as well as helping stretch the colour palette to astonishing levels.

Away from colours, the 40PFL9704 has a trick up its sleeve in the form of Perfect Pixel HD Engine, and more specifically, Perfect Natural Motion. In an effort to rid Blu-ray discs of judder and blur, the 40PFL9704 has circuitry that second guesses what’s about to happen next onscreen, and inserts video frames – thus banishing blur. That’s the theory. In practice, it creates a lucid, flowing picture that’s addictive, though with the feature set to its maximum level, there are noticeable flickers and picture artefacts that might put some off. Even on its least powerful mode, Perfect Natural Motion isn’t, err, perfect, but personally we love it.

Another plus is 40PFL9704’s super-wide viewing angle – which means you can watch from the wings without any colour or contrast draining out of the picture – though it’s not all good news.

Digital TV pictures look rather soft, with a sheen across the picture that makes everything look over-processed and lacking depth. 

Verdict

With powerful speakers and fluid, contrast-heavy pictures, this 40-inch TV shows just what can be done to the flatscreen TV idea. Effective use of LED backlighting and the useful, if slightly flawed, Perfect Natural Motion feature helps create some of the best Blu-ray pictures we’ve seen. And although it’s expensive, there’s little to combat the 40PFL9704 at this price.