Can a TV be considered high-end if it has no Freeview HD tuner? Clocking in at just shy of £2000, Philips’ latest may lack the latest free high-def TV channels, but combines 3D and pin-sharp Blu-ray pictures with Ambilight and Net TV to create a stunning TV.
It may be 3D-ready, but it’s a DIY job on this 9000 Series 40-incher, though the absence of a 3D transmitter doesn't make a huge difference in practice. Attaching to a port on the back, the wired-in 6-inch wide transmitter can be stuck (literally - there’s a peel-off adhesive strip on its bottom) on the top, or on the weighty desktop stand. If you’ve a Wii to partner with the 40PFL9705, it’s probably best to keep them apart to avoid a crowd of accessories, though the transmitter is at its most stable on the desktop (which, incidentally, also acts as a hefty wall-mount).
Though the transmitter does rather interrupt what is an otherwise clean and classy dark grey, brushed aluminium frame, there are other reasons why you might not want to put this TV on the wall though; because it uses contrast-pushing Direct LED (called LED Pro by Philips) tech, it's chubbier than some Edge-lit LED sets, though its unique Ambilight feature is a better reason to keep it off the wall.
Matching colours to those found on screen at any given moment, the dynamic colours spread around a wall by the three-sided Ambilight strips on this TV’s rear, creating an extra layer of wow factor you just won't find on any other brand of TV - although it’s designed largely to reduce eyestrain.
If that wow factor is worth having, we’re not quite as convinced about the 40PFL9705’s 3D images. LCD panels are brighter than plasma sets when it comes to 3D, and that’s the case here, too, though the active shutter technology that’s become standard does cause a constant flicker that’s hard to ignore. The two pairs of included glasses, while comfortable, are set too far forward, which introduces a reflection in each corner.
Colourful, contrast-heavy and brighter than a 3D plasma, there’s nevertheless significant issues with watching 3D on this – or any – LCD TV, whether it’s LED-backlit or not. During our 3D test footage a shot of bank notes tossed into the foreground just causes us a headache; each object is seen fluttering as a double image (this is crosstalk - the left eye sees the image meant for the right eye, and vice-versa), and is indistinguishable as a separate 3D image. It’s these kinds of depth perception issues in both backgrounds and foregrounds that lead us to believe that LCD technology isn’t suited to 3D just yet, though when the depth of field in a shot is less obvious (i.e., where the 3D effect is less powerful, and less necessary) the 40PFL9705 produces a picture that’s free from crosstalk and incredibly nuanced in terms of detail. Relatively speaking this is a reasonable attempt at 3D, but there’s another reason why LCD and 3D can’t often produce comfortable viewing, and that’s motion blur; fast-moving objects are a bit of a mess.
If 3D needs some work, Philips has pretty much perfected 2D Blu-ray, with a judder-free and highly detailed image that lacks motion blur. Digital TV is also highly impressive, with a clean and up-rezzed image. Sound, too, is far better than on Philips’ rivals’ TVs; the extra girth from using Full LED technology (where LED lights are strung right across the back of the panel, rather than around the sides of thinner “edge” LED-lit LCD TVs) has been used to this set’s advantage - there’s even subwoofer attached to the back.
Around the front, the user interface is a major plus point. The home screen is divided into blue icons on a black background, with the option to add shortcuts to the various devices you might want to attach to the 40PFL9705. Permanent shortcuts exist already for Watch TV, browsing Net TV, USB and PC sources, with other icons for settings, a help screen and Scenea – which appears to be a picture of a butterfly that automatically kills the TV dead after 4 hours.
“Connected” TVs might be ten-a-penny, but Philips is the only brand to feature an open Opera web browser. Having to manually type-in web addresses using an alphabetical onscreen keyboard is annoying, while the lack of Flash support makes the websites you actually want to use - such as the BBC webpages or iPlayer - unusable. Having to scroll down each live link on a page in turn also makes using the web on the 40PFL9705 slow going.
The new-look Net TV platform includes widgets for Cartoon Network and Box Office 365, as well as those for YouTube, Picasa, Dailymotion, Screen Dreams, radiotime, funspot, MeteoConsult (weather), France 24 (exceptionally loud news. In French.). There are also a few optional “apps” to download, including Ebay, Cinetrailer and TomTom HD Traffic. There’s nothing here that’s essential viewing.
There’s no Freeview HD or built-in 3D, but armed with a 3D transmitter and a quite brilliant SD upscaler, this delectable high-end LED-backlit TV proves that there’s no match for careful picture processing and high-end build quality.