Traditionally - and entirely understandably - moths and televisions haven’t had that much in common. Surprisingly, though, the moth and TV worlds suddenly came together in spectacular fashion at the end of 2011 when Philips realised that reproducing on a TV the nodular design of moths’ eyes that stops them reflecting light at night, could have a pretty startling impact on picture quality.
The result was the 46PFL9706. And its Moth-Eye filter turned out to be much more than a mere sales gimmick, helping the TV to set new LCD TV contrast standards. Given the critical acclaim that followed, it’s hardly a shock to find Philips now wheeling out Moth Eye mark II, courtesy of the 46PFL9707. But can this set really improve on the sky-high standards of its predecessor?
Philips, at least, is convinced it can, and has numbers to “prove” it. For the 46PFL9707‘s extraordinary claimed contrast ratio of 150,000,000:1 is three times as high as the one claimed by the 46PFL9706 - a feat achieved by minimising the reflections you get between the many layers that go into producing a finished LCD TV panel.
Also undoubtedly contributing to the 46PFL9707’s massive claimed contrast performance is its use of locally dimmed direct LED lighting, where the lights sit directly behind the screen rather than around its edges. The local dimming element means that 240 clusters of the LEDs can have their light levels controlled individually, allowing deep blacks to rest right alongside punchy whites and rich colours in a way not possible with edge-LED or CCFL LCD technology.
Helping deliver this level of light control is Philips’ latest image processing engine: Perfect Pixel HD. This extremely powerful processing system is actually involved in pretty much every aspect of the 46PFL9707’s pictures, having elements devoted to colour, contrast, sharpness and motion, among other things. All of these elements are individually controllable too - handy for processing-wary AV enthusiasts, though potentially a bit scary for people not fond of delving into reams of onscreen menus.
Smart TV features
The 46PFL9707 introduces Philips’ latest Smart TV online system to the world. This enjoys a pretty interface and benefits from a full Qwerty keyboard on the reverse side of the remote control. But content levels remain thin compared with most rival online TV systems, with highlights restricted - at the time of writing - to Blinkbox, the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Viewster, Napster, Picasa, Facebook and iConcerts. There’s no sign of such heavy hitters as Netflix, LoveFilm, and the ITV Player, to name but three.
Two other stand-out 46PFL9707 attractions are the addition to its already high-end design of Philips’ unique Ambilight technology, and its support of active 3D playback. Complete with two pairs of 3D glasses included with the TV.
This brings us to some early bad news, though, as the 46PFL9707’s 3D performance turns out not to be very special. At first glance all looks well; 3D images look brighter and more colour-rich than they do on most active 3D TVs, and fine detail levels are immense when watching 3D Blu-rays. Motion looks smooth and clean too, and set’s remarkable contrast abilities help it produce an unusually coherent and refined sense of 3D space.
So what’s the problem? That old active 3D chestnut of crosstalk ghosting noise. It’s disappointingly rife over objects in both the mid and far distance, causing fatigue over long viewing sessions and undoing some of the otherwise strong sense of sharpness. This is undoubtedly a major disappointment on a 46-inch TV that costs £2,300. However, 3D doesn’t interest everyone, and if 2D is all you care about, then thankfully the 46PFL9707 is an infinitely more attractive option.
In fact, it’s possibly the most attractive option we’ve ever seen. For starters, the refinements Philips has made to the Moth-Eye system join with the improved processing engine and local dimming arrangement to produce an astonishing contrast performance combining inkily deep blacks with bold colours and pristine, crisp whites all within a single frame. Even the best plasma TVs struggle to compete with the 46PFL9707 in this key regard.
What’s more, somehow Philips has been able to deliver its extraordinary mix of light and dark without the 46PFL9707 suffering the distracting "haloes" or bands of light around bright objects that often appear on locally dimmed direct LED TVs. So long, at least, as you’re watching from an angle of less than around 35 degrees, for beyond this the haloing issue suddenly balloons.
Colours are blisteringly intense meanwhile, yet crucially not to an extent that leaves video looking cartoonish. In fact, the amount of subtlety and range in the 46PFL9707’s colourscape is exceptional.
Philips TVs have long had a reputation for delivering some of the sharpest pictures - with HD and standard def sources - in the TV world, and the 46PFL9707 continues this trend. In fact, at times with high-quality HD sources you’d swear you were watching a picture with more than 1920x1080 pixels in it. This spectacular feat is achieved, moreover, without making the picture look gritty or processed.
The sharpness remains pretty much undamaged too when there’s lots of motion in the frame, thanks to both the 46PFL9707’s fast core response time and, should you opt to use it, the set’s Perfect Natural Motion circuitry. This doesn’t make the picture look unnatural either, so long as you stick to its lower "power" levels.
The only big problem with the 46PFL9707’s 2D pictures, really, is that you need to invest the time to get to know the ins and outs of all of its various processing options if you want pictures to always look their best.
Joining the 46PFL9707’s outstanding 2D pictures is some of the best sound heard from a flat-panel TV. The set’s speakers are built into the stand (which also doubles as a wall mount), which allows them to deliver much more power and dynamic range than the flimsy efforts squeezed into most skinny TVs’ bodies.
While it’s ultimately hard to give a TV as expensive as the 46PFL9707 a whole-hearted recommendation when its online features are so flimsy and the 3D part of its performance is so flawed, it’s also hard to complain too much when the same set produces arguably the best 2D pictures the LCD TV world has ever seen.