It’s not all about Ambilight. The pretty colours that beam out the sides of this 37-incher to bathe your living room in light seem to entice and repel in equal measures. It’s unique to Philips TVs, and there’s a reason for that – it’s expensive, and your eyes get used to the effects after just a few hours.
Found on the 37PFL9603D in its Spectra 2 "stereo" manifestation, the Ambilight engine monitors what’s playing on the TV and projects similar coloured light from strips of LEDs. A football match will involve a lot of green light, and a race around Grand Theft Auto IV will involve constantly changing colours: you get the idea. It’s even fitted with a time delay to follow motion on the screen.
Ambilight is best seen as an extra feature because the 37PFL9603D is tremendously well specified in other areas. The most impressive of which is Perfect Pixel, the latest incarnation of Philips’ picture processing engine. The chief skill of Perfect Pixel is its HD Natural Motion feature. By physically inserting frames into the action, it almost completely removes any judder. Blu-ray discs played at 24p look really smooth while retaining depth and cleanness, though it arguably softens very finely detailed objects in the process.
There’s another trick up its sleeve: 100Hz Clear LCD. Doubling the number of frames shown at any one time, Philips claims that the panel’s response time is a tiny 2 milliseconds, the fastest around. It’s difficult to disagree. Lingering camera pans don’t suffer from much blur at all, although fast-moving objects – especially in close-up – do still lag slightly.
Clear LCD also helps make the 37PFL9603D a super screen for gaming. Detailed and with no discernable blur on fast-moving objects, the only pitfall is a slight judder in slow-moving replays.
Supported by a powerful 10-bit processor, colour is well saturated although skin tones can be a touch rosier than reality. Contrast generally provides deep and realistic black levels, though in murky films there’s a lack of shadow detail. It also affects Freeview pictures. Ably helped by the set’s removal of MPEG artefacting, Freeview is upscaled by the set very effectively, with scant picture noise and engaging colour, though dark areas of the image do suffer from a "black hole" effect and the overall image lacks depth.
Even if you’re not sucked in by Ambilight or A1 picture quality, this set’s sound could be the clincher. Firstly there’s the "invisible" design, complete with a clear plastic shroud around the TV to push soundwaves towards the listening position. Most impressive are the unique "wOOx" subwoofers built-in to the back of the set, which along with some effective stereo and virtual surround modes transform this set into something akin to a mid-range Hi-Fi. Movies and games are both well treated, but music is stunning for a flat TV.
The 37PFL9603D’s problems are few. Though nicely laid-out and with specific controls for Ambilight, the remote is built around a clickwheel that’s tricky to get used to, and consequently very frustrating to use. It’s USB slot claims to play video, but in practice can only cope with some (but not all) MPEG files.
The same problem blights its networking claims. Attach the 37PFL9603D to a home network via a wired Ethernet cable and music and photos can be streamed from a PC set-up for sharing, but very few video files are recognised – and don’t play smoothly in any case. And if you’ve got a Mac, you can forget this feature entirely.
The downside of Philips TVs in the past has been a slightly unnatural picture resulting from some over-processing. Here the effects are much more subtle, and much the better for it. Blur and judder do still exist, but the fabulously featured 37PFL9603D removes them as major issue – and comes dangerously close to completely redrawing the battle lines between LCD and plasma TV tech.