We first chanced upon the 9731- and 9831-series LCD TVs during Philips' Ambilight event held in Belgium earlier this year. Then, both models were centered on a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution panel, plus a whole slew of new and enhanced in-house technologies.
Fast forward to July and the latter was deprived of its ultra-high resolution badge due to mounting concern over high production costs. This left the Dutch company's 37PF9731 as the only 1,920 x 1,080-pixel model in its flat-panel stable amid the barrage of new 1080pers churned out by its Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese competitors.
The 37PF9731 is one of the few panels we have came across which are both handsome and functional. The choice of an all-round black piano frame gives the set a special touch of class, while the frosted glass pedestal stand matches perfectly with the glossy facade. For easy accessibility, the quick-access inputs, twin USB port and multislot card reader are conveniently situated on the chassis's left. Right on the opposite end is a bank of TV controls for impromptu channel selection and volume adjustment.
Unlike the 42PF9831, the 9731 comes with only a three-sided version of the Ambilight Surround system. This dynamic ambient lighting system is centered on arrays of lamps which are integrated flush within the left, top and right sides of the cabinet. Though it is hard not to assume its impact on the width of the TV, we are glad to report that the extra components contribute little to its overall bulk which stands at 770 x 991 x 114mm. These measurements are pretty much in line with most other 37-inchers found in the market.
To match the eye-catching panel, Philips has shipped an equally sexy remote in the bundle. The clear acrylic-wrapped stick features a set of well-spaced buttons, as well as a large tactile five-way navigation wheel. Besides the ergonomic form factor, the remote also ranks high in versatility, capable of controlling up to four Philips A/V boxes. Our only gripe here is the lack of dedicated input buttons. In their places is a dedicated key which calls up an onscreen scrolling list for user selection.
Initial setup of the TV was a breeze, thanks to an intuitive onscreen picture-based configuration. Fine-tuning was via a selection of photos, videos or music tracks representing the various A/V parameters. All that was required was to make a choice between the options based on one's personal preference. For amateurs and advanced users, Philips has also thrown in a comprehensive suite of settings comprising a fair mix of basic and advanced variants. These are annotated with a brief description of their functionality for clarity, just in case you are out of reach of the well-written user manual.
The buzz on the latest Philips comes from its ultra-high resolution LCD panel which sports a 1,920 x 1,080 multimillion pixel count. Picture fidelity aside, the set is also capable of delivering a very competent 6,000:1 contrast and blazing-fast 3ms response time performances. Wrapping it up are the more mainstream 550cd/m2 brightness and 176-degree viewing angle which stack up well against other 37-inchers such as the Sharp LC-37BX6M and Hitachi 37LD8800TA.
If you are a techno junkie like most of us here at CNET.com.au, the 9731's seemingly endless list of bells and whistles will definitely sound like a sweet lullaby. Most notable is the souped-up version of its popular picture-processing engine, the Pixel Plus 3 HD. To address the inherent LCD's motion reproduction issue, its engineers have also implemented the Clear LCD technology. This combined with its Digital Natural Motion enable the TV to reproduce what the company claims as "extreme motion sharpness".
When it comes to onboard multimedia playback, the Philips' implementation has an edge over the competition in terms of connectivity and format compatibility. The inbuilt twin USB ports support portable media players, digicams and thumbdrives, while its 8-in-2 card reader is compatible with CompactFlash, Secure Digital and Memory Stick, among others. Playable multimedia format-wise, the set readily accepts MP3, MP3 Pro, JPEG, XviD, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, plus version four and five of the popular Web-centric DivX videos.
Though we acknowledge Philips' long-time European roots, the provision of two SCART terminals in substitute for a single component-video socket is a bad call that does not go down well in our books. The same goes for the Common Interface slot and network port which are not even documented in the user manual. The saving grace here may very well be the dual HDMIs and a unique digital audio input/output connectivity. The former are unfortunately up to 1080i-ready, depriving the 9731 of the bragging rights of a true full-HD badge.
We kicked off the performance assessment by tuning into free-to-air broadcasts. What greeted us onscreen was clean reception matched by well-defined contours, easily one of the better picture qualities garnered so far. That said, you will probably be in for a nasty shock by the sudden outburst in volume, switching from video to TV input. This is caused by an unbalanced sound level which can be resolved via the Delta Volume correction in the software menu.
Moving onto the AVIA test patterns, the PF9731 exhibited a mild red push similar to its 42PF9830 even after the SpyderTV calibration. The panel did, however, render a perfect display during our run of the challenging greyscale tracking test. This was replicated in Blade 2 where intricate shadow details were easily picked up in the dark warehouse fighting scene. Philips has also gotten it right with the Pixel Plus 3 HD processing. We found most DVD clips reproduced with a 3D-like feel without the side effect of an accentuated background noise.
Our reservation on the awkward pairing of a full-HD panel in a small 37-inch TV was quickly dismissed by the strong HD showings. Running off a 1080i feed via an HD generator, we were amazed by the strong depth-of-field demonstrated by the looping demo. Enabling Digital Natural Motion (DMN) did wonders for Xbox 360's Ridge Racer 6 with a fluid-like motion which complemented the vibrant graphics. However, we would suggest against using DMN for slow-moving programs as it tends to create an artificial "fast-motion" effect.
Multimedia playback is another forte for this versatile 37-incher. We were able to play back a variety of MP3, JPEG and XviD-encoded media files with little effort and in reasonably good quality. To test storage device compatibility, we plugged in a Panasonic Lumix FZ20 digicam, a generic thumbdrive and an Apple iPod Nano randomly into each of the two USB ports. All were recognised instantly except for the iPod which failed even after numerous attempts.
As with all products we have reviewed, no single TV is perfect and the 37PF9731 is no exception. We were rather disappointed by the fuzzy text displayed off a 1,024 x 768-pixel signal, which is one of the measly three PC resolutions supported by the panel. Another area of contention was the mousy audio reproduction, characterised by an almost non-existent bass presence and mediocre stereo imaging. Engaging surround sound processing did little to enhance the sound quality beyond adding reverberation to an already lacking sonic delivery.
The Philips 37PF9731 is a midsized LCD TV which combines solid picture quality with an innovative lighting system and rich multimedia capability. As with most premium products of its caliber, the panel does not come cheap at AU$5,749. High price and minor blemishes aside, you will be hard-pressed to find another 1,920 x 1,080-pixel 37-incher with similar performance and features.