We had a sneak peek at Philips' 9000 series televisions a few weeks ago and we were mightily impressed. We described it as a "Bravia killer". The main feature on display was Philips' Perfect Natural Motion technology, which is a competitor to Sony's own 100Hz MotionFlow.
Philips told us its version features twice the processing power of the previous generation, and treated us to a technology demonstration video. In comparison to the latest-gen Sony and Samsung TVs beside it the 9000 series seemed to compete quite well, showing zero judder or artefacts.
All well and good, but how does the TV perform now that we're able to test it under less "controlled" circumstances. You can imagine our bemusement when we found the Philips didn't perform up to our, admittedly lofty, expectations...
The 42PFL9703D is a fairly stylish set, featuring the new Flare styling, which could be described as a combination of the iPod Touch and Sony X-series. The "Flare" itself culminates in a clear plastic lip which has divided opinions within the CNET.com.au team — and we think you'll either love it or hate it.
Like several other TVs we've seen recently it features rear facing ports, rather than downward facing ones — this is great for connectivity but it makes wall-mounting a little tougher as you'll need a thicker bracket.
The remote is a good looking thing, and it's also very easy to use with a friendly appearance and lack of clutter. The rubberised buttons also have a pleasant tactile feel under your fingers.
We've yet to see Samsung's 7 series televisions in Australia, but Philips 42PFL9703D competes with it on almost every point. Connectivity is a strong suit, with a DLNA-certified Ethernet port for streaming media from your network, USB connectivity and four HDMI ports. Other inputs include two SCART and a single combined VGA/component input. If you want to connect a PC and a component-output device at the same time you will be disappointed.
The 1,920x1,080 resolution screen features Philips' latest processing know-how including a 55,000:1 dynamic contrast, 24p support and a Wide Color Gamut backlight for better colour reproduction.
Philips' own literature describes Perfect Natural Motion as designed to "eliminate juddering effects that are visible with movie-based picture content". On the other hand, Sony and Samsung make claims about 100Hz being designed to provide clearer pictures during fast action scenes and sport. Philips knows where the strength of this technology lies.
Another differentiating factor between this and its competitors is its start-up "wizard". It takes its cues from PC set-ups and gives you a series of side-by-side pictures and asks you to choose which you prefer. While we initially applauded this approach to easy calibration it was difficult to choose which was more "correct" sometimes. After the five-minute routine, we found that the system chose "Advanced Sharpness" for us which resulted in overly grainy pictures. We turned it straight off again.
When we saw Philips' original 100Hz demo, we secretly hoped it wasn't too good to be true. Unfortunately, it was.
In theory, a technology designed to reduce pan judder is a good idea, but we venture that almost no movies — save obscure "proof-of-concept" films — feature pans and no other type of movement. This was obvious when we tried watching any kind of non-panning movement on-screen. Artefacts or "haloing" was a constant distraction. This system may be great for sweeping camera shots of scenery, but unfortunately we'd suggest turning it off altogether.
Despite our disappointment with the Natural Motion engine, we were mostly pleased by the panel's performance elsewhere. The 42PFL9703D is a high-definition panel and its strengths were certainly displayed in Blu-ray playback and HD broadcasts. Only when testing the TV with our synthetic HQV test disk did some flaws appear. We saw a much better performance here from the LG Scarlet. Unlike the Scarlet, however, the Philips showed very good black response off-axis. But if you're a Wii player you may find the amount of vertical contrast lacking, with the TV washing out as soon as you stand up.
One of the latest trends in TV design that the Philips shares is for "invisible speakers". While these designs may mean that a) you can no longer see speaker grilles, it can also mean that b) the sound becomes muffled and indistinct. The 42PFL9703D bucked this trend and showed that though vocals could be a little "cupped", the sound was actually quite good. Simulated Dolby Surround was activated by default which meant some "off-screen" sounds did have a tendency to become muted, though. Changing the audio output to "Stereo" alleviated this a little.
We found that one of the Philips' main features — PC connectivity — was also one of its poorest. This applied when both physically connecting a computer or when trying to connect to a network. Connecting the Philips to our Dell M1330 via HDMI resulted in the TV blinking on and off repeatedly regardless of the resolution. Despite Vista's faults, this isn't normal behaviour for a television. Connecting via VGA wasn't much better as the TV/Vista combination reduced us to 1,024x768 — despite the TV supporting a 1080p PC output. The picture also came out a little garish, with greens in particular getting an unnatural push.
Though USB connections worked okay — despite the lack of play controls — it was trying to auto-connect to the CNET network that failed to give us joy. Granted, it's a complicated system, as workplaces tend to be, but the lack of advanced network settings meant that we weren't able to stream from our test PC to the TV. While DHCP set-up may work on a home PC, if you don't know the intimate details of your network you may not be able to connect at all.