Philips 42PF9966

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Philips 42PF9966

Pros

  • Superior colour quality, Ambilight technology, customisable sound

Cons

  • No HD tuner included, only one digital input, slightly lower HDTV quality

Bottom Line

The 42PF9966 offers very high overall picture quality at a relatively low price. But it would be more appealing with an HD tuner and an extra digital video input

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Rich colours, bright images, and good detail helped the 42" 42PF9966 display both standard definition TV and DVDs in excellent quality. Its high-definition quality was a bit lower, but still respectable.

Despite its high display performance, however, this Philips has a few quirks. For starters, it's fussy about input formats. Using both 1080i and 480p input over HDMI, the TV struggled to display so-called multiburst patterns--diagnostic screens from the Avia Pro DVD kit that are designed for testing TVs. The multibursts feature six swaths of parallel vertical lines that become progressively finer from the left to the right of the screen. Most plasma TVs we have tested could resolve all the groups, or at least all but the far-right group, which sometimes blurred out. But on this TV, image quality started breaking down at the first group on some screens, and the far-right swath often looked like a swarm of mosquitoes. And in one of our HD test clips from a classic car show, we saw an artificial shimmering effect in the chrome bars of a sports car.

The TV did display a multiburst perfectly in the 720p format. The Philips displays this format with its native 720 lines. Other plasma TVs often "upscale" the content by inserting additional pixels to fill the screen to the edges. But on the Philips, 720p images appear with a black border on the top and the bottom, as well as on both sides (in order to maintain the aspect ratio).

The audio system, with twin 15-watt speaker units, sounded clean, though not as full as on the rival LG 42PX4D. We especially liked the five-band equaliser, which allows more meaningful adjustments than the simple bass and treble controls on most TVs. In addition, the 42PF9966 provides four preset audio modes.

The Philips model's most unusual feature is its Ambilight system, which illuminates the wall behind the TV. The Ambilight throws "bias lighting" behind the set; videophiles recommend bias lighting as a method for reducing eyestrain in a dark room. Without it, so goes the theory, the iris must expand and contract rapidly in reaction to the changing brightness level of the video.

Some eye experts discount the eyestrain theory, saying that the eye can easily adjust to brightness fluctuations without experiencing strain. But regardless of the science, we found the Ambilight experience pleasant. A dark room seemed less confining with the mild glow around the set, and glancing away from and then back to the screen had a less jarring effect. In addition to providing several fixed shades, Ambilight can adjust its colour and brightness to match the material on screen. Users who don't enjoy the Ambilight feature can disable it.

The list of remaining amenities is scant. It has an analog TV tuner, so if you want digital, you have to acquire a separate tuner. The unit has only one HDMI input, so top quality isn't available for more than one video source; the two analog component sets must be used for other devices. Each video input can be custom calibrated, but for only one set of lighting conditions, as the other five video modes are not user adjustable. However, the set does have a sensor that it can use to adjust the screen to match the ambient room light.

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