As part of Philips' flagship 9000 series, we'd expect the £1,000 32PFL9604H to be fully loaded with features and technology. But this 32-inch LCD TV actually surpasses expectations, thanks to Philips' ground-breaking decision to let you access the whole Internet, rather than just a customised section of it, as happens with rival 'online' TVs.
Before we get onto the 32PFL9604H's key 'Net TV' functions, there's a trio of more immediate attractions to cover. Firstly, this set is beautifully built, sporting a strikingly slender brushed-aluminium bezel, offset by charcoal grey highlights. Secondly, this being a Philips TV, the 32PFL9604H boasts Ambilight technology, whereby pools of coloured light, similar in tone to the content of the image, spill from the set's left and right sides. Thirdly, the TV's connectivity is outstanding. Among the highlights are five HDMI sockets, a USB port (able to play back all kinds of photo, movie, slideshow and music files), and the all-important Ethernet jack for accessing the Internet.
The Ethernet port can also be used for streaming files from a DLNA-certified PC. If this dual use of the Ethernet port sounds potentially troublesome, fear not -- the 32PFL9604H also carries built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi. Cool.
The 32PFL9604H's online functionality comes in two 'layers'. The first layer is a lobby providing access to preferred content providers, with services specially adapted to work conveniently with the TV's swanky remote control. These services comprise YouTube, Funspot (online games), MyAlbum.com, a weather forecast site, and last, but certainly not least, the really rather nifty Tunin.fm online radio service. This is already a level above what's on offer with most rival online systems, but a link on the lobby page takes you through to the cherry on top: a full Internet browser.
Browsing the Internet via your TV remote isn't ideal. It's harder to navigate around pages and access links without a mouse, and inputting hyperlink text without a proper keyboard is always going to be a chore. But, thanks to a neat on-screen virtual keyboard and the possibility of inputting often-used Internet phrases like 'www' and '.co.uk' with the press of just one button, surfing the Web on the 32PFL9604H isn't nearly as frustrating an experience as expected.
This, together with the freedom of having the whole Internet at your disposal, means that the 32PFL9604H's online access is something you'll probably use regularly, rather than being a mere sideshow, as it is with most TVs.
The 32PFL9604H's Internet access and striking design are far from the only thing it's got going for it. It also boasts the latest version of Philips' Perfect Pixel HD video-processing engine. Capable of handling a gob-smacking 500m pixels a second, Perfect Pixel HD takes on a wide range of picture-improvement processes, targeted at everything from contrast and colour to noise reduction, motion reproduction and extra detail interpolation. And the system really does work.
For the vast majority of the time, the 32PFL9604H's pictures are simply outstanding. One of the reasons for this is that the TV enjoys a seriously impressive contrast range -- some of the richest blacks we've seen on a 32-inch TV sit side by side with bright, rich colours and whites.
Pictures are breathtakingly sharp, too. The set's 1080p resolution perfectly presents every pixel from high-definition sources, while the Perfect Pixel HD processing does an unprecedentedly excellent job of sharpening up standard-definition images by adding extra detail and applying sophisticated new noise-suppression techniques. The sharpness scarcely drops off at all when the set is showing motion, either, as the TV's motion processing and 100Hz engine pretty much eliminate LCD's common judder and smearing issues.