The Achilles' heel of LCD TVs has, for a long time, been the backlight. In an LCD TV the image is created by a panel that is illuminated from behind. For most uses this is fine, but when you are trying to reproduce black, or something dark, it has an impact on the depth and reality. Mostly, truly deep and rich blacks will come off looking washed-out.
The answer to this, according to Philips, is to use an array of more than 1,000 LEDs behind the LCD panel to illuminate the picture. We've seen this done before on a Samsung and even a gargantuan 72-inch Sony TV, and the results have always impressed us. So will the Philips 42PFL9803 manage to win our approval? With a retail price over £2,000, we should hope so.
The first thing you'll spot when you look at the 42PFL9803 is the remarkable styling. Rather than a boring black case, Philips has chosen a brushed aluminium one. We applaud this because it's different to every other piano-black TV on the market. The result is a wonderful-looking TV.
As you would expect with a stylish TV like this, the front is unspoilt by any hideous buttons -- there's a large Philips logo and a thin LED strip beneath the screen that reminds you the TV is on.
The remote control matches the basic colour of the TV, but it's a slightly disappointing silver-coloured plastic. Pioneer makes its remotes with real metal and we think Philips should too. As with other Philips models, the remote has a rotating wheel that can be used to select menu items. We aren't a huge fan of these devices usually, but we will say Philips has done a decent job with it.
Connectivity is well thought-out. There are four HDMI inputs -- three on the back, one on the side. You also get component video in, a VGA connection for your media centre PC or Xbox 360, and there are a pair of Scart sockets to hook up that older, standard-definition equipment.
As you would expect with a premium Philips TV, the screen features Ambilight. We weren't that impressed to see the more basic two-sided Ambilight Spectra 2, rather than the three-sided Spectra 3 system included on the 9703 range. It might not sound like it makes a difference, but the top strip on Spectra 3 really adds to the involvement you feel when you watch a movie.
Philips does include its Perfect Pixel HD engine, which is designed to process the massive amount of picture information in video signals and present it on-screen in the best possible way. We've always been very impressed by this system -- it works very well and Philips TVs always seem to do a very good job with Freeview pictures.
You can view your images in this TV via the USB or Ethernet connections. It's also possible to listen to music -- in the MP3 format -- and even watch MPEG-2 video using either format. The PFL9803 is also DLNA certified, which assures a certain level of support for third-party devices that also carry the logo.
Our first impression when we turned the TV on was how amazing the black levels were and how brilliant the colour reproduction looked. Even if you don't have a problem with existing LCD TVs, you will be impressed by how much better the Philips handles shadows and darkness.