Philips has always tried to pull something special out of the bag when it comes to its flagship 9000 Smart LED TV series. This time around on the 46-inch 46PFL9706T there's a new technology called Moth Eye on offer, which is claimed improves contrast and black levels, while also reducing screen reflections.
However, with an asking price of around £2,200, this technology is certainly going to put a dent in your wallet, so is it worth the asking price?
User interface and EPG
Philips TVs have used the same interface for a couple of years now and its age is beginning to show. The system is built around a home screen that you call up by pressing a dedicated button on the remote. From here you can access all of the TV's key features via large icons. However, the system can feel needlessly complicated at times, and to make matters worse, some of the menus are quite sluggish to navigate.
Certain functions, such as calling up the programme info while watching TV, are two button presses away, when on the majority of other TVs they're accessible via a single button press.
The electronic programme guide (EPG) isn't fantastic either. It has a horizontal grid layout that shows eight channels' worth of data at a time. However, it only displays two programmes per channel, which means you have to do a lot of sideways scrolling to check out what's coming up over an evening.
Digital media and Internet features
As with the vast majority of today's TVs, this model allows you to play digital media files, either via one of the set's two USB ports or by streaming content across a network from a PC or NAS drive. The format support is good. Along with DivX, Xvid and WMV movie files, it plays HD MKV videos. However, rather annoyingly, the fast-forward and rewind controls don't work when you're streaming videos across a network -- they're only enabled for USB playback.
The set also has Philips' Net TV system on board. Thankfully, this now supports the BBC's iPlayer, along with the Acetrax movie rental service, YouTube, Vimeo and Box Office 365. There are also apps for Facebook, Twitter and Picasa, and Philips has added a full Internet browser. The latter is quite tricky to navigate using the remote and it doesn't support Flash, so you can't use it to view video on some websites. Unfortunately, despite the addition of the new services, the Net TV offering still falls quite a long way short of what you get on the latest Samsung and LG Smart TVs.
Design and connections
The 46PFL9706T is certainly a handsome TV in terms of design. The brushed metal finish used on the bezel and stand gives it a real air of sophistication and the beautifully rounded corners add extra charm. We also like the control panel that seems to hang from the bottom of the bezel. It houses a number of touch buttons for changing the channel or setting the volume level when you've misplaced the remote down the back of the sofa.
However, measuring around 40mm deep, the set is not all that slim by modern LED TV standards. This is in part because it uses direct LED backlighting. The bezel is also a little thick at 30mm. Nevertheless, these are relatively minor points on what is a great-looking TV overall.
Down the left-hand side of the set you'll find two USB ports. You can connect a hard drive up to one of these and record shows from the onboard Freeview HD tuner to disc, while you use the other port for playing back digital media files.
There's also an Ethernet port on the rear and Philips has built Wi-Fi into the set, so you don't have to purchase an add-on dongle. However, the Wi-Fi set-up wasn't the easiest we've come across -- it took us a while to get it working with our router, mainly because it doesn't allow you to enter alphanumerical passwords, but instead insists on unfriendly hexadecimal passwords. If your router has Wi-Fi protected setup (WPS) you can just use that instead.
The side panel is home to an HDMI port as well as an SD card slot. Around the back on a downward-facing panel are another three HDMI ports, as well as a set of component inputs, Scart socket (via a small break-out cable) and VGA port. Pretty much all the connectivity bases are covered.
At present, there only seem to be two TV manufacturers that take the audio quality of their flatscreen TVs seriously -- Panasonic and Philips. Of the two, Philips arguably does the better job, and that's certainly true here.
Whereas most flatscreen tellies, and especially super-thin LED ones, seem incapable of producing full-bodied sound, this one has no such problems. In fact, there's plenty of low-end punch that easily adds weight to the far-away rumbles of battle in the Beeb's Birdsong, for example. Dialogue has impressive presence too, thanks to the set's strong mid-range performance and even hi-hats and cymbals on dance tracks from the likes of 4Music cut through crisply.
So what's the secret? Rather than build the speakers into the TV's chassis, Philips has instead integrated them into the set's stand. This has allowed for larger, beefier speakers. The speakers are connected to the set via a small cable that comes out the back of the stand.
You might be wondering what happens if you want to wall-mount the TV. Well, Philips has cleverly covered that, because as with some of its previous TVs, the pedestal stand can be reconfigured by moving the central bracket so that it acts as a wall mount instead. That's an ingenious idea, saving you a few bob and sensibly reusing materials that would otherwise have gone in the bin.
2D picture quality
The 46PFL9706T is fully tricked out when it comes to picture goodies. It's an LED screen, but unlike a lot of the LED models we see, it doesn't use edge lighting. Instead it relies on direct LED backlighting with local dimming. There are 224 LEDs arranged in a grid behind the screen that can be individually dimmed to help the set produce deeper blacks and richer contrasts.
Naturally, the set also has Philips' latest Ambilight system. Strips of colour LEDs are mounted across the top and sides of the set and these project colours onto the wall behind the TV in sympathy with the pictures the TV is displaying. It sounds gimmicky, but it really does add to the viewing experience, helping to increase the apparent richness of the set's colours, especially when you're watching TV in the evening in dimmer light.
Philips claims this set has 1,200Hz motion processing, which really turns out to be a combination of the 200Hz panel, a 200Hz scanning backlight and some extra frame interpolation. There's also Pixel Perfect HD picture processing onboard. But what really sets this TV apart from even Philips' own models is that it's the only one currently using the company's new Moth Eye filter. This filter sits at the front of the display and Philips says it mimics the structures of a moth's eye to help cut down hugely on screen reflections. Contrast levels are boosted enormously as a result.
The bad news is that the filter is pretty much allergic to finger prints. If you touch it with a hand or finger, it'll leave a mark on the screen that you'll then have to wipe off with the special cleaning fluid that Philips supplies with the display. So this is perhaps not the screen to buy if you've got young, inquisitive kids that like to poke jammy fingers at your new bits of technology.
Does all this technology lead to better picture quality? When you first turn it on and watch standard-definition Freeview channels, pictures are a tad disappointing. Images look very noisy because the default presets add in a lot of sharpening, which only serves to bring video compression artefacts to the fore. Pretty much straight away you have to dive into the picture menus to remove the sharpening and turn on some of the noise reduction features.
In fact, you really have to mess around with the picture controls a lot for different feeds to get the best results, much more so than on other manufacturers' TVs. We doubt the average person would go to the bother of tweaking all the complex picture processing options and probably won't get the most from the set, which is a shame. It's something that Philips needs to address.
When you do hit the sweet spot with the settings though, things really are super-sweet. The panel produces stunning levels of brightness, but at the same time the local dimming also helps it to recreate cavernously deep black levels. The Moth Eye filter does seem to have a big beneficial effect on contrast too, as there's a depth and subtlety to the contrast levels that you'll struggle to get elsewhere.
The Moth Eye filter does an excellent job of dramatically reducing screen reflections, even when you're watching the TV during the day or in a very brightly-lit room. This is a major benefit over most plasmas, which can deliver similar black levels, but generally suffer from screen glare during the day. Another plus of the Moth Eye filter seems to be much-reduced haloing around the backlight zones. You can see a small amount of it, say when you've got white titles against a black background. But the filter disperses the light more evenly, so the halo effect is much less noticeable.
When you watch movies in HD from Blu-ray discs, the set's sharpness becomes very much evident. HD images really do look supremely crisp and detailed. However, to get good results from standard-definition content you often have to play around with the sharpness and noise reduction settings more than we would have liked.
Motion handling is generally top notch though. The screen really does hold on to plenty of detail in the image when dealing with lots of motion. This is true even if you've got most of the motion processing turned off in the menus, which is advisable when you're watching movies as it can make things look too smooth and flat.
3D picture quality
The set supports active 3D technology. Unlike previous Philips models, the 3D transmitter is built into the TV. Philips supplies two pairs of glasses and interestingly the glasses can also be switched into a special game mode. When this is activated, the TV converts split-screen games into two full-screen 2D images by sending player one's screen to one pair of glasses and player two's screen to the second pair.
The glasses are relatively light and comfortable by active 3D specs standards. The TV's inherent high brightness levels mean that 3D pictures still retain loads of punch, despite the dimming effect of the glasses.
However, we didn't find this set to be a particularly accomplished 3D performer. The big problem is that it suffers quite badly from 3D crosstalk, where you can see images ghosting on the edges of sharper objects in the picture, especially in the mid and far distance. That's a downer on a set costing this much, especially as other manufacturers have begun to get on top of this issue on their LED models.
This is one of the best TVs we've seen from Philips in a long time. The Moth Eye filter and local dimming technology really do help the screen to produce exceptionally deep black levels and bags of contrast, without compromising brighter areas of the image. However, this is a very expensive TV, especially for a 46-inch screen, and there are enough downsides to stop it attaining a five-star rating.
Firstly, the Moth Eye filter is likely to be a hassle in many homes, especially those with small children, as finger print marks on the screen are very noticeable and need to be cleaned off using the special cleaning fluid. Secondly, it takes a lot of work on the part of the user to get really good performance from standard-definition material. And lastly, its 3D output just isn't in line with what you'll get on similarly-priced offerings from other brands.