With a price tag of £1,300, the Philips 32PFL9705 is hugely expensive for a 32-inch screen. Philips believes the set's combination of direct LED backlighting, which produces deep black levels, and Amblight, which improves the TV's perceived colour depth, will convince you that its picture quality is worth every penny of the hefty outlay. So, is this really the case?
The telly certainly looks like a premium set thanks to the attractive brushed-aluminium finish and the thin transparent strip that runs around the outer edge of the screen. Philips' new three-sided Ambilight system can be seen when you peak around the rear of the TV. You'll find strips of lights arranged across the two sides and top of the telly. The Ambilight system, which projects colours onto a wall behind the set to match what's on screen, may sound like a gimmick, but once you've used it you'll appreciate just what an effective feature it is.
There are plenty of ports for connecting your AV kit up to the set including four HDMI ports, a set of component inputs, a VGA input and a Scart socket. As well as this, Philips has added two USB ports along with an Ethernet connection for media playback and Internet video-streaming. The TV even has Wi-Fi built in, which is a boon since most other sets require the use of an expensive dongle.
Lost on a remote island
A series of installation wizards guide you through the process of tuning in the channels, setting up the networking features and adjusting the picture and sound options. But once all this is done, you'll find the TV's remote control and general navigation system takes some getting used to.
Although the design of the remote looks neat thanks to its oval shape and brushed-aluminium finish, Philips has over-simplified it by removing too many key buttons. For example, there's no 'info' button to bring up information about the show you're watching via the Freeview tuner. Instead, you have to dive into a menu and find the information in there. The menu system is also a little annoying to use, as many features take multiple button-presses to access, which slows down navigation. We weren't fans of the electronic programme guide, either, as it's particularly sluggish.
Web of features, but no Freeview HD or 3D
Nevertheless, the 32PFL9705 is one of those rare TVs that actually has full Internet access built in. Its Opera Web browser means you can view standard websites on this set. Its other Internet features, however, aren't as impressive as rival sets, such as those from Samsung, Sony and Panasonic. There's no BBC iPlayer support, for example, although you do get YouTube and Dailymotion widgets.
Also disappointing, given the high price of the TV, is the lack of a Freeview HD tuner and support for 3D. If you want 3D, you'll need to step up to one of the larger screen sizes in the 9000 range, as Philips doesn't think its worth including on a smaller screen such as this.
Shining LED star
So far, it may sound like the set isn't worth the asking price, but where the 32PFL9705 really shines is in terms of picture and audio quality. On the picture front, its key feature is its direct LED backlighting. Most LED TVs have edge-mounted backlights that offer limited dimming control, but this set is lit by 1,000 LEDs behind the screen that are grouped into 224 individually controllable zones.
As a result, it allows one area of the picture to be completely black, while another adjacent area is operating at full brightness. It's as near to OLED technology as you can get from an LCD screen and the results are stunning. The set really is able to deliver the deep black levels of plasma displays, while retaining the aggressive brightness and colour of LCD screens. Subsequently, movies on Blu-ray look beautifully cinematic thanks to the filmic feel that the boost in contrast affords. There's a convincing amount of shadow detail in darker scenes, too, while skin tones and colours in outdoor scenes appear astonishingly rich and natural.
The TV's Perfect Pixel HD processing is an improvement on that found in previous Philips models. Whereas old systems tended to be a tad over-aggressive, Perfect Pixel HD manages to do its thing while retaining a more natural feel. The 'perfect natural motion' setting, for example, manages to smooth motion beautifully while suffering from very few distracting artefacts. Similarly, the noise reduction manages to cut out noise and blocking in Freeview pictures without making them look overly soft or processed.
But while the results are often better than what's available on other sets, the Perfect Pixel HD system does rely on more input from the user, so expect to spend some time setting it up and tweaking it for different types of sources.
It's not just the pictures that are impressive on this telly, the audio is excellent, too. This seems to be partly due to the fact that Philips has a added a mini subwoofer to the rear of the set to boost the TV's ability to recreate bassier sound. It certainly works a treat. The TV really does have a surprising amount of low-end punch, while retaining exceptional clarity of dialogue.
There's no doubt that £1,300 is an outrageous asking price for a 32-inch TV, especially as it lacks 3D support and an HD tuner, but the Philips 32PFL9705 produces the most stunningly rich and cinematic pictures we've seen on a 32-inch set. Sometimes, if you want the best, you just have to pay for it.
Edited by Emma Bayly