At a time when most TV makers are increasingly obsessed with reducing prices, it's a brave move indeed for Philips to be offering a 37-inch, 1080p LCD TV for around £1,100. After all, for roughly the same money, you could get yourself a 50-inch Samsung PS50B550 plasma set, and still have £200 left over for a Blu-ray player. But the 9000-series 37PFL9604H/12 isn't just expensive for the sake of it.
Glamorous and solid
The 37PFL9604H/12 goes some way towards justifying its price as soon as you clap eyes on it, thanks to its really unusual, very glamorous and extremely well-built chassis. It's made from real aluminium no less.
The set's visual extravagance extends beyond its physical frame, thanks to Philips' still unique Ambilight system, which produces pools of coloured light from the TV's left and right sides to suit the image content. It will be abundantly clear to friends and family that this TV has set you back a few bob.
If you can afford the 37PFL9604H/12, there's a good chance you'll also have plenty of kit that you want to connect to it. Pleasingly, the set has more than enough connections to cope with whatever you throw at it. These include a ground-breaking, five-strong HDMI count; a USB port able to play a bewildering array of audio, video and photo file formats; and an Ethernet port for streaming files from a PC or hooking up to the Internet.
Full Web access
Unlike the online services currently offered by many rival sets, the 37PFL9604H/12 really lets you surf the Web -- not just the parts that the TV manufacturer wants you to see.
Surfing the Net on your telly is usually a slightly cumbersome procedure when it comes to inputting Web addresses and navigating pages designed to be explored via a mouse and keyboard. But the Internet interface that Philips has put together for this set works about as well as anything that's based around a TV remote control could.
If you really can't be bothered with full Internet surfing, Philips also offers a specially formatted series of Web sites specially designed for TV access. In fact, with the likes of YouTube, Dailymotion, Screen Dreams, Funspot, Tunin.fm and MyAlbum.com on-board, it's one of the best 'ring-fenced' online services we've seen so far.
If this all sounds great except for the hard-wired Ethernet connection part, then, once again, the 37PFL9604H/12's got you covered. It offers a built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi system that happily shook hands with our wireless router, causing no trouble whatsoever.
The 37PFL9604H/12 also sports Philip's ultra-powerful Perfect Pixel HD video-processing engine. The speciality of this system is, in our opinion, its ability to make standard- and high-definition pictures look sensationally detailed and sharp, while making motion appear fluid and clean. It also applies its formidable power -- it can handle 500m pixels a second -- to improving contrast, colour and noise reduction.
So powerful is this TV's video-processing engine that some aspects of it can cause processing artefacts with certain sources. Philips has sensibly provided all the tools you'll need to keep on top of any such problems in the set's enormously long and comprehensive on-screen menus.
The fact that you really ought to delve quite regularly into the menus makes this TV more labour-intensive than your average 37-inch set. But your efforts will be rewarded with one of the finest picture performances that the flat-TV world has yet produced.
Standard-definition pictures are so sharp and detailed that they honestly look more like HD at times. And HD pictures look unbelievably crisp. The clarity remains intact even when there's plenty of motion in a scene, thanks to the peerless efforts of Philips frame-interpolation and motion-compensation circuits. Provided you don't leave the Perfect Natural Motion setting turned up high, you even get the motion enhancements without having to put up with much of the shimmering-halo side effect that used to plague Philips' earlier motion-processing efforts.
Other picture highlights include outstandingly rich but remarkably natural colours, and some of the deepest black levels seen on any LCD TV without LED backlighting. The 37PFL9604H/12 also has an uncanny knack for suppressing video noise from even the most low-quality of source signals.
This TV's talents don't end with its terrific pictures, either. Its sound leaves the bass-light, flimsy audio offerings of most flat TVs for dead, thanks to Philips' inspired decision to have a couple of mid-range drivers on the TV's rear running in harmony with two dome tweeters tucked somewhere underneath the bezel.
The Philips 37PFL9604H/12 isn't a TV for the technologically or financially faint of heart. It's been uncompromisingly designed by and for people who value raw AV quality above all else -- no matter how much time and money it costs them.
Edited by Charles Kloet