Philips is an interesting technology company. Their innovations seem geared toward making technology more accessible while also attaining a high standard. When it came time to review the 42 inch 42PF9831 LCD television we had to momentarily put aside our personal aesthetic tastes and focus on image quality. We found that Philips has achieved incredible advancements in picture quality, some of which we have never seen before, with support for high definition resolutions at 720p natively and up to 1080i with scaling.
- Excellent picture quality in SD and HD, Innovative picture enhancement technologies
- Mediocre PC performance, Bulky unit.
While fairly bulky, the 42PF9831 is an excellent panel with high performance in SD and HD.
Price$ 6,899.95 (AUD)
The proprietary Pixel Plus 3 HD and Digital Natural Motion technologies make watching the movies and playing games quite a new and unique experience, allowing an image clarity and sharpness to standard definition video that was previously unheard of. From a design perspective, the unit may not appeal to everyone due to its size. For a 42in unit, the Philips is massive and is roughly the same dimensions as a 50in model due to its thick bezel and even thicker white frame. The frame is used for the four-way Ambilight, a lighting ambience system unique to Philips televisions. In this review we will look at Ambilight, Pixel Plus 3 HD and Digital Natural motion as well as run the panel through its paces with our intensive image quality tests.
The last generation of Philips televisions introduced a feature known as Ambilight. Based on commissioned research from the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, Philips has created a ambient lighting system that projects coloured light from the sides of the unit onto the surface on which it is mounted. The research suggests that creating ambient lighting around a television relaxes the viewers' eyes and allows a greater perception of colour and detail.
In the study, subjects watched 60 minutes of footage with and without Ambilight over two sessions. In each session, the subjects' feelings and physical responses (blink rates and brain activity response times) were measured based on the impact of the backlight illumination. The results showed that using Ambilight results in less visual discomfort, eyestrain and fatigue. There was also less frequent blink rates and shorter duration between brain activity response times. What does this mean to the consumer? It means two things. Firstly, if the evidence in the study is assumed to be correct, then Ambilight is not a gimmick but actually based on science. Secondly, it means that by having Ambilight turned on, the viewing experience is more relaxed and easier on the eyes. At first, we were skeptical about the validity of the backlights but after testing the 42PF9831, much to our surprise, we found it easier to watch.
According to documentation provided to us by Philips, when finalising the Ambilight technology, The Society of Motion Picture Technology Engineers (SMPTE) was consulted. They recommended that the level of ambient rear lighting not exceed 10 percent of the peak white output of the television panel and as such Philips has ensured that Ambilight works within those recommended levels. We thought it would be distracting or too bright but this wasn't the case and after a brief period of adjustment, we no longer noticed the lights were even there.
Pixel Plus 3 HD
Philips claims that Pixel Plus is a process for creating sharper images at a pixel level. Each pixel and its relationship with the pixels that surrounds it is examined and altered to smooth out the transition between them. This way, the chance of pixilation is greatly reduced. This process also blends colours better so that it can achieve vivid colour while still preserving natural looking skin tones and pure whites. Pixel Plus has been around for a while now in Philips televisions but with Pixel Plus 3, included in this television, it has been expanded into the HD arena.
We viewed DVD sources on the display with and without Pixel Plus enabled and noticed very little difference. The images looked superb without Pixel Plus and while there was a slight difference, the effect was far from dramatic.
Digital Natural Motion
While the Ambilight is the most noticeable feature of the 42PF9831, Digital Natural Motion (DNM) is easily the most interesting. DNM is a remarkable process designed to eliminate motion jitter (a.k.a. judder). What is motion jitter? One of the biggest difficulties with progressive scan displays like LCDs is interpreting the interlaced video signals most DVDs and television broadcasts use. When done poorly, this signal conversion can create "jitter", resulting in visible jerkiness as the frame pans, or objects move across the screen. A similar problem can occur with CRT televisions that offer a 100Hz mode.
DNM is Philips adaptation of a technology originally used in its 100Hz CRTs which addresses the jitter issue. Other manufacturers have attempted to address jitter in the past by either doubling lines in each field of the interlaced image or by doubling frames in progressive images to create extra frames and give the illusion of smooth motion. This works well on slow moving or static subjects but if the motion is too fast, our eyes can perceive these extra frames as jitter. DNM takes a different approach. It analyses the content of the current and successive fields to produce an entirely new field. The new field is an estimation of the path of motion which is then used to "fill the gap" between the existing 50Hz signal and the required frame rate of the display.
The effect of Digital Natural Motion is dramatic. It not only eliminates jitter but it also removes a marked amount of motion blur as well. In fact, since we were so used to seeing images with a least a small degree of blur or jitter, scenes tended to look unnatural at times. Even when you see a film at the cinema, there is a certain amount of motion blur that occurs due to the limitations of the format. DNM creates smooth motion and crisp images, making even standard definition films look remarkable.
We tested the standard definition performance using our Digital Video Essentials (DVE) and Philips CE 2006 test DVDs as well as the film X-Men 2. Both the DVE and Philips DVDs contain numerous still image test patterns that are used to identify any problems a panel may have. In the DVE test we found no problems whatsoever. The images were clear, with vivid colours and no image noise or discolouration. The blend across the grayscale was exceptional with no stepping. The same results were seen in the Philips CE 2006 tests. The colour, contrast and sharpness tests were all flawless and looked stunning. The colours were vivid with no over-saturation and skin tones looked natural. Black levels were impressive as well with very little washout from the backlights. The most impressive result we detected in our testing came when we looked at the motion jitter tests. Every television we have ever reviewed has suffered greatly in this test with moderate to excessive jitter. Thanks to Digital Natural Motion, the Philips 42PF9831 showed no jitter whatsoever with smooth panning and outstanding sharpness and clarity.
We watched X-Men 2 to check how well the panel looks when displaying a film and also to see the real-world application of DNM. The result was a little unsettling at first. The movie didn't look how we remembered it when we saw it at the cinema. It appeared too crisp, almost the way something filmed with a good quality DV camera does. While the idea of jitter-free videos is awesome, the reality is images that look a little unnatural and take some getting used to. Like Ambilight, we grew accustomed to the difference in no time, but whether all consumers will find it as simple to adapt is questionable. Regardless, the image quality was still quite exceptional. It should be noted that we reviewed this television with all the advanced image enhancement technologies turned on and we are happy to report, they certainly do their job well.
The 42PF9831 has a native resolution of 1366x768 and can display at 720p without interpolation. It can also scale to 1080i, 480p and 576p/i as well. We tested the high definition capabilities of the panel using the Xbox 360 gaming console running at both 720p and 1080i. Due to the excellent interpolation capabilities of the panel, the difference was marginal, if any. Our testing titles for this review were Saint's Row from THQ and Marvel Ultimate Alliance from Activision, both of which exhibit sharp and detailed visuals. In keeping with the SD performance, the Philips panel performed exceptionally in HD. We found that the colour, black levels and detail in the images was excellent. There was also no pixilation to speak of and no image noise. The panel has a reported response time of 3ms which seems accurate as we experienced no ghosting or streaking in during our testing sessions. Overall, the HD performance of this unit was on par with other high-end LCD panels and should prove satisfactory for gamers and high definition video enthusiasts.
Connecting a PC
We connected a PC and ran the panel at 1280x768. The first thing we noticed is that the corners of the screen were cropped by the panel. We attempted to set the PC desktop to other resolutions but all were futile attempts at correcting the problem. We also scrolled through the aspect ratio options but since there was no support for "dot-by-dot" we had to accept the cropping. Unfortunately this was not the only problem that we experienced in PC mode. The desktop icons and text showed evidence of over-sharpening which we attempted to rectify using the calibration options to no avail. Much to our chagrin, we found further problems when we ran our test program, DisplayMate Video Edition. We found excessive noise in moire and ¾ resolution test patterns during our sharpness and resolution tests. We could correct this by changing the aspect ratio to "zoom" mode but this cropped a massive portion of the screen, rendering the PC useless. The colour and gray scale tests were handled well but we did notice some noise on the colour text tests particularly with magenta text on a green colour block. If you were to connect this panel to your PC, you may notice some image quality problems when looking at still images and text. However, since this probably won't be its primary use, we also ran some video tests using both SD and HD video files which looked quite good. The image experiences a noticeable degree of detail loss making it look slightly out of focus but it was definitely usable and, while not perfectly brilliant, would still look reasonable when connected to a Windows XP Media Centre Edition PC.
Built-in Media Player!
When we review televisions we check every last port to make sure it works properly and as advertised. With the 42PF9831, we were fascinated by the fact that it has a media player built into the firmware of the television. You can connect a USB stick, external USB hard drive or one of a handful of supported memory card formats to the television and play music, videos and images directly from your media. The quality is of a high standard and the file supports are surprisingly extensive. The television can play back Mp3, .alb slideshow files, JPEG, Divx 3.11, Divx 5, Xvid and MPEG 1, 2 and 4. This is a very rare feature and one that we haven't seen before. We were taken aback at how easy it was to use and how well it worked. The possibilities are endless with this feature. Imagine having a 500GB external hard drive attached to the television and networked with your home PC? This is certainly an impressive feature that makes this LCDTV stand out from its competitors.
The 42PF9831 has a unique design, and one that may well turn some consumers away from purchasing it. While only a 42in panel, the unit is very large at over 1.2 metres wide which is the same size as most 50in plasma displays. The size comes mainly from the permanent white border that surrounds the piano black bezel. The reason for this border is so that the Ambilight feature will work even when not mounted on a wall. However, the sheer size is far more than any other 42 inch model on the market and needs to be taken into consideration when considering the purchase. Due to the Ambilight, the unit is also much thicker than other units, measuring in at 114mm. The rear panel has a good number of input options with one component, two HDMI, one D-Sub and two SCART connections (can be used for composite with provided adapter). The left side also sports a seven in one card reader (Compact Flash type I, Compact Flash type II, Memory Stick, Microdrive, MultiMedia Card (MMC), Secure Digital Card (SD), Smart Media Card) and two USB slots for multimedia playback.
Finally, the Philips also has a built-in analogue television tuner which works well enough depending on your signal quality. As with all High Definition (HD) panels, we recommend you use either an external HD (or SD) set top box to watch television as analogue is far too mediocre to do the panel justice.
If you are looking for excellent picture quality in standard and high definition and don't need PC mode then this television is definitely a good choice. The Ambilight and the sharpness of the image will take some getting used to but once you do, you may find yourself wondering how you ever watched TV without Digital Natural Motion and Pixel Plus 3 HD.
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