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Philips Aurea 42PFL9900D review

Let there be Ambilight, says Philips

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Our Verdict

Groundbreaking picture quality combined with features galore at a good price

For

  • Spectra Ambilight is a showstopper
  • Superb pictures
  • Highly impressive sound

Against

  • Massively expensive
  • Could overly dominate a room

The Aurea is like nothing else on the market. You may have seen Philips' Ambilight backlighting system before, but this, the firm's latest flagship model, takes things to a new level. As well as emitting light out of its (ahem) backside, Aurea has an illuminated frame shining a kaleidoscope of colours outwards.

These colours change depending on the dominant colours on screen, so if you're watching a football match, the left, right and lower portions of the frame will most likely be glowing green while the top will reflect the colours in the crowd.

And with 126 individual LED lamps in 42 clusters of three, Spectra can actually display multiple colours on every side of the screen. Called Active Frame, this new tech means you're no longer limited to one colour per side.

Aurea inspiring

It's an impressive piece of technology, but it's also going to be the focus of whatever room you put it in. You can tone down the brightness and reaction speed of the Ambilight, but there's no getting around the fact that the Aurea is so over the top that it dominates its surroundings.

The general styling of the television differs from the norm too. With the frame needing to be clean and clear for Ambilight purposes, it's a plain off-white colour with a narrow sliver of silver at its edges. There are no visible buttons on the front, merely a Philips logo and a power indicator underneath.

The controls are found on the right-side panel and the side connections on the left, and none are visible from the front. Well, you wouldn't want anything to spoil your view, would you?

While the light show and styling demand plenty of attention, it's immediately obvious that Philips has put a heck of a lot of work into the performance side of things too.

This set carries all the company's latest picture enhancement technologies under the Perfect Pixel HD Engine umbrella, including 100Hz Clear LCD to sharpen the edges of moving objects, HD Natural Motion to kill background judder during pans and several noise reduction technologies to cut out the unsightly by-products of poorly-compressed source material.

As a result of all this technological jiggery pokery, the picture quality on display is nothing short of stunning, particularly when you hook up a high-definition source.

Blu-ray movies, for instance, leap right out of the screen. The TV supports Full 1080p pictures at their native speed of 24 frames per second, which would look good on almost any big screen, but the 100Hz processing mode adds sharpness to edges during motion, where most LCD TVs would show a small amount of blurring.

Rule of three

This isn't exactly a new feature, but this version is the best we've seen on an LCD TV yet. The picture doesn't take on the same off-putting, un-cinematic sheen you see with other 100Hz modes, and there are few processing side effects.

Sometimes you'll catch sight of a flickery effect at the edge of something, and during sport (particularly, for some reason, cricket) a fast-moving ball will briefly transform into three. The processing is adjustable, and you can switch it off so these side effects aren't much of a problem.

Colour reproduction is extraordinarily natural, and the noise reduction is efficient, which means that slightly lesser quality HD material - a movie on Sky HD, for instance - looks excellent. And finally, black levels are superbly deep and strong for an LCD, so you're getting a truly fantastic HD experience.

Standard definition material doesn't impress as much, aside from DVDs. Television pictures, whether from an outside source or the built-in digital tuner, greatly vary in quality, with some ( Heroes on the Sci-Fi Channel, for instance) looking clean and others (ITV) suffering from too much noise.

We suppose the reality is that even something as powerful and advanced as Perfect Pixel HD Engine will struggle with the woeful quality some channels serve up.

On the audio front, things remain top class. The set sports no less than 26 speakers - none of them visible - and while sonic output doesn't rival a proper external speaker and receiver setup, it's more than capable of delivering the goods with all manner of material.

So while the Aurea is up there with the very best in performance and design, it would have to be to justify that huge price tag. At £3,000, this is one of the priciest 42in screens around.

You can get many of the same features (Perfect Pixel, 100Hz Clear LCD) and specs (1080p, three HDMIs) in the dual-Ambilight 42PFL9632D, which is available for less than half the price online, so there are few reasons to buy this unless (a) you've got so much money that price isn't an issue or (b) you really want a television with Ambilight Spectra.

It's a fantastic, grandstanding, awesome TV, but value for money was never going to be its strong point...