capsule review

Philips 42PF9631D

At a Glance
  • Philips 42PF9631D

    TechHive Rating

    Elegant set offers above-average image quality and design; built-in ambient backlighting adds an unusual touch.

Philips 42PF9631D
Photograph: Chris Manners

With its wide black bezel, silvery speakers, and semitransparent stand, the Philips 42PF9631D 42-inch plasma HDTV is a graceful and imposing presence. If you walk around the unit, you'll find more to admire: well-chosen, easy-to-reach inputs and outputs; a lighted remote; and the unusual Ambilight backlighting panels. The most important part of any television, though, is the picture it presents on its screen, and the 42PF9631D more than holds its own on that score. And despite its good image quality and luxurious trimmings, the 42PF9631D sells for a list price of $2399--not cheap, but not the steepest we've seen in this size, either (and street prices are often lower than list prices).

Our test jurors found the 42PF9631D's performance pleasing on DVD and standard-definition content, but we particularly liked its high-definition TV performance for its nice balance. This Philips model also stood out in our bright lights test, in which it led the pack for retaining its color and contrast well under bright lights. We did not test this model with its Ambilight feature enabled.

Once we finished our official tests, however, I tried out Ambilight in my hands-on evaluation. Ambilight mimics an ambient-backlighting feature usually seen only on high-end custom installations of televisions. Lighting panels on the back of the right and left sides change color and intensity along with the action on the screen, projecting the colored light onto the wall behind the TV. Ambilight has five settings for various moods, such as Action (for action-packed movies or games) and Relaxed (pleasant for nature shows and so forth). I'll admit that the idea sounded a bit silly to me at first, but when I watched our usual test scenes of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with Ambilight on, I found the experience absorbing enough to justify watching a few more scenes just for fun. Philips touts research results that suggest Ambilight prevents eyestrain in darkened rooms, too. That said, Ambilight may not be everyone's cup of tea--or at least, not everyone will want that tea with every meal. If you don't feel the need to see backlighting respond to, say, the evening news, you can simply turn Ambilight off.

The 42PF9631D's array of inputs is one of the better ones I've seen on a 42-inch plasma lately. All inputs are well identified and easily reached. The left side offers inputs for USB, headphone jack, composite, and S-Video, and audio inputs useful for connecting a camcorder or digital camera. (I'd have liked to see a CableCard slot as well, since a TV this attractive shouldn't have to compete with a less-than-lovely tuner box.) On the back you'll find the expected assortment of inputs, plus digital audio in and out--a boon for anyone who prefers their own audio setup to the TV's speakers. Though the 42PF9631D includes several sound settings and virtual Dolby digital sound, I found the sound from the attached speakers merely adequate.

I liked the long remote, which fit well in my hand. The lighted buttons made it easy to control this HDTV even in a darkened room. It was also a pleasure to see that the remote matches the aesthetic of the TV, instead of looking like a generic remote with the company's name slapped on.

It's worth reiterating that this price of $2399 is list; the 42PF9631D wasn't available for sale on our pricing date of 6/6/06. Street prices are often lower--sometimes substantially lower--than list prices. If you're interested in the 42PF9631 but are working within a budget, check the current price before writing this one off.

Laura Blackwell

This story, "Philips 42PF9631D" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    Elegant set offers above-average image quality and design; built-in ambient backlighting adds an unusual touch.

    Pros

    • Good screen; Ambilight adds interest
    • Responsive, intuitive remote

    Cons

    • No CableCard slot
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