Philips Cineos 37PFL9603 High Definition LCD TV

Philips' 37-inch LCD HDTV boasts both slender design and superior image quality. Best4Reviews finds out if those are reason enough for it to be your next choice of TV

There aren't many things that have the women in my life, from wife to grandmother, cooing in an impressed manner, but Philips' 37PFL9603 flat panel LCD TV is one of them.

But it isn't purely down to the 37-inch screen size - the screen actually feels smaller when compared to rival sets of identical dimensions because of the Philip's clear plastic bezel; handy if like me you're shoehorning the set into the corner of a cottage.

The appreciation isn't down to the fact that front of the Philips' set's slim frame is also completely free of tell tale speakers or grills either. These are present but housed 'invisibly' within the body of the set, while the curved plastic bezel proves both stylish and functional by allegedly helping to 'bounce' sound toward the viewer.

No, it's due to the fact that the Philips 37PFL9603 features a rather pretty function called Ambilight Spectra technology, exclusive to Philips, and one that has its own button on the remote control. Hit this button and the left and right hand sides of the set - and your living space - are surrounded by an eerie spectral glow, the colours of which match the action of the programme or film you're watching, thus delivering a more 'immersive' and de-stressing viewing experience. Philips' PR people also claim it's easier on your eyes over prolonged viewing periods than without. Those clear and concave bezels also angle the light from the back of the set toward the viewer.

Cynics claim that Ambilight is no more than a gimmick, and that's certainly the first thought that strikes you. However, as you dim the room lights and settle down to watch a movie, that surrounding glow gently seduces your eyes and sucks you in. OK, it is frankly unnecessary if your viewing is restricted to daytime soaps and Bargain Hunt - and the same button that turns it on also turns it off - but for those big screen epics that don't stint on the visuals (I was provided with Danny Boyle's self-explanatory Sunshine on DVD and an HD DVD disc of Guillermo Del Toro's Spanish War-era fantasy Pan's Labyrinth) Ambilight proves itself more of an addition to the cinematic experience rather than distraction.

I've been living with this set as an integral part of my daily existence for a month now. Although in the design department the Philips 37PFL9603 LCD TV looks the business, it does take a while to warm up and get going. Press the power button, one of a row of controls located in a strip out of harm's way on the right hand side of the set (viewing it front on) and a red standby light glows through the black veneer of the screen surround at the bottom right. Next pick up the weighty and sophisticated looking black remote control, the design of which appears built to match an expensive German Hi-Fi system, and hit the power button on that. Then wait around seven seconds for the picture to appear, the set counting you down with a thin white strip of light pulsing gently beneath the Philips logo bottom centre of the screen.

Setting up proved to be a relatively pain free process - the screen itself both considerably lighter and easier to transport than my old hernia-inducing standard definition cathode ray widescreen set. Like most, I don't yet have an HD TV signal pumped into my living room but rather a standard definition one courtesy of my cable TV provider. Thus the kind folks at Philips' PR firm left me with Toshiba HD DVD player via which to derive maximum enjoyment of the Philips 37PFL9603. I can't recall how easy or otherwise it was to tune the set into my cable feed or auxiliary device/s however, as their kindness extended to them talking me through the set up process rather than leaving me to devour the manual. I do recall however clear onscreen menus and prompts, though the circular pad on the remote with which you navigate through options is a tad sensitive, meaning it is easy to overshoot your intended selection or mode.

However, what proved to be an irritation at first became less so over the days that followed, forewarned as I was about such an operational quirk.

The Philips 37PFL9603 boasts what Philips is calling its latest generation Perfect Pixel HD engine and an impressively low response time of 2 milliseconds, which means, combined, that action sequences and scene transitions flow smoothly, free from blur. The difference between the naturalistic imagery delivered by the Philips and the rather smeared fuzzy images delivered by a competitor's identically sized set costing a third of the price was pronounced. Watching this TV you literally see what you're paying a premium for.

Hitting the Perfect Motion setting within the TV's menu and setting it to High appears to dissolve the grain associated with watching something shot on film, so that images appear more three dimensional and life-like. Obviously you wouldn't want, or wish that effect with everything, but used sparingly so as not to overwhelm the senses it's as impressive as anything else on this TV.

A combination of the clear plastic screen surround - the latest generation announced at IFA now has clear glass at the very edge of the picture itself - and the Ambilight lighting feature serve to prettify a device that until now has typically been a hulking black (or silver) box wedged in the corner of the room.

Verdict: 
So is it worth forsaking the price of a holiday to somewhere exotic for the Philips 37PFL9603 LCD TV instead? If, like me, you spend most nights slumped for a couple of hours in front of the goggle box, you may consider it money well spent. It's certainly the best TV I've ever had in my possession - albeit temporarily - and the first that has had me focusing not just on what I'm watching, but what I'm watching it on, the set itself being part of the experience rather than just a conduit.