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PHILIPS 32PW9617, 32-inch Widescreen TV,  £1,599.99

 

STANDFIRST

‘Best on market’ and ‘new industry reference picture quality’ are just two of the very bold claims being made by Philips for its new Pixel Plus range of high-end home cinema TVs. Does it live up to the hype, or is this just another catchy name for an irrelevant or marginal picture tweak? We’ve been taking a very close look at the new 32PW9617, to find out

 

COPY

We tend to be a little wary of TV manufacturer’s claims for picture quality but for a change Philips Pixel Plus looks like being quite a significant development, with some provisos, of course. The picture on the 9617 is noticeably crisper, with deeper, sharper colours than just about every other 32-incher we’ve seen recently, and we’re not talking about small subtle improvements that you need a magnifying glass or test pattern to see, the picture on this set can smack you in the eye, but…

 

The inevitable ‘but’ is that despite what the Philips marketing and technical bumf says about it ‘providing a near high-definition viewing experience from any source’, it does no favours for digital satellite channels, viewing distance is also quite critical, get too close and the effect falls apart, and with so many video processing options to fiddle about with you’re never quite sure if you’re getting the best picture. But what exactly is Pixel Plus?

 

Philips is a little vague on the precise details but basically it involves increasing the number of picture lines by around one third, up to 833 instead of 625 (this virtually eliminates visible line structure), and reducing luminance transience, which means faster changes from extremes of brightness to help improve sharpness and detail. The extra lines create to the impression of a higher definition picture, though to be strictly accurate it contains no additional information. The extra lines, which are inserted between every third line so as not to distort the shape of the picture are ‘interpolated. This is a clever electronic trick that takes an educated guess at what should be in picture, in the gaps between the lines. Neither technique is exactly new but combining it with a 100Hz flicker free display and Philips proprietary digital processing systems, has produced a little magic.

 

In fact Philips are so proud of Pixel Plus they’ve even put a ‘demo’ button on the remote that displays a split screen showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects of the processing. Philips says it is for dealers to demonstrate the system in store (unusual, demo modes are usually hidden away or on a service menu), but it quietly admits that consumers will enjoy playing with it too, if only to impress friends and neighbours…

 

We’ll come back to Pixel Plus in a moment but we should quickly mention what else it can do. A 28-inch version is also available and both models are housed in handsome silver, chrome-trimmed cabinets with top-mounted controls. In-built Dolby Digital decoding comes as standard (a 28-inch Dolby Pro Logic model and a 36-inch Dolby Digital set will also be available shortly) and a total of 110 watts of audio is piped through six on-board speakers, a sub-woofer and it comes with a pair of cordless rear channel speakers. There’s a full set of audio input and output sockets front and side, (including four SCARTs) so it can be easily integrated with an existing home cinema audio system and source components. Other goodies include a picture zoom, dual screen and picture in picture displays, auto installation and format switching, 3D sound, sleep timer, Fastext, record reminder, picture strobe, channel scan and plenty of picture and sound adjustments.

 

Pixel Plus excels at DVD playback, the picture is close to immaculate with an almost filmic quality and ability to uncover detail and colour; it’s stunning! Digital satellite channels are not so clever under Pixel Plus, on some channels there’s a visible mushing in the background, and digital noise has the unfortunate habit of being highly organised and you can sometimes see a grid-like pattern to it. Rapid movement can also cause pixellated artefacts and sharply defined edges sometimes exhibit ‘ringing’, a kind of ghosting, with a just noticeable after-image to the right of the edge. Terrestrial channels come somewhere between DVD and satellite, with above average colour depth, resolution and wide, wide contrast more than making up for any processing artefacts. Just don’t sit too close to it! The 9617 sounds okay for a TV though the built-in sound system is a bit thin for serious movie watching.

 

It’s the only way to watch DVDs, but setting such a high standard does make you aware of its struggle to maintain the quality from other sources.

 

Verdict

4/5

 

Philips 020 8689 2166, www.ce.philips.co.uk

 

Overall              4

Picture Quality            5

Sound Quality            3

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  4

Build Quality                  4

Value for Money            4

 

DETAIL

As handsets go this one is not a classic. It’s big and awkward and not very well labelled though to be fair it does cover a lot of ground and it can operate a lot of other devices besides, as long as they’re made by, or use Philips-compatible control codes…

 

 

BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

Make/model     

£                                  £1600

BADGE

VERDICT                      4                     

COMMENTS            Outstanding picture quality from DVDs, less impressive on other sources

SCREEN SIZE            32

100Hz                           Y

SCARTS                       4

ISSUE                          102

 

 

 

HEAD

REOC A5 £140

 

STANDFIRST

In last month’s DVD group test we were quite impressed with the Reoc A3, a bargain basement cheapie, available from your local Safeway store. We had high hopes that its slightly dearer Dolby Digital equipped stablemate the A5 would really rock the kasbah, but phrases like chalk and cheese spring immediately to mind and the A5 proves you don’t always get what you hope for…

 

COPY

Most manufacturers of DVD players, and this also applies to TVs, VCRs and most type of home entertainment equipment, tend to rationalise their product ranges, often using the same basic chassis and electronics in budget and mid-range models bolting on extra convenience features and performance tweaks to justify higher prices.

 

That’s more or less what we’d expected to find with the Reoc A5, an apparently close relative of the A3 (see HE 101). On paper the only significant difference seems to be the A5’s on-board Dolby Digital decoder and some slight variations in secondary features department but a closer inspection suggests that they are related only in name and are in fact two quite different machines.

 

One of the first clues that there’s a different engine under the bonnet is the fact that the A3 can be easily hacked to play Region 1 movies. It is possible to convert the A5 to all-region playback but it involves creating or downloading a firmware command file on a PC, burning it to a CD-R/RW disc and using it to reprogram the machine. As far as we can see there’s no way back to R2 replay and it’s certainly not the sort of thing a novice should attempt but if you’re interested the details can be found in the FAQs on the importer’s web site at: http://reoc.keyservice.co.uk/a5/home

 

In addition to the Dolby Digital decoder the A5 also has a 4–stage 3D sound effects mode and 2-stage picture zoom and like the A3 it has MP3 replay and a volume control (though for some reason you can’t turn the sound down completely). Picture search has 4 speeds but only up to a sluggish 8x and it’s not very smooth but there are 3 forward and reverse slomo speeds. A mystery button on our sample, labelled ‘Vocal’ didn’t seem to do anything much, though the instructions implied it selected audio output; the instructions also claim the A5 has a component video output, which we never did manage to find…

 

The A5 plays homemade DVD-R recordings without a hitch, it has a go at DVD+RWs but it was a bit touchy at times and we couldn’t get picture search to work. The S-Video output on our sample was dreadful, with weak colour and patterning. Composite video looks okay but a narrowish contrast range means lost detail in shadows and darker scenes. Colours are accurately rendered, but daylight scenes in the Phantom Menace look slightly duller than usual, animation fares quite well though but overall it’s not terribly inspiring.

 

Audio on the 5.1 channel outputs is reasonably clean with low levels of background hiss and the stereo output doesn’t sound too bad either. Audio CD replay is satisfactory, similar to what you’d get from a budget hi-fi system and MP3, well, it’s there if you need it…

 

After the success of the A3 we had high hopes for the A5 but quite frankly it’s a disappointment.

 

Verdict

3/5

 

Contact: your local Safeway store

Overall              3

Picture Quality            3

Sound Quality            3

Features                       4

Ease of Use                  3

Build Quality                  5

Value for Money            5

 

DETAIL

As DVD handset design goes this one is classic example of how not to do it! Almost everything about it is wrong and conspires to make the player more difficult to use than necessary. The buttons are too small and close together and there’s no differentiation of the transport controls, try finding the Play button in the dark, and it’s far too easy to get picture search and chapter skip mixed up

 

 

DVD BUYERS GUIDE XTRA INFO

 

REOC A5

£                                  £140

VERDICT                      3

STATUS                       

COMMENTS            well specified but disappointing performance

TYPE                            DVD

5.1 OUT                        Y

OUTPUT                       DD

COMP’NT VID            N

SCARTS                       1

ISSUE                          101

 

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 2002, 2801

 

TECH SPEC

Region 2 (see text), PAL/NTSC replay, Dolby Digital decoder, multi-speed replay, MP3 replay, 2-stage picture zoom, 4-stage 3D sound, volume control, SCART lead included

 

AV out (1 x SCART), S-Video out (mini DIN), composite & component video, 5.1 channel, mixed stereo and coaxial bitstream (phono)

 

 

 

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