Even before you press the power button its matt white frame is unique. But once you’ve turned it on and kick-started the TV’s dual ‘Ambilight Spectra’ and ‘Light Frame’ technologies, your eyes will likely be popping out of your head. For it’s at this point that the white frame suddenly bursts into a riot of colours.
Yes, colours. For behind that white frame is a series of LEDs able to emit light in pretty much any colour under the sun, as dictated by the content of the picture you’re watching. So if your picture has a blue bit in the top left corner and a red bit to, say, bottom centre, the frame around the TV will glow blue at top left and red in the middle of the bottom edge.
What’s more, if there are different colours at different parts along one side, they blend into each other with mesmerising subtlety rather than looking distractingly separate.
More than a gimmick
You’re probably thinking by now that this all sounds like an expensive gimmick. But there’s a point to the light show beyond mere style histrionics, which is that surrounding the picture with sympathetically coloured light is scientifically proven to make long term TV viewing more relaxing and immersive.
Far from the Light Frame being the Aurea’s only claim to fame, it’s actually stuffed to the rafters with other goodies too. Not least among these is Philips’ very latest image processing technology: the Perfect Pixel HD engine. This adds, among other things, 100Hz motion processing and advanced new noise reduction techniques to Philips’ previous and venerable Pixel Plus 3 HD system.
My multimedia friend
There’s also playback of JPEG and MP3 files via a built-in USB port, 1080p/24fps compatibility, and a clever Active Control system that can automatically calibrate the best picture settings based on an assessment of the incoming signal and your room conditions.
First impressions of the 42PFL9900 in action are mixed. For while there’s no denying the stunning impact of the Ambilight Spectra/Light Frame system, there’s also no denying that it’s as distracting as hell. As in, you’ll find yourself staring at the psychedelic Light Frame rather than at the picture within.
Happily this situation is reduced considerably if you ramp down the Light Frame’s brightness setting. Also, the longer you live with the frame, the more you get used to it, so that it starts to fulfil its proper role as a mere enhancement of the viewing experience rather than the main event.
What’s more, once your attention has returned to the pictures, you suddenly realise how amazingly good they are. That Perfect Pixel Engine system really delivers the goods, with sensational sharpness from HD and standard definition sources alike, stunningly vibrant and unusually life-like colours, and practically no nasty video noise.
No motion sickness
An action movie such as Starship Troopers on Blu-ray, meanwhile, suffers practically none of LCD’s resolution loss and smearing over its moving elements, and there’s no judder at all, just silky smooth action all the way.
As if all this wasn’t good enough, the TV’s black level response is one of the best yet from a flat TV. The Light Frame really does, after a while, draw you further into the onscreen action and the audio quality from the TV’s ‘invisible’ speakers is great.
Not exactly mass market
Obviously we should say before stamping the Aurea with five star approval that it won’t be for everyone. First, its design is so startling that the more shy and retiring among you may prefer to go for Philips’ still stylish but rather subtler 9000 series models, due to launch soon.
Second, it costs an unfeasibly large amount for a 42in LCD TV. But if you can stomach the showy looks and price tag, the Aurea is well worth the premium.