Philips 55PP9701HD-ready rear-projection televison Page 2
The Philips 55PP9701 delivered absolutely stunning performance from both HD broadcasts and DVDs. Everything I saw at the line show was corroborated and then some, thanks to the calibration, focusing, and the easy-to-remove, protective, but quite reflective plastic screen. (A Philips engineer with whom I spoke encouraged me to remove it. Too bad the instructions don't give consumers that tip.) This set had the richest, most natural, mesmerizing, saturated color performance of any RPTV I've seen. I saw it at the show and I still see it at home. I even saw its superior picture in a lineup of poorly adjusted big-screen sets at a local dealer (though it was the Marantz edition made by Philips, apparently identical save for the nameplate).
While the reds were outstanding, the blues had an almost hypnotic quality. I just melted into a big sky or ocean shot, thanks also to the set's video quiet. On both HD and DVD, the 55PP9701 had crystalline clarity, freedom from artifacts and video noise, outstanding focus, and natural edge definition, all of which brought me close to the proverbial window on the event. Unfortunately, as in high-end audio, if the source isn't topnotch, you'll see every defect. The 55PP9701 is specified to deliver 1500x1080i resolution, which, while not up to the 1920x1080i offered by its big brother, Philips' 64-inch 64PH9905 HDTV, is close enough for now.
The 55PP9701's ability to portray depth and 3-dimensionality was unsurpassed in my experience of rear projectors. I've watched DirecTV's HD loop so many times now that I think I have every frame memorized. On that loop, the overall picture quality and the emotional jolt delivered by the 55PP9701 were amazing. Recently, CBS aired the season premiere of Everybody Loves Raymond in HD. The episode was filmed mostly outdoors along the Italian coast, and the palpable sensation of being outdoors with the actors was surprising. I could almost smell the sea. I'm used to these sensations of reality, of suspending disbelief while listening to well-recorded music on high-end audio gear. This was the first time I've experienced it with video. That's how good the Philips was.
Equally significant (until we get more HD programming) was the 55PP9701's performance on regular DTV and NTSC programming. CBS's football broadcasts are not in HD, but the NTSC signal via its digital channel here in New York was surprisingly satisfying. Focus and overall clarity were impressive, as was color saturation. Switching one spot down the dial to the analog signal was a big letdown. Yet even the baseball playoffs on NBC—off-the-air analog broadcasts via antenna—looked great, due in part to the seeming excellence of the Philips's NTSC decoder, which allowed me to saturate the colors without overloading red.
I'll spare you yet more superlatives about the 55PP9701's no-fault picture quality and overall performance. I could blather on about its outstanding contrast and overall brightness, and its rich, creamy, detailed, filmlike picture when displaying progressive-scanned anamorphic DVDs. But I think I've already communicated to you that this set deserves to be on your short list of must-sees if you're shopping for a 55-inch,16:9, rear-projection, HD-ready set. So I'll give it a rest.
The Philips 55PP9701's biggest negative was that it doesn't let you control the aspect ratio when used with most progressive-scan DVD players. It treats any signal as anamorphic, unsqueezing the image when you use the dedicated HD component-video input. If you try one of the other component-video inputs, the set won't sync. The only solution is to watch full-framed and letterboxed LDs and DVDs via one of the set's S-video or component-video inputs. Or get Camelot Technologies' Round Table progressive-scan DVD player, which includes a "squeeze" mode that you can use to negate the unsqueezing done by the Philips, and thus get the correct aspect ratio. Fortunately, the 55PP9701's NTSC decoder and line doubler are of high quality; if you don't have the Camelot, you might find the S-video compromise worth making. I did.
Minor complaints: The remote control lights up only partially—until you learn where things are, you'll be turning the lights on. The menu ring/selector button is not the most ergonomically elegant I've used; it was easy to miss and hit Select when I meant to navigate, but I had no trouble once I got the hang of it. The onscreen icons for setting Brightness, Picture, Color, and Tint don't feature numerical markers, which makes precise resets impossible should you want to vary from the calibrated settings. Also, the icons block the view of the full color bars, making color-level calibration a pain: You have to adjust, remove the icon, restore the icon, adjust, etc. It's a minor annoyance, but one worth pointing out; perhaps Philips will change this in the future. And the fan on the rear panel seems to always be on, even if the set is off. A Philips spokesperson told me this was probably because I didn't have an antenna connected, so the Guide Plus+ was searching for information. He was correct about the antenna, but even after I'd connected one, the fan continued to operate continually. It's not loud enough to be audible when you've got the volume up, but you might hear it as a faint noise when the set's off.
My last complaint is, as usual, about the instructions. They're disorganized, and they don't tell the story (few do these days) of how to use the 55PP9701 in a way that will be easy for the average buyer to grasp. The layout is hard on the eyes and presents no clear focal point on the page, and there's not even a graphic of the entire back panel. There are factual errors, and a few glaring omissions in the HD section. There's a Horizontal Phase adjustment onscreen, but nothing in the instructions tells you what it does. (It adjusts the position of the raster, making centering the picture easy and convenient.) The onscreen BP Width adjustment is listed as "Back Porch Width" in the instructions, but there's no explanation of what it does. I guess Philips figures that everyone's TV has a Back Porch control. Turns out it controls black-level clamping, but even after the engineer's explanation, I remained clueless, and when I moved it back and forth I saw no change. Oh well.
Finally, the component-video input in the HD section is labeled as also being an RGB input and as having BNC connectors, both of which are incorrect. And not having a specification page on a set of this sophistication is totally inexcusable. This manual is not ready for prime time!
Those minor complaints aside, everything about the 55PP9701 indicates that Philips has gone to great lengths to design and build a world-class, high-performance, feature-filled, HD-ready TV at a very affordable price. At $4800, this RPTV is an incredible value, and easily one of the best HD-ready rear-projection sets currently available—though I can't guarantee what it will look like at your local video emporium.
Along with the 64-inch 64PH9905 HDTV and the 60-inch 60PP9701 HD-ready set, this lineup represents a statement about Philips's engineering prowess and its desire to be taken seriously in the high end of the video marketplace.
You'll know that instantly if you get a chance to see this set properly calibrated. The intelligent design choices and the quality of the digital optics circuits will speak for themselves. If you can live with the progressive-scan input's lack of scaling choices and the poor instruction manual, the Philips 55PP-9701 is a complete winner. I bought it.