Philips Aurea is very, very lickable

aurea-02.jpg Philips newest LCD TV, the Philips Aurea, is a very interesting counterpoint to the technical accomplishment of the Pioneer Kuro Project range. On one hand, Pioneer has delivered a plasma panel that is second to none in what you're seeing on screen. On the other hand, Philips has delivered a television that fills rooms with its artistic presence. Both are about using light to optimise your screen experience. For me, it is the Aurea that gives goosebumps every time I see it. And on Friday I visited Philips for some one-on-one quality time, and on second viewing (after their initial launch earlier in the week) it still gives me chills.

Read on for a detailed take on the screen, it's surprising audio, what Wong Kar Wai has to do with all this, plus availability and price. Oh, okay, Philips has pulled in a very limited supply to arrive November (Australia was going to be bumped to next year but the local team has secured a small pre-Christmas release) and it's $5,999.Let's start with a qualifier. You need to see this in the flesh to truly appreciate the magnitude of its lickability. I see a lot of great products here, but very few give you that "this is what the future looks like" tickle down the spine and Aurea is one of those.

When Ambilight first came along, I was a qualified fan. Nice idea, but there were some issues - a weird buzzing in the lights that developed was a big bad (yes, Philips has fixed this, and has now moved to LEDs from CCFLs too). Ambilight added a sense of artistry and interior design to the television, and Aurea doesn't just take that to the next level, it takes it to the penthouse.

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Technically this is called 'Ambilight Spectra', and I explored the options closely today when I got the remote in hand. There is a small section at the bottom of the remote just for Ambilight. Two buttons and one up-down joystick doodad (that's a technical term). At any time you can turn Ambilight on/off and change its operating mode, or adjust the intensity up-down with the doodad. And when I say anytime, you can even turn Ambilight on when the TV is switched off for some lava lamp action.

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I watched the demo footage again in both full room lighting (fluoros and halogens in the roof) and all lights turned off. These demos are quite possibly the best 'made for purpose' show pieces I've ever seen - there is even a short film made for Philips by Wong Kar Wai for splashing his saturated colour palettes across Aurea TVs.

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We then spun up a DVD, Ice Age, to see something that wasn't custom made for the screen and it showed that more subtle colour shifts still looked great. Ice Age was actually a good tester in this context, with a very muted palette (white, blue, brown).

The screen looks great, even with DVD. Philips are keen to point out that they've been doing a lot of video processing to deal with motion and blur issues in LCD for a few generations now through their Pixel Plus engine, and now this has the latest - Perfect Pixel HD. This latest panel is doing 100Hz and at 3ms refresh rates, as well as very good noise reduction and a smart pulldown for smooth 24p playback. It's no Kuro on contrast, at just 1200:1 native or 8000:1 dynamic. But again the Ambilight Spectra actually puts your eyes into a relaxed space where the finer points of contrast don't seem so critical.

After a few minutes watching in this way, I switched off the Aurea surround and your eyes hate you for doing so. Particularly when you go for the lights out cinematic experience, Aurea has a great ability to not only fill the room beyond the screen, but it relaxes the eyes and lets you enjoy the picture more than you expect. Fears of it acting as a distraction from the image (something I thought would be the case when first seeing the photos online) were unfounded for me - it enhances and complements rather than drawing attention.

The biggest surprise is the speaker system in the screen, delivering some of the best audio I've heard out of a hidden speaker array. When we launched the first disc on the TV the volume was way up and we were trying to turn down the Philips DVD Soundbar - but it wasn't turned up at all. It was all from the TV, but it still gave that full sound I was expecting to have been from the surround sound bar. It was a small room, but the two 12 speaker arrays left and right, plus two subwoofer boxes, all hidden behind the LCD and streamed out through a narrow channel at the edge of the screen. Seriously, it works a treat - if you aren't running home theatre but you're spending this kind of money on a TV (very few of you), this is pretty sweet.

aurea-stageleft.jpg3 x HDMI (1.3) seems to be the standard now - good times, plus 1 x component, and 2 x Scart which isn't all that useful here, though it can be adapted to other modes. There is composite and S-Video in on the side panel, but no HDMI which is an oversight considering the HDMI enabled camcorders on the market now. Once wall mounted, it's a hell of a job to get in at the back panel just to plug a camera now and then.

A bonus worth quite a bit is the inclusion of BOTH tabletop swivel stand and the wall mounting bracket. That could set you back $1,000 with some other brands, so it's worth keeping in mind if wall mounting is your plan.

This is really like a fork in the road for high-end home television. The path of the image phile leads to Pioneer's Project Kuro. The path of the designer or the aesthete will lead to Aurea. Check out the Aurea website - it's as stylin' as the TV. If it gets you going, get down to a store to check these out when they hit in November and see it for yourself. [Philips Aurea]

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