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Philips Cinema 21:9 56PFL9954H 56in LCD TV - Philips Cinema 21:9 56PFL9954H

John Archer

By John Archer


  • Recommended by TR
Philips Cinema 21:9 56PFL9954H 56in LCD TV


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One final picture processing area I simply have to talk about is one that I normally don't bother getting involved with: aspect ratio controls. For the fact is that to some extent the Cinema 21:9 will stand or fall on how well its aspect ratio handling works. Why? Because wouldn't you just know it, recreating 2.35:1/2.4:1 films without black bars on the Cinema 21:9's screen isn't nearly as straightforward as you would probably imagine.

The problem is that when 2.35:1 films are broadcast or encoded onto Blu-ray, the black bars necessary to make the source work with a 16:9 TV are built into the actual source picture. In other words, the black bars aren't created by your TV, but rather added, line by line, to the source, as if they were parts of the main image.

In order to make today's 2.35:1 films fill its screen, therefore, the Cinema 21:9 has to remove these bars from sources, using sophisticated processing to 'blow them up' so that they're pushed off the top and bottom of the screen, while the rest of the image appears both intact and with its natural proportions.

This sort of talk is enough to potentially send shudders down any die-hard AV aficionado's spine. For if there's one thing such people tend to hate, it's the thought of a TV's processors 'interfering' with the image that's coming in from a source. After all, one of the reasons Full HD TVs have been such a hit is their ability to reproduce normal 1,920 x 1,080-pixel, 16:9 sources on a direct pixel by pixel basis, without having to use processing to rescale the source image to a different resolution.

Yet since there are no sources currently available able to match the Cinema 21:9's native 2,560 x 1,080 pixel count, the TV obviously has to use processing to add in the extra pixels necessary to translate a 1,920 x 1,080 - or 576 PAL, come to that - source to its unprecedented resolution. Hence my belief that the quality of the TV's image scaling processing is arguably the single most important factor in its success or failure.

From the previous paragraphs, it's clear that what this TV is really crying out for is native 21:9 film masters. And actually, there is no reason at all why Blu-ray manufacturers can't provide a native 21:9, 2,560 x 1,080 version of a 2.35/2.4:1 film on a Blu-ray disc rather than a 16:9 version with added bars. The potential for 21:9 is certainly built into the Blu-ray spec.

At the time of writing, though, Philips hasn't managed to persuade any film studio to support this. There's still vague talk of future discs that might carry native 21:9 transfers, but it would have really helped turn on tech-heads if there had been even one actual 21:9 disc available to accompany the TV's launch.

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June 10, 2009, 7:12 pm

So let me get this straight, we had 4:3, now we have 16:9 and now we're moving to 21:9? Why the hell didn't they just get it right the first time? This all looks like the current mess of computer displays.

Also, this was the first television review on here I didn't really understand! Not your fault, it's just all the aspect ratios got to me...


June 10, 2009, 7:22 pm

It's by no means the start of things to come, Ohmz. This is more of a unique demo that happened to come to market.


June 10, 2009, 7:24 pm

Very disappointing that Blu-ray does not already carry a native 21:9 picture for the amount the discs cost.

This looks fantastic though.

Just imagining playing 360 on this. You could have side by side split screen with an enormous picture for each player.

Barry Ward

June 10, 2009, 7:29 pm

You didn't mention how this tv handles 4:3 and subtitles. I'd expect seeing the full 4:3 image without cropping would result in enormous black borders on the sides and would look silly. Plus on DVD's, subtitle pictures are more often than not displayed over the bottom black border of a 2.35:1 film. So cropping the borders off would result in no subtitles, correct?


June 10, 2009, 7:41 pm

@Ohmz - If I remember correctly, I believe the movie industry were worried about TVs and so when TVs were first introduced there was a 'compromise' and 4:3 was chosen as a standard so that it didn't compete with the cinematic 'experience'.


June 10, 2009, 7:50 pm

Excellent review, John! I was lucky enough to see this set on display at a Berlin branch of an electrical goods chain called Saturn. Conditions (no sound, very bright lighting, poor source) were less than ideal. It was priced at �. My initial impression was one of awe at the picture without black bars, but also disappointment that Philips had not attempted anything new with the design, as in a thin or brushed aluminium bezel. But I do wonder how non-HD 4:3 and 16:9 sources (the vast majority of German TV output) would look. Also, Philips TVs are notorious for the less than user-friendliness of their calibration systems and their need for almost constant tweaking depending on the source. How did you get on with this? Are the out-the-box settings good enough or does it require constant attention?


June 10, 2009, 9:32 pm

@davef - I thought it was more to do with the limitations on the technology of the age. The engineering of a cathode ray tube really constrains it to squarish designs, in that the depth of the TV set is determined by the maximum acceptable beam angle, which in turn is largely related to the longer dimension of the image. While you could probably make a 21:9 tube, you'd need to massively increase the depth if you wanted to widen the image to compensate for the loss of height.

Tony Walker

June 10, 2009, 9:34 pm

Available in Switzerland for the equivalent of £3125. In Germany I've found it for £3447. And a French e-tailer is doing it for � (yes Euros!).


June 10, 2009, 9:45 pm

Any word on how this handles PS3/Xbox360 HD games or should I assume it does a similar job as with 16:9 TV sources?

Just worried (not that I have the money to buy this TV let alone a secondary TV anyway) that you would need a seperate HD TV to play games!


June 10, 2009, 9:51 pm

@John McLean - I guess that also makes sense. My info came from an online article - can't remember which. As always, it's difficult to vouch for the veracity of some online stuff. I'll see if I can find said article.

John 21

June 10, 2009, 9:53 pm

I believe I mentioned this when you first announced it a few months ago, but why is this only coming out now, when this TV was ready to come off the production lines in 2006?!?!

I saw this when I was in Aus a couple of years ago. It wasn't too well received there.... Is there a marketing reason for delaying the release?


June 10, 2009, 9:58 pm

My mistake. It appears that cinema started adopting wider aspect movies to differentiate themselves from TV - at least according to Wikipedia


June 10, 2009, 10:07 pm

@John: While Philips may have had a 21:9 model back then it most certainly won't have been the same model.


June 11, 2009, 2:54 am

Well at least you can see the matrix triology is you can obtain a private copy for yourself, cause that movies that i have are in 2:56 aspect (2048x800) but cuz Philips has 2560x1080 and the upscaling mode you will never see black bars even with wide aspects cuz of the higher resolution...


June 11, 2009, 6:38 pm

Thanks for such a prompt review of this most interesting TV. I can imagine that the experience is superb for cinemascope material but given that the majority of video we watch is still in the 16:9 or 4:3 ratio I couldn't justify a purchase.

Also note that when the lights are out and you're watching a Pioneer Kuro (at half the price) you don't notice the black bars as they're so black that they blend into the TV frame and the background so it provides the same effect.


June 12, 2009, 5:07 am

Can't see anyone addressing Barry's question about subtitles. Does the TV cut off the subtitles or not?

Barry Ward

June 12, 2009, 5:29 pm

Thank you, Chilliboom- it's a simple question the reviewer should easily be able to answer, and is a question a lot of people should be interested in knowing the answer to. After all, there are so many films that have subtitles, even if they are English language films with small foreign language parts.


June 12, 2009, 7:52 pm

This set and review do throw up quite a few questions which are best answered before purchase, given the price. I spoke with one London retailer, who had the display material in his window and had been to a Philips presentation. He was not particularly taken with the set, feeling that customers would be better off going for a Pioneer Kuro if obtainable, or a Samsung, Sony or different Philips.


June 12, 2009, 10:35 pm

In order to see subtitles in the 21:9 Tv you need to buy the new Philips flagship bluray player"Philips BDP-9100". This blueray player enables features like moving subtitles and allow more aspect ratio possibilities.

Barry Ward

June 13, 2009, 2:10 am

So let me get this straight- you need to buy a whole new Bluray player in order to stop this tv from cutting off the subtitles along with the bottom black border? And this tv has been given 9 out of 10??? Give me a break!


June 13, 2009, 3:12 pm

The TV has a Subtitle picture format option as well where it will keep some of the bottom black bar to accomodate the subtitles, so no, you dont have to buy a bluray to see subtitles. But you will need to if you dont want the black bar at the bottom.

Even the Auto Format option does a so called 'black bar detection' so if there are subtitles in the black bar it wont cut the whole black bar.

@Orinj: between 55-65% of DVD's and BluRay's sold is in the 2.39:1 format and even if you watch the film on a Kuro and the black bars 'blends in' your practically wasting up to 25-30% of the full screen.

Kalos Geros

June 13, 2009, 8:21 pm

Why was the fact overlooked, that this TV, like so many Philips TVs, can't run at 24p, probably because they want to push their Natural Motion processing (and they are succeeding at that - everyone's oo-ing an ah-ing at the fludity of the processing, because obvious and very apparent 3:2 pulldown judder (more than other TVs) being the only other option to compare to...this TV has failed massively in its cinematic mission by not implementing proper 24p playback...also, the subtitle problem is huge and cannot be resolved unless, guess what - you buy a Philips Blu-ray player! Philips are masters at developing unimportant fancy features, but ALWAYS fail miserably on basic stuff...unless you don't mind 3:2 judder or actually prefer video-like motion, I'd steer well clear of this TV...


June 14, 2009, 4:19 am

The funny thing is: a 60inch screen is wider than this tv. That means you have more movie on your 60 inch in 2.40:1 than on this philips 56inch which is made for this aspect ratio. The total screen size of a 60 inch is 1.42 times bigger than this philips screen. In Europe (holland) you can get the best tv (after the overpriced elite version) for 3200 euro (Pioneer 6090 and the 6020 in the us) and the philips tv for 3500 euro.

My main point is; because of its 21:9 ratio the screen doesn't really get much wider but does lose much hight. Just compare it with all the black bars when you watch a movie in 2.40:1 on your 16:9 screen. 56 inch does sounds huge when you want to watch your 21:9 (2.40:1) movies but its even wide as a normal 58 inch widescreen tv and does have a much smaller surface than a 56 inch in a normal ratio.

It would be a big difference though if your blu-ray player and blu-rays would support the same resolution as this tv.

Stuart Etherington

June 15, 2009, 4:11 am

just curious. how will the IMAX scenes in The Dark Knight blu ray appear on this screen? Come to think of it, some scenes in Transformers 2 have also been shot with an IMAX camera. How will they be appearing on this screen?

Kalos Geros

June 15, 2009, 1:34 pm

If set to auto, the TV will zoom out to accomodate the full 1080p picture, leaving black bars on the sides...

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