The problem with widescreen TVs is simply that they’re not wide enough. Or at least, they’re not wide enough to truly satisfy your average movie addict.
The reason for this will be abundantly apparent to anyone who’s ever been annoyed to see black bars above and below pictures on a DVD or Blu-ray. The simple fact is that the majority of films made for a cinema release are shot using a wider aspect ratio than the 16:9 ratio of your widescreen TV. Instead they favour a ratio around 2.35:1 that requires the dreaded black ‘letterbox’ bars when they’re shown on even a widescreen TV.
Cue the Philips 58PFL9955H. For this is Philips’ new 'Cinema 21:9' telly, built to deliver an aspect ratio that works out at around 2.39:1 in movie width terms. So it can show all those lovely super-wide films without the need for black bars - check it out in action in our IFA 2010 First Look report, complete with video.
There is a catch with this that we should clear up right away, though. Namely that unfortunately, although the Blu-ray spec supports the encoding of full 2.35:1 film transfers that could map perfectly to every single one of the 2560x1080 pixels built into the 58PFL9955H’s 58in screen, no Blu-ray disc has yet used the option. Instead, black bars are placed above and below pictures at the mastering stage for 16:9 TVs, making them part of the picture that gets sent to your TV.
The 58PFL9955H thus has to use processing to ‘blow up’ the incoming 2.35:1-ratio sources so that the built-in black bars are pushed off the edges of the screen. This means interpolating pixels into the picture to fill the space that would have been occupied by the black bars. But it also means manipulating the image’s geometry at its left and right edges, for otherwise the process of magnifying the picture would also push the left and right sides of the original picture off the screen.
Normally we’d be highly suspicious of such tinkering with pictures — and we’d definitely be much happier if there were some ‘real’ 21:9 Blu-ray transfers for the 58PFL9955H to work with. But the quality of Philips’ aspect ratio processing and the sheer pleasure in seeing ultra-wide films appearing without black bars instantly allays our ‘purist’ concerns.
Before we go into more detail on the unparalleled experience of watching the 58PFL9955H, though, we’ve lots of other interesting things to talk about. Kicking off with the set’s truly lovely design. It catches the eye right away, obviously, thanks to its extreme width. But also very lovely is the brushed aluminium black bezel - a big improvement over the black plastic sported by Philips’ original, 56in Cinema 21:9 set launched last year.
This being a Philips TV, the 58PFL9955H’s design additionally benefits from Ambilight, where coloured light capable of matching — to a startlingly local degree — the image content is emitted from the TV’s edges. Happily this light comes from the TV’s top edge as well as its left and right edges, so the Ambilight effect doesn’t lose cohesion despite the TV’s extreme width.
More mundane but still mighty useful are the 58PFL9955H’s connections. These include four HDMIs (one built to the v1.4 spec for 3D), a USB port, an SD card slot, and an Ethernet port. Plus the set sports built in Wi-Fi - a cool trick we wish more TVs offered.