One of the most intriguing potential developments in the TV world for 2009 is the 21:9 aspect ratio. Designed to present 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio pictures without black bars, these ultra-wide TVs are set to appear in the second quarter in the shape of the Philips 21:9 Cinema.
This 56in TV will have a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,080, and looks at first glance like god's gift to home cinema. However, there's a catch. For at the moment, when a CinemaScope film is broadcast or put onto a disc, it's ‘packaged' to suit 16:9 ratio TVs. Which is to say, it's actually encoded with the black bars built into the video master. So for the Philips TV to show a current 21:9 film at its correct ratio, it has to expand - or more accurately, rescale - the picture so that the black bars are simply pushed off the edge of the screen. But of course, such tinkering with a picture is usually anathema to the sort of home cinema enthusiast likely to be really drawn to the 21:9 TV proposition.
Luckily, though, there could be a glimmer of hope for what is, after all, a great idea. For the Blu-ray specification specifically allows for the encoding of true 21:9 versions of Cinemascope movies without black bars. So if the movie studios start actually using this option when authoring Blu-ray discs, versions of films will start to appear on Blu-ray that the Philips TV can show with total, processing-free purity, exactly mapped to its 2,560 x 1,080 resolution.
Philips' belief, clearly, is that by launching a 21:9 TV you'll solve the classic chicken and egg situation. Since while it seems unlikely broadcasters will ever move to 21:9 from the current 16:9, the movie studios at least will have a compelling hardware reason for bothering to put 21:9 content on newly mastered Blu-rays. Especially if other manufacturers follow Philips' lead once its window of exclusivity on the technology ends around the third/fourth quarter.