If you’re a die-hard movie fan, you’ll know that it’s not just size that matters. It’s also width. For it’s a simple fact that most of the films released into cinemas are shot in a 2.35/2.40:1 aspect ratio rather than the 16:9 (or 1.78:1) ratio employed by your typical widescreen TV.
So if you want to watch such ‘wide format’ films without losing any of the source, you’re going to have to do so with black bars above and below the image - despite your TV being widescreen rather than the old 4:3 ‘square’ shape.
Film enthusiasts able to afford projection systems have been able to get round this problem by combining a 21:9-ratio projection screen with special anamorphic lens ‘attachments’. Until 2009, though, there was no ultra-wide solution for people only able to accommodate a TV.
What changed in 2009 was that Philips, in another of its frequent brilliant ‘mad scientist’ moments, launched the first commercially available TV built to the 21:9 aspect ratio. And you know what? The 56PFL9954H was absolutely brilliant. As was the 58PFL9955H follow-up a year later.
There have, though, always been a couple of problems with the 21:9 TVs to date. First, the absence of ‘native’ 21:9 material to play on them. And second, their price. Last year’s 58PFL9955H debuted at an eye-watering £4,000.
Sadly, the lack of native 21:9 Blu-ray transfers remains unaddressed by the film studios. But the Philips 50PFL7956H sprawled across our test bench right now certainly addresses the price problem. For at £1,999, this metallic-finished beast is far and away the cheapest 21:9 TV Philips has released to date. As such, while it’s maybe still too much money to exactly make 21:9 TVs mainstream, it’s certainly cheap enough to appeal to a much wider market than any of its predecessors.
The 50PFL7956H isn’t just interesting because of its price, either. For it also happens to be the first TV from Philips to use passive 3D technology - or ‘Easy 3D’ to use Philips’ own marketing term. Philips’ new 8000 and 9000 series still prefer the active (or ‘3D Max’) 3D format, but the fact that a brand like Philips which generally puts picture quality first has felt ready to add passive 3D to its 2011 TV range has to count as a major shot in the arm for LG’s big passive 3D technology push.
You get two pairs of passive 3D glasses included free, with extra pairs costing £15. And you can get a twin-pack of ‘gaming glasses’ (which enable two-player full-screen gaming) for £30. Not quite as good as some of LG's passive TVs that come with seven pairs of glasses for free but at least you're having to fork out £70 that active glasses demand.
Another arresting point about the 50PFL7956T is that it’s the first 21:9 TV we’ve seen to use edge rather than direct LED lighting. And actually, this has got us feeling a little nervous. For given how difficult normal-ratio TVs find it to deliver a nice even backlight using edge LED lighting, we can’t help but be concerned that the 50PFL7956T will really struggle to achieve backlight uniformity when there’s such a wide screen to ‘feed’.
The 50PFL7956T belongs to Philips’ latest 7000 series range. Which means that in terms of its picture processing it’s not on quite the same ‘Perfect Pixel HD’ level as the Philips 46PFL9706T we looked at recently. Instead it gets the step-down Pixel Precise HD engine, which isn’t capable of shovelling quite as many operations per second through its processors as its ‘bigger’ brother.
It still delivers Philips’ Perfect Natural Motion though, designed to reduced blur and judder, as well as dynamic contrast and dynamic backlight processing, MPEG artefact reduction, colour enhancement, gamma adjustment, and a video contrast adjustment.