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.