Sometimes when we review a TV we find ourselves wondering what the manufacturer was thinking. Why do one thing in one particular way, or why aim a product at one specific part of the market? But, in the case of the 56-inch, 1080p Cinema 21:9 LCD TV, we totally understand what Philips is trying to achieve, and we're actually quite impressed by the concept.
At the launch of this telly, some time ago, Philips told us that it wanted to make the ultimate home-cinema TV. It said that, with as many as 50 per cent of movies being shot in the cinema ratio of 2.35:1 or thereabouts, it seemed a shame not to cater for films in this format. Hence this TV's 21:9 ratio stems from Philips' desire to please hardcore home-cinema enthusiasts. But has the company created one of the most exciting products ever, or just a £4,000 waste of time?
Stylish and eye-catching
If you had an unlimited amount of money and you saw this TV for sale, we predict that you'd immediately buy it. The massive screen is nothing short of incredible, and the whole package is brilliantly designed. Philips' high-end TVs are always good-looking machines, and the Cinema 21:9 is one of the handsomest yet.
Finished in a darker colour than usual, this TV is clearly intended to attract the minimum amount of attention during movie time and the maximum amount of attention when it's not showing anything at all. Matching the well-built TV, the remote control is one of the sturdiest we've handled since Pioneer exited the TV market. The remote offers some subtle illumination too, and a massive Ambilight button at the bottom, for engaging and disengaging the coloured pools of light that spill from the TV's sides.
The TV also has a subtle blue light on its underside, just beneath the Philips logo. It's rather unnecessary, but it doesn't distract or offend the eye, so we're fine with it being there.
Some obvious problems
When widescreen TVs first arrived on the market there was an obvious problem: what should be done about 4:3 material? As great as widescreen sets are, plonking 4:3 video in the middle looks silly, and means that, in theory, a brand spanking new 16:9 TV actually shows a smaller image than an old 4:3 ratio TV. The same sort of problem holds true in the case of the Cinema 21:9. While it's fine for watching 2.35:1 films, when you want to watch 1.85:1 movies or TV shows, you have to choose between either having black bars at the left and right of your picture, or using the TV's picture-stretching mode to fill the screen.
The situation becomes trickier with 4:3 material. Philips understands that no-one will want a 4:3 image stretched to fit a 16:9 screen, so it will only pull such material out to 16:9 widths. This is the same ratio you'll have seen on many widescreen TVs over the years, and videophiles detest it with all their hearts.
What do we suggest then? Frankly, the idea of distorting an image, no matter how skilfully, just isn't our cup of tea. We think a movie or TV show deserves to be seen in the correct aspect ratio. In the same way that black bars on a 2.35:1 movie don't really upset us, we can live with big black bars at the left and right of a 16:9 or 4:3 image. Our suggestion is that you use the full width of this screen only for 2.35:1 material. This is how your local cinema does it, so we can't see any reason why it won't work for you at home.
This TV's picture quality surprised us. Philips has always had its own specific problems with image quality, but this TV is slightly different. It's not without flaws by any stretch of the imagination, but we really like its output overall.