Our minds boggled when we first heard about Philips Cinema 21:9 televisions, but as film fans we fell in love as soon as we saw them. They're wider than normal TVs, using the aspect ratio of the cinema screen -- so films take up the entire display, without pesky black bars along the top and bottom. Throw 30 quid out of the window and have your significant other chuck popcorn at you and it's like you're actually at the pictures.
You can get your cinematic experience in Platinum or Gold flavours: the new updated Platinum model is the larger of the two, measuring 58 inches and offering higher specs, with the Gold at 50 inches. Both tellies now let you watch 3D movies and TV, as well as surf the Web, use apps and even watch two different things at the same time. You can compare the differences on Philips' website here.
The Cinema 21:9 Platinum boasts 1,200Hz refresh rate and 0.5-millisecond response time. Philips reckons it will display 2,250 trillion colours. We didn't know there were that many colours. It also packs intelligent Direct LED backlighting with 2D dimming, to ensure that black areas of the screen are black as night while white is radiantly bright. Both tellies offer 2,560x1,080-pixel resolution for eye-popping detail.
The Cinema 21:9 Gold series is a more affordable version of the super-wide telly. We say affordable -- it may be half the price of the Platinum model but it's still around £2,000.
The Gold offers 400Hz refresh rate with a response time of 2 milliseconds. It displays a mere 4 trillion colours. Imagine how big that box of coloured pencils would be.
3D and Multiview
3D is new to the 21:9 range. There is a slight illusion of things coming out of the screen, but it's more about depth -- the feeling that you can reach into the screen, as backgrounds genuinely look further away.
The 3D technology works by playing back a slightly different picture to each eye. Even if you're not fussed about 3D, you can still take advantage of Multiview: instead of simultaneously playing a similar picture to each eye, the TV can show completely different pictures to two people. Both you and your other half pop on the 3D glasses, and you can surf the Internet while your significant other catches up on Hollyoaks, or vice versa. Clever stuff, although because of the sound it can't show two different TV programmes at once.
It works for multiplayer gaming too: you and a friend don the specs, and you both get a full-screen view of your share of the game. It means no more split-screen multiplayer games -- no more Mario at the top and Luigi at the bottom, cutting the screen in half -- although it also puts a stop to you seeing where your rival is, so you can sneak up behind them and pour hot lead into their behind.
And if you lack either a Hollyoaks-loving better half or a gaming buddy, you can use the technology to multi-task, and watch X Factor while checking what people have to say about the latest tuneful hopefuls on Facebook or Twitter.
Yes, the 21:9 is more than just a telly: it's a window to the wonderful World Wide Web with Internet-connected Smart TV apps. You can surf the Web, play music and videos or put on a slideshow of your photos. All this can be beamed from your computer or tablet via Wi-Fi without the aid of wires or cables. You can also control the TV with your phone or tablet with a special Android or iPhone app.
Both TVs have Wi-Fi, and the Platinum also has an Ethernet socket. They boast four HDMI sockets and two USB ports, and can record telly onto USB stick.
Philips' Ambilight technology is also on board. As you can see from our pictures, the telly shines a soft light on to the wall behind it, the colour matching the colours on the screen. The soft glow is designed to extend what you're watching past the edges of the screen, drawing you into the action. It works, too. The Platinum model offers a glow on three sides, while the Gold model lights up on two sides.
EastEnders in 3D
The big drawback of 3D is there isn't much to actually watch yet. But if you do shell out for Sky's 3D channel or 3D Blu-ray blockbusters such as Avatar, the Cinema 21:9 Platinum plays them back in glorious high definition. You can also convert any 2D film or TV show to 3D: the TV takes whatever you're watching, from hi-def sporting action to Saturday afternoon Bond, or even a cartoon or black and white classic.
You can vary the depth of the picture, how much it appears to pop out of the screen -- or rather how far back into the TV the picture seems to go -- but in the past we've found results are varied with stuff that wasn't filmed in 3D. Still, if you really want to see Dot Cotton looming out of the telly towards you, Philips has you covered.
The two sets use different kinds of 3D. The Platinum uses active 3D with powered glasses, which can show you Full HD 3D images. Philips calls this '3D Max'.
The Gold's 3D is the passive type (or 'Easy 3D'), which is lower resolution than the active type, but the glasses don't have to be recharged after use. They're also cheaper, which is good news because you have to buy them separately. Frankly, if we're dropping four grand on a 3D TV we want some glasses thrown in.
The TV is capable of rendering 2 billion pixels per second, so video should be smoother than an Italian waiter. Stuff that's been shot with the latest technology -- high-definition or 3D content, like the concert footage we saw on the display model -- will look great, but once again there's not a huge amount of such high-tech telly to watch. Normal telly or DVDs will look their best, but won't make the most of the 21:9's power.
The picture certainly looked gorgeous. We saw it at the Philips booth at IFA for the TV's launch, so we're yet to gauge what it looks like in a living room -- if we can find a living room big enough -- but the colours are rich and vibrant, blacks have plenty of depth, and skin tone is strokeably natural. You can't beat the thrill of the giant widescreen experience, too.
Update: A previous version of this article stated that both Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum and Gold TVs used the passive 3D technology that uses cheaper glasses. This has been corrected: only the Gold version uses passive 3D, which Philips calls 'Easy 3D' here, whereas the Platinum uses active 3D, or '3D Max', for Full HD 3D.
Edited by Nick Hide