Philips Cinema 21:9 £4500

19th Jun 2009 | 15:00

Philips Cinema 21:9

The Philips 56PFL9954H 21:9 is a super-wide, ultra chic and devastatingly effective 1080p LCD TV

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

Superb design and top-class performance make for the ultimate super-wide movie machine

Like:

Superb all-round performance; Endless features; Unique design

Dislike:

High price; Occasional black issues

Philips Cinema 21:9 TV review

Widescreen is dead; long live Cinema 21:9. The Philips 56PFL9954H is a daring experiment in screen dimensions, designed to maximise the cinematic potential of hi-def discs while rewriting the rules on home entertainment.

There's a gunwale-bursting array of features at your disposal, the most obvious of which is that extra-wide screen. It is 21:9 (or 2.39:1, if you prefer), enabling it to display movies in the true-cinema aspect ratio in which most will have been shot, as opposed to the 16:9 compromise that has been the norm on standard widescreen televisions.

And, being wider than widescreen, the 56PFL9945H has an unprecedented horizontal resolution of 2,560 dots, which combines with a full HD vertical count of 1,080. All those dots are marshalled into line by the Dutch firm's Perfect Pixel HD processing Engine (with 200Hz scanning) and fed by no fewer than five HDMI inputs.

Ambilight Spectra 3

It also possesses the widgets that are now mandatory for any set with flagship aspirations that enable you to browse a limited selection of websites. The slender, but not ultra-thin, chassis also houses the Ambilight Spectra 3 sympathetic illumination system that has survived the gimmick-stage of its evolution to become a genuinely useful, and aesthetically pleasant, feature.

Philips 56pfl9954h 21:9 tv

BAR NONE: Philips' Cinema 21:9 TV lets you see films in their intended aspect ratio without black bars taking up part of your screen

The back panel also carries a pair of rear-firing subwoofers to add an extra dose of low-end rumble to movie soundtracks.

Philips has re-imagined its traditionally tidy interface along similar lines to Samsung's tablet type graphics. Shaded, cool-blue pictograms are given a faintly ghostly, and really rather stylish, white halo. Many of the options are subtly animated with scrolling text and navigation, mostly by way of the directional keys on the impeccable remote's main disc, and so are effortlessly intuitive.

Settings assistant

Installation is quick and straightforward and, while videophiles will want to avail themselves of the reams of picture tweaks on offer, the technically timid will find quick and painless gratification in an efficient settings assistant.

This presents a series of still images divided into areas of more or less detail, higher or lower contrast and so on, and invites you to state your overall picture preferences. It's neat, foolproof and surprisingly effective. The attractive and satisfyingly weighty remote is also a pleasure to use, with a set of large, unambiguously labelled buttons and impeccable ergonomics.

Philips 56pfl9954h 21:9 tv remote

TOTAL CONTROL: The Philips' easy-to-use remote offers plenty of options to tame the giant screen

We're glad to report that the Cinema 21:9 is one of the best LCD TVs we've ever seen. We've marvelled at the detail, black levels and naturalistic colour palettes of countless displays over the years, but to have the best aspects of the finest sets all together on the first super-wide panel is truly exciting.

Picture and audio performance

Picture performance

While this set is clearly destined for greater things, Freeview survives being blown up to 56in surprisingly well. It still looks fairly hideous, with blocking, digital mess and an ugly, garish set of hues on display, but it's nowhere near as vile as we've seen on many a smaller set.

Digital terrestrial, masked at both sides and stretched to its very limit, looks about as suitable on this chic, 21:9 set as dungarees at a black-tie dinner, and the sooner you switch to more refined DVD viewing matter, the better. Handling of DVD bears comparison with many sets' hi-def performance, with an almost uncanny crispness and fluidity of movement.

Blacks are solid and reach acceptable depths with adequate distinction between shades, although they fall just short of plasma-type depth. That's about all that's wrong with the picture, though, and switching to genuine hi-def is little short of breathtaking.

Philips 56pfl9954h 21:9 tv

SEE EVERYTHING: With HD pictures, the 21:9 screen shows more detail than you could ever imagine

There is just so much picture to look at, for a start, however far back you sit and you'll find yourself gawping at different sections of the picture as your brain tries to take in the sheer breadth of it. It's fabulously detailed, superbly realistic and the overall experience is quite unlike anything we've seen outside an actual cinema.

Super-slim panels have been almost uniformly detrimental to flatscreen audio, and the Cinema 21:9's built-in subwoofers enable it to soar above the competition with a well rounded, faithful and genuinely muscular performance. It's still no match for a proper surround system, of course, with Virtual Dolby adding little worth having to the overall experience, but it is able to acquit itself nobly with movie soundtracks.

Philips 56pfl9954h 21:9 tv

SOUND IT OUT: Hidden just around the back are subwoofers that trounce the usual measly flatscreen TV audio

Four and a half grand is a lot of money, but then this is, in every sense, a lot of telly. It can be taken as read that this is not the sort of set you might buy on a whim from Currys on a Saturday morning, but if you are serious about video quality and have a substantial budget, then this set should be at the very top of your list.

Whether the 21:9 concept ultimately catches on or never develops into anything beyond a diverting curio remains to be seen, but for the time being this remarkable screen can consider its trail well and truly blazed.

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Philips Cinema 21:9
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