Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum (58PFL9955H) £4000
9th Nov 2010 | 11:34
Philips second-generation 21:9 TV adds 3D and LED backlighting
Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum: Overview
Philips' first cinemascope (21:9) ratio TV sent shockwaves through the home entertainment universe when it launched in 2009. A TV that delivered widescreen movies without black bars at the bottom and top of the image was a daring step that helped separate the Dutch brand from its Far Eastern rivals and earned it numerous plaudits.
Now it's revisited the concept, but added 3D playback and direct LED backlighting to create an even more cutting-edge product, dubbed the Cinema 21:9 Platinum.
At 58-inches it is two inches larger than its predecessor and replaces the latter's cheap-looking plastic bezel with an alluring black brushed aluminium frame with rounded edges. And where the earlier model sported a low-slung speaker bar, this one now hides its drivers out of sight.
Of course, not everyone will hanker for an ultra-wide TV; those after a similarly specified conventional set should look instead to Philips' 9705 series (46, 40 and 32inches), which offer pretty much the same picture processing and features but in a regular 16:9 size.
Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum: Features
Reading the features list for the Cinema 21:9 Platinum can be a bit exhausting. Philips has crammed its flagship screen with so many processing tricks and pixel-tweaking algorithms that it's a wonder it doesn't topple over.
First, though, the connections, of which there should be enough for all but the most gadget-obsessed buyers. They include four HDMIs (including one HDMI v1.4 for your 3D Blu-ray player), component, Scart and composite video inputs, PC D-Sub, Ethernet and a couple of USBs. Some of these are side-mounted for easier access. Not bad, then, although the original 21:9 TV carried five HDMI jacks, an extra Scart socket and an S-video input.
The Ethernet port gives you the options of both DLNA home networking, and hookup to Philips' impressive Net TV content portal. There's also built-in Wi-Fi for the cable-phobic.
A three-sided version of Philips' Ambilight system emits pools of coloured light corresponding to whatever is on screen from the left, right and top sides of the bezel to create a more immersive effect and subjectively improve contrast.
This familiar feature is now able to adjust its light output to compensate for the colour of your walls.
Also new to Philips' top-end TVs (including the regular 16:9 9705 series models) are some additional picture processing features to the Pixel Perfect HD engine, including 400HZ Clear LCD, Bright Pro and Super Resolution. Respectively, these claim to lower the TV's response time to just 0.5ms, improve brightness without affecting black levels and sharpen even HD sources.
These join forces with Perfect Natural Motion smoothing technology, Perfect Contrast (which aims to deliver a 10,000,000:1 contrast ratio) and LED Pro backlighting. This last feature describes the 1,000-plus LEDs that sit behind the LCD screen in more than 200 individually controllable sectors, an arrangement that should greatly improve contrast.
Other features worth noting are the TV's MultiView split screen function; music, video and photo playback from USB and surround sound hookup via the HDMI audio return channel.
Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum: Picture
Philips' high-end screens have long been renowned for their excellent hi-def pictures and the Cinema 21:9 Platinum continues that tradition. Feed it a Blu-ray movie and the TV revels in it. HBO's WWII series, The Pacific, looks simply stunning, with clear, sharp images free from noise, with well-resolved, bright, natural colours and some of the most captivating black levels yet seen from an LCD screen.
The result is a cinematic experience that'll have you engrossed. In particular, the rear-mounted LED system ensures that the light pooling often seen on edge LED models is practically non-existent, so there's little to complain about, even with stern test scenes like white text moving across a black background.
These images are achieved with the TV's Cinema picture preset, which seems pretty spot on (it even deselects Perfect Natural Motion – so you know you're watching your source material at the frame rate it was filmed). Anyone with a predilection for insanely saturated colours and artificial-looking smooth motion can call up the Vivid setting.
The engrossing nature of the Cinema 21:9 Platinum's pictures is increased by two further things – the Ambilight feature and the unique aspect ratio. Ambilight is, undoubtedly, a gimmick designed to help Philips shift some TVs, but it's one that works; the sympathetic lighting really does heighten your sense of immersion.
The same applies to watching widescreen 2.40:1 movies on this cinemascope screen. Using the Cinema 21:9 preset, the black bars disappear, the image fills the screen and everything just seems, well… bigger. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it's so impressive, but believe us, it is. And purists not sure if they want their full HD sources fiddled with to fit the 2,560 x 1,080-pixel panel can stick with the pixel-matching 'unscaled' option. But where's the fun in that?
The good news continues with 3D. Pop on one of the two pairs of supplied 3D glasses (which aren't the most comfortable or stylish ones around), plug in a 3D deck and dim the lights and you'll be rewarded with one of the most impressive 3D displays around.
The Cinema 21:9 Platinum's blisteringly bright image works to overcome the darkening effect of the 3D specs and pictures are hardly blighted by the current 3D bugbear of crosstalk. The opening sequences of Monster House, where trees in the background often exhibit ghosting on other LCD-based 3DTVs are almost completely crystal clear.
One thing to note about the screen's 3D performance is that it's much better with Ambilight switched off. Even though Philips has adjusted its light emitting technology so that it doesn't cause flicker when the TV is watched with the active shutter glasses, here the effect proves a distraction. 3D requires you to focus on the TV's screen, and nothing else; the soft glowing halo only serves to draw attention to the artifice of the 3D experience.
Freeview pictures are the TV's weak link. With no integrated HD tuner, you're left watching low-res channels on a massive screen and that brings with it a few picture issues. For instance, mosquito noise is visible around the characters in The Sarah Jane Chronicles on BBC One, as well as some rather unsubtle colour banding.
Of course, Freeview was not devised to be watched on supersize TVs, so it's not the Philips' fault, but these defects serve to highlight the Cinema 21:9 Platinum's one major weakness – the lack of a Freeview HD tuner.
Philips Cinema 21:9: Sound and ease of use
The Cinema 21:9 Platinum's superfluous HD pictures are almost matched by its sonic performance. Even with Freeview broadcasts, the TV presents a clean, crisp sound with a warm inviting midrange, thanks to Philips' insistence on including two dome tweeters and two separate midbass woofers – the chunkier build necessitated by the backlit LED Pro obviously meant there was more real estate for the brand's audio engineers to play with.
Tweakers can dabble with the sound menus, if they're unhappy with their original audio choice from the setup wizard. Six other preset modes are offered, plus bass and treble boosters.
The only criticism is that the TV lacks genuine low-end presence, even with the bass level maximised, and that the Surround option really doesn't add much – it certainly doesn't come close to a genuine 5.1 experience, Even with those caveats, the Cinema 21:9 Platinum still ranks as one the best TVs around for audio.
The Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum is good value, even at £4,000. Quality never comes cheap, and this screen is extraordinarily accomplished. Yes, you can get a 3D screen like Panasonic's P50VT20 for nearly half the price, but you don't get that unique 21:9 display.
Ease of use
Despite the technology lurking in the Cinema 21:9 Platinum, it's surprisingly easy to get to grips with, and shouldn't pose too many problems to technophobes.
For starters, the remote control is brilliantly designed. This curved, brushed aluminium handset sits snugly in the palm of your hand, and is intuitive to use. Philips has decided to limit its controls to the TV only – there are no transport controls for a Blu-ray player, but whoever uses their TV handset for that anyway? – and the result is an uncluttered, well laid out remote that most people will be comfortable with.
Another feature that improves ease of use is the TV's picture and sound setup wizard. Perhaps mindful of criticism that its previous TVs have been complicated to calibrate, this function gives owners a five-step walkthrough that adjusts the picture and sound to their preferences.
Hardcore AV fans will be appalled, as it doesn't explain what it's doing (you select which of two images you prefer, followed by a choice of three sound options) but it should go down well with a lot of buyers.
One area where the Cinema 21:9 Platinum is less than intuitive is its multiple selection of picture ratios. This, of course, is a by-product of its unique form factor, but we believe that the number and naming system could be simplified. Working out whether you want to use Auto Fill, Auto Zoom, Super Zoom, Unscaled or one of the other formats will take some time.
Philips Cinema 21:9 Platinum: Verdict
The original 21:9 was so nearly a brilliant TV, but was let down by a somewhat plasticky design and bog-standard CCFL lighting system. Philips has addressed those issues and brought full HD 3D into the mix. The result? A brilliant TV.
The three-sided Ambilight and the 21:9 format combine to make watching widescreen movies a real immersive experience. 3D movies are presented with visual pop and little in the way of crosstalk.
It's neatly designed and full of features. Even the remote control and the TV's audio performance deserve plaudits.
The absence of a Freeview HD tuner takes some getting used to, and the TV is also a little bit chunkier than some of its rivals. Ambilight doesn't suit 3D playback. There's no 2D-3D conversion technology on board.
Philips' Cinema 21:9 platinum is undoubtedly the most technologically advanced screen you can buy and challenges Samsung's UE55C9000 as the most desirable. It takes superb pictures, boasts solid audio and extensive features and wraps them in a gorgeous, uniquely-shaped frame.
Really, the only thing wrong with it is its lack of a Freeview HD tuner – but that doesn't stop it bagging full marks. It's not a question of should you buy one, it's just whether or not you can afford to.
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