When the originalTV arrived in our office, it bowled us over. It looked unlike anything else on the market, did interesting things with widescreen 2.35:1 video, and had a bunch of other features that we really liked.
Now that TV has been superseded by a new, 3D-capable version with an LED-backlit display. That's not the only change either -- an updated design makes the new Cinema 21:9 (58PFL9955) look even more impressive than its predecessor.
On the downside, this is still a £4,000 television. Optimists might say that at least there's been no increase to the original telly's price, even though the new TV is two inches bigger, with a much-improved spec. But is this TV worth spending your money on? Let's find out.
Now a real visual treat
In terms of appearance, we don't think this TV can be beaten by any telly of a similar or lower price. Even the whisper-thin TVs from the likes of Samsung and LG don't have the impact of the Cinema 21:9. That's mostly a result of the size and ratio of the screen, and the fantastic metal finish.
There are plenty of inputs and sockets too, so you should be able to plug in every possible piece of kit with ease. Only one of the HDMI sockets is of the 3D-ready 1.4a variety but that's not likely to create any real problems -- we doubt anyone has more than one product that requires access to this port anyway. Sky and Virgin don't need HDMI 1.4a to provide 3D to TVs, so you're free to use the 3D-capable socket for your Blu-ray player.
Once again, we have to congratulate Philips on the quality of its TV audio. There really are very few mass-market TV manufacturers that can come close to achieving this level of performance from built-in speakers. The key to Philips' success lies in its rear-mounted subwoofers and front-mounted tweeters. This set-up delivers distinct dialogue from the forward-facing drivers, and smooth bass from the subs. It's a system we wish more companies used, because it takes TV sound to a new level.
That's not to say you should abandon a separate surround-sound system, because you'll always get better performance from separate speakers and amps. For day-to-day use, though, we're big fans of the Cinema 21:9's audio.
Ambilight is a Philips technology that generates lighting effects around a TV, matching the on-screen content. It's one of those things you fall in love with after you've used it for a while. It really does add something to the experience of viewing movies.
Philips has improved this technology, tweaking the way the system works on walls that aren't white. In the past, non-white walls proved a problem, but now you simply select the colour that best matches your wall from a menu, and the TV will configure itself to project the best-possible colour from the LED lights.
After numerous positives, we now come to one of the few negatives. This TV's 3D performance is a massive disappointment.
Firstly, the 3D effect is inferior to that which we've seen from other LED-backlit TVs from Sony and, in particular, Samsung. Depth was distinctly lacking in all our usual test material, and we also noted that the normal colour and brightness were adversely affected. We think you could push the backlight higher, but it would wash the picture out too much.
None of those problems is as severe as the ghosting, however, which is the worst we've seen on a 3D TV. The edges of objects appear to cast a shadow that really spoils any enjoyment you might derive from 3D viewing. This is often a problem with LCD TVs, and it's one of the many reasons we think 3D is -- for the time being -- a hugely flawed technology.
On the plus side, two pairs of glasses are provided in the box, and they're pretty comfortable too. Other companies that charge huge amounts for their 3D TVs often don't bother to include glasses, so it's great to see Philips making the effort.