The news that Philips was to produce an ultra-widescreen, 21:9-format TV wasn't much of a surprise. In fact, because of a pan-European launch, it was possibly the worst kept secret ever. Still, when we got the invite to go along and see this mutant telly, we were pretty excited.
When the big moment finally arrived, we were impressed. Of course, the unveiling was accompanied by a room full of journalists rushing to take photos, as if it might disappear if not immediately burned to Compact Flash. When the dust settled, we watched some 2.35:1 footage, and tried to extract some information from the company about the TV.
The Philips representative was tight-lipped about the fine details, but we did manage to garner two facts about the TV. Firstly, it's not LED backlit. In some ways that's good news, because it should help keep the price down. The second snippet of information was that the panel will have a resolution of around 2,560x1,080 pixels.
One concern with a resolution other than 1080p is what to do with Blu-ray movies made in 2.35:1. Because a Blu-ray disc will contain a 1,920x1,080-pixel image, with 2.35:1 material, fewer than 1,080 horizontal lines will be used -- the actual number will be around 800. This means a 21:9 TV will be working hard to zoom the image. And when you zoom an image, even with HD material, you lose resolution. The best solution to this problem would be to talk to Blu-ray studios about producing a full 1,920x1,080 image out of the 2.35:1 material. But that complicates things for regular widescreens.
On the subject of how to handle non-2.35:1 material, pretty much the first question that everyone had was, "What do we do with 4:3 and 16:9 material?" The answer was, "The TV will handle that with some new picture processing." But the explanation of how that would work reminded us of the original CRT widescreen sets.
Back then, virtually all TV shows were shot in 4:3, so 16:9 TVs would show TV in a box in the middle of the screen. To combat this, manufacturers created modes designed to stretch the video, without making it look too awful. 'Smart' as it was often called, worked by pulling the extreme right and left of the picture more than the centre. It's this method Philips is going to use on this TV to create a 2.35:1 image from a 1.85:1 one.
As you can tell, there are a whole field of mines for this TV to avoid tripping over. It's a great idea in theory, especially for movie buffs. We're also pretty sure that the screen itself is going to turn boocoo heads when it hits the shops.
There's no news on the price or availability yet. Philips aims to have it out this summer, and it will be sold in Germany, France, the Netherlands and here in the UK. Philips was tight-lipped about the price, but we would be very surprised if it cost less than £4,000. It's certainly likely to be more expensive than a 60-inch Pioneer Kuro. It might even cost more than some high-end projectors.
A sense of drama was created with the cinema curtain draped over the new TV. Sure, most of the invited journalists knew what was coming, but we still found ourselves desperate for them to remove the veil of secrecy.
Suddenly, there it was, right in front of us. It's fair to say that a TV this wide is quite impressive. But that's only true for material shot in the right aspect ratio. Don't forget, no TV shows are made in 2.35:1, and that's not likely to change.
The assembled members of the press were keen to take photos and videos of this event. It's like being able to say you were there when JFK was shot. "I was at the 21:9 TV launch," we'll all be muttering, while everyone just ignores us.