It’s a familiar televisual malaise: you’re enjoying a film on your widescreen TV, only for it to gradually dawn on you that you’re not quite getting the whole picture. It might be that instead of seeing all 5’7” of Tom Cruise, you just get a hint of his nose at the side of the screen, lurking at the periphery like Jaws’ dorsal fin. This is not some subversive camerawork on the cinematographer’s part however, rather an issue of conflicting screen formats.
Hollywood films are shot in anamorphic standard, or “Scope”, a screen ratio of 2.35:1 that’s perfectly suited to showing off the gargantuan vistas typical of mainstream cinema. PAL television channels, on the other hand, broadcast all their programming via a ratio of 16:9, and it’s this standard that the TV manufacturers use when designing their screens.
So when we watch a film in the comfort of our living rooms, the larger format has to be squeezed to fit our screens, creating the trademark “letterbox” effect - in which two black bars sandwich the image. Frustratingly this not only renders a proportion of your hallowed plasma screen redundant, but you also lose a few crucial inches of the action from the sides of your set.
This longstanding glitch has not been lost on Philips, who have been diligently gearing up to the launch this month of the world’s first cinema-friendly TV, a perfectly proportioned, 56-inch behemoth called Cinema 21:9. Unsurprisingly the first thing that strikes you about this next generation LCD is its sheer width. Measuring 52 inches from side to side, it’s a conspicuous piece of hardware, though the extended dimensions mean plenty of extra room on the back for multimedia sockets (including an unsurpassed five HDMI ports).
The other main attraction is the image quality: this full-HD screen can process 500 million pixels per second from a palette of 2,250 trillion colours, to deliver vivid, letterbox-free pictures worthy of your local multiplex. At long last, “home cinema” means just that. £3,710.
Philips has made a short (that looks like it was inspired by The Dark Knight and Heat) to show off the TV's unique screen dimensions: www.cinema.philips.com
Photograph by Dan McAlister