As TV sets get bigger and go HD, they’ll get wider too – all the way to 21:9. Enter some stunning, expensive home theatre hardware.
Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I've rarely been excited by the widening of the video screen. I hated it when the world moved from the old TVs (4:3 aspect ratio) to widescreen LCD TVs. I tried hard to buy a 4:3 LCD TV set. They're not available, except in 20-inch sizes, so I'm stuck with a wide-screen LCD.
The reason for my bias is simple. I mostly watch TV - regular television, via a set-top box. TV content in India is in good old 4:3 ratio. So on our LCD screens, we all distort the picture, or cut off slices on top and below, or leave black bars out. Even with DVD players, most people have the settings wrong - and see distorted images.
The old tube TVs had an aspect ratio of 4:3, which means 4 inches width for every three inches height. So a 21-inch TV set would have a screen about 17 inches wide and 13 inches tall: a ratio of 4 to 3, with a diagonal of 21 inches. But the large cinema projection screen is different. A wider picture has a more dramatic effect, so the aspect ratio in cinema halls is usually 2.39:1. So as television screens grew bigger, they stretched wider, to 16:9 (wide-screen). Not as wide as cinema, but wide. Now, 4:3 is the same as 12:9, so TV has widened from 12:9 to 16:9. DVD movies gradually moved to wide-screen too, and most DVDs you buy today are in 16:9 format.
So what next? As TV sets get bigger, they get wider - but they can't get indefinitely taller. The holy grail therefore is the aspect ratio of cinema - 2.39:1. The closest that a TV gets to it is 21:9 - ultra-wide-screen.
Philips is the first one out with a 21:9 TV. They sent the monster to our labs, and a second truck delivered its stand. The whole assembly couldn't actually get past our lab doors, so it had to be installed in our reception area. (The standard wall-mounting bracket will pass through your doorway, though.)
The 21:9's resolution is a record-setting 2560 x 1080 pixels, versus the usual 1920 x 1080 pixels of 'full HD'. It also handles a regular 1080p full-HD, scaling it up to fit the ultra-wide screen with amazingly little distortion. Video was brilliant, when playing from the Blu-Ray player. Our labs couldn't get any 21:9 format movies to try out (however, Philips sources promise over 500 titles by Diwali - from Eros, Yash Raj Films, and others). Their trademarked Ambilight worked well: this uses an LED chain on three borders to sort of extend the TV picture to the wall behind it, projecting a halo of light that changes with the picture.
So is this worth ₹4.5 lakh, plus ₹17k for the Blu-Ray player (Philips launched both in September)? Definitely not without 21:9 Blu-Ray movies in the shops, given that this set would be wasted on regular TV (or even HDTV, coming 2010). And do plan on a really great home theatre system. The built-in audio is average. Finally, at between ₹400 and 900 per Blu-Ray disk, it's going to be an expensive home movie show.
The good thing is that you have lots of conventional LCD and plasma alternatives from Philips itself - and others. Samsung's new 46-inch Series 6 LCD TV is great value at ₹1.15 lakh. A built-in content library lets you browse some stunning art, recipes, animated stories. There's a network port for internet connectivity, and a USB port lets you connect a hard disk directly! So you can do without a DVD or Blu-Ray player. We also got to test Samsung's very slim and sexy 40-inch LED-lit LCD TV, but the 46-incher really tops in value.
I guess it doesn't matter what I think of the widening of the video screen - it's as inevitable as high-definition. So here's looking to 2010, the Commonwealth Games, and - at last - the HD era in India.
The author is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest.