Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/01/12/review_philips_cinema_21_9_gold_50pfl7956t_50in_ultra_widescreen_amblight_tv/

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold 50in ultra widescreen TV

The film buffs' telly gets cheaper... and smaller

By David Phelan

Posted in Hardware, 12th January 2012 12:13 GMT

Review

You’ve got to hand it to the guys at Philips – they’re plucky. They introduce Ambilight, the strange but effective backlighting effect which plays coloured lights on the wall behind your telly for a more relaxing, more immersive experience. Then they create a TV that’s super-wide, perfect for film aficionados. No major company had felt these innovations worth copying.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

A certain ratio: Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold

Other manufacturers might give up at this point but Philips keeps going, developing more TVs in the 21:9 range. The latest uses passive 3D, rather than active, which means the TV and the 3D glasses that come with it are more affordable. The TV capabilities may lack the highest-resolution 3D possible with active 3D sets, but offer a more relaxing-on-the-eye experience.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Passive specs keep the cost down for 3D viewing

The latest model is smaller than the last, though at 50ins it’s still not small. It’s called Gold, as opposed to the previous Platinum active TV. Philips doesn’t like the words active and passive, favouring 3D Max and Easy 3D instead. This is Easy and it’s true, the 3D effect removes the juddering effect that can be caused by active lenses with tiny shutters flicking open and shut.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Fairly trim and looks great when wall mounted

But if you’re a film lover, should you settle for this over the pricier 3D Max? In watching movies on Sky’s 3D channel and on a Sony Blu-ray player with 3D disc, the effect here was great. I didn’t miss the extra resolution active TVs can offer and the benefit was a restful, impressive effect. And the combination with the Ambilight helped even more.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Ambilighting sprays image related colour to the nearby walls and surfaces

While we’re on the subject of Ambilight, this remains one of the great innovations for TV of recent years. Get over the strangeness of it and providing you don’t have paisley wallpaper, it creates a highly enjoyable effect. Try turning it off once you’re used to it and you’ll really see the difference. It’s as if the screen shrinks before your eyes.

Colour television

Having said that, this is not the best Ambilight effect. The lights are on the left and right edges of the screen only, not across the top as well. It’s good, but misses the magic of three-sided Ambilight. Still, at least it’s clever enough to make allowances for content that doesn’t span the entire width of the display, which would result in no light at all coming from the black edges of the TV.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Full screen

Instead, it matches the onscreen colours for the edge of what’s being displayed – wherever that appears on the TV. But that brings us to the key feature on the 21:9 series: you should only buy it if you’re going to watch a lot of films. Because most TV broadcasts are 16:9 format, which means there are big black bars at the left and right edges of the screen.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Bordered viewing

To be honest, it doesn’t look good, though after a while you notice it less. It’s also smart enough to know that if you’re watching a movie that’s broadcast with black bars at top and bottom, that it’s safe to zoom in to fill the screen. This reduces the resolution, of course, but the trade-off is worth it. When this screen is filled, it looks magnificent, with the impressive scale and shape almost making you feel you’re at the cinema. Without people talking.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Widescreen letterboxed

Picture quality throughout is strong, as you’d expect from Philips. It tends a little to the grittily realistic, which can make a movie look like cinema verite, but with some adjustments it can deliver a strikingly good image.

This is a smart TV and Philips has embraced the concept of extra functionality, though it’s not as advanced as some companies, notably Samsung whose CES 2012 announcements put it in the smart TV vanguard. Still, the ease of use of NetTV, as the company calls it, is valuable. Key to the features are iPlayer, YouTube and Facebook. We can expect every TV maker to ramp up smart capabilities over the next year or two.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

Sonic boon

Philips uses the Gold’s 3D functions in another way, too. It’s great for playing two-player games. A separate pair of special 3D glasses are available which effectively have two left and two right lenses respectively. One gamer sees one picture, the other sees another. It lacks the polish of the newly announced Super OLED screen from Samsung and it’s ultimately not much more fun than regular split screen gaming, but it’s a cute gimmick.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold Ambilight TV 50PFL7956T

The tactile remote has some navigation quirks that need familiarising with

The 21:9 Gold has good sound – not something you can say about all flatscreen TVs. I don’t know if it’s the size or the weight of the TV but the volume is strong, the bass rich enough and the clarity of voices noticeably better than on many TVs.

I’ve criticised Philips in the past for clunky, ugly remote controls. This one matches the oval shape and brushed metal styling of more recent models. It’s not perfect but it’s very good – though the buttons are a little clicky. It’s strikingly different from most remotes which means there’s a learning curve, but it’s a likeable and workmanlike gadget.

Philips Cinema 21:9 Gold big screen television

Perhaps not best for everyday viewing, but ideal for the film fanatic

Verdict

Only film lovers need apply here. The screen’s format just doesn’t work if you mostly want to watch sitcoms originally transmitted in 4:3 ratio or even regular widescreen TV broadcasts. But if the majority of your viewing, or at least what you value watching most, is movies then this is a spectacular TV. The shape is striking and effective, the Ambilight enchanting and the image quality exceptional. Sound is stronger than on many flatscreens, too. ®

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