Is There an Ultra-Widescreen TV in Your Future?

Just when we are getting used to wide-screen TVs, it looks like they may been getting even wider. Last week, at a preview press conference in Malta for for the Berlin IFA consumer electronics show, Philips demonstrated its new 21:9 Cinema TVs.

Standard wide-screen TVs have a 16:9 aspect ratio, that is, the screen has 16 units of width for every 9 of height. This is perfect for watching HD TV broadcasts, which are produced for 16:9 screens (traditional standard-definition TV uses a 4:3 aspect ratio.) But movies shot in Panavision and other “anamorphic” optical techniques use an even wider aspect ratio. That means that when you view them on a 16:9 screen, you must letterbox the image with black bands at the top and bottom.

Movies looked terrific on the Philips sets although I’m sure that had something to do with very carefully selected source material—it’s rare that I see anything on a TV anywhere that looks as good as the demos at trade shows. Still, I’m not sure this new screen design is going to take off. Other than movies, there just isn’t any content available at that aspect ratio, so for all other content, you’ll end up with the same issues you have watching 4:3 programming on a wide-screen set; you either have to post box the image with vertical black bands or (ugh!) stretch the image to fit the screen.

The Digital 21:9 sets are slated to go on sale in Europe this summer. No word on when they might be available in the U.S., since Philips has pulled out of the American TV market.

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