Philips 50PFL7956 Cinema 21:9 Gold review

Photo of Philips 50PFL7956 Cinema 21:9 Gold
£1,999

If you’ve ever sat down to watch a movie on your new big-screen TV and instantly berated those nasty black bars above and below the action, Phillips’ latest behemoth could be the golden ticket. It’s been barely a decade since we saw the first widescreen TVs hit the UK shores, but this ‘gold’ Edge LED screen takes things further with a unique 21:9 aspect ratio.  

Shape of things to come

It’s lovers of the super-wide 2.39:1 format – a.k.a. CinemaScope – that the 50PFL7956 is trying to pander to. Its 21:9 shape has virtually the same dimensions at that very standard, which makes this a TV that’s specially designed to get the best from Blu-ray.

The CinemaScope-shape does make the 50PFL7956 harder to house than some screens, but don’t be misled by the 50-inch panel – as it’s a diagonal measurement, and the product itself is no taller than a 42-inch TV. It looks mightily impressive when it’s in place, but it remains a relatively manageable size for most domestic situations.

At just 32mm slim, the 50PFL7956 can cope with both 2-D and 3-D Blu-ray discs, with the latter using the much cheaper and more comfortable passive 3-D system that Phillips calls Easy 3-D. Only two pairs of glasses are in the box, but these only cost a few pounds each.

So, the TV set can bridge different dimensions, though it does have a few problems with aspect ratio shifts. If you’re not watching CinemaScope shaped footage, most typically from a Blu-ray disc, the 50PFL7956 will do the hard work for you and try to ‘upscale’ to the 21:9 size. From native 16:9 widescreen footage, such as almost everything broadcast on TV, it does a decent job, with the only drawback being the occasional missing head or foot. 

We jest – this is a semi-serious problem, and though it can be solved by manually choosing the 16:9 picture format mode (where black bars are put on the left and right of the picture), for some reason the 50PFL7956 constantly reverts back to that faltering 21:9 upscale. This is irritating, though we rarely had any trouble with 21:9 versions of games using a Xbox 360 console. In fact, a blast of Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 looked simply awesome, in its scope.

Even without showing super-wide movies and games, the 50PFL7956 looks simply stunning. It’s metallic silver frame appears to have been made from one piece of aluminium, a trend which we expect to continue in the flatscreen TV market. Gloss black is dead, and good riddance to it.

Armed with a highly unusual 2560×1980 pixel panel and a 400Hz mode (though that’s basically a 200Hz feature with a scanning backlight), the 50PFL7956 can indulge in 2D-3D conversions. This is whilst coming fully armed with an advanced picture-processing suite of circuitry, known a Pixel Precise HD.

Net TV

The 50PFL7956 does have an online dimension in the shape of the Wi-Fi-powered Net TV, which consists of the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, TuneIn Radio, Aupeo, Picasa, Acetrax and Box Office 365. Unfortunately, it’s in a rather clumsy grid-style manner that really doesn’t suggest ‘next-gen TV’, and in the way that it really should on such a high-end TV.

Net TV does feature a built-in Internet browser, but it’s slow and clunky to use. This is not helped very much by an app for iPhone and android smartphones; the latter does allow text entry, but why bother when you’ve got a much faster version of the Internet in your hands already? That app does indulge in Apple TV/AirPlay-style slideshows, using content on a smartphone. Networking is reasonably adept, though we could only get MKV files to work from a USB stick, and not from a connected PC.

Ambilight Spectra 2 isn’t unique to the 50PFL7956 – you’ll find it on many Philips TVs – but it’s mightily impressive on this super wide product. It doesn’t feel as enveloping as on a smaller version. The strips of LED lights, on the rear of each side of the TV, spew out light sympathetic to what’s playing on screen in an impressive man. This unusual feature is designed to lessen eye fatigue, but instead it creates the kind of light show that you’ll want to show off to friends. The always-on white light mode is also useful, if you’re after some soft lighting for the living room.

Performance

You could also pop down to ASDA for that, of course, but what we’re really after on the 50PFL7956 is a stunning picture performance. It delivers this in spades, with stunning sharpness, contrast and colour being our main impressions of the stretched 21:9 picture from a 2-D Blu-ray disc. The sharpness doesn’t fade with fast action; quick camera pans are nicely smoothed by the set’s HD Natural Motion feature, though arguably this is at its most effective when viewing from the built-in Freeview HD tuner. The Super Resolution circuitry didn’t appear to achieve too much from standard definition TV channels, but it’s more obvious when watching a DVD. Still, as usual with Philips TVs, the available processing guidance is worth trialling, but ultimately if anything is left on its most powerful setting – the picture can appear unnatural to a distracting extent.

We’re not convinced that the passive 3-D system is all that successful on this big-screen. This is mainly to do with the fact that it’s a less detailed approach, than the active shutter 3-D tech that Phillips uses on some of its other TVs. There’s no reduction in brightness, but we noticed horizontal lines on the panel amid a 3-D image, which lacked much in the way of wowing depth.  

 

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Company: Philips

Website: http://www.philips.com/

Contact: 0906 1010 016

Positives
  • BBC iPlayer; brushed metallic design; MKV support from USB; onscreen slideshow from smartphone.
Negative
  • No MKV support over network; slow web browser; choice of online video apps; Freeview EPG.

Verdict

Almost affordable and mightily tempting for anyone after the ultimate Blu-ray movie TV, where the 50PFL7956 is surprisingly easy to live with. Picture quality is outstanding and it makes a fine screen for gaming, too, though you'll have to learn to live with the way it resizes TV pictures. For those hooked only on movies, the lure of a dedicated CinemaScope TV may be hard to resist.