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What Do You Think of 21:9 Flat Panels?

Recently, I've answered a couple of questions about 21:9 flat panels; you can read my comments about them here and here. These ultra-widescreen TVs display 2.35:1 movies without the annoying black bars above and below the image as on 16:9 sets, and they can display a 16:9 HDTV image on one side of the screen and online apps on the other without overlapping.

So far, Vizio is the only company to announce 21:9 flat panels for the US market, which will be available "sometime this year" in three screen sizes—50, 58, and 71 inches (diagonal)—though no pricing has yet been revealed. Philips has offered a 21:9 set in Europe for a couple of years, but it's not available in the US. Will other manufacturers follow suit? I suppose that depends on consumer demand.

Which leads me to this week's poll question: What do you think of 21:9 flat panels? Are you eager to get one, or do you think this just another gimmick designed to sell more TVs? Once you make your selection below, please leave a comment explaining your choice. Opinions seem to run hot on this topic, and I'd love to hear yours!

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice.

What Do You Think of 21:9 Flat Panels?
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uavmatthewweflen's picture

I kind of see this as a product without a consumer.

1. If you watch a huge majority of 2.35:1 movie material, why not invest in a decent front projector setup? You could probably get better quality for half the price. If you're that big a cineaste, it seems like you'd be able to dedicate a light-controlled room to it. So I can only see it as being appealing for a big movie buff that lives in a small high rise condo or something.

2. I get the feeling that the average HDTV consumer will just say "why would I want to pay more in order to have black bars on all or 95% of my programming?" It was hard enough to convince Joe Schmoe that 16:9 had benefits (and of course people still stretch their 4:3 programming to fit it...)

These two things don't add up to a very successful product segment.

And beyond that, there are scaling questions. How will a zoomed 16:9 letterboxed image look? Will it have jaggies and banding? I don't expect a new "super anamorphic" standard for Blu-Ray anytime soon...

ca1ore's picture

It does seem to me that cinescope aspect ratio TVs are very much a niche product, and I'm frankly surprised that a mainstream TV manufacturer is bothering.

I do use a 2.35:1 screen and anamorphic lens on my projector-based theater - and it is a terrific way to go. But for my family room TV, where the majority of the viewing is of 16:9 native material I just don't see a good reason to go wider.

Somebody who might have a system where the primary purpose is watching movies could well come to a different conclusion - but even in that case, a projector is a far better way to go. For a flat panel that is in a multi-viewing enviroment, 21:9 just seems like a non starter.

Now, if bluray adopted a native 2.35:1 aspect ratio and stopped wasting pixels on black bars ......

uavmaj0crk's picture

Unless you've been to Europe & seen Phillips version for real, no one has ANY idea how these sets handle an expanded 16:9 image. I understand Vizio's CES displays were fed material specifically formatted for the demonstrations. Thats not real-world, so until we see it for ourselves & read the pro's reviews, we'll have to wait.
A British magazine, Home Cinema Choice, has an excellent article on Phillip's 58PFL9955H. ( Phillips set also does 3D in 29:9. The Phillips costs 4000 pounds which works out to $6542, a lot of dough for ANY TV. As an aside, its interesting to read & see what the Euros get compared to us.
For me, the deciding factor will be how well it does 16:9 expanded to 21:9. Scott has already addressed the issue of how large a 16:9 image will be on Vizio's 58" 21:9 (approx 40"), so unless the image is acceptable to my eyes, I'll stick with 16:9

ca1ore's picture

Well, I think actually we have a pretty good idea of how these sets will handle 16x9: essentially the same way 16x9 sets handle native 4:3 material. I'd be suprised if there weren't the same array of options, pillar boxed, stretched or zoomed.

movie lover's picture

the black bars are pain in neck but i deal with them.the 21.9 i just wait see what happens and for now i just stick to my 16.9 lcd hdtv.

javanp's picture

Besides, for me personally, if I was going to do a CIH set-up, it'd be a projector. A flat-panel would be more for everyday viewing, which could include 4:3 material, which I would not want to view on a 21:9 plasma.

Blurayffan66's picture

...I am currently residing in Ireland and got the 56" Philips at a close out price as they were just about to introduce the newer 3D 58" model...and my brother wanted my previous 46" Sony so I thought I'd try out 21:9...
In response to your question above- yes I was referring to stretching 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 to completely fill the 21:9 screen- looks plain ridiculous IMO...there is a mode on the tv to stretch 2.35:1 and 2.40:1 to completely fill the I mentioned in my 1st post, as far as I know, there is no aspect ratio that fits 21:9 exactly. Personally I hate the thought of stretching any material....and that's exactly why a 16:9 screen is the best solution overall...
You put the tv in 'PC mode' and choose '21:9' for 2.35:1, 2.40:1 etc...for 1.78:1, 1.85:1 etc you chose '16:9' mode. That way, nothing is distorted...except maybe movies in 2.20:1...I have not tested that aspect ratio and am unsure if you lose information from the top and bottom of the screen...again tho, possibly another compromise...and let's not forget there are plenty of movies wider than 2.40:1 resulting in even bigger 'black bars' unless you want to engage one of the funky stretching/squishing modes on the tv and distort the image.
The screen has a resolution of 2560x1080 so I don't know how to compare say, a 2.40:1 movie on the Philips 21:9 to a similarly sized image on a standard 16:9 with a resolution of 1920x1080. I can tell you if you are a fan of 2.35:1, 2.40:1 etc films then you will love the Philips 21:9. Again, for those narrower aspect ratios, you will probably be a little disappointed by all the black spaces on the screen.
I guess it all boils down to what material you like to watch. I'm sure 99% of people watch a mix of broadcast HDTV, and 1.78:1 up to 2.40:1 movies...and for those 16:9 simply makes more sense. I don't know anyone who only wants to watch 2.35:1 and wider movies!
These super wide tv's seem really exciting at first glance but imagine if all HDTV's were 21:9...and only now tv manufacturer's were trying to introduce a new shape, 16:9. Of course, everyone would be now saying 16:9 was a godsend and the greatest thing since sliced bread!!!
Philips promote ths tv as 'real cinema viewing at home' and 'the way movies were made to be watched'...go thru your film collection, and count all the classic films in 1.78:1, 1.85:1...
The only way I could hands down, 110% recommend 21:9 is if this particular shape of screen fits your room better than the taller 16:9 screen...and this is another reason I bought this tv. I had to fit the tv into my home theater into my converted attic and a 46" 16:9 was they largest I could previously fit in the door...because the Philips 56" was almost the same height, it also fitted in...I lost 2" on the 16:9 image but gained a whopping amount on the 2.39:1 image size.
I just picked up 'The Walking Dead' and 'Platoon' on bluray this week (both are 1.78:1 or 1.85:1)...and I can honestly say to you all I am looking forward to the day I can watch these without distortion or without black bars!

uavmaj0crk's picture

Yours is the first from someone who actually owns one. In what country are/were you located?
I assume you mean stretching 16:9 broadcast TV to 21:9 regardless of what it is (TV show or movie) looks horrible. The only way it works is with a 2.35:1 movie.
This is sounding more & more like a wait & see. Its a noble effort by Phillips in Euroland & now (maybe) Vizio here to introduce this truly unique display for those of us unable to install projection systems with anamorphic lenses. From what you've written, there are too many compromises one would have to accept (yet another special bluray player, discs not formatted to fit the screen, 45" unstretched 16.9 picture on a 58" ultrawide screen, on and on). Yep, looks like its time to move on to a new 16.9 & let others take the plunge.

Malcolm02's picture

I guess it's great if you use it primarily for watching movies, but I use mine for a mixture of movies, TV, concert videos, etc. I'm sticking with my 16:9 which I think is a nice compromise for all the different aspect ratios.

abentrod's picture

I concur with Malcolm02 16:9 is still the best compromise, if you are lucky enough to have a projector with variable masking that's cool but for a fixed flat screen tv be it LCD OR Plasma 16:9 is the logical choice, watching a 2.35:1 movie on my Samsung 46B8500 set at night the black bars semm to fade away, so I see no need for a 21:9 flat screen.

uavCJLA's picture

As a custom integrator, when I do home theaters with a 2-piece system (projector & filmscreen) I always ask the following: How big is your DVD library? What percentage of the time do you spend watching broadcast type programming versus watching movies? In my house we spend more than 60% of the time watching movies, so for our household, I'm absolutely on board w/getting a 21:9 format. I will just wait until they get the kinks out and have more competition, because I would like to see if Panasonic, LG, Samsung, etc. will follow suite.
Also, once you experience a constant height format, which this is for the most part, its WAAAY nicer! Nothing bugs me more then to go from watching a high def broadcast feed, to poppin in a movie and seeing 30% of my image go to waste and having the picture shrink!
Lastly, I would have to imagine that service providers (satellite and cable alike) would WANT 21:9 screens so they can have more interactives on the side while pushing 16:9 content.

FJH's picture

I think it's pretty much a gimmick, but if it becomes " the next big thing",I'll more than likely rant and rave about it, then end up buying one anyway.

loop7's picture

80% of my video consumption is widescreen cinema so this is attractive. I'm a recent convert to plasma so I would need a high end 21x9 plasma offering before making the move.

cbono's picture

panels makers would do us better to focus on making any black bars that must appear truly totally black

SWG's picture

I presume that most 1080 content will be in 16:9 format and so would require some kind of upscaling process to fill the 21:9 screen. I like the idea of losing the black bars top and bottom for viewing movies, but I don't know if I want it at the expense of something messing with my pure, native resolution. Is that just me?

cbono's picture

A 21:9 format panel would want to put black bars on the sides when properly presenting a 16:9 image. Any panel ratio only gets one image ratio perfectly correct. Everything else renders (in order of critical toleration)

a) black bars in one or both dimensions
b) image loss/cropping in one or both dimensions
c) image distortion
d) some combination of the above

BTW, I imagine many BDs and DVDs actually have some (minor) shaving along the edges to avoid geometrically distorting source material whose native aspect ratio wasn't exactly 4:3 or 16:9. It's our loss whenever this happens, but kudos to the folks at companies like Criterion who sometimes border their images on all four sides to be sure to include the entire image.

Until someone invents the panel equivalent of a projector whose dimensions automagically adjust to the source's image ratio, anyone with a variety of viewing tastes and a budget for a single panel should only want a 16:9 panel. Someone on an unlimited budget should also want a third 4:3 panel to go along with their 21:9 and 16:9 panels.

QuantumTower's picture

I like this idea, it should get your TV closer to the cinematic experience. For movies with great visual videography would look even better. Just need to see performance and cost...

bluephoenix's picture

Hey Scott!

What's with the language?

"These ultra-widescreen TVs display 2.35:1 movies without the ANNOYING black bars above and below the image ..." (Emphasis mine)

I don't recall you being in that camp during the 4x3 days when people complained about letterboxed movies.

What happened to displaying a film in the apect ratio it was intended for?

How "annoying" is it going to be when you want to watch Casablanca on a 21:9 set and have huge black bars on the sides of the screen?

Surely you wouldn't want it blown up to fill the screen, would you?

Please choose your words more wisely!

Don't contribute to the propagtion of this ignorant perspective.


Blurayffan66's picture

I have owned the exact Philips 21:9 pictured above for 6 months so thought I'd share my thoughts. Prior to this 21:9 tv I have owned about eight 16:9 HDTV's. Firstly, 2.35:1 and wider (2.40:1 etc)movies look great on this tv and are very immersive-(just as 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 are very immersive on a standard 16:9 display tho!). Unfortunetely, everything else, broadcast HDTV, 1.78:1, 1.85:1 etc results in massive black portions of the screen on the left and right hand side of the image....
An image in 1.78:1 results in a 44" standard 16:9 image on this 56" Philips, about 45" on the newer 58" model. The 2.35:1 image is the equivalent of the same aspect ratios dimensions on a 60" 16:9 HDTV.
21:9 does not eliminate black bars entirely. Even in the closest ratio to match this tv (2.40:1) you still get a 2mm black bar top and bottom of the screen.
Someone made a comment that they only like to watch super wide movies- well just this week I picked up 'The King's Speech', 'Midnight Cowboy', 'The Scent Of Green Papaya', 'Taxi Driver' and 'Blue Valentine'...all either 1.78:1 or massive black bars either side of the image :-(
16:9 was chosen for a good reason- it's the best compromise with so many different aspect ratios out there. My guess in about 35%-40% of material the average person watches is only in the super widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1 etc).
If you do have a 21:9 display you also need a special bluray player which can do 'subtitle shift'- move subtitles up so they are visible (assuming the disc allows that- some do not).
Also, another pain with 21:9 is while at the main menu of a bluray you often have to switch the aspect ratio to 16:9 in order to see the menu options.
Also, this does not do 1:1 pixel mapping as far as I know.
Stretching 16:9 on a 21:9 looks horrible in my opinion and I can't imagine any true film enthusiast doing that. Imaging stretching 'Taxi Driver' to fill a 21:9 display- out of the question.
If you ever buy a 21:9 display I guarantee you will only be 100% happy watching wide 2.35:1, 2.40:1 on it.

uavmaj0crk's picture

An EXCELLENT point by ca1ore. But since each manufacturer has it's own way of stretching, zooming, whatever, my decision would have to be based on how VIZIO does it. If my current set were a Vizio 16x9, I'd have a better idea what their method might be converting 16x9 to 21x9 by stretching that 4:3 to 16x9. Since 21:9 is a totally different display, I'm sure some of it's internal makeup is not the same as that of it's 16x9 stablemates.

microbiologycory's picture

I agree with those who stated that dual screens are necessary to properly display both formats...I'd prefer a 16X9 plasma and 21X9 front projector with a retractible screen...this would allow you to have a big enough 21X9 screen to feel really immersed and not feel overwhelmed by it when watching 16X9 TV (I don't want to always have that huge screen).

bb bear's picture

I am in the UK and have a Philips 21.9 58" lcd and I love it. Primarily I bought it for blu ray films. I converted early to blu ray and have an extensive colection of films for my own viewing and lots of kids films for my boy and I HATED the black bars and couldn't see the point of a big screen and 1/3 of it chopped off for watching films so when I found the philips model I jumped at it and jumped into debt to buy it I'm afraid but it was worth it big time.

To be honest I just use the auto fill mode and not the 21.9 mode. It suits me and fills the whole screen with no black bars (top bottom or sides) I lose none of the picture using this mode and it is identical in quality to the unscaled mode but I suppose the purists may (maybe rightly)argue with that but to an avid film watcher like me and my boy the 21.9 is the best screen out there if you want the maximum thrills from explosive action flicks and best fun from a rom com or the most enjoyment from kids films then this screen is perfect.

As for the tv I use the auto fill again but lose a slight bit of picture on the top and bottom doing this but not at all a problem to me anyway really to be honest. The SD picture is not good (you can't beat an old CRT for that in my view) but the HD channels are briliant. The old Bond films that were redone for HD are excellent on this screen recorded on my Freeview HD PVR.

So the view on the lack of films specifically made for the 21.9 mode is a red herring in my view as autofill mode makes all blu ray films and the very few DVD's that I own fit the screen beautifully with no change in quality and as I said with no black bars anywhere. I never had to buy a new blu ray player and still used my old one until I got a 3D player but that was just to use the 3D mode for my boy.

A cinematic HD experience in your living room with no black bars.....hooray for 21.9!!!!!

ps.... I did read that the 4.3 tv's were only set as the standard at the time because film studios didn't want the cinema to lose out to tv for film watching...I believe this story and further believe that 21.9 is the perfect standard and not 16.9 and in the not too distant future it will be. I remember buying one of the first (if not the first) 16.9 widescreen TV's when they first appeared and it was sitting all alone in showroom full of 4.3 TV's and guess was a Philips! There was not much if any TV made in 16.9 at the time and the picture was very distorted with presenters and actors gaining a few stone when watching it on 16.9.

The 3D on this TV is not as good as say Panasonic but I think ghosting/crosstalk is an issue on many if not all 3D tV's at the moment) but it is watchable for my boy with his 3D Blu ray discs. Personally I am only ever satisfied with 3D films when they are at the IMAX which thankfully is close to where I live.

I am not really a Philips lover so when Panasonic who make the best TV's in my view join in with 21.9 I will probably jump ship as I did many moons ago when other manufacturers joined in with 16.9.

I maybe being cynical but I think major TV makers have every intention of going down the 21.9 road (and TV studios will follow suit just like they did with 16.9)but they have 3D to make us go out and needlessly replace our TV's at the moment but when that slows they will go 21.9 and we will all be moving our perfectly good 16.9 LCD and plasma monsters to the spare rooms and kids rooms and buying 21.9 for our living rooms.

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