Philips 58PFL9955H Cinema 21:9 Platinum review

4 out of 5
£3999

For

Full-screen CinemaScope movies, HD detail, contrast, black levels, colour, Ambilight, speakers, remote control

Against

No Freeview HD, messy 3D, distorts some sources

Philips doesn't do things by halves. Designed primarily to rid Blu-ray movie transfers of those pesky black bars top and bottom, this uniquely (for now – LG demoed a very similar product behind closed doors at the recent CES) shaped TV increases the screen real estate on offer by about a quarter when compared to a “normal” widescreen plasma or LCD TV.

An updated version of 2009’s 56PFL9954H, this Platinum version is 2-inches larger and comes packed with the very latest 3D and Wi-Fi-powered Net TV tech, the latter meaning access to YouTube, Twitter and Cartoon Network.

Size-wise the 58PFL9955H is enormous. As with all TVs, Philips has produced its 58-inch size by measuring the diagonal, but if you take into account the fact that it only shows what’s between those black bars when playing Blu-ray movies presented in the common 2.35:1 shape, it’s actually equivalent to a much bigger set - without getting our yardstick out, we reckon it gives about the same result as an 80-inch projection screen.

Watched on a “normal” widescreen TV, CinemaScope-shaped Blu-ray films are squeezed, and lose their impact; here they're allowed to run free and fill your field of vision. Other shaped sources can be filled, zoomed and scaled with differing degrees of distortion, but it’s quick and simple to find the option that works - our only complaint being that the TV likes to take a guess, and often changes its mind, which can be distracting.

Away from its unusual dimensions, the 58PFL9955H is certainly a high-end TV when it comes to display tech. Studded with 1,500 LEDs behind the panel, this direct LED system is able to produce contrast-heavy sequences with a dynamic intensity that’s all too rare on TVs that use similar tech. A scene from The Other Guys on Blu-ray sees a panorama of New York City at night, with the utter blackness of the Hudson River and dark Manhattan skyline punctuated with extraordinarily vivid night lights. There is a touch of glare around these peak whites, and we’re not sure it’s 100% realistic, but it ain’t half a powerful statement on behalf of LED technology - at least in this guise.

There’s also a 400Hz feature that successfully rids the panel of blur and is best left switched-on across all sources, but we’re less sure about the worth of some parts of Perfect Pixel HD Engine picture processing.

Aiming to plaster over the judder that’s inherent in Blu-ray (primarily because they play at 24 frames-per-second, less than half the speed of a broadcast TV picture), then add smoothness and depth, HD Natural Motion comes in three strengths - and plenty of side-effects.

Although we’ve loved it - at least on its “minimum” mode - on other Philips TVs, HD Natural Motion just doesn't work on the 58PFL9955H; the bigger screen makes the creaks, the cracks, the splats and the splutter produced by the circuitry really quite obvious. We watched The Other Guys on Blu-ray with two, err, other guys, whose responses to HD Natural Motion were thus; “What’s going on – is it that bloody Pixel Plus again?” to the more succinct “switch if off NOW!” However, the biggest problem isn't that it adds artefacts into the picture, but that it makes a film look decidedly un-filmic; that sheen of movie-ness we call “grain” is removed and replaced.

It’s with high-def that the 58PFL9955H shows-off its immense skill with detail, contrast and colour. Freeview is handled OK, but the screen is simply too big to cope with some low-res fare. Older 4:3 material can look insufferably ropey and rather ridiculous (it occupies only around half the screen), but the biggest shame is the lack of Freeview HD broadcasts.

Unlike a lot of Philips’ 2010 screens, the 58PFL9955H does have a 3D transmitter built-in, so there’s no need for a Wii-style upgrade kit to sit atop the brushed metallic frame. The glasses cut-out a lot of brightness, though that’s not the problem; front 3D effects, such as close-ups, are excellent (unless very fast moving), as are sweeping panoramas - but what’s going on in the middle of the shot? Quite a lot, actually, including echoes and a mess of shadows that don't appear to make sense. Active shutter 3D tech can be excellent and it’s got a lot to do with the source movie, but it’s too inconsistent to be considered a genuine high-end feature.

Other minus points, aside from that missing Freeview HD tuner, come from the ins and outs. There are plenty of them, but many are underslung on the TV, giving easy access only to wall-mounters. Everyone else will have lay on the floor and gaze up.

More disappointing is the lack of a digital audio output, either optical or coaxial, which is something we’ve got used to on TVs made in the last couple of years – and something that can help streamline audio from a plethora or sources. That said, the 58PFL9955H’s built-in speakers aren't too bad. Benefitting from the extra few inches, there’s an unusual depth to audio and it stands-up to the rigours of The Other Guys relatively well (to put this positive score in perspective, our home cinema speakers were still 100 times better).

Ambilight, present here in its three-sided incarnation, is as impressive as ever; lights across the back of the TV spew colours that more-or-less math the onscreen hues. The result is arguably more immersive than 3D.

Verdict

Almost four grand gets almost the finished article, but this unique 21:9-shaped LED-studded screen is a specialist screen. With wow factor in spades, this 58-incher lacks a Freeview HD tuner or convincing 3D pictures, yet its jaw-dropping contrast and high-def detail from immaculate 2.35:1 Blu-ray presentations should make it irresistible to movie buffs.