Who Makes the Panel for Philips’ Cinema 21:9 TV?

Last month, Philips announced "the world’s first cinema-proportioned LCD television," a large-screen LCD-TV with 2560×1080 pixels (approx 2.37:1 aspect ratio, which is not far from 21:9). The sets, which Philips has labeled "Cinema 21:9," will be available this spring, initially in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands in 52- and 56-inch screen sizes. Philips no longer sells TVs in the U.S.; any TVs you see in the U.S. with the Philips brand will be made and sold by the Japanese company Funai, which has a license to use the Philips brand here.

The reason for this new TV format is to closely match the 2.39:1 aspect ratio of some ultra-wide-screen format movies, and to replicate the immersive feel you get in some movie houses when the image covers a significant portion of the visual field, including peripheral vision. When films in this format are played from DVDs on standard 16:9 TV sets, they are usually letterboxed to preserve the original aspect ratio. Cinema 21:9 allows them to be shown in the original aspect ratio full screen. Of course, 1:85:1 films would have to be pillarboxed to preserve the original aspect ratio, as would 16:9 (1.78:1) video.

Philips Cinema 21:9

The Cinema 21:9 sets are positioned as premium products, with a claimed response time of 1ms, 200Hz frame-rate-quadrupling, a dynamic CR of 80:000:1, and five HDMI 1.3a ports. For better or worse, the sets also incorporate Philips’ Ambilight surround-light technology, which no other manufacturer has seen fit to emulate.

Now, we could certainly argue about whether this is a good time for any manufacturer to introduce a new, premium TV format — one source quoted Philips as saying the UK price for the 52-inch will be £3535 (€4000) when the set is introduced there in June — but that’s not the point of this admittedly geeky story.

The question I felt compelled to answer is this: Which of Asia’s panel makers is making these decidedly non-standard 21:9 LCD-TV panels for Philips? My first guess was LG Display since, until recently, Philips owned a significant piece of the company (when it was called LG.Philips LCD). But the good people at LGD said it wasn’t them.

I then started polling industry sources (who wish to remain nameless), and soon came up with the answer. The panel maker is... Sharp, which makes both sizes of the 21:9 panel on one of the Gen 8 lines at its Kameyama Plant No. 2. When normal 16:9 panels are made on this line, six 52-inch cuts can be made from each of the Gen 8 substrates, which measure 2160 x 2460mm.

Is there a future for 21:9, even at the high end of the market? This is obviously not the best time for such an introduction. People are not refusing to buy flat-screen TV sets, but market data clearly says they are downsizing their purchases in light of the current global economic trauma. To make things even more difficult, Philips has opted out of the U.S. market, and has only the European market to play in.

Will Philips trust Funai with 21:9 for the U.S. market to attain sustainable volume? Would Funai, a successful meat-and-potatoes sort of company, feel comfortable with a premium product like Cinema 21:9? For how long does Philips have exclusive rights to 21:9 panels from Sharp — and is anyone else interested? With all of those questions begging for answers, we’ll certainly return to this story.

By Ken Werner, Display Daily