Vizio XVT3D580CM CinemaWide 21:9 ratio flat panel TV
June 29, 2012

UltraWide TV – Wider Is Better But Is It Necessary?

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

On Wednesday, TV maker Vizio began shipping its latest widescreen flat panel TV, but this was no mere HDTV. First shown as a prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show - not this past January but two and a half years ago - the final version has finally arrived.

What makes this set special is that the 58-inch set is the first with CinemaWide 21:9 ratio! Wider as they say is better, but is an ultra-wide TV really necessary? After all the current HDTVs that are in many living rooms today are “widescreen.”

The Vizio XVT3D580CM is ideal for those who want the cinematic experience at home when watching movies — in other words without the black bars on the top and bottom of the films. If this sounds like a repeat of the widescreen versus full-frame argument from a decade ago that´s because it is.

First a bit of background to understand what this means. Movies were originally presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio (1.33:1) in theaters, which either emulated the stage of live theater or more precisely were theaters converted from stage to movies. Thus it made sense for the image to be slightly wider than it was tall.

However, as TVs entered homes in the 1950s, Hollywood responded in an attempt to keep people in the sets that made the movie pictures larger or more accurately wider. This included the CinemaScope format, which is how most films are offered today. This aspect ratio is 2.35:1, while the Vizio set is actually 2.37:1. So why the 16:9 sets that we have today? Well, this is because there was a compromise to see a half way between movies and TV, which until the widespread adoption of HDTV was presented in the 4:3 (1.33:1) ratio.

Does this mean that we´ll be seeing a new go around of widescreen vs. even wider-screen? Probably not. For one thing many viewers have accepted some black bars on the top and bottom of their movies, while most TV content nicely fills the sets. There is little chance the TV networks would want to go through the hassle of trying to accommodate the wider screen content.

So who is going to want an ultra-widescreen set? As the name “Cinema Display” implies, those looking to get the movie experience on a flat panel set.

“I think 21x9 will be essentially the home cinema enthusiast who wants to watch ultra-widescreen without any bars,” Paul Gagnon, NPD DisplaySearch's Director of North America TV Market Research, told redOrbit.

However Gagnon suggested this probably won´t go prime time with most viewers.

“It is perfectly valid that TV content won´t fit in that format, which is in 16x9 so you´re back to stretching the image or black bars on the sides,” he added. “So this set is really going to fall into the niche category.”

Those who do get it won´t have to worry about setting up their Blu-ray players — which is what these sets are clearly intended to be used with. Back when DVD arrived, consumers had to set the player so it could be accurately displayed and this meant setting it for either 4:3 or 16:9. Technology has come along now that makes this step unnecessary.

“The signally with modern HDMI standards will resolve the problem,” Gagnon noted. “So no worries about telling the set you have a 21:9 set.”

These sets have also been pitched to TV makers for years by those companies that actually make the panels. The cost was high, but the panel makers believed there was a demand and clearly Vizio agreed.

But will consumers buy it and buy the sets?

“It could be a hard sell, especially as consumers often see the sets vertical height,” said Gagnon. “So in this respect the sets (at 58 inches wide) will only the height of a current 50-inch panel. Many consumers assess the set this way, so it might be a hard sell.”

And then there is trying to get it to fit into the living room, but that´s likely a different problem.