Forget all this talk of digital television and the promise
of widescreen TV some time in the future. It’s here right now, so what are you
The shape or aspect ratio of most current TV picture tubes
and video displays -- traditionally 4
units wide by 3 units deep, or ‘4:3’ -- goes way back to the early days of
cinema. The movie industry abandoned the so-called ‘Academy’ screen format more
than half a century ago but vested interests and technical constraints has
meant that the 4:3 shape lived on in television, though it’s days are now
Widescreen television technologies have been under more or
less constant development for at least the past forty years but the first real
sign of progress was in the late 1970s, when the Japanese began work on the
‘Hi-Vision’ widescreen HDTV system. The first scheduled broadcasts from
satellites started in the mid 1980s.
Although technically impressive Hi-Vision has never progressed much
beyond Japan’s borders.
A brief flurry of activity in Europe followed, with
development of the MAC (multiplexed analogue component) transmission system and
plans by the Eureka 95 consortium to implement the system Europe-wide. MAC,
originally conceived for high-quality satellite transmissions, promised a simple upgrade path to widescreen
and high definition TV. Then in 1992 along came PALplus to muddy the already
cloudy waters, 16:9 sets started appearing in the shops but confusion reigned
and finally everything went on hold as it became clear that analogue television
technology was ultimately a blind alley and the way forward was digital.
Until now the main justification for buying a widescreen TV has
been the fairly consistent supply of unadulterated widescreen films on tape and laserdisc, plus movies
shown on terrestrial and satellite TV. All 16:9 TVs have a facility to electronically
enlarge letterboxed material and 4:3 programmes, to fill the widescreen
display. Unfortunately PALplus -- one of the most technically elegant
widescreen solutions -- failed to take off in the UK and broadcasts have been
limited to a few hours a week from Channel 4 and Granada. Elsewhere in Europe
it has been quite successful, guaranteeing a small but welcome trickle of sets
to the UK .
That brings us more or less up to date. We’re now entering a
kind of widescreen limbo, were pretty certain that one day soon there will be
dozens, possibly hundreds of digital TV channels in glorious widescreen.
However, it will be some time before dedicated digital TVs reach the shops. There’s
still plenty of technical and political issues to be settled, not least the terrifying
prospect of separate decoder boxes for terrestrial and satellite broadcasts,
though that now seems unlikely and a settlement is close. For the first year or
so digital TV will come to us via our existing televisions, connected to
set-top decoder boxes.
That is good news for anyone who has, or is thinking about
buying a widescreen television right now. It removes the threat of
obsolescence, and puts widescreen TV owners ahead of the game; they’ll be
amongst the first to enjoy the promised feast of digital widescreen
programming. The rest of us, with 4:3 sets will have to continue to live with
letterboxed or panned and scanned pictures.
The cost of widescreen televisions has been falling for some
time now, and the choice has never been greater, but before you dash out,
there’s a few points worth considering. If you’re going to buy a widescreen TV,
get a big one. Apart from the fact that smaller 16:9 screens -- less than
28-inches, say -- lack impact, 4:3
pictures look a bit lost floating around on a widescreen display. Look out for
models with a good range of display modes, that will be better able to cope
with future developments. Conventional CRT-based widescreen TVs are big and
heavy, so unless you’ve got several thousand pounds to spend on one of the
latest flat plasma-screen TVs -- due out this year -- make sure you’ve got the
room. Lastly, to get the most from widescreen you need a serious sound system,
Dolby Pro Logic at the very least!
Following a brief excursion into the widescreen market in
late 1994 Bush have since withdrawn their one and only model, the 28-inch
WS5000. It was remarkable for being very cheap -- it sold for just £800, more
than £200 cheaper than the competition. It was also quite basic, with only a
limited range of display options. Picture quality was fairly average too, and
the sound was best described as ‘rudimentary’. Nevertheless, Bush gained valuable experience from the
exercise and tell us they have plans to introduce a new model range ‘in the not
too distant future’.
BANG & OLUFSEN
No company profile of B&O is complete without mentioning
their well-earned reputation for producing stylish, sometimes idiosyncratic but
always memorable audio and video products. That’s clearly evident on their
first widescreen TV, which made its UK debut back in late 1995, and is still
going strong. B&O are a technically innovative company and were the first
to integrate a widescreen TV with a VCR. However, unlike their larger
competitors, they tend to have a relatively slow turnover of models within
their range. Their current model line up is likely to be with us for some time,
though a larger 32-inch model is a distinct possibility.
FERGUSON AND THOMSON
Ferguson were the third company to market widescreen
television in the UK, following hard on
the heels of Philips and Nokia. They began with the WS28 and WS32 in 1993 and
have kept up a steady stream of new models ever since. However, Thomson who own
the brand, have decided to drop the Feguson name from their widescreen TVs to
concentrate on their own range. Ferguson widescreen TVs were always good value
for money, well featured and amongst the top performers in their price range.
Latterly their sets were styled by French designer Philipe Starcke who’s
minimalist concepts live on in the Thomson range.
The German manufacturer Grundig, until recently part of the
mighty Philips empire, have been involved in widescreen TV almost since
day-one. Their British presence has been kept fairly low-key, they preferred to
concentrate on their own domestic market and other European countries, that
have more widescreen services and traditionally have shown a broader acceptance
of company’s prestige -- some might say expensive -- products. According to our
archives their first widescreen model sold here was the ST70.169/9, launched in
early 1993. This 68cm (27-inch) set had a recommended selling price of £1300
but it lacked any real killer features, and only a relatively small number were
Hitachi were one of the pioneers of widescreen technology in
Japan and they produce a wide range of TVs and video products for home
consumption but they’ve only recently become involved with the European market,
selling 16:9 TVs in Germany since 1994. At the beginning of this year they
launched their first 16:9 set in Britain, if all goes well others will
JVC are another company that have adopted a wait-and-see
policy for the UK and Europe. Like a lot of other Japanese consumer electronics
companies they’ve been key players in developing the technology. They have
built up a sizeable range of products for their own home market, but have only
just begun to ship 16:9 PAL TVs to British stores. JVC were one of the first to
introduce the ‘panorama’ or stretch display mode facility. This electronically
stretches the sides of a 4:3 image, to fill a widescreen display, leaving the
centre of the picture unaffected and reducing the need to crop the top and
bottom edges of the image.
German tongue-twisters Loewe (say ‘ler-vey’) have dipped in
and out of the UK market in the past few years. They’re back again, this time
their prestigious range of top-end TVs, distributed by Linn Products. Loewe are
actually one of the world’s oldest consumer electronics companies and claim to
have invented the integrated circuit back in 1926, though it takes a good deal
of imagination to compare their innovative triple function valve with a modern-day silicon microchip... Their
involvement with widescreen TV goes way back too, they introduced their first model
in Germany in 1991.
Mitsubishi have been heavily involved in the Hi-Vision
project in Japan and are one of the world’s largest picture tube manufacturers.
In the mid 1980s they developed a 40-inch widescreen CRT -- then the worlds
largest -- for professional studio
monitors. Mitsubishi are fairly recent newcomers to the UK and European 16:9
scene, launching their first widescreen sets last year. Characteristically
they’ve pursued a value for money approach, with plenty of interesting features
on their PAL sets, and above average AV performance.
Nokia were one of the leading lights in the Eureka 95
project, (developing MAC widescreen and HDTV technologies), the second company
to launch widescreen TVs in Britain, and the first with a PALplus set. Their
first 16:9 TV, the 36F8C appeared in early 1992. Back then it had the
distinction of being the cheapest 16:9 TV on the market. The original launch
price was £2650, which was remarkably good value for a 36-inch TV. The Nokia
saga took an unexpected twist last year with the announcement that their TV
division has been sold to Akai’s parent company. Akai say the range is
currently under review and it is likely the 24, 28 & 32-inch models will
continue for the time being, with the two larger models available with Dolby
Pro Logic surround sound systems. Full details are expected to be announced in
It’s a familiar story. Panasonic are no strangers to 16:9
TV. They’ve been busily making widescreen and high definition TVs and goodness
knows what else, for punters in the old country since the early 1980s, but
they’ve only recently got around to Europe and the UK. Their first 16:9 TV appeared
in UK showrooms last year; that, and the models that have followed are loaded
with digital video processing circuitry and lots of advanced features.
Philips, another founding member of Eureka 95 project, were
the first TV manufacturer to launch a widescreen set in this country, in early
1992. The 8906 was an impressive beast, it had a 36-inch screen, the
sticking-out speakers and a mighty stand made it look even bigger than it was.
The price then was an eye-watering £3500 (when £3500 was worth £3500...) and it
was loaded with goodies, including a 100Hz display, multi-screen display and
twin tuners, so you could watch two channels at once. Philips continue to play
a leading role in widescreen TV development in Europe and are now heavily
involved in digital TV technology.
Samsung are the first of the Korean CE manufacturers to
become involved in widescreen TV in Europe and the UK. This underlines the
rapid advances they’ve made in the past few years and they are now catching up
fast with their Japanese neighbours. The more widescreen-friendly far-Eastern
market has given Samsung considerable experience with the technology, and
they’re also one of the regions largest CRT manufacturers. Their first
prototype 16:9 set was shown at a London trade show in early 1994. They
launched three PAL 16:9 TVs in the UK last year, the range included a 24-inch
model which has subsequently been withdrawn.
Sanyo have just launched their first 16:9 TV, earlier this
year. Like most other Japanese companies they have a history with analogue
widescreen and HDTV in the Far East, and have been waiting patiently for the
rest of the world to catch up, albeit with the Europeans and Americans following
a very different path to the Japanese analogue Hi-Vision system.
Sony’s widescreen pedigree is impeccable. In addition to
pioneering Hi-Vision in Japan, both on the consumer side, and with professional
and broadcast equipment, they’re also the world’s largest manufacture of
widescreen picture tubes, and are due to begin making 16:9 CRTs in their
rapidly expanding tube plant in Wales later this year. Sony missed the first
wave of 16:9 TVs in Europe, their first PAL set didn’t appear until 1994 (the
rarely seen and long forgotten KVW2812), but they made up for it in 1995 with
the launch of no less than five 16:9 TVs including the first sub-20-inch
Toshiba in the UK have traditionally adopted a fairly
lukewarm attitude towards widescreen TV, preferring to extol the virtues of
their large home cinema models, and their pivotal role in the development of
TVs with built-in surround sound systems. That is in spite of acquiring a
healthy share of the consumer and broadcast widescreen market in Japan.
However, they finally relented last year, with the announcement of their first
16:9 TV, the very favourable reception it has had with reviewers should ensure
it won’t be their last.
Avant, 28/70, £3500
This is what happens when the Scandinavian style-meisters
get their hands on a TV! Is it a domestic appliance, living-room sculpture or a
work of art? No matter, it makes great pictures and the built-in VCR is a nice
touch. So too is the modular construction, with optional plug-in cards for
surround sound and satellite reception.
M82-169/9 IDTV, 32/76, £1800
Available with or without PALplus and Dolby Pro Logic, this
is a bit of a monster. A bit heavy-handed with the digital processing, pictures
can look a bit grainy sometimes, and Grundig have been rather mean with the
widescreen display modes. Excellent PALplus performance though.
M70-1690 DPL IDTV, 28/70, £1300
M70-1690 FT LOG, 28/70, £900
These two share the same Megatron picture tube and chassis
but the dearer IDTV model has a 100Hz display, on-board Dolby Pro Logic,
advanced on-screen displays with ‘instruction book’ and five channel audio
system. The FT model has all the basics though, including NICAM, fastext and
CT-8300TN, 28/70, £1200
Hot off the production line, this is Hitachi’s first
widescreen set for the UK. Top features include advanced digital video
processing circuitry, super flat black picture tube, built-in sub-woofer and a
two-speaker 3D sound system incorporating a Dolby Pro Logic decoder. Active
cordless infra red rear effects speakers are available as an optional extra
AV-32WX1EK, 32/76, £1700
AV-28WX1EK, 28/70, £1000
Differentiated only by screen size (and price) these two
sets are superbly well specified and produce a crackingly good picture. They
have a fine assortment of widescreen display options, including Panoramic
stretch. A built-in Dolby Pro Logic decoder is used to create JVC’s 3D Phonic
spatial sound from the TVs built-in speakers, a full surround upgrade is
ART 20-100, 32/76, £3600
Said to look good from any angle, it’s certainly a very
dramatic shape, that’s difficult to ignore. This vast monolith of a TV rakes
back slightly, for the optimum viewing angle. Pin-sharp pictures from a 100Hz
display and the big speakers and powerful amp ensure a full, well rounded
sound. It’s good but a tad pricey, even for art...
ERGO 6581 32/76, £2850
Another designer TV, this time a slightly less radical
design though the price is still quite steep. Based around the same Q2100
chassis as the ART 20-100 it also has a 100Hz display, digital video processing
circuitry, picture in picture facilities and a punchy sound system, driving
CT-28BW2B, 28/70, £850 (DPL version £1000)
Following the successful introduction of the CT-32W1BD last
year Mitsubishi have brought out a more modestly proportioned 28-inch version.
Same well thought out spec, this time with Dolby Pro Logic surround sound
available as an option. Great picture, great sound, great value.
TX-W28D1, 28/70, £1400
Introduced last year and destined to continue for a while
yet, this is a sophisticated design with 100Hz display and extensive digital
system management, for improved reliability and consistent performance. Digital
circuitry is also used for video noise reduction and image processing, for a
clearer, sharper picture, and multi-standard capabilities.
TXW28D2DP, 28/70, £1200
TXW32D2DP, 32/76, £1700
Two new widescreen models from Panasonic, this time with
Dolby Pro Logic as standard, and ‘Wide Digital Plus’ circuitry, which improves
picture definition in the widescreen mode, reduces flicker and jerky movement.
Both sets use Panasonic s new ‘Quintrix’ tube with increased brightness, sharper
focus, better colour fidelity and contrast.
24PW6321, 24/57, £800
Small, cheap and rather basic. This little 24-incher would
be okay for bedroom viewing but the screen is simply not big enough for serious
home cinema use. Sadly 4:3 pictures are not much larger than you’d get on a
20-inch TV. Nevertheless, picture and sound quality are both good.
28PW9512, 28/70, £1200
A respectably priced PALplus set, with the bonus of Dolby
Pro Logic sound and a 100Hz display. A slightly bulbous shape, not especially
pretty to look at but picture performance is good. The digital video processing
can sometimes make its presence felt on scenes with a lot of fast movement.
Fair to middling sound and generally good value.
28PW9631, 28/70, £1400
32PW9631, 32/76, £1850
Two top-end models, based on the same chassis, with 28 or
32-inch picture tubes; the 32-inch model also has twin tuners. The styling is
quite elegant and they’ve got a useful list of features, that includes 100Hz
displays, DPL sound, lots of digital picture enhancements and a 40 page
teletext memory. Worth considering.
46P912A, 46/110, £2700
Still available! This 47-inch back projector is getting on a
bit. It was launched around three years ago and was memorable for having
motorised shutters inside the screen, to control the width of the image. A
reasonable picture, but in common with most other back projection televisions,
the viewing angle is quite shallow.
WS2820PF, 28/70, £1000
WS3220PF, 32/76, £1500
Samsung started out with three 16:9 TVs last year, they’ve since
dropped the 24-inch model. The 28 and 32-inch sets share a common set of
features, which includes five display modes, 3D spatial sound and five audio
modes. Picture quality is good though some digital artefacts are evident. Sound
quality is fine but 3D sound lacks impact.
28WP1, 28/66, £1200
Sanyo sneaked this one into their ‘97 line-up with very
little fuss, possibly to test out the widescreen waters. The specification
looks good, with Dolby Pro Logic surround sound, a beefy audio system, a full
set of digital picture processing systems and a very smooth cabinet design.
KV16WT1, 16/36, £400 (NICAM KV16WS1, 16/36, £450)
Currently the smallest 16:9 TVs available in the UK. Both
sets are aimed at the video games market. They’re much too small for
satisfactory home cinema use. It’s worth paying the extra £50 for the NICAM
version, in any case most video games have stereo sound.
KV24WX1, 24/57, £800
KV28WX1, 28/67, £900
These two entry-level widescreen sets both have Super Trinitron
tubes, NICAM sound systems and fastext, but not a lot else. Picture quality is
better than average and the larger set is worth considering for home cinema
duties; the 24-inch model is too small to be of much use outside the bedroom.
KV24WS2, 24/57, £1000
KV28WS2 , 28/67, £1100
Dolby Pro Logic on a 24-inch widescreen TV is a bit of an extravagance.
It makes more sense on the 28-inch variant though, which like its smaller
stablemate has automatically adjusted brightness, contrast and colour,
according to ambient lighting conditions, and advanced operating systems and
KV32WX2, 32/76, £2000
KV32WS4, 32/76, £2500
The main differences between these two sets is the provision
of Dolby Pro Logic, PALplus and twin tuners (for 2-channel PIP), on the dearer
model. They both share the same chassis, with a feature list that includes
100Hz displays, IQ picture and operating systems plus multi-standard capabilities.
KL37W1, 37/88, £3800
KL50W1, 50/120, £5000
This pair of LCD back projectors have 37 and 51-inch
screens. They’re both very compact, with footprint smaller than most 28 to
32-inch CRT TVs. Picture quality is good head-on, though the image deteriorates
from the sides. They have fairly basic sound facilities, but with screens this
big a high performance surround system is a must.
60DXC68U, 24/58, £800
70DXC668U, 28/76, £1000
The hand of Philipe Starcke is clearly evident on this pair
of strikingly angular TVs, a theme that’s followed through to the stand. The
24-incher is a bit too small for serious viewing but the 28-inch model is a
good home cinema starter set, with a very sharp, detailed picture and
81DXC669DLU, 32/76, £1400
Our current favourite widescreen TV, a real value for money
model, benefiting from an outstanding picture, and solid sound, from the
on-board Dolby Pro Logic decoder. It’s a multi standard design, with a very informative
on-screen display and lots of useful gadgets. Recommended.
32W6DB, 32/76, £2000
Toshiba have entered the widescreen market with all guns blazing.
The 32W6 has a 100Hz display, comprehensive digital picture processing, a seven
speaker 55 watt (RMS) Dolby Pro Logic surround sound system and a 500 page
teletext memory. It’s big and it’s brash, with top-notch AV performance.
BOX COPY 1
Top five widescreen videos
Sorry Rob, I don’t know anything about this one, could you
pen 30 words?
An ocean full of action, this movie simply cannot muster the
same kind of menace and suspense on a squitty little 4:3 screen. See it in
widescreen and you’ll think twice about taking a bath...
* The Hunt for Red October
Let’s face it, submarines are 16:9 shaped. You need the full
widescreen treatment to appreciate this kind of action movie, that jumps
between vast set-piece shots and claustrophobic interiors
* Close Encounters of the Third Kind
When the humungous alien mother-ship makes its decent on the
Devil’s Tower you’ll be ducking for cover if you watch this movie on a large
widescreen TV, anything else and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about....
* Blade runner
A masterpiece of a movie, that was never meant to be see in
anything less than its full screen width. The spectacular sets, effects and
Harrison Ford’s best performance to date, fit uncomfortably into the confines
of a 4:3 screen
BOX COPY 2
Top five widescreen Laserdiscs
* Close Encounters of the Third Kind
So many of this movie’s set-piece effects depend on the full
width of the screen. Laserdisc really brings them alive, and without
significant loss of detail, when the picture is blown up to fill a 16:9 screen
* Apocalypse Now
The famous ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene, with the choppers
laying down the napalm, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to
attention and salute when you see it on a widescreen set, with a good surround
Loads of brilliant effects and some spectacular panoramic
shots make full use of the screen area. You can even forget the thin storyline
and wooden acting, just look at the pictures, and feel the sounds.
* Sense And Sensibility
Stunning cinematography and the English countryside -- a
compelling argument for widescreen if ever there was one. This superbly well
engineered laserdisc version manages to capture every minute nuance of Austens
Another one for Rob to fill in...
BOX COPY 3
HE TOP FIVE
* Thomson 81DXC69DLU, £1400
Thirty-two inches of home cinema excellence, and it’ll keep
you on the right side of the bank manager too. It’s well specified, with Dolby
Pro Logic sound and a good selection of display modes. Great value!
* B&O Avant, £3700
Dramatic, bold, brave even; B&O’s Avant is certainly
unique, and it’s the first modular 16:9 TV. It comes with a stereo VCR
built-in, and the option for a plug-in DPL decoder, satellite tuner and
motorised dish controller.
* JVC AV28WX1EK, £1000
Widescreen and surround-sound, without the tears. This
compact receiver delivers a great picture with some amazing sounds, courtesy of
JVCs 3D Phonic audio system, which can be upgraded to full Dolby Pro Logic
* Samsung WS-3220PF, £1500
You get plenty of bangs for your bucks with this
competitively priced 32-inch set. Picture quality is good too, even in
difficult conditions. Well worth considering as a partner for a top-notch
surround sound system
* Sony KL-37HW1, £3800
In spite of having a 37-inch screen this outstanding LCD
back projector actually takes up less floorspace than most ordinary 24-inch
TVs. Brilliant, pin-sharp images, ideal for those with larger rooms, and a few
bob to spare...
BOX COPY 4
A FLAT FUTURE?
Flat widescreen TVs that you can hang on the wall are about
to become a reality! Yes, yes you’ve heard it all before, many times probably,
but this time it looks like happening, though you’re going to need a fairly
substantial wall, and deep pockets...
We’ve got Plasma screens to thank this time. They’re a kind
of hybrid CRT, that uses a gas plasma discharge to excite a faceplate covered
in coloured phosphor dots. Immediately behind the screen there’s a display
matrix, that controls the high energy plasma. Plasma screens have similar
characteristics to conventional CRTs, and unlike LCD panels or back projectors,
do not suffer from shallow viewing angles. The only minus points are that at
this stage of the game are that they’re very, very expensive, and because
they’re made of glass, they’re still quite heavy.
To help reduce the strain most manufacturers are keeping the
screen and display electronics separate from the power supply, tuner and AV interconnections;
this also helps cut down on the number of unsightly cables dangling from the
bottom of the set.
Grundig, Panasonic and Sony are poised to launched PAL
standard widescreen Plasma TVs this year. Prices for these first generation
sets are likely to be in the £3000 to £5000 bracket, but if they catch on that
should come down quite quickly.
BOX COPY 5
Multi-channel surround-sound systems, like the every popular
Dolby Pro Logic, aims to immerse the viewer in a sea of sound and effects. A
basic system has four channels heard through five speakers, placed in front of
and behind (or to the side) of the viewing position.
The three front speakers carry normal right and left stereo,
the one in the middle is used mainly for dialogue. Two speakers at the back are
for the sound effects channel, or a combination of sound from the other
channels, to create a mood or atmosphere. All four channels are contained with
a normal stereo soundtrack, it’s the Dolby Pro Logic decoder’s job to
unscramble them, and feed the outputs to a multi-channel amplifier and on to
Original cinema surround soundtracks are retained by most
recent movies released on tape or laserdisc. Surround sound information also
survives intact when transmitted by terrestrial or satellite broadcasters.
TVs with built-in DPL decoders are very convenient and easy
to set-up, but the speakers supplied are usually fairly small. Most manufacturers
rely on the TV’s own stereo speakers for the right and left channels, resulting
in a fairly confined soundstage, that can lack drama. For best results consider
a separate AV system, with a powered sub-woofer to really bring those
R.Maybury 1997 0901