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Curved TV: Innovation or Gimmick?

by February 11, 2015

You'll see more curved HDTV screens popping up on electronics showroom floors in 2015. These are screens featuring a concave curve generally on higher-end TVs of varying sizes in both 1080P and UHD resolutions.

The biggest curved-screen proponent today is Samsung pitch-man Michael Zoeller, the company’s Sales and Marketing Director, who declared that curved screens are taking the European market by storm. It was at Samsung Forum 2014 that Zoeller provided the oft-quoted endorsement of the design when he said that curved screens offer consumers a heightened immersive experience when he said:

The curve is here to stay, it is the future. Many were skeptical and that’s just a human response to something unusual, but now the heightened immersive experience and improved picture quality has persuaded the public.”

Zoeller’s message is a cut-and-dry testimonial for curved screens “improved picture quality”. A bold statement, but is it true?

Samsung Forum 2014Samsung is pushing the curve hardest with 70% of its premium TV lineup for 2015. And make no mistake, premium is the operative term. Despite declining prices since they were first introduced in 2013, you’ll still pay a considerable extra cost for curved screens.

Samsung’s premium curved-screen lineup for 2015 includes the HU9000 78” screen. It's a 4K UHD Smart LED TV with built-in WiFi and includes four pairs of Active 3D glasses can be found with a street price of about $7,000 US.

Proponents will say that a curved screen's concave shape more closely matches the viewing distances from the middle and the edges of the screen to our eyes. They say the result is distortion-free viewing with less eye strain and a more panoramic experience than conventional flat screens.

However, critics will point out that a screen can only follow the curve of the viewer’s eye when they’re sitting in the viewing sweet spot front-and-center to the TV. To peripheral viewers the eye-to-screen curvature match breaks down.

We expect Sales and Marketing to extoll the virtues of curved screens they're selling. When we're trying to get to the truth it's fair to ask where does this idea of the superiority of curved screens come from?

Anyone who has attended an IMAX theater has experienced a curved screen. But the IMAX experience is limited to fewer viewers per screen-space as the true panoramic experience requires all viewers to sit in its giant screen’s sweet spot near the center. Conventional movie theaters experimented with curved screens back in the 50s and 60s using a technology called Cinerama. The multi-projector Cinerama movie format was too costly to go mainstream but Cinerama theaters still exist today as a retro-novelty.

Neuroscience might be able to explain why some consumers find themselves compelled to marvel at the curved screens on display at the local big-box electronics store. 

An area of study at the University of Toronto called neuroaesthetics is the study of the neurological factors behind what exactly the eye of the beholder finds beautiful. 

LG OLED Curved Screen

Profs at UofT have concluded that curves are more pleasing to the eye than straight lines. We can't blame anyone for finding curves attractive and maybe it's just that simple, curved screens elicit a certain je ne sais quoi, a sort of gadget lust. Hey, even the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is displaying more curves these days.

But is that a good reason to spend extra cash on a curved TV?

Dr. Raymond M. Soneira of DisplayMate, a display calibration company, says the whole curved display vs flat display is really just a subjective matter. Soneira says one of the tangible benefits of a curved display is that it may reduce reflections. 

“This is very important for a display technology that produces excellent dark image content and perfect blacks, because you don’t want that spoiled by ambient light reflected off the screen.” Dr. Raymond M. Soneira

The light-and-reflections argument for curved screens claims they improve contrast by focusing the light coming from the screen at viewers and that, depending on positioning of the screen, can eliminate on-screen reflections.

Samsung presented this at CES 2015 this year to demonstrate the simple physics of how a curved display can improve the immersive quality of your next display. They say it's all about perspective; a flat screen makes images in the center appear larger where images on the edges of the screen are further away and appear smaller. The perspective argument (outlined below by Samsung) says this is corrected with a curved screen.

Samsung Curve Screen Literature: CES 2015

Benefits of Curved Screens by Samsung 

But our inner-skeptic should ask if this is a solution looking for a problem. Have you ever heard anyone watching a big-screen TV say: "Wow, the perspective-context of the periphery of this flat display is out of whack due to its flatness. If only there was a way to correct this problem by bringing the periphery closer to my field-of-view."

While there might be truth to the perspective argument for curved screens, it's not exactly an overwhelming reason to make a curved screen TV your next purchase.

A Practical View of Curved Screen

 CNET writer David Katzmaier came to his own conclusion after months of testing a curved TV in his home. He says that most viewers won’t even notice the curve. It’s true that once you’re sitting down on a couch in your living room with your new display about 6 to 8-feet away from your eyes, the curvature of the screen is not even visible.

There are some drawbacks of curved screen image quality. Some viewers report slight geometric (bow-tie shaped) distortions on images to the edges of the screen as a result of the curve. And although a curved screen can help reduce reflections where the source of reflections are to the edge of the screen the converse is also true. A curved screen will increase the size and intensity of reflections caught by the screen.


curved vs flat HDTVWe really can’t blame TV manufacturers for trying to innovate with display technology; it is their job after all. TV sales reached a peak in the mid 2000s when everyone was upgrading to larger, and ever cheaper HDTVs but that rush has long since subsided. It’s been almost ten years since the boom in HDTV sales and since then we’ve seen everything from 3D to UHD and now curved screens in an effort to get us to buy again.  

We've laid out a few of the facts and personal observations about curved TVs but ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself. As Dr. Soneira points out – whether or not curved TVs bring a heightened immersive experience is subjective. But one thing for sure is if curved screens are going to provide any improvements in picture quality, then they will be minimal if even noticeable. It’s certainly not on par with the improvement associated with upgrading from SDTV to HDTV. Chances are that wow factor you experience bringing home a new curved TV will subside soon after the TV has accumulated its first layer of dust. 

In coming years curved or flat will likely simply become options with little or no impact on cost. Features like passive 3D and UHD capability will eventually be standard features for any new TV and we won’t even think about it.  But until then it’s best to be skeptical when it comes to paying a premium and recognize that early adopters will always pay the price for having the newest toys.

Let us know what you think in our Curved TV Forum Thread and please vote in our poll.


About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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