Do real TVs have real curves?

Curved TVs were present in big numbers at CES 2014, but are bent screens really set to be the next wave of home entertainment?

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
3 min read

If you buy into the hype, the future of home entertainment will involve screens that gently curve — apparently 'mimicking the shape of the human eye'. But do they really add anything to the viewing experience?

Samsung's 85-inch bending TV. (Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Curved TVs certainly hogged the spotlight at CES, mostly because of Samsung's 110-inch Ultra HD behemoth — and Michael Bay's inability to talk about why he liked it. But LG also had a 110-inch curved screen, the 105UB9. (And both were claiming that their respective models were the world’s first, amusingly.)

And those are just the really big screens — there were plenty of 'smaller' sized curved screens as well. In fact, there's now a range of curved TV available, including Ultra HD, OLED, 1080P and LED LCD models.

Then there are the flexible TVs. Again, LG and Samsung — two companies seemingly deadlocked into a stalemate of innovation — both showed off TVs where you adjust the curvature using the remote control. (In fairness to LG, it may have won this round: its bending TV is both OLED and coming to market, two things Samsung wasn't able to offer.)

After witnessing all this, you could be forgiven for believing that the future of TV was curved, curved, curved. But are we really all going to kicking our flat-screens to the curb soon?

Of the currently available curved TVs that CNET has had in the labs, I said this about the LG 55EA9500:

In all, we found the curve neither added nor detracted from the viewing experience. Aesthetically, we liked it a lot, but in terms of how you actually see the panel, it's almost invisible. You basically forget it's not a flat screen — unless you're seated at the absolute outer edge of the viewing angle.

My colleague David Katzmaier, who looked at the Samsung 55-inch curved OLED, was less sanguine:

For a videophile with money to burn who doesn't mind a relatively small 55-inch size, the curved screen is a major fly in the ointment. It was definitely noticeable from the sweet spot at my seating distance of about 7 feet. The corners seemed wider than the middle, creating a subtle trapezoid effect that I found distracting compared with the flatter shape of the traditional screen.

So, of the two curved TVs you could buy right now the verdict is that the curve either adds nothing truly novel to the viewing experience, or actually actively detracts.

But these are just 55-inch models. What about the new, bigger ones? Well as anyone who's been forced to sit on the edge of an IMAX cinema row knows, there's a sweet spot when it comes to being able to immerse yourself in the image.

At home, even with the larger size screens, the sweet spot is going to be pretty small indeed. Another colleague of mine, Ty Pendlebury, refers to this as the "jerk effect", as in you'd be a real jerk to buy a curved TV as only one family member is going to get the full viewing experience at any given time. And that's assuming that there really is any benefit to curvature on a screen that's not cinema-sized and thus not actually filling your entire field of vision.

All that said, it could be argued that the two 110-inch screens may benefit from the curvature, but I think that would have more to do with their 21:9 aspect ratio (closer to wide-screen cinema than the most usual 16:9 ratio) than their size.

Which leaves the two TVs where you can control the curvature. That certainly removes the jerk effect — flat when the family is en masse, gently hugging your eyeballs when you're solo viewing — but we're back to whether a curve benefits your experience at all and, as we've seen, the jury is well and truly out on that.

(I've seen it argued that you could adjust the curve to help eliminate overt glare on the reflective screen. I'm sure you could, but dimming the lights or buying a curtain accomplishes the same thing for a lot less.)

At the moment, it's hard not to regard curved TVs as a solution in search of a problem — but I'm yet to see the bigger screen TVs, so I'm certainly prepared to be convinced of its efficacy when it comes to 78-inches and over. Which I'm sure will be lovely for anyone who can afford it...