Curved TV is a curious trend that has become more and more prevalent in the television market since 2013. Initially, it was the revolutionary OLED TVs which sported a curvature, as two competing manufacturers – South Korean consumer electronics giants Samsung and LG Electronics – sought to differentiate the next-gen display technology from the ubiquitous LED LCDs. However, since halting its consumer OLED TV production in 2014, Samsung has really ran with the curved TV idea by not only introducing bendy LED LCD televisions, but also anointing curved UHD (ultra high-definition) displays as the company’s flagship models.
Thanks to some strong and clever marketing, Samsung claims that more than 50% of the 4K Ultra HD TVs it sells these days are made up of curved variants. Of course, the Korean brand’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by other TV brands: at IFA 2014, Sony unveiled its first-ever market-ready curved LED TV in the shape of the Bravia S90 series; and Panasonic followed suit with the launch of its Viera CR850/ CR852 range at its annual European Convention in 2015. At the time of publication, LG remains the sole producer of large-screen OLED panels, the vast majority of which is curved.
But by far the strongest proponent of curved TVs is undoubtedly still Samsung who has in various promotional material suggested the ensuing benefits of greater immersion, wider field of view, reduced reflection and improved clarity. Based on our experience though, these advantages only manifest themselves on really big televisions exceeding 75 inches in screen size. Most of the time, the curvature merely represents a novelty feature – some may even call it a gimmick – that doesn’t add much to the viewing experience.
Many detractors cite geometrical distortion (for example, line markings on the football pitch looking wonky) as one of the major disadvantages of curved tellies, but that’s hardly true. As long as you keep an open mind and are not hell-bent against curved displays, your brain will find a way to adjust, and soon you won’t even notice the distortions anymore. Whenever we take a curved TV in for review, we’ve never needed more than a few hours to get used to the curvature (usually it’s within minutes).
The same applies to concerns over whether a curved television looks any good mounted on the wall, what with its sides jutting out more than the centre unless you stay in a lighthouse whose curvity matches up perfectly to that on the concave display. We think this is a non-issue: we’ve seen a number of wall-mounted curved TVs when calibrating for clients, and never once did we think that it came across wrong, or that a flat panel would appear significantly better.
That said, compared to a corresponding flat-screen version, a curved LED LCD TV generally do suffer from a slight drop in picture quality in several areas. Let’s address them one by one.
We’ve discovered that curved LCD-based TVs typically exhibit marginally shallower native black level than their flat equivalents, possibly as a result of panel bending. For example, the native black level on Samsung’s 2014 flagship UE55HU8500 curved UHD TV measured 0.069 cd/m2 once we pegged peak white to 120 cd/m2, whereas blacks on the non-curved (albeit step-down) UE55HU7500 came in a tad deeper at 0.057 cd/m2.
The same trend held true on 2014′s 1080p models. Black level on a Samsung H8000 curved telly measured 0.06 cd/m2, whilst a non-curved H7000 yielded a lower black level measurement of 0.04 cd/m2. Whether this phenomenon will continue in 2015 remains to be seen, since we haven’t tested a single flat-panel television this year yet.
Based on the review samples that have passed through our test room, screen/ backlight uniformity issues were usually more prevalent on curved LED LCDs than on their flat counterpart, presumably caused by the stress – we saw more clouding, corner bleed, vertical bands and other inconsistencies on curvy sets compared with non-curved models.
LG’s curved OLEDs are not spared from uniformity issues, with most models so far exhibiting colour tinting and near-black vignetting.
Some TV makers (ok, Samsung) claim that a curved design can reduced the amount of reflections on screen. Whilst true to a certain extent in that the reflections are typically more muted, unfortunately they are also diffused across a larger area of the screen in a curve-distorted manner, making them much more noticeable.
The farther you sit off-angle from the centre, the more exaggerated the geometrical distortion you’ll experience. Either a coincidence or because of the underlying LCD panel used, some of the TVs featuring the narrowest vertical and horizontal viewing angles in terms of contrast/ colour drop-off we’ve encountered also happened to be curved, such as Sony’s S9005 and Samsung’s SUHD models.
As minute as it may seem, the actual screen size of a curved TV as seen directly from the front is always going to be marginally smaller than the advertised size, since the panel curls inwards towards you however slightly.
Of course, some of these shortcomings only apply to LED LCD, and not OLED displays which thus far exhibit the same true blacks, wide viewing angles and (regrettably) near-black uniformity issues irrespective of whether they’re curved or flat.
Is The Curve Here To Stay?
Even though many video enthusiasts think they’re a fad or are going to flop, curved TVs seem destined to be here to stay for the time being. Despite its pros and cons, there’s at least one overwhelming reason to buy a curved TV, and it has nothing to do with the form factor at all. Manufacturers who are keen to push curved televisions have deliberately put the best picture-enhancing technologies on such sets, so if you want to best image quality a company has to offer, you’re forced to forsake normal and go curved.
For instance, in the UK and Europe, Samsung’s 2015 SUHD TVs (the JS9500, JS9000 and JS8500) which boast quantum-dot colours and HDR (high dynamic range) support are only available in the curved format. Similarly, all of LG’s current top-end 4K OLED TVs (55EG960V/ 65EG960V and 65EC970V) are of the bendy variety, although the Korean firm has hinted at releasing flat versions at IFA 2015 in September.