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CES 2014 Impressions: Curved and Bendable Televisions

By Norman Chan

We struggled to find a clear explanation about the benefits of curved HDTVs.

There were two dominant trends in televisions at this year's CES. First was 4K--every TV manufacturer had an Ultra HD TV at the show, alongside some 5K televisions (21:9 aspect ratio) and 8K prototypes. We get the push for 4K, but whether or not it'll make sense for consumers to upgrade is still up in the air. The other big trend was curved televisions. Both Samsung and LG had fleets of curved TVs at their booths, utilizing various panel technologies and at a range of resolutions. What they didn't have were definite answers to the question of why a curved screen is inherently better than a flat one; Samsung's many product managers would only stick to the line that a curved screen provides "the ultimate immersive experience." Of five product reps manning the display section of Samsung's booth, all but one stuck to that singular non-explanation.

One rep was able to be a little more specific, but not by much. He talked about how a curved TV mimics the curvature of a cinema's screen, and how a curved display gives better off-angle viewing clarity than a flat screen. There's an illusion that the screen is bigger than it actually is, I was told. But when I asked how the actual curvature of a screen is determined in the design and manufacturing process, I just got shrugs.

Samsung's reps couldn't explain exactly how curved their screens were, or whether larger models followed the same curvature as smaller ones. The one detail curvature specification the booth provided was a radius number--13.7 ft for a 65-inch model. A rep clumsily explained that you have to envision a full circle with a radius of 13 feet, and that the television represented a slice of that circle. I asked if that meant that the ideal sitting distance from that screen was 13 feet so you would be in the "center" of that circle, but was told that it was actually half that distance around 6 feet. For Samsung's bendable television prototype (it goes from flat to curved and vice versa, but no one could say why you would want to watch a flat image if curved was inherently better), the rep listed a radius spec as around 4000 millimeters. Huh.

At LG's booth, I found a rep that was slightly more helpful. His explanation was that the curvature of their screens matches the curvature of the eyeball, so the image encompasses more of your field-of-view when sitting at the right distance from it--which for an 77-inch model was pegged at 6 feet. That made a little more sense, and this rep was also able to confirm that these panels are cut from essentially the same stock as flat displays, just put behind curved glass in the later stages of the manufacturing process. The curving of the screen also doesn't bring the pixels closer together, so it's not about increasing fill factor.

After staring at curved televisions for about 15 minutes--Samsung had a setup placing a curved screen next to a similar flat one--I wasn't able to discern the tangible benefits of the shape. One setup used software to dynamically enhance contrast in different parts of a scene to give an illusion of depth, but it just looked like a really saturated image. The advantages of curved screens lie in illusions of perception, but the real trick may be getting people to care (and pay) for a feature that may not matter much at all.

Additional photos of the curved televisions I saw this week below.