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Are curved screen UHD TVs a marketing gimmick?

Column Why the TV announcements at CES have 'curved' my enthusiasm
Fri Jan 10 2014, 15:59
Lee Bell column portrait

SO WHAT'S THE DEAL with curved-screen TVs? That's a question on many people's lips after the last week of announcements at CES.

The trade show was held last week in the party city of Las Vegas and the media reported Samsung's and LG's 'accomplishments' in achieving record-breaking size TVs. However, this time around they looked a little different. Some of the TVs had a slight bend to them.

Last year's CES was all about the 4K resolution, with TV hardware vendors Samsung, Sony, LG and Toshiba adding Ultra High Definition (UHD) TVs to their product lines with standard flat panels.

UHD includes both 4K UHDTV, which uses the 2160p signal format with 3840x2160 resolution - four times the pixels of HD 1080p - and 8K UHDTV, which uses the 4320p signal format with 7680x4320 resolution - 16 times the pixels of existing HD 1080p TVs.

That trend was revised this year when Korean technology giants LG and Samsung upped their games and added slight curvatures to these high resolution displays, claiming that the curved screens "wrap around you" and thus "provide a uniquely immersive viewing experience".

When I say "curved" I mean concave, as it wasn't too long ago when we all stared at CRT monitors that had a curve to them, albeit in the opposite convex direction. It seems that we've come full circle. The idea of a concave screen is nothing new, however. Many cinema theatres boast screens that are curved due to the way the picture is projected onto them.

But is public going to get as wrapped up in the hype of curved screen TVs as the media has been in reporting on these gigantic curved displays? Or is this yet another gimmick?

The reality is probably the latter, as these bent TVs offer very little in terms of benefits to the viewer. But before I get into that, let's have a look at what made the headlines during this year's CES announcements.

I won't deny that the specifications of the TVs themselves do sound rather impressive, especially the UHD technology involved, so it's understandable that consumers can get carried away with the hype.

Samsung touts its ridiculously sized display as "the world's most curved" TV screen, giving it almost two times the image quality of standard flat-panel UHD sets when viewed from the side. The flashy bit of kit boasts 11 million pixel 5120x2160 screen resolution with a 21:9 aspect ratio, so that's actually 5K.

Samsung's curved 105in TV is likely to never reach UK shores

The 105in screen is also built with Samsung's "Quadmatic Picture Engine" technology, which the Korean firm said delivers all content at UHD level picture quality no matter the source.

LG unveiled a very similar monster claiming to be the "world's first" 105in curved Ultra HD 4K TV that expands on the 77in model it outed last year.

LG's 105in 4K Ultra HD TV

LG's TV boasts the same resolution as Samsung's with a 5120x2160 resolution, and the firm claimed it offers an "unmatched" viewing experience. The massive television also boasts a 21:9 aspect ratio and a forward-facing 7.2 multi-channel sound system called Ultra Surround.

But are we letting LG and Samsung get us a little carried away here? These ridiculously and quite unrealistically sized TV sets cost a bloody fortune in the five figure bracket and it'll be a long time before they become affordable. Even if they were as cheap as chips, there's actually no great benefit for the average consumer, who would probably go for a screen of around 40in for their living rooms.

Sitting very close to a 100in curved TV screen might give the illusion that it wraps around the viewer, making the experience more immersive, but you'd have to sit at a specific distance from the screen to truly enjoy and take advantage of the curvature. It's just not realistic for the average TV buyer.

So why are Samsung and LG forcing these devices down our throats? Well, I had a similar rant about curved screen smartphones in my last opinion piece and my arguments here are similar. Maybe I have a slight obsession that I like things to be straight? But as with smartphones, this curved TV fad seems to be just yet another attempt by Samsung and LG to "get the better of one another" and be "the first", irrespective of what it is the firms are trying to achieve. Technology companies these days focus too much on doing everything before their competitors.

However, one TV that really caught my eye at CES was Samsung's "bendable" organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen UHD TV. Though I'm still not sold on the idea of a curved screen TV, the technology involved definitely could be a game changer.

Samsung's bendable TV can flex and change between flat and curved, which is achieved by the mere press of a button. From flat to curved takes about six seconds.

Bendable OLED has potential in that it is not only more flexible, but it looks consistently better than 4K LED due to its brighter, superior picture quality. It also uses less power, is easier to produce and offers better viewing angles. I think this could be the future in displays, the idea of "flex" as opposed to a fixed curved, but parhaps more in the personal device market, replacing the fixed glass display and making for expandable, foldable screens in compact gadgets, such as tablets. µ

 

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