The sense of ‘depth’ is enhanced One of the most common reactions from people watching a curved screen for the first time is that it looks like 3D, even when the source is only 2D. This is because curving the edges of the image towards the viewer enhances the visual perception of depth in what you’re watching.
Draw lines from your head position to the edges of, say, a 65-inch flat TV and then draw lines from your head position past the edges of a 65-inch curved TV to the same plane you’d have been watching the flat screen in, and the curved screen’s image appears to stretch further across the wall than the flat TV image, despite the screen sizes involved being ostensibly the same. However, it is certainly true that most of the curved screens we’ve seen to date have truly excelled in the contrast department.
Uniform viewing distance The argument goes that curved TVs track the rounded shape of our eyes better, and thus deliver a more focussed, comfortable image than flat screens. This argument is born out to some extent by the use of curved screens in commercial cinemas, where the curve helps the projected image retain even sharpness right into the corners of their vast screen sizes.
Samsung has taken this argument so seriously that it’s set its curvature level at that of a 4200 mm-radius circle, appropriate to the current average TV viewing distance of 3.2 m (based on studies conducted in America and Germany). However, we haven’t really seen much impact from this benefit on the relatively small curved TV screens we’ve had so far.
You get a wider effective viewing angle This doesn’t make much sense on paper. Logic dictates that curving the edges of the image forward should reduce viewing angle support, not increase it.
So if you buy a curved TV, you’ll probably find you need to introduce some extra light control elements to your viewing room. The thing is, while the curve prevents flat LCD’s usual reduction in contrast and color performance with off-axis viewing, inevitably the curved shape can negatively affect your image’s geometry when viewing from down the TV’s side.
Surprisingly this problem doesn’t really become uncomfortable to watch until you get to around 35 degrees either side of directly opposite the screen (an angle Samsung itself agrees with us on). Your brain tries to compensate for the distorted geometry it’s witnessing too, which means off-axis viewing can be fatiguing.
With the 65-inch models it’s easier to appreciate the picture benefits while feeling less aggrieved by the negatives (except for the reflections one). This might sound a bit dull, but neutrality is actually quite a step forward from the hostility we’d been feeling towards curved screens prior to us actually getting to live with a few.
John Archer has written about, and been immersed in the world of, home entertainment technology for over 20 years. The main claim was that a curved screen is a more natural shape to take advantage of our round eyes’ peripheral vision, which should mean curved TVs allow for a more immersive experience, as the curve should make them fill more of our field of view.
It is claimed that curved TVs afford a more generous viewing angle, and make it easier to see more of an image from off to the side. When sitting very close, the flat TV will have its sides darken a little from the narrow viewing angle.
Curved TVs won't have this issue, but it is pretty minor since it's a rare use case. Here are the two TVs from a 20-degree angle, which is around the point at which they begin to lose color accuracy.
As a whole, it manages to look similar here, so there's indeed a minor argument to be made in favor of the curve. At very wide angles, like 45 degrees, you can see a bit of added dimension on the right side of a curved screen.
While flat and curved TVs react differently to the angle they're viewed at, there is no clear advantage to either format. Both curved and flat TVs see their picture quality deteriorate when viewed from an angle.
The only real difference between the two is if they are viewed from very close, where the sides of the flat TV will darken compared to the center. When curved TVs were first being released, one of the arguments made in their favor was that the curve increased the amount of perceptible screen real estate.
Apart from the curved screen, the two share a similar design, and pretty much identical picture quality. The larger the FOR (field of view), the more the screen fills your vision.
Combined with the difference in shape, this can make mounting a TV to a wall a bit trickier. Comparing the two images above, you can see that the curve of the Samsung MU8500 makes the reflections “stretch” across more of the screen.
Samsung's models are often arbitrarily priced higher too, anywhere from a $100 to $1000 premium over the flat variant that performs exactly the same, making them a bad choice for most people. While there is a bit of a difference to the picture you get with curved TVs compared to flat TVs, it’s not a big one, and it’s only really noticeable at extreme angles or if viewed from up close.
If you like the aesthetics of a curved TV and don’t mind paying for the look, you should go ahead and get one. After spending a couple of years ignominiously tucked away in the ‘concept corners’ of various technology shows, curved TVs suddenly exploded onto the mainstream scene in January when Samsung and LG revealed that their new TV ranges would contain a number of curved -screen ranges.
The rounded nature of your eyeballs gives you peripheral vision too, so that you’re aware of the world extending around you to your sides. By curving the edges of their pictures toward you, curved TVs try to replicate this sense of a world to the side of as well as in front of you, making you feel more immersed in what you’re watching.
With this in mind, though, I’d say this sharpness point only applies to very large TVs of 70 inches and more. The first thing many people say when they first try out a curved TV is that the picture feels 3D.
So important is this depth attribute that Samsung uses processing on its curved TVs to make images marry up more effectively with the curved nature of the screen. Although I haven’t yet seen a wide enough variety of curved TVs to feel confident about confirming this point, the argument goes that since curved screens focus their light towards your seating position rather than scattering it around a wider area like flat TVs do, they can deliver almost twice as much perceived contrast.
Especially as viewing angle issues also appear in the Cons section of this article! As anyone who’s hard to watch a normal LCD TV from the down the sides will know, colors lose saturation and contrast reduces massively when you’re not sat directly opposite the screen.
Sit at a really wide angle, and you could even lose the near side of the picture altogether as the screen’s edge curls round in front of the image. To be fair, the size of the ideal viewing space for a curved TV is directly proportional to the screen size you’ve got, so it’s less of a problem with a very large screen.
The potential ideal viewing area is also expanded by using a gentler degree of curvature, like that used on Sony’s new curved TVs. But with most of the curved TVs out there now, trying to fit a whole family into the viewing sweet spot may not always be practical.
For me this is the single biggest problem with the current crop of curved TVs. Instead, the curve distorts the reflection across a much larger section of the screen, making it much more likely to disrupt your viewing.
With this in mind, you should be very careful with where you position a curved TV in your room, and try and use it in as dark a situation as possible when you want to get really engrossed in something. This cost difference may reduce and even disappear eventually as production economies of scale kick in, but for now the price difference could be a reason to stay flat with your next TV unless you’re strongly persuaded by the curve pros.
While curved TVs are attractive when mounted on desktop or floor stands, they don’t make comfortable wall flowers. The way their edges curve away from the flat wall behind looks plain peculiar to me, and ironically reminds you of one of the key reasons flat-panel TVs were invented in the first place.
Everything I’ve seen so far convinces me that the effectiveness of curved screens is directly proportional to the size of your TV. When it comes to buying a new TV, it's not easy keeping track of the sometimes confusing terminology.
Editors Note: This article also appeared in the September 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions.
When people ask me why Samsung made a curved TV in the first place, I tell them it's probably because the company wants to eke profit out of a tough market, where even 4K resolution sets are dropping in price rapidly (and just wait till Vizio's P series comes out this fall). Any company can make a 4K TV, but only Samsung, for now and with one exception, is offering curved LED LCD's.
LG and Samsung also sell curved OLED TVs, one of which I also tested, but their pricing keeps them as niche products for now. The curve can be obvious in person and especially in images and video shot from the sides and above, but when you're watching it from the couch, it basically disappears.
Even in my dark AV lab, from a 6.5 feet seating distance and next to an array of flat sets in a variety of side-by-side comparisons, I rarely noticed it -- for better or for worse. In no case did I notice the increase in “immersion” supposedly brought on by the curve.
It's most noticeable on letterbox bars and other content with horizontal lines that stretch across the screen, but again, it's not that obvious from the standard position/distance. On the other hand, it can actually increase the apparent size of reflected objects it does catch, for example a bright shirt worn by a viewer, stretching them into a fun-house mirror shape my young daughters appreciated more than I did.