Curved-Screen TVs — What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Should you upgrade to a curved-screen TV?

After decades of bubble-shaped CRTs, followed by both plasma and LED/LCD flat panels, some TVs have a splashy curved look.

What is the reason for this different design? Some manufacturers (most notably LG and Samsung) and retailers will tell you it's to create a more "immersive" TV viewing experience, but the real reason is to simply make some OLED and 4K Ultra HD TVs stand out from those plain ole 1080p TVs to further entice you to buy them.

Yes, curved-screen TVs do look cool. But what are you really getting for your money if you purchase a curved-screen TV? Let's take a step back and discuss the nature of curved TVs in more detail.

As of 2020, curved TVs have become scarce, if you can find one at all. The reasons for that are many, and you'll find many of them detailed below.

Samsung UN55K6250 1080p Curved Screen LED/LCD TV
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The More Immersive Viewing Experience Argument

One of the advantages of curved-screen TVs touted by manufacturers and retailers is that they provide a more immersive viewing experience, sort of like bringing an "IMAX-like" viewing option to the living room.

However, one factor working against this argument is that a curved screen is most effective when only one or two persons are viewing TV (especially with TVs in the 55 and 65-inch screen sizes). For those with families or friends that join in on TV viewing, the side-to-side viewing requirements mean that those side viewers, along with the natural color and contrast fading if viewing an LED/LCD TV (not so much with OLED), will not see the entire edge-to-edge picture displayed on the screen, due to the curved edges.

The "IMAX" curved-screen effect only works well for an audience in a large projection screen home or cinema environment where a screen may be installed that goes from floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall. In this setup the entire audience sits within the curve - so if you want this same experience at home, you need to fork out the bucks for a genuine "Imax" Private Home Theater System (not be confused with the IMAX Enhanced Certification program) – and we mean, really big bucks!

It Looks More Like 3D and You Don't Have to Wear the Glasses Argument

The short answer to this argument is – NOT QUITE!

If you are sitting in the center sweet spot of a large screen curved screen your peripheral vision does get a more natural workout, adding a more "panoramic" realism and depth that you would not get on a flat-panel TV. However, you are not getting a true 3D experience.

If the 3D content is produced well, viewing the images through an active shutter or passive polarized glasses is still the best way to view 3D in terms of perceived depth. Even though 3D TVs were discontinued in 2017, the 3D viewing experience is still available on many video projectors.

Other Problems with Curved-Screen TVs They Won't Tell You

In addition to the above arguments vs the hype, there are other reasons to take a cautious attitude towards curved screen TVs.

Ambient Light Reflections

One big issue with curved-screen TVs is the ambient light reflection. If viewing a curved TV in a room that has windows, lamps, or reflected light off walls, what is noticeable is how that light is reflected off the screen.

Due to the curved screen, reflected light and objects appear shape distorted, which can be very distracting. Also, depending on the outer screen coating, you can see these reflections when the TV is off.

This is not only annoying for consumers (with some getting a case of buyer's remorse), but think of home theater installers and interior decorators getting headaches trying to design and place lighting and objects in the room without causing TV screen reflection problems.

Off-Axis Viewing

Here is another critical problem with curved TVs. Not only is your horizontal viewing angle diminished somewhat as a result of curved edges, but also the vertical.

If you are sitting too low or too high in relation to the center of the screen, you may notice that the image bows somewhat.

All flat LED/LCD TVs have both horizontal and vertical off-axis viewing issues to some extent, but with a curved screen, these effects are exaggerated on both LED/LCD and OLED sets.

Letterbox Distortion

It would be great if all video content would fill our TV screens, but unfortunately, film and video content was and continues to be, produced in a variety of aspect ratios.

What this means for you is that there will be TV programs or movies displayed with black bars either on the sides (pillar boxing) or top and bottom (letterboxing). This is especially noticeable on extra-wide screen movies, such as Ben Hur.

On a flat panel TV, other than being annoying to some, pillar-box bars are vertically straight, and letterbox bars are horizontally straight.

However, on a curved-screen TV, depending on the amount of the screen curvature and viewing position, horizontal letterbox bars may appear distorted to some degree. The bar on the top of the image may appear to bend up slightly at the edges, while the bar at the bottom of the image may appear to bend down slightly at the edges. As a result, objects in the image at curved points may also appear to be distorted up or down. Depending on the degree of distortion, this may result in a poorer viewing experience. If you are a widescreen movie fan, it is intolerable.

It Looks Odd When Mounted on a Wall

A big advantage of LED/LCD and OLED TVs is that they are so thin, you can mount them on a wall –well, not always. The first generation LG and Samsung curved-screen TVs could not be wall-mounted, and although the later models can be, a wall-mounted curved-screen TV looks a little odd as the sides of the TV poke out from the wall.

The idea of wall mounting is to make the TV flush with the wall. If you are considering a curved-screen TV and desire to wall mount it, see how it looks wall-mounted at a local dealer to make sure it fits into your room aesthetics.

Curved-Screen TVs Don't Offer Anything More Than That

Other than the curved screen and a higher price, these TVs don't offer anything more than an equivalent size or class of a flat panel TV. This means that things such as resolution, smart features, HDR, connectivity, and picture quality on the closest priced and screen size equivalent curved and flat-panel models from the same brand are most likely going to be the same.

The Final Verdict

Is a curved-screen TV right for you? If you are considering one, make sure you give it a thorough look – from the center to the sides, above the center axis, and below the center axis. Also, view some letterboxed content. If you plan to hang it on a wall measure how much the left and right sides will stick out.

If you can't make up your mind or if you like curved and the rest of the family likes flat, you would think that a "bendable" or "flexible" screen TV would be great. However, although such TVs have been demonstrated, none have actually appeared on store shelves.

Before you dig into your wallet to purchase a curved-screen TV, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I buying this TV?
  • Where am I going to put this TV?
  • How many people will be watching the TV at any given time?
  • Except for the curve, does the TV have all the features you want on your TV (LED/LCD, OLED, 1080p or Ultra HD, Smart Features, etc..)?
  • How does the picture look to you?
  • Is the curved screen really worth the extra price?

Additional Perspectives On Curved Screen TVs

If you are curious as to what others in the TV tech community think about Curved Screen TVs, check out:

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