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Curved TVs: Gobsmackingly great or goldbrick gimmick?

Michael Ansaldo | March 9, 2015
From CRTs to OLEDs, TV manufacturers have continuously redefined our most beloved appliance, and now they're literally throwing us another curve: Curved screens that promise to deliver an immersive IMAX-like experience in the living room. Backed by a healthy dose of hype and a smattering of scientific evidence, these sleek sets carry huge price tags--in some cases 30- to 40 percent more than comparably sized flat-screen TVs. Let's take a deeper look at what they offer.

From CRTs to OLEDs, TV manufacturers have continuously redefined our most beloved appliance, and now they're literally throwing us another curve: Curved screens that promise to deliver an immersive IMAX-like experience in the living room. Backed by a healthy dose of hype and a smattering of scientific evidence, these sleek sets carry huge price tags — in some cases 30- to 40 percent more than comparably sized flat-screen TVs. Let's take a deeper look at what they offer.

The eyes have it

If you believe LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony, curved TVs aren't just pleasing to the eye, they are what the eye craves. The crux of the "more immersive" argument has to do with the shape and structure of the human eyeball.

Though TVs have evolved to employ a flat screen, your eye is round. That means your field of vision isn't limited to what is directly in front of you but also takes in the action happening at your sides. Curved TVs purport to replicate this real-world experience by wrapping the image around you and making you feel more enveloped by what's on the screen.

They eye's anatomy also plays a part. Our retinas contain two types of photoreceptors called cones and rods. In simplest terms, cones are responsible for our color sensitivity and are concentrated at the center of the retina; rods, both more sensitive and numerous, perceive motion and are denser on the periphery. A curved screen's wider field of view is said to better stimulate the rods in our eyes, "activating our senses to perceive amazing panoramas rivaled only by the natural vistas of our great outdoors," according to Samsung.

The upshot of this biology lesson is you will perceive greater depth (because the image exists on multiple planes), richer contrast, (because the curve focuses the light toward the viewer rather than dispersing it over a wide area), and sharper images at the edges of the screen (because the curve tracks the shape of your eye).

Absolutely none of this is revolutionary. Many movie theaters have been using curved screens for years for all the same reasons. But as you'll see, that doesn't necessarily mean a similarly designed TV will deliver a more cinematic experience in your living room.

Size matters

Curved screens work in commercial theater environments, where the screen can run wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, because the entire audience sits within the curve. Everyone is "immersed."

In a typical living room environment, with a smaller-but-more-affordable 55- or 65-inch curved TV, the immersive area is effectively reduced to a sweet spot directly opposite the center of the screen and at a slightly shorter viewing distance than for a comparable flat screen. In the typical home, that spot can only accommodate just one or two viewers.

 

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