Are curved screen TVs any better than flat TVs?

Curved screens can make a striking appearance but don't add much to the viewing experience, Consumer Reports finds

Published: July 14, 2014 11:00 AM

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After years of pushing ever-flatter, thinner TVs, manufacturers are throwing buyers a curve—literally, with curved-screen sets. This year Samsung has curved Ultra HD TVs (the HU9000 series) and curved 1080p sets (H8000 series), and you can still buy the curved 1080p TV (S990A) Sony launched last year. LG and Samsung also offer more expensive OLED TVs with curved screens.

These sets make a striking appearance, but does the curve really add anything to the viewing experience? So far, we've found the answer to be: "Not really."

We've reviewed several curved TVs, including the Samsung UN65HU9000 Ultra HD set, the UN65H8000 1080p model, and the Sony Bravia KDL-65S990A 1080p TV, all 65-inch sets that are included in our updated TV Ratings (available to subscribers). We also tested Samsung's curved 55-inch KN55S9C OLED set in our labs last year. 

One of the claims about curved screens is that they can provide a more immersive viewing experience, making you feel like you're watching a TV with a screen larger than it actually is. When we viewed UHD TVs with very big—100 inches or more—screens, such as the ultra-large sets we saw from LG and Samsung at CES, the curve added a cinematic aspect, like watching a movie in a theater. Proponents of curved screens also say they can improve contrast by focusing the light coming from the screen more directly at viewers, and that the curve helps to improve the viewing angle for those watching the sets from an angle, at least up to a certain point.

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But with the 65-inch and smaller sets we've had in the labs, we haven't seen any noticeable benefits. And there are a few drawbacks. For one, curved screens are more expensive to produce, so you'll pay a decent amount more than you would for a comparably sized flat-screen sibling. And with the LCD-based UHD and 1080p TVs, which use LED backlights, the curved shape actually makes it harder to spread light evenly across the panel, which could affect brightness uniformity. And for those viewing the TV at an angle, the curved screen can introduce some subtle geometric distortion of the image, which can result in eye fatigue as your brain tries to compensate for the effect.

After spending time with a few of these TVs, our take is that curved screens are more an aesthetic statement than a real improvement in the TV-watching experience. If you find the curved shape appealing and don't mind paying a premium for a set that will admittedly stand out from most other models, by all means go for it.

But if your goal is heightening the immersive viewing experience, our advice is to use that extra money to buy an even bigger flat-screen model, and spring for a sound bar or other outboard audio system that can sonically do it justice.

—James K. Willcox

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