The Truth About Curved TVs
Are they really more immersive, or is it all just hype?
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The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the Christmas cheer, the annual bonus, and the excess eggnog you need to finally get over the hump and convince yourself to buy that big new TV for the living room.
We've already given you the info you need to decide whether or not to buy a 4K TV. But if you've decided to splurge on a flashy new set, your next conundrum might be whether or not your new TV should be curved.
A curved TV is just what it sounds like: The screen features a subtle arc, with the sides leaning in towards the viewer—kind of like at an IMAX theater.
But why are manufacturers making curved TVs? I've been viewing and reviewing them for a couple of years now, and the only straight answer I've ever gotten from a manufacturer is "because we can."
If you're looking for a set-in-stone verdict on the merit of curved versus flat TVs, you're going to be disappointed. Like your Uncle Jim's tall tales, there's a nugget of truth to every claim made about curved TVs, but there's plenty of embellishment, too.
Follow along and we'll separate the myths from the facts.
Myth #1: "Curved TVs provide a more immersive viewing experience."
This is actually true... in a way that's entirely impractical for 99% of viewers.
Most curved TVs boast 4K UHD resolution, which means viewers can sit closer than ever before. The higher pixel count helps your eye resolve extra detail, and sitting closer means the TV also occupies a wider field of view.
There's a "dead center" sweet spot where the screen is equidistant from your eyes, because of the curve. Here, your sense of immersion actually does increase, mostly due to the slight diminishment of your peripheral vision.
The downside? Nobody else can see! The extra immersion is really only available to one viewer at a time, meaning the curve does nothing for families, friends, and couch buddies.
Myth #2: "Curved TVs provide better off-angle viewing."
This is another half-truth.
The curve of the screen may provide sweet spots for some viewers who are watching off-center, but the basic construction of curved LED TVs—the panel, glass, transistors, and so on—is exactly the same as a flat LED. That means there are pros and cons.
On the one hand, you get off-angle sweet spots right at the midpoint of the curve on either side. On the other hand, reflections are often compounded by the curve of the screen. It's an almost equal trade of convenience for inconvenience—not enough to recommend or warn people away from curved TVs.
Note that this doesn't apply to OLED TVs. Curved or flat, OLED screens always offer great viewing angles, since the pixels themselves produce their own light.
Myth #3: "Curved TVs provide better/worse overall picture quality."
This one's a bald-faced lie, no matter which way you spin it.
Obviously, a premium curved TV is likely to produce better picture quality than a more affordable flat-panel alternative, but the curve itself neither enhances or diminishes picture quality in any meaningful way.
However, aberrations at the edges or corners of a TV, such as flashlighting or light bleed, can sometimes be exacerbated by the curve of the screen.
Myth #4: "Curved TVs are better at rendering 3D images."
Take note, 3D lovers: This one is actually true, albeit to a very small extent.
TVs trick your brain into thinking it's seeing images in three dimensions by rendering two side-by-side images, and projecting one to each eye.
This so-called "parallax" effect mimics the way we see the real world, so the brain assembles the two images into a single layer with simulated depth.
Curved TVs already provide a boost to actual screen depth, which naturally helps 3D content look more impressive. Again, it's a very minor improvement, but it's a mark in curved TVs' favor.
Myth #5: "Curved TVs always cost more."
This might have been true last year, but it's not anymore.
Most curved TVs sit at the top of their manufacturer's lineups, but the curve isn't usually why they cost so much. For example, Samsung's curved, 65-inch JS9000 is about $500 more expensive than the flat, 65-inch JS8500.
While the two TVs might look identical from their spec sheets, they do have some subtle but important differences: the JS9000 has stronger backlight dimming, a better processor, bigger speakers, and the full "OneConnect" box (versus the OneConnect Mini that ships with the JS8500).
How much are you really paying for the curve? Not much.
Myth #6: "Curved TVs can't be wall-mounted."
This isn't true, either—not anymore. Almost every curved 2015 model can be mounted on the wall, from LG's top-tier curved OLEDs to Samsung's curved SUHD options.
And while some curved TVs require special wall mounts, most are compliant with standard VESA wall mount kits.
The only drawback? Curved TVs look a little less sleek than their flat counterparts when mounted to a wall. The whole point is to make the TV an inconspicuous part of the wall, and the curved corners sticking forward can ruin the illusion.
It all comes down to personal taste.
No matter what slick sales reps or jaded tech journalists try to tell you, curved TVs are only marginally different from traditional flat-panels. At the end of the day, all that matters is whether you like how it looks.
Try to check one out in person before you do any big spending this holiday. Personally, I still prefer the classic flat-panel look, but if those dangerous curves are dropping your jaw, feel free to pull the trigger.
Just make sure you scope out our in-depth reviews first.
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