Curved TV vs. Flat Screen TV: To Curve or Not to Curve Debate – Samsung, LG, Sony 4k TVs
As the 4K ultra HD TV market grows, new standards and new design trends are starting to take firm root. One of these, at least so far, has been a tendency towards TVs with a gentle concave curvature to their screens. The big questions, which have also spawned some debate among consumers, tech watchers like us at 4k.com and manufacturers as well are whether curved TV designs are superior to their flat screen counterparts, if they’re worth buying and in case they’re worse or better, than by how much and in which ways?
Well, for those of you who have also been wondering about these issues, you need not look any further. We’re about to cover all of the essential arguments, issues, factors and technical aspects of curved TVs and their flat cousins to see which of the two types really is the better option and in which ways.
We’ll weigh the pros, cons and other assorted but important details for you so that you can come out of this guide knowing without much doubt what the deal is, all fluff and sales shtick aside.
Let’s get started.
Aesthetics & Wall Hanging
The first and most basic question to consider when it comes to buying either a curved 4K TV or a flat model is one of aesthetics, ie: which do you think looks nicer. While how something physically looks isn’t always exactly the best measure of whether you should buy it (functionality is always more important we think), when it comes to products in which the difference in quality between one look and another is debatable to some extent, looks have a fair place in your assessment.
With that said, we personally believe that curved TVs do look wonderful. Maybe they’ll be considered strange fads in a few years if most home TV designs go back to their tried and true flat look but at least right now, some of the most elegant looking 4K UHD models on the market are indeed curved. Take for example LG’s OLED 4K TVs, the original 2014 models and almost all of the new 2016 models of these beautiful curved TVs, such as the highly acclaimed LG G6 are wonderfully thin and it’s hard to argue against how elegantly sleek they look.
To summarize this, while we can’t objectively argue whether curved or flat looks lovelier in the home from an aesthetic point of view, two very crucial points should be kept in mind:
First, that curvature usually means a slightly bulkier 4K TV screen overall, due to a slightly thicker screen profile. This usually won’t be a problem but it can cause some issues for those who want a truly unobtrusive television profile in their home.
Second, that hanging curved 4K TVs on a wall is downright awkward. Flat screen 4K UHD TVs are far more amenable to be hanged along any vertical space, almost as if they were paintings or large photo frames and when not in use, they do little to draw attention. This doesn’t apply to curved models. Many of the older 2014 curved TVs lack even the VESA setup for being mounted to a wall and while newer model do now have wall-mounting capacity, they simply look strange when hanged up, and stick out quite a bit.
Is the “Immersiveness” real? (Why size does matter)
This is perhaps the single most contentious and debatable argument being used in favor of curved 4K televisions today, mainly because immersiveness is the supposed characteristic of these TVs which has been most used to justify their design and ultimately their price as well.
The basic argument states that due to their gently inward curving screen, 4K models with this design offer a greater level of immersiveness to the viewers sitting in front of them by slightly expanding the perceptible quantity of screen space for their diagonal size. Combined with their beautiful 4K UHD resolution and high contrast, this is supposed to create the effect of greater depth and immersion in general.
Unfortunately, while this is ever so slightly true in the very basic sense that, for example, a 60 inch curved TV offers slightly more actual screen space (if flattened out) than an already flat 60 inch TV, the difference is very slight. We’re talking here about maybe .8 to 1 inch of extra display real estate.
As a result of this small additional space, the field of view for a curved 4K UHD TV vs. a flat screen TV is also only slightly smaller. Field of view is the viewing degree for a person seated an average distance of about 8 feet from the screen. In a curved 60 inch TV, the FOV is only a fraction of a degree larger than that of a flat screen 60 inch TV at the same distance. We’re talking here about 29 degrees vs. 29.48 degrees, in other words, something you’d barely notice given the extra price tag that a curved model sells for (more on that shortly).
In overall practical terms, the immersiveness which has been so heavily vaunted about curved TVs is really not at all notable at the sorts of screen sizes most normal home televisions come in. It’s that simple. Yes, commercial theaters have been using curved screen spaces for years to create greater depth and immersion for their audiences but these are after all screens with sizes in the dozens of feet. For any 4K TV in the average 40 to 65 inch range, that same slight curvature does basically nothing and a curved 55, 60 inch or 65 inch TV screen looks no more immersive than its flat counterpart if the two are compared side by side at any normal viewing distance.
Even for larger 70 to 85 inch 4K UHD TVs like LG’s 77 inch EG9900, a curved screen creates a very small degree of immersion that doesn’t at all compare to what you might be hoping for.
In very essential terms, curve only creates perceptible immersiveness at sizes which go way beyond the bounds of normal home theater 4K TVs.
Now, while curve doesn’t measurably create greater immersion as we’ve seen above, it can ruin viewing angles in certain ways. Unlike a curved commercial theater screen, in which the entire audience easily fits inside the ideal viewing angles of the screen’s gigantic curve, the normal household 4K TV with curvature in the 55 to 70 inch range effectively reduces the ideal viewing area in front of it to just 35 degrees off from center to either side.
In other words, the actual ideal viewing space and angles of a curved TV can be smaller than what they would be for a flat TV! Anybody who isn’t lucky enough to be sitting within less than 35 degrees to either side of the front of the screen will actually end up being stuck with observing slight foreshortening of the on-screen image. This can be downright annoying and cause eye strain as the brain tries to compensate for the distortion.
On the other hand, the bigger the curved 4K UHD TV, the larger its ideal viewing area and in this category, the size of larger 4K TVs does matter, with a 70 inch 4K UHD TV being the minimum you’d need to avoid the potential eye strain caused by watching the TV even just a little bit from off-center. Again though, even a 70 to 85 inch TV with curvature won’t create anything remotely resembling the immersiveness that some claim for these televisions.
We should note that at slight off-center viewing angles, curved 4K TVs can indeed create a slightly better dimensionality effect in the picture they’re displaying but this is offset by the problems we have described above. Furthermore, the one type of curved 4K TV in which curve least affects off-angle viewing would be LG’s OLED models. In these TVs, off-angle viewing doesn’t lead to the sort of color washout and contrast reduction found in LCD TVs. This is thanks to the nature of their OLED display technology and it might be why curvature on OLED 4K TVs tends to look somewhat nicer than it does on LCD TVs. However even in these models, the curve doesn’t add any real benefit, and it’s the OLED display which creates the real added value in their display.
Distortion and Reflection
Reflection in either a curved or flat screen TV will be much more of an effect created by the level of gloss in the screen instead of its curvature. Glossier screens will normally reflect quite a bit in brightly lit spaces while more matte TV screens wont. Furthermore, 4K TVs with particularly good brightness, contrast and color vibrancy won’t be affected by reflection as much as models in which these display technologies are duller, regardless of whether they’re flat or curved. A very good example of this is the picture quality on the flat screened but absolutely superb Sony X940C and X930C 4K TVs. That said, for whatever reflection there is in a curved TV, it will be more stretched out than it would be in a flat screen TV due to distortion from the curve. In other words, it will take up more of the display space and block out slightly more of your view.
The best solutions for reflection in either flat or curved TVs lies in positioning them as ideally as possible so there aren’t any bright sources of light opposite the screen and to generally try watching your TV under darker lighting conditions if possible, whether the model in question is curved or not.
As for distortions other than those produced with light reflection, there are viewers who report a sort of “bow-tie” effect when watching certain types of content on a curved screen. In other words, the top vertical bar of something like letterboxed content can look like it’s stretching upwards along the edges of the TV, though this effect depends largely on viewing angle. Viewing a curved 4K UHD TV from dead ahead normally doesn’t produce any notable distortion.
Pros and Cons
To simplify your process of selecting a curved or flat 4K TV as much as possible, we’re going to use this section to give you an overall bullet-point breakdown of pros and cons, so you can quickly weigh in favor of one or the other display design:
- Slight (very slight) improvement in immersion: You won’t get anything like theater quality immersion with a curved 4K TV but that extra fraction of a degree and extra inch of screen real estate we described above do technically add to the overall viewing experience
- Depth is enhanced: On this front we definitely have to give curved 4K TVs their due. The depth created by the curve and particularly in larger 65 inch+ models with additional picture quality technologies like OLED can indeed create something closer than normal to a 3D viewing experience. Some brands like Samsung, which makes most of the market’s curved 4K TVs, even add depth enhancement technology to augment this 3D effect further by playing with contrast levels across the screen.
- Wider field of view: As we’d already mentioned, yes, the field of view is wider. The extra dimension is very slight but it is indeed there.
- Superior contrast: Since most of the best 4K UHD TVs like LG’s OLED models and the top shelf Samsung SUHD TVs come with curvature, the correlation is that curved TVs come with excellent contrast, but this isn’t because of the curve, it’s because of the other technologies most curved models also have in them.
- They simply look cool: This is the point in favor of curved TVs which we definitely won’t argue against. They may have their flaws and be obtrusive if hung from a wall (for those which can be mounted up at all) but these TVs undoubtedly do look cool. They’re striking, they’re elegant and they’re sleek as hell.
The cons against curved TVs unfortunately outweigh their pros.
- Reflections are exaggerated: The curve on these TVs definitely creates a sort of funhouse mirror effect when it comes to reflections on the screen. This means that light shining off the display covers even more of your content.
- Viewing angle limitations: The curve narrows the quality viewing angle of these TVs considerably, particularly for smaller models which are less than 65 inches
- Ideal picture quality only comes from dead center: Viewing any 4K TV at off-center angles starts to spoil picture quality but with curved TVs, this is a far sharper rule, with the “sweet spot” for viewing being narrower.
- Terrible for hanging: Unlike an unobtrusive flat screen 4K TV, even mountable curved models look awkward when hanging from your living room wall.
- Size matters too much: To get any of the marginal benefit that curved TVs offer, you need to really invest in maximum size. Considering that these models are already pricier than their flat counterparts, going for a 75 inch model is not going to hit your pocketbook lightly.
- They’re all expensive: We have yet to see a curved 4K TV that didn’t cost a hefty bit more than an equally sized flat screen model with the same specs. The manufacturers are selling their curvature dearly and it’s annoying because they know it’s mostly a gimmick.
Cost/Benefit and our Final Word
As should be obvious right now, we’re not absolute fans of curvature in 4K UHD TVs. For the most part the technology creates more problems than benefits and what few positives it imparts to a 4K TV are offset by the defects and weaknesses of curvature. Furthermore, curved models, even if they have the exact same visual and connectivity specs as their flat counterparts, are often more expensive. Given the dubious value of the curve in these TVs, we don’t think this added price is justified at all.
On the other hand, because some of the best manufacturers of 4K ultra HD TVs are in love with curved screens for now, anyone who is a fan of LG, Panasonic or Samsung and wants one of their flagship 4K TV models, pretty much has no choice but to go for a curved TV.
This is also what partly create the impression of quality in many viewers eyes when it comes to curved design. They are looking at the curve on what are otherwise some of the best TVs on the market and as a result, a lot of consumers probably connect curve with picture quality, even though it’s the other specs in a TV like Samsung’s SUHD JS9500 or LG’s EG9600 which are really delivering these models’ superb picture quality.
With all this said, our Final Word is that curved TV design does very little for most 4K UHD TVs and if it improves viewing at all, it only does so in small ways and with very large screens. If you like the look of a curved TV, go ahead but don’t expect amazing results from the curve alone.