Curved screen TVs expected to quickly flatten out

Curved TVs are mostly gimmicks that don't provide a better viewing experience, analysts say

LG's 105-in. curved screen UHD-LCD TV on display at CES in January.

LG's 105-in. curved screen UHD-LCD TV on display at CES in January.

Curved screen televisions are nothing more than a gimmick, and one that will quickly die off once users realize anyone watching from the periphery has a sub-par view, industry analysts said this week.

"You see a whole load of pseudo-scientific claims that get made for why curved TVs are a good thing. I think they're designed to bamboozle," said Paul Gray, director of European TV Research for DisplaySearch.

Gray and others see a saturated TV market that's not growing, so manufacturers are scrambling for the next gimmick to spur sales.

Curved LCD displays emerged as a spoiler for new OLED models at the IFA 2013 trade show. With Samsung, LG Electronics and several Chinese brands showing curved screen LCD TV models at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), they are now more commonly seen in the market.

Samsung and LG claim that the curve provides a cinema-like experience.

Indeed, movie theaters, such as IMAX 3D, use curved screens to correct for the distortions caused by images projected to a large size and in wide formats like 23:9 Cinemascope. With a flat screen, light projecting from a lens would have to travel farther to the edges of a screen. But, the curve-screen benefits for a movie theater don't translate to a 65-in. television, Gray said.

What are the benefits?

Dan Schinasi, senior manager of TV Product Planning at Samsung, said curved-TV technology offers users a wider field of view. The design of Samsung's curved TVs creates a "panoramic effect... making the display seem even bigger than it is." The curved design, Schinasi said, also creates a balanced and uniform view.

Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, said in a blog post that there are advantages to a concave TV screen, first and foremost is that it cuts down on reflections from surrounding ambient light.

The slight curvature also reduces visual geometric distortion. When you watch a perfectly flat TV screen, Soneira explained, the corners of the screen are farther away than the center so they appear smaller.

"As a result, the eye doesn't see the screen as a perfect rectangle - it actually sees dual elongated trapezoids, which is keystone geometric distortion," Soneira wrote.

The slight curvature on a TV can reduce the subtle keystone geometric distortion by 50% at a typical 8-foot (2.4 meter) viewing distance, Soneira said. But that only applies to OLED TVs, which have a greater curvature. LCD screens can only have a radius of curvature of up to 16.4 feet, so the corners of the screen are only 1.4 inches forward of the center of the screen -- so it's not a large geometrical effect, he said.

Samsung, which just announced its first ultra-high definition (UHD) LCD curved screen TV, claims that the bend in the screen offers "a dramatically improved field of view that creates a panoramic effect and helps the picture feel bigger."

Along with its new UHD TV, Samsung launched its "The Curve Changes Everything," campaign, which will include a curve-screen TV billboard display in New York and Los Angeles.

As Samsung states in its marketing material, "you get a perfect view from any angle."

On the contrary, Gray and others say curved-screen TVs only offer someone sitting at the center axis of the TV a great picture. Anyone sitting at right or left angles will have a markedly distorted view.

"There is definitely a reduced viewing angle in terms of other people in the room who are not sitting in the sweet spot," Gray said.

"For the average viewing family, flat is a much better solution for all present to see an undistorted view of the screen," said Paul O'Donovan, Gartner's principal analyst for consumer electronics research. "Curved screens are a gimmick, much along the same lines as 3D TVs are."

Gray said bending the monitor actually causes technical problems, such as requiring wider black bands or margins between pixels to avoid color bleed through.

That, Gray argued, reduces the transparency of the LCD panel by about 20%, which means manufacturers then have to use a bigger, more powerful backlight.

"So, these things will consume more power and need more LEDs, a bigger power supply and they'll probably need more heat dissipation, so they will never be quite as cheap as a flat display," Gray said.

LG, Sony and Samsung have all introduced curved-screen TVs to the market over the past year. Last month, Samsung announced its first UHD curved screen TV (the HU9000 series), which has four times the number of pixels of HDTVs.

With the increased resolution of UHD curved screens, it's better for viewers to sit closer to the TV than in previous HD models because even at a close distance, you won't see the pixels that make up the image. But that fact holds true for flat panel TVs as well.

Curved-screen TVs also command a significant price premium. At Best Buy, for example, a 65-in. Samsung UHD TV retails for $3,499, while the curved equivalent retails for $4,299. That's an $800 premium for a bend in the screen.

"Consider this: Samsung's consumer research shows that, when presented the option, Curved TV design is the preferred form factor and raises purchase intent; more than 80% of consumers surveyed said that they would purchase a curved display, even with a $600 premium," said Samsung's Schinasi.

The global TV market reached a peak in 2011, and after two straight years of declines in shipments and revenues, manufacturers are exploring other avenues to revitalize the market, including OLED displays, UHD displays and curved screens, analysts said.

Although widely promoted, OLED TVs still face significant manufacturing problems and at best only 100,000 will ship this year, with annual shipments exceeding a million only in 2016, according to DisplaySearch.

According to the latest DisplaySearch Quarterly TV Design and Features Report, curved TV display shipments will reach nearly 800,000 units this year and are expected to exceed 6 million units by the end of 2017.

"Curved TV is a design differentiator that is expected to reach its peak in LCD TVs in 2016, and growing shipments of OLED TVs are forecast to boost curved TV shipments in 2017," DisplayResearch stated in its report.

60 inches is the new 50 inches

The size of TV screens is also increasing, according to Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

"It's safe to say 60-inch screens are the new 50-inch," Koenig said. "Sixty-five and 75-inch TVs used to be the exception. Now they're the standard."

Shipments of TVs under 40 inches in size are rapidly shrinking, Koenig said, while larger screen sizes of 45 inches to 60 inches are expected to grow from 24% today to 33% in 2017.

For now, LCD TVs will continue to dominate the landscape, as fewer plasma sets are produced. Plasma is expected to fade out by 2017. That same year, OLED screens are expected to gain some limited traction, but by that time, LCD will have leaped from 94% market penetration today to 92% in 2017, Koenig said.

Even with almost four times the resolution of today's 1080p flat screens, only about 500,000 UHD-TVs are expected to sell in the U.S. this year, according to the CEA. Next year, that number is expected to more than double to 1.25 million.

While curved screen TVs are expected to exceed 6 million, they aren't expected to last.

"The novelty of curved screens is expected to wear off with time, leading to shipments peaking and then trailing off," Gray said.

"If you are a lone viewer wanting to sit close to your curved 60-inch TV, then it is going to be an absorbing video experience," O'Donovan added. "But in the average home, the benefits of the curved screen are questionable and the drawbacks tangible."

This article, Curved screen TVs expected to quickly flatten out, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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