If it’s been a while since you’ve shopped for a new television, expect to be blown away by the quality, size and thinness of the latest models.
Best of all, perhaps, you can get a lot of bang for your buck these days. Case in point: you could own a 65-inch brand-name LED-backlit television for as low as $700. For realsies.
Even 4K Ultra HD televisions — which deliver four times the resolution of 1080p HD — are as low as $450 for a 55-inch Polaroid television. And more 4K content is becoming available — mostly from on-demand video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube.
In other words, there’s never been a better time to buy a new TV.
Leading television manufacturers like Samsung and LG have begun selling curved TVs that bend towards the user – just like the screen at your local movie theater. If you believe the marketing hype, these slightly concave screens offer a deeper and more cinematic view of the action.
So, should you invest in one of these new TVs?
We asked a couple of industry experts to weigh in, with a look at the pros and cons of these curved televisions.
They Sure Are Purty
“Curved TVs have an undeniable showroom appeal to them,” acknowledges David Kender, Senior Vice President of Editorial at Reviewed.com, a division of USA TODAY.
“For consumers doing research in brick-and-mortar stores, what do you think is going to stand out: the wall of undifferentiated rectangles or the sexy, curved TVs?,” Kender asks, rhetorically. “As an object, [curved TVs] look great and stand out from the pack.”
But a sleek-looking television doesn’t necessarily mean the picture is superior to flat, says Kender. “What I’ve found others praising is the ‘improved immersion’ of curved — but immersion is not something that can be quantified. It’s entirely subjective.”
Dan Ackerman, Section Editor at CNET, agrees with Kender on a curved TV’s immediate visual appeal. “You'll notice it when you walk into the room and see the set, [and] once you sit down and get absorbed in a show, it can feel natural under the right conditions.”
Location, Location, Location
As for some of those conditions, Ackerman — who says he’s used and tested several curved TVs over the past year or so — says the viewing experience varies depending on where you’re seated in the room.
“One of my colleagues has called it the “a--hole TV,” because if it's your TV and you position yourself right in the center, it can add a nice, subtle immersive quality,” says Ackerman. “But, if you stick your friends off to the side, they even up watching at a weird angle, and miss out on the benefits.” “They may also see some more subtle image distortion,” Ackerman adds.
Those in the “sweet spot” — in the center of the television and back a few feet — often cite a more immersive picture and greater sense of depth. While it might not have been the case with the first-generation of curved TVs, Samsung says it now doesn’t matter where you sit in the room when watching one of these new televisions.
“Both 4K Ultra HD and curved screens can add to your experience if you're viewing the right content, and have the right media room setup,” continues Ackerman.
“The curve on every big curved TV is actually very subtle,” says Ackerman, but it’s curved enough that it won't work with standard [VESA] wall mounts (from $9.55), “so you may be stuck using a table stand.” There are mounts for curved TVs, as well.
Is ‘OLED’ The Way To Go?
“Personally, I'm more interested in what the growing number of OLED TVs are going to do for overall image quality and consumer experience,” says Ackerman.
Now available in both flat-panel and curved models, televisions with OLED panels (“organic light-emitting diodes”) offer much better contrast ratios compared to LED-backlit LCD televisions, as well as more vibrant colors and smooth motion. Pronounced “oh-led,” these OLED TVs are also much thinner – as no backlighting is required – plus they’re more energy efficient than other TV panel types.
Kender agrees with Ackerman on OLED’s appeal. “While both LG and Samsung produce curved panels, each has a different, proprietary technology at work: Samsung is huge producer of small screen OLEDs for smart phones, but LG’s version proved easier to scale up to 55-inch screens, and larger, [and its] performance story has been working for them.”
The critical reviews of OLED TVs are universally positive, adds Kender, “though they remain prohibitively expensive for most consumers,” says Kender.
Samsung, on the other hand, “currently doesn’t have the production capacity to make a lot of large screen OLEDs, so it choose instead to take the LCD panel and curve it,” says Kender. “This was something we’d seen teased at trade shows for a while, but Samsung threw everything it had at curved.”
They are more economical, however.$1,997.99 for a 48-inch curved 4K Ultra HD TV (model #UN48JS9000) an goes all the way up to $9,999.99 for a 78-inch curved 4K Ultra HD TV (model # UN78JS9500).
“Again, whether curved offers a better picture boils down to personal taste,” concludes Kender. “But there is no performance benefit that Reviewed.com can objectively verify at this time.”
Glare Or No Glare?
Where Ackerman and Kender tend to disagree is on whether curved TVs are better on screen glare compared to flat-panel televisions.
Kender, however, argues there is “increased screen reflectivity” on curved TVs.
Siding with Ackerman is Dr. Ray Soniera, President or DisplayMate Technologies Corporation, who writes “the concave screen shape cuts down on reflections from surrounding ambient light two ways: by reducing the screen’s 180 degree opening angle, which eliminates reflections from some ambient lighting on the sides, and also from specular (mirror) reflections off the concave screen, which directs some reflected ambient light from behind the viewers away from their line of sight.”
“This is very important for a display technology that produces excellent dark image content and perfect blacks – because you don’t want that spoiled by ambient light reflected off the screen,” explains Dr. Soniera.
When it comes to buying a new television — curved or otherwise — industry experts suggest you first see what you’re buying with your own eyes at retail or a friend’s house. And ask to show different kinds of content, including fast-moving sports or a scene from an action flick.
OLED-based curved TVs are recommended over LED-backlit LCD models, say the experts we interviewed, but be aware they’re more costly.
It’s ok to buy online once you’ve seen a television in action at retail — though “showrooming” is easier for retailers to accept if you buy it from their online store instead of a competitors — but the bottom line is you need to see a curved TV for yourself to determine if you see the visual advantage over flat televisions.
Video: Samsung reveals price tag for curved TVs, starting at $950
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