April 12, 2016

Home Theater Displays: Curved or Flat, Which TV is best?

There is a great deal of debate today about curved or flat TV’s.  Whether we are dealing with a home theater installation, or a media room installation, the issue of curved or flat is increasingly common.  Which is really best?  Is one truly better?  In this short article, we will think together about what the real differences are, and then attempt to draw some reasonable conclusions at the end of our process

So the question to ask is why do some people say that one screen type is better than another?  Are there inherent benefits of a curved screen as opposed to a flat screen?  What follows are some points that help us evaluate these real or supposed differences.

Immersion:  One of the most critical aspects of any home theater installation is immersion.  The idea here is that because the screen curves toward you, you are more immersed into the action on screen.  This can be true in a limited sense, but only in a limited sense, and under one specific condition.  You must sit closely enough to the TV screen in order to experience this benefit.  Our living rooms and family rooms typically are multi-purpose rooms where much more than TV watching happens.  Thus, we design these rooms accordingly.  This means the distance from the TV to the closest watching location is much too great to realize this kind of immersion.  In order to experience this kind of immersion, we need to be no more than the width of the TV screen away from the TV.  Thus for a 55” (diagonal) TV, you should sit no more than 50” from the TV.  This is not practical for the design of most of living rooms/family rooms in American homes.  For further comments in this area, see the Angle of view/Field of View/Sweet Spot below.

flatscreen tvAngle of View/Field of View:  The reason that immersion is important is because of what thx calls the “willing suspension of disbelief.”  The object is to create an audio and video environment that helps us forget that we are on a couch in our media room.  The intention is for us to feel as if we are in the middle of the action on screen.  Simply put the closer we are to the screen, the great the angle of view.  The greater the angle of view, the more immersed we are, and the more likely we are to “suspend disbelief.”  However the impact of a curved TV on the angle of view, and thus immersion, is negligible.  A more effective means of increasing field of view and immersion is to increase the size of the screen.  A 70” flat screen will have a notably greater angle of view and immersion than will a 60” curved screen, viewed from the same distance to the screen.

Sweet Spot/Off-Axis viewing:  All LEDs and LCDs have an issue with color, contrast, and brightness diminishing the further off axis (away from the center of the screen) you go.  Generally speaking, both plasma and projectors have less of a challenge in this area.  So, when dealing with a curved TV, this problem is exaggerated even more because there is a very small area in the seating location that could be considered the “sweet spot.”  Since the screen curves away from the viewer unless they are sitting in the sweet spot, contrast, color, and brightness are all impacted negatively for everyone not sitting in the sweet spot.

Video Quality:  There are many factors to consider when thinking about the “quality” of the picture.  4K resolution gives you 4 times the number of pixels of 1080P.  This allows for an improvement of detail in the picture on screen.  But this is only one of the benefits of 4K.  Others benefits of 4K TVs include the following.  They can have the ability to offer a wider color gamut.  This means that colors will look even more life-like, with more “pop.”  A third important element to picture is contrast.  This is the difference between the brightest and darkest video the TV can display.  This too affects the life-likeness, the “pop”, of the on-screen image.  One final factor influencing video quality is HDR or High Dynamic Range.  HDR improves contrast performance and color performance in very noticeable ways.  This is perhaps the most important of the new technologies affect TV performance. Look for a separate blog on our blog page soon on video quality and HDR.

4K TVs all have an advantage of resolution.  But the other variables will each be implemented in different ways and with differing degrees of effectiveness by each of the manufacturers.  Most curved TVs represent the high end of their lines, so it makes sense that these curved screens will look better (as long as you are seated in the sweet spot.) But remember that these same technologies that make the curved screen look so good, can also be obtained in flat TVs, without paying the premium of the curved screen.

Mounting options:  There is really no good way to mount a curved TV on a wall.  It is certainly best to give strong consideration to installing these on a piece of A/V furniture or other cabinetry.  Curved screens, by their very design, will look awkward when wall mounted.  If a sleek, clean wall mounting is essential, you should not be thinking of a curved screen.

Performance vs cost:  Curved screens certainly come at a premium price.  They also deliver premium performance.  This premium performance is the result of the fact that the technology built into these curved screens is typically the best the manufacturers have to offer.  The premium performance is not due to fact that the screen is curved.  And most likely, you can get the same performance in a flat screen at a more moderated price.

After looking at these points, what conclusions can we draw? 

led tv lightsIn any Home Theater installation or Media Room installation, the first thing people notice is the display.  So it is important to give significant attention to the display.  The first thing that should be said is this: if you like the look of a curved TV, and your budget allows, then buy it.  You are not wrong to prefer that look.  But be aware that this is primarily a decision based on design aesthetics, and not one which is based on technical superiority.

The curved screen is a product differentiator.  It allows the manufacturers to set their products apart, and claim superiority.  And thus charge a premium price.

A critical point to consider is, who is making the argument for the curved TV.  Manufacturers have better margins on the curved TV, since it is promoted as a premium product.  And it is a premium product.  But not because of the curve.  It is a premium product because of the technical specifications of the TV.  If you shop well, you can probably find a TV which has these same specs, and that is not curved, at a price point lower than the curved version.  So it is in the manufacturer’s best interests to sell you a curved TV.  And that is fine, as long as your purchase is not based on a presumption of technical superiority of the curved TV in comparison to the flat TV.

The key to keep in mind is this:  When comparing 2 TVs with similar technologies, where the curve is the only distinction, there is NO inherent performance benefit. Both will look outstanding because of the because of the high quality of the installed technologies.  Keep in mind the challenges of the curved screen (limited “sweet spot,” mounting challenges, field of view), and then purchase the TV which best fits your budget and aesthetic needs.

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