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CES 2014: Do Curved OLEDs Distort the Picture?

by David Mercer | Jan 13, 2014

Amongst the many TV-related themes at CES 2014 was the widespread entry of curved TV screens. Widespread, at least, in the sense that most major TV vendors were showing curved models, without necessarily committing to launch dates or pricing. This included many Chinese brands, who demonstrated their growing strength in global CE markets not only by building bigger and more impressive CES booths every year but also by getting ever closer to catching up on the technological leadership of traditional Korean and Japanese competitors.

There was a lot of anecdotal debate during CES, both in panels and on the show floor, regarding the merits of curved displays. I should confirm at this point that Strategy Analytics has not yet conducted its own user experience research on these displays and until we do, or until the market begins to provde concrete evidence of their appeal, the jury will remain undecided. Nevertheless I can say that we are probably starting from a position of broad scepticism regarding the proposed benefits of this technology. Most CES booths displayed some kind of quasi-technical explanation, usually involving themes such as immersion and fields of view. One major vendor assured us that its own internal user testing had proven beyond doubt that people preferred curved to flat displays.

There is a slight point of irony, of course, in that the CE industry had worked hard for many years to deliver flat displays, after spending the first few decades offering rounded (convex) screens using CRT technology. Flat-ish screens were first achieved by Sony with its famous Trinitron technology, something which helped to secure Sony's leadership in TV back in the 1980s and 1990s. Those displays were flat vertically but curved horizontally. I have no doubt that Sony at that time presented compelling user evidence and technical explanations why that display type was the best for viewing television images.

Rear projection TVs had been flat since the 1970s but these offered poor quality images compared to CRTs and never caught on outside the US. Once flat panel technologies started to penetrate the large screen TV market in the late 90s and 2000s the mass market era of the true flat display had finally arrived. Consumers switched quickly once prices fell, although the thinness and convenience of flat panels was as much a factor in CRT's demise as their flatness.

Now the industry is telling us flat is not good enough. Time will tell. I have been around long enough to know that the cool factor can be enough to drive demand for technologies which may have a relatively weak technological grounding. I would just voice one note of concern after a visit to Samsung's booth. Samsung was showing a side-by-side demonstration of flat and curved TVs, which, I was assured by one representative, were identical in every respect except for the fact that one was curved. The curved display had noticeably improved colour depth and I was told that this was entirely a visual effect caused by the screen's curvature. Unconvinced, I approached a second Samsung representative who confirmed that curved TV did indeed incorporate Samsung's video processing technology Auto Depth Enhancer. While relieved that my ageing eyes had not completely deceived me, I was naturally concerned that such poor information was being given to visitors to Samsung's booth. Not only that, but while I was viewing the demonstration Samsung was interviewing other visitors on their perceptions of the two displays. It will clearly be inadvisable to rely too much on the results of that research if it is intended to demonstrate the benefits of curved v. flat in isolation.

David Mercer



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