Curved might be the new black, but it's OLED that catches my eye.
We're right on the cusp of a major shift in television technologies. Ultra HD is going to become more prominent this year, although . Meanwhile plasma's heir apparent Organic LED is going to take the fight to LED. As if all this wasn't enough, we'll also see the rise of curved televisions aiming to offer a more immersive viewing experience.
All of these technologies were on show at CES in Las Vegas in January, and the 105-inch, 21:9 curved giants from LG and Samsung took my breath away. They looked amazing on the trade show floor, but in my lounge room I'm less impressed with the curved screen of . It started out at $11,999 late last year but the price was slashed by $4,000 in January – a great reminder of why it's not always good to be an early adopter.
I think the reason why the curved screens at CES impressed me so much wasn't just their sheer size but the wider 21:9 aspect ratio – wide enough to totally eliminate the "letterbox" black bars at the top and bottom of a widescreen movie. On these screens you don't only see the curve, you feel it. But not so much with the 55-inch 16:9 model that I'm testing out at the moment.
As a piece of furniture the curved LG television looks amazing, particularly thanks to the transparent stand which makes it appear as if it's floating in the air. It even has a subtle but stylish checkered pattern on the back. The curve of the screen is much less pronounced than you might expect – the corners of the screen are only 1 centimetre further forward than the centre.
The screen's odd shape does have some drawbacks. It's very reflective – not as much as the I looked at over the summer but still enough to be annoying. The screen doesn't just curve in, it also leans backwards – meaning you're more likely to see reflections of lights on the ceiling. The distorted screen also plays tricks with the light. When the television is switched off it's very disorientating to walk past it because you see yourself and the room distorted like in the mirrors at a carnival.
Once you sit down in front of the television to watch a movie the curve isn't as striking as you'd expect, especially if you move back from the screen. There are various theories as to how far you should sit from your television to get the best viewing experience. The rule of thumb is around twice the size of the screen, so 2.8 metres from this 55-inch television.
Move closer to 1.5 times the size of the screen if you want to make the most of Full HD. If you're really keen, THX recommends getting as close as 1.2 times the screen size so it takes up 40 percent of your field of vision. Of course this might feel too close for comfort, so you'll need to make up your mind for yourself.
If you're going to sit further away than twice the screen size, past the 3 metre mark, then I don't think there's much point in buying a curved 55-inch television – the subtlety of the curve is lost and you may as well be watching a flat screen. But even when I got closer I struggled to see the value of the curve.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Sitting at the THX recommended 65-inch mark, closer than most people would ever sit to their television, the curve starts to make its presence felt but it's not striking. I wouldn't go as far as to say it enhances the viewing experience and comparisons to IMAX are laughable. It partly comes down to personal preference, but if you're expecting it to take your breath away you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
I tested out a range of epic movies such as The Hobbit, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Fifth Element – looking for a movie or even an entire scene where the curved screen really proves its worth. I never found it, not cruising through the depths of space, trekking through the Misty Mountains, wandering across the desolation of Tatooine or racing through the forests of Endor.
At this screen size the curve is most noticeable in scenes where objects on the sides of the picture are closest to the camera – such as looking between the trees on Endor. For a moment this effect adds an extra depth to the picture, but it doesn't happen often enough to get excited about.
Perhaps on a larger 16:9 television the curve might be more impressive, but at 55 inches it just doesn't shine through. To be honest it does come down to personal taste. There were times when others in the room could momentarily feel the curve when I couldn't, but there was never a wow moment where it took someone's breath away.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
While curved screens may prove to be a novelty, OLED – Organic LED – is certainly one to watch. Its ability to create perfect blacks while revealing the slightest of details in the shadows sees it shame most LED and plasma rivals.
The deep blacks of the OLED screen are indistinguishable from the jet black bezel. The lack of an LED-style backlight means bright objects like a full moon can appear in one corner of the picture without compromising the shadows elsewhere on the screen. If, like me, you consider contrast to be the most important aspect of picture quality then you won't be disappointed with LG's OLED effort.
I was surprised that the colours seemed a little muted at the default settings compared to Sony's vibrant X9004A. I had to bump up the colour, brightness, "OLED light" and gamma before I was satisfied. OLED supposedly doesn't need a dark room like plasma, but the LG seems to fall a little short in this department even when you've turned off the "Motion Eye Care" setting which curbs the peak brightness. While you're there you might want to turn off Tru-Motion, as even the smooth setting occasionally distorts the picture. You'll need to find the balance that's right for you.
If you've got an old LCD television then the move to OLED will bring a new dimension to your favourite movies, especially if they feature plenty of dark scenes. That said, high-end LED TVs have come a long way and the Sony television I looked at recently can still hold its head high. I wouldn't dump something like that Sony on the nature strip in favour of OLED. Not yet.
SO WHAT'S THE VERDICT
Combining OLED with a curved screen is an interesting play, but I can't help but think it's an attempt to garner curved screens a respect they perhaps don't deserve – at least not at this screen size. Or perhaps it's the other way around, trying to give OLED a fashion makeover to woo those looking for a status symbol who don't mind the hefty price tag.
If this sounds like you then LG's curved 55EA9800 won't disappoint – it looks like a work of art, the picture quality is excellent and the curved screen won't detract from your viewing pleasure. But if you're trying to get the best bang for your buck you're entitled to wonder how much of that $7999 price tag is going towards the curviness, which doesn't seem to enhance the viewing experience. It's impossible to say, because this is the only OLED television which LG has on the books right now in Australia or the US. It's a similar story over at Samsung. The fates of OLED and curve seemed tied together, but not necessarily for our benefit. What I saw at CES convinces me that there is some merit to a curved screen, but 55-inches doesn't do it justice.
If you've a yearning for OLED then this might be the television you've been waiting for, but patient shoppers will likely see prices drop and more options emerge – perhaps without the novelty of a curved screen.