UHD: Trouble With the Curve

It will be hard not to get bent out of shape when confronted by all the UHDs that will appear to be bent out of shape on the show floor at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In perhaps the most noticeable trend in TVs, it’s likely every major manufacturer will unveil curved UHDs. Following a bevy of such bowed sets at IFA, LG and Samsung each have already announced 105-inch, 5120 x 2160 pixel 21:9 aspect ratio UHD monsters, touting them as the largest curved TV ever made – as if this were some kind of accomplishment.

Curved TV makers claim their sets’ onset curviness enhances the overall viewing experience by better enveloping the viewer.

Bull hockey.

Curved screens present three major difficulties: first, the arc cuts down on off-angle viewing, reducing the number of potential viewers at Super Bowl parties and family film nights; second, curved sets can’t be wall mounted (at least not the ones I’ve seen so far); and, third, a curved TV completely defeats the purpose of a “flat” TV, which is to take up less space. Curved UHDs answer the riddle of how a TV can be thin and fat at the same time.

If a wide curved screen were really more advantageous for the viewer, movie theaters would have installed them years ago. They aren’t (except for IMAX), so they don’t.

Regardless of their bowed appearance, the industry is projecting 2014 will be the breakout year for UHD. Display Search projects sales of UHDs will jump from 1.9 million units this year to 12.7 million in 2014. While this unit sales leap represents less than 6 percent of all TVs expected to be sold in 2014, the higher margins on UHDs mean disproportionately higher revenues.

Seeing is not believing

Why inflict us with a case of the UHD bends? So consumers can tell the difference between an ordinary 2K HDTV and a 4K LED LCD UHD at retail, because most consumers certainly won’t see a quality difference.

And manufacturers know it.

As any videophile will tell you, it’s deuced difficult to tell the difference between a 720p and a 1080i set on TVs less than 50 inches viewed from a normal viewing distance.

Similarly, it’ll be nearly impossible for any but the platinum-eyed to see the difference between a 2K set and a 4K set in sets below 65-70 inches from a normal viewing distance. UHD’s great pixel density only begins to come into play in much larger size sets.

To overcome this invisible resolution improvement in popular UHD sizes such as 55- and 65-inches, UHD makers have to make it easier for the consumer to “see” the difference between cheap HD and pricey UHD at retail to help justify the higher cost. Hence the bent shape of LED LCD UHD TVs to come. “Oooh, why is that TV curved?” “Because it’s UHD! It kicks it up three or four extra quads per channel!”

This twisted set cynicism won’t be necessary for OLED UHD. While the resolution differences between HD and UHD may still be difficult to detect, OLED’s vast brightness and color superiority over LED LCD will be obvious to even the most uneducated eyes under the bright fluorescent lights of a big box store.

Go wide

If TV makers really want to sell UHDs on their visual appearance, they should take a cue from the other startling physical change in the LG/Samsung 105-inch UHDs – their 21:9 aspect ratio.

These wider UHD screens not only serve the same physical differentiation purpose as a curved set does at retail, but presents actual viewing benefits: using a sidebar to display data or using the whole screen to view true widescreen wonders such as Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur without letterboxing.

A wide – and flat – 21:9 UHD screen is a metaphorical curve no one should have trouble with.