Back at CES 2014, one of the big draws at the Samsung, Sony and LG booths were the new convex curved TV displays. Some flexed from flat to curved and back again, all were very high-definition, and all were very, very pricey. Modeled after the IMAX-style curved screen for ensuring maximum viewing ability from multiple angles, TVs like the 65-inch Samsung HU9000 or Sony S990 were set loud and proud center-stage, to the point that they set off a certain action movie director’s keynote speech entirely.
All of the curved TVs suffered from one glaring issue, though: the viewing ‘sweet spot’ of a curved screen that is much smaller than IMAX (which takes up a whole 30’ x 70’ wall of a theater) is relatively narrow compared to a flat screen. As you move further away from one of these TVs, the benefits of having a wraparound image are lost as the curve becomes less noticeable. Worse, if a viewer moves away from the center towards the sides of the screen, eventually the curve will block off the side of the screen closest to them. While flexing OLED screens are able to go flat when you need a wider viewing angle, the curving capability still adds thousands to the price of these TVs.
Based on these problems, one might be quick to dismiss curved TVs as an expensive gimmick, to be lumped in with 3D-enabled home theaters (and their awful glasses). The narrow viewing angle and need to be within three to five feet of the screen makes it a completely nonviable technology … or so it seems. What if this technology was viable in other aspects of life? Say, in the case of a screen where you are already positioned directly in front of it, and only a few feet away, tops? In other words, what about a computer or tablet?
The first thing that comes to mind when a flexible tablet is mentioned is something so fluid and cloth-like that it can be rolled up or folded like a handkerchief. There are advances being made in OLED screens that can allow for just that, but featuring touch capability and the processing power that a tablet PC requires is much more difficult to squeeze into such a floppy device.
Beyond fully bendable screens, a hard laptop or tablet screen with a curve to it would offer certain benefits. The narrow viewing angle issue that is a problem in curved TVs when you move too far off center from them becomes a feature on a portable device, as it offers users a bit of extra privacy when in public. Also, curved screens can reduce glare when compared to flat ones, meaning that these devices could be used in the sun easier.
This curved technology is already being used in mobile phones, such as the G Flex from LG, which has a curve to the screen. It also introduces a curved battery to maintain the form factor of a phone that contours to a user’s face more than a flat smartphone does. Though their screen has a much slighter curve than the super-sized curved TVs shown off at CES (thus reducing the visual impact) it proves that such screens are viable in the mobile marketplace. As the technology improves, it will likely get cheaper to implement as well. Because of this, curved screens on tablets and laptops could prove to be both useful and interesting features in the future, even if the televisions they are based off of never catch on.