Why I hope curved screens don't become the norm
One of the most memorable presentations given at CES this year saw Samsung showing off its latest curved screen TV. Sadly for the tech giant it was Michael Bay's on-stage brain fart that most people took away from the talk (if I can just leave you with the delightful image of taking away someone's fart with you...), but Samsung would much rather we concentrated on the display technology it was showcasing. It excited a great many people, and for some it is seen as the way ahead and something we could see a lot more off. I sincerely hope we don't, particularly on the desktop.
Why? There are lots of reasons that I am opposed to the idea of curved screens, particularly when used for TVs and monitors -- smartphones are slightly different, but I'm not too keen on that either. Curved screens are not really a brand spanking new technology; there have been curved cinema screens for a number of years now, and I can see the benefit of the curve in this setting. Used in a theater the curve eliminates the problem of trying to find a seat right in the center because it matters far less where you are in relation to the screen. Everyone gets an equally good view of the action. It is a democratizing technology. So why am I down on it?
While the initial lure of curves is appealing, the hype surrounding curved screens does not really stand up to close scrutiny. As with any newish technology, curved screens are more expensive than their flat counterparts. This is to be expected, but the costs can be justified if there are sufficient advantages to making the investment. Sadly, this is precisely where curved screens fall down. On the desktop screens often need to be viewed by more than one person at a time, or a single operator may wish to be able to see the screen from different parts of the room.
This is where viewing angles are important and it is something that flat screen producers have been trying to maximize over the years. It is also reduced by curving a screen. Why would you want to limit your range of vision? Sitting in front of a laptop, generally speaking, viewing angles are less important (but please, no damned curved screen laptops!) but desktop users should be free to enjoy as wide a viewing angle as possible. Curving the screen and reducing it would seem like a backwards step.
With a flat screen it is easy to position your screen so it avoids reflecting that window behind you. With a curved screen it is far, far easier to pick up unwanted reflection to distract you from what you are actually meant to be looking at. Distortion is also an issue. The effect of screen curvature on an image may be minimal, but why compromise for the sake of embracing a new technology. Can you see designers working with a curved screen (just like all those curved drawing boards, eh?) and compensating for distortion as they sketch out ideas?
It's not all that long ago that we were using curved screens of a different kind -- older CRT monitors were rather convex. I remember working on a tiny 14-inch CRT display which, although not quite goldfish-bowl-like, certainly had a discernable distorting curve to it. Look at yourself in the back of a spoon. Go to a hall of mirrors at the fair. Curvy means weird-looking. Even as a teenager 20 years ago, I remember yearning for flat screens free from the need for image correcting pin-cushion and barrel controls. Why are we now taking a step back in time?
So here's hoping monitor manufacturers don’t jump on the bandwagon and start producing curved monitors en masse. Curved screens have their place, and the desktop is not that place.