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Digital Life, The Straits Times
Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

News, Science And Tech

Ahead of the curve

Digital Life, The Straits Times | Sherwin Loh | Saturday, Apr 26, 2014

Samsung Curved UHD TV sets on display.

In the course of developing curved TVs, South Korean tech giant Samsung had to address the age-old philosophical question of which came first: the chicken or the egg?

"We often get this question," admitted Mr Iksuk Choi, vice-president and head of Asia product marketing of the Visual Display Division at Samsung Electronics.

"Do you curve it because you can, or do you curve it because it is necessary and gives benefits to the viewers," he asked.

Unlike the less-than-satisfactory answers often given to the proverbial question, Samsung said it actually knew the benefits of a curved TV but lacked the technical expertise to make one until 2009, when it perfected its LED screen technology and was able to build super slim TVs.

"We thought, why not bend it?" said Mr Moon Gwonjin, principal engineer, TV R&D, of the visual display division at Samsung Electronics.

Mr Moon said the engineering team spent five years adding new production facilities, changing its operations to cater to the new materials needed for producing curved TV sets and focusing on three main challenges in making the curved displays.

First of all, LED systems use backlighting and it proved difficult at first to bend the backlight portion of the screen.

"We had to make sure that there was a uniform emission from the backlight," he said.

The second challenge involved bending the glass cells such that there was uniformity in the bend.

The last was in getting a good yield in the mass production stage.

The best curvature radius

Today, Samsung said it has the technology to bend any screen that its display division produces, like LED (left), OLED and Super Amoled.

The only exception is plasma screens. Demand for such screens has declined, so Samsung saw no reason to pursue it. "We do have our plasma business but we decided not to bend such screens because it's not worth the effort," said Mr Choi.

During this time, the company also explored varying curvatures for its screens from between 3,000R and 6,000R, before settling on 4,200R as the default. This refers to the curve of a circle with a radius of 4.2m.

The smaller the number, the greater the curvature.

Unlike Samsung, LG has chosen to vary the curvature of its screens according to the size of the TV.

Samsung's Mr Moon said: "Normally, average TV viewing distance is about 3m to 4m and we established that 4,200R produced the best viewing experience."

8K screens may be next

All Samsung curved screens have an auto depth enhancer optimised for this distance and curvature, and this feature offers greater contrast, creates a deeper viewing angle and offers less reflection to the viewer.

The success of last year's curved models prompted the company to release the world's first curved ultra high-definition or 4K model (3,840 x 2,160) this year.

"Last year, we introduced a curved OLED to the market and the response from the market was very positive, which is why we expanded the line to include UHD as well," said Mr Choi.

Because 4K content is lacking, Samsung is bundling a UHD video pack that includes movies X-Men Origins: Wolverine (left), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (left, bottom) and documentaries The Last Reef and Travelscope: Cappadocia in 4K resolution, with select UHD TV sets.

This was done in negotiation with Hollywood studios. Such a method of giving content is much easier to obtain than trying to license movie streaming or downloads to the various global markets through its smart TV, said Mr Choi.

The curved screen is now an added feature on all of Samsung's high-end smart TVs and comes in sizes of up to 105 inches. Availability varies by country.

The company is also looking at improving other aspects of its TV technology, including researching a much sharper 8K screen, as well as glasses-free stereoscopic 3-D.

Given the lack of 4K content, the push towards 8K is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

As for updated 3-D features, the company is treading gently. "Market research has shown that demand for 3-D TVs peaked last year and is now on a downward trend," said Mr Lee Sangdo, director of global product marketing, visual display division.

"We will be introducing our product to the market when we are more comfortable and sure that it gives certain benefits to the viewers."

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