Samsung Pitches a Curve at The Guggenheim

Is a curved-screen television a work of art? Samsung thinks so, and the company was not shy about making that connection during a press event held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. The Guggenheim—designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—is internationally known for it’s curvy spiral design as much as its art collection. It was the perfect venue to pitch the value of the curve.

The event began with a presentation from Joe Stinziano, Executive VP at Samsung Electronics America. Joe discussed Samsung’s US market share—currently at 35.7 percent—as well as the company’s share of the 4K/UHD TV segment, which currently stands at 50 percent. He also discussed the explosive growth in sales of screens measuring 60 inches and larger, which stands at around 50 percent per year. The message was clear—Samsung is the market leader in the 4K/UHD segment and remains poised for growth. That’s when the talk turned to the curve, and how Samsung plans to market it.

Samsung Electronics America Executive VP Joe Stinziano discusses the company’s US market share – photo by Mark Henninger

A glimpse of Samsung’s new retail kiosks for 4K/UHD and curved TVs – photo by Mark Henninger

At one point during the presentation, noted design expert James Zemaitis took the stage. He discussed the relationship of the curve to modern design, including the iconic Noguchi coffee table and other designs that incorporate curves. I knew what was coming next: the proclamation that curved TVs are part of the modernist canon of tech. When James finished his speech, Samsung Electronics America Senior VP Dave Das took the mic and said, “Each TV is a work of art.” One reporter quipped that these days, TVs actually cost more than real art.

James Zemaitis discusses the history of the curve in art and design – photo by Mark Henninger

 

After the speeches concluded, the crowd of journalists moved into the Guggenheim rotunda, where Samsung had set up an impressive showcase. There were tourists standing outside the museum, wondering why The Guggenheim would be closed to the public on a Thursday afternoon. I tried to imagine what those tourists would think of all the curved-screen TVs in the museum.
Standing in the rotunda, I saw the same lineup of TVs that Samsung brought to Vegas for CES 2014—including the impressive 105-inch, 21:9 aspect-ratio, full-array backlit, curved UHDTV. Unfortunately, that TV lacks both a model name and retail price. I found the curve was not distracting with a giant TV and a ultra-wide aspect ratio—which was not the case with smaller 16:9 models.

The curved screen is justified on this Samsung 105-inch UHDTV – photo by Mark Henninger

For lunch, Samsung kept up the curved theme by serving circular sandwiches along with wheels of cheese. The curve was inescapable.

Circular sandwiches accentuated the curve motif – photo by Mark Henninger

After lunch, Samsung held a tech briefing for those reporters who wanted to know more about the technology in its new TVs. I’d seen that briefing at CES, so I went back to the amphitheater, where Samsung set up a series of demonstrations.

I was looking for tangible proof that the curve improves the viewing experience. Instead, it seems that Samsung’s strategy involves packing its top-of-the-line TVs with the latest features, and a curved screen is simply one of those features. However, the technologies that tangibly improved picture quality were not dependent on the curved screen. Those technologies include improved motion resolution as well as contrast enhancement that uses 3D processing to add more pop to 2D imagery.

Samsung demonstrated improved motion resolution with its HU9000 curved UHDTV on the left – photo by Mark Henninger

One tech demo was quite disappointing—a comparison of HD vs. UHD content. The image was a classic eye chart, the sort used to determine visual acuity. One TV showed the chart in 4K/UHD and the other TV showed it in 1080p HD. The two TVs used in the test were a UN65HU8550F (UHDTV) and a UN65H6400 (HDTV).

UHD on the left, HD on the right – photo by Mark Henninger

When I saw the eye chart, I thought, “Finally, a comparison that will show the advantages of UHD resolution at normal viewing distances.” I was wrong. As I stood there with CNET’s David Katzmaier, staring at the two screens, it became obvious that the comparison was doing the opposite of what Samsung intended. Indeed, the two images looked nearly identical unless scrutinized from close up. However, David and I also noticed that the 1080p image was far from pristine—in fact, it looked like an interlaced frame. Even so, at a normal viewing distance, both eye charts looked just about identical. It was nearly impossible to see any benefit with 4K/UHD, even when compared to a badly rendered, flawed 1080p version of the same image. It was flabbergasting, but David and I agreed 100% about what we were seeing.

In the bottom image, you can see how much clearer UHD content looks. However, the HD content was clearly flawed, as if it was interlaced. Even so, at a normal viewing distance, the charts looked nearly identical – photos by Mark Henninger

After attending Samsung’s event, I have a greater appreciation for the relationship between curves and art. Samsung says the curve alone increases the perceived value of a TV by an average of $600. I’m not sure that the curve translates to a better viewing experience, but since Samsung has figured out how to mass produce LED-edgelit LCDs with curved screens, it appears that the form factor is here to stay.

Samsung pitched curved screens in the curviest venue around: The Guggenheim museum in Manhattan – photo by Mark Henninger

Before I left, I asked David Katzmaier what he though about the absence of OLED at the presentation. After all, curved screens enjoyed a splashy debut last year when Samsung and LG each introduced a 55-inch curved OLED HDTV. David opined that it means OLED is dead for now, unless Samsung changes its mind and starts promoting the technology. One thing is clear—at the moment, Samsung is placing its bets on curved 4K/UHD LED-LCD TVs, not OLED.

For more specifics on Samsung’s 2014 TV lineup, including availability and pricing, click here. Also, check out the company’s new UHD Video Pack, a 1 TB hard disk pre-loaded with five movies and some documentaries in Ultra HD.