The latest trend in television is for curved panels, designed to deliver a more immersive experience. Flat screen is so last generation. But is the move to curved just a fad?
Curved represents the chance for manufacturers to offer something distinct and different. We first saw such panels appearing in 2013, but now curved TV is really making its march into your living room as models such as the Samsung H8000 become available to buy.
It's clear that many curved TVs are showcase pieces: the high cost, technical evolution of home entertainment. The 48-inch Samsung H8000 is slightly different because it brings home curved TV at a size that's manageable for many, as well as at a price that's just about affordable. But it also loses some of that "immersion" prospect, something more immediate from the larger 55- and 65-inch versions.
It's also worth noting that this is a Full HD model, rather than the future-gazing 4K UHD (Ultra-High Definition) model, which has four times the resolution. For that you'll want to seek out the HU8500 series and, obviously, a chunk more cash. Next-gen curved tech with current-gen resolution puts the UE48H8000 in a slightly awkward position: you can get a similar-sized Samsung UHD 4K flatscreen TV for about £200 more, and we suspect that when faced with choosing between curved or UHD 4K, most would pick the higher resolution panel.
With that in mind does the H8000 makes a strong case for the curved TV? Is it flying the flag for a trend that's going to stick and, ultimately, is it worthy of your hard-earned cash?
Does curved make a difference?
The big message behind curved is the viewing experience. The idea is to make the television more immersive, with the curve meaning that it's the same distance for your eyes from the centre of the display to the corners.
The UE488000 is a great looking TV, from the sturdy metal stand to the minimal bezel. It might not have the jaw-dropping slimness of LG's curved OLED, the A980, but you can't exactly call this TV fat.
There's a healthy slab of plastic running across the back, so unlike some modern sets, this is not something you really want standing in the middle of the room. The H8000 can be wall mounted, accepting that the edges will be a greater distance from the wall, so might not hide the connections and mount as neatly as a flat panel, especially with all the HDMI inputs ranging down the right-hand side.
Once placed in our test living room, the curve tended to blend away. It doesn't feel like you're looking at something with a bend in it when viewing, and it certainly draws you in once sat in front of it. That's the point: any form of distortion or distraction would be wrong. Until you start looking at the bezel, that curve isn't something you really notice.
There are some advantages to the curve. It deals with oblique viewing rather well, because the far edge of the TV is turned slightly towards you. It also deals pretty well with reflections. We placed it next to a window, but didn't find that the side lighting detracted from the image too much, although there's a glossy finish to the screen and the best results will be achieved in darker conditions.
It's a shame there's no swivel in the stand, because the stand is wide and being able to move the display slightly to suit the room would be a real benefit, rather than having to move the entire thing.
But having seen the 65-inch curved sets - and even the 55-inch - we feel that the immersive effect is increased on those larger sizes. It just dominates the room better and increases the immersion, which is a large part of the point. When we moved in closer to play games on the 48-inch, that becomes obvious: the curve is a great feature for boosting that in-game feeling.
With a play to immersive viewing and picture quality, the performance is what a lot of people are going to be looking at. Fortunately Samsung isn't messing around with a poor panel here, so the visuals are excellent from this LED TV.
The clarity of the picture is really impressive, but equally the colour fidelity is excellent, and it's excellent straight out of the box - a real benefit for those who don't want to sit down and calibrate it.
One of the features of this curved TV is that it's designed to increase depth perception, by altering the contrast in certain areas of the picture. That's supposed to add realism and, whether it's psychological or not, we love the results. No matter what you're watching it looks good.
It really shines with HD sources and once you switch over to Blu-ray you'll really get the best out of it. Great high-resolution pictures with judder-free panning await you and it's a sight to behold.
You might want to switch between movie mode and some of the other picture preset modes for different apps or sources, as each tweaks the levels, colour and processing smoothing, but you can set the settings for each input depending on your preference.
The H8000 is also a 3D TV, with two sets of Samsung's 3D glasses included in the box. We sat down in front of Dredd 3D and the results are very good, perhaps the only downside is that Samsung's glasses let in a lot of light around the sides, so can flicker unless you are watching in darker conditions.
There's a Football mode button on the Smart Controller which seems like a bit of a waste. Not only does it assume that you want a button for football, but the effect it has on the picture is poor. We found when we tried it on ITV HD during the World Cup that the picture was so saturated it all became an offensive smear. The sound boost was a little harsh too. We'd rather have a customisable button, so you could swap it for something else.
The H8000 is a smart TV, offering all the connected features you'd expect. But the smart part of the experience really begins when you get it out of the box. The accompanying Samsung theatrical score to accompany you whilst you plug in your Wi-Fi code and other details might be a little cringeworthy, but you are neatly taken through the setup process, which is most welcomed.
There are two remotes supplied - a regular remote and a Smart Controller. The former is a basic button affair, the latter provides motion control, houses a mic for using voice control to search - which works well, as well as a touch panel for navigation.
The Smart Controller is the better of the two for daily use, because it fits so comfortably in the hand and gives more direct and intuitive control when using things like the browser or entering text. The basic controller, however, gives you access to the settings menu. Hopefully, unless you're a persistent fiddler, you can put one remote away once it's all setup to your liking.
The chances are that you'll be after the H8000 because you're a fan of technology. You'll probably then connect your set-top box and generally bypass some of what Samsung has included, but if not, you'll find it equipped with a Freeview HD tuner.
The H8000 comes with an IR blaster too, so you can slave your set-top box and stick to Samsung's remotes. During the setup process you simply tell it what box you have and it will then pass on the commands, as long as the blaster is placed in front of the device it's controlling.
This is a neat touch, meaning you can stick to one remote for much of what you do, but because it needs to rebroadcast the commands it receives, it can be a little slow to respond. Using the original remote is just faster and inevitably we've found ourselves using a combination of all the remotes.
There are apps to play with in Samsung's smart TV interface, which bring things like Netflix, Blinkbox or Amazon Prime Instant Video to the TV natively.
Access through the Smart Hub is convenient, so at the tap of a button you can find the app or service you're after and jump over to on-demand content. These apps are all developed by the relevant supplier, so slightly different in appearance and it's slightly irritating that they all use a different keyboard for entering search text.
There's also a clever search function, letting you look for the content you want to watch from TV schedules, then offering to change the channel for you. If you've set-up your set-top box, it then changes. Search will also return app results, so if there's something you want, like Spotify, you can search and find.
It will also search integrated sources, like Waiki TV and YouTube, but it didn't seem to cotton on to the fact that we didn't have a Waiki TV subscription, but did have Blinkbox, Amazon and Netflix, yet couldn't return results from those services.
The H8000 will also collect content from your home media server, although we found that it was quick to navigate our network server, it refused to play even basic MP4 files. The H8000 is a DLNA device, so you'll be able to send content to it, so if you have video on your phone that you want to share, it's a straightforward process if you have the right app to do so. Those on Android might want to try Skifta, our perennial favourite.
You'll need a set of speakers to complement your H8000 television and get the most of it, as the in-built speakers on this 48-inch size aren't the best. Voice reproduction is good enough, so general TV watching isn't too bad, but you'll want something to boost the richness of movie scores or sound effects in games.
The size of the stand makes it difficult to use a speaker base because of its width, so this 48-incher won't sit on the top of many of them happily, because it's just too wide.
The Samsung UE48H8000 is priced at around £1300, so you pay a premium for the curved design. But you get a lot of TV for that money - and not just because it's curved. The quality of the picture is the thing that really stands out, which makes watching movies great, and it's a genuinely smart TV too, with lots of connectivity options and access to apps that bring you more content.
Navigation and control of Samsung's set make it a pleasure to use and the Smart Controller helps pull everything together. It's fast to react thanks to the quad-core processor driving it, resulting in a TV experience that doesn't lag behind that of your tablet or phone.
The curve isn't the only a talking point, but is something to draw you closer in to the action. However, we'd say that the larger curved TVs offer a better immersive experience and the H8000 finds itself priced not too far from Samsung's UHD 4K sets. That's perhaps the sticking point: if you want a curved TV for now then the H8000 is certainly an option, but the larger scales make more sense. If you're looking for a TV that's going to embrace the future, however, then the temptation to pick a UHD model and forsake curved might be too much to resist.
Overall our weeks with the UE48H8000 confirm to us that curved TVs do have a genuine place in the market, especially when they perform like this particular Samsung does. It's all about its great picture.