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Why Curved Monitors Aren't So Crazy

Bent isn't so bad

In a revisionist purge of Stalinist, possibly even Balderickesque, proportions, I deny everything. I definitely did not say that curved LCD screens are an appalling gimmick conceived to exploit our most base consumerist tendencies. Or anything about delicious, plump-breasted pigeons. Not now that I've actually seen one, I didn't. A curved screen, that is. Not a pigeon. I've seen those before. That's not to say curved is the next big thing. But bent isn't so bad after all. There's something in this curved malarkey after all- here's why.

I actually stand by my broader sentiment regards curved screens. They first appeared in the context of HDTVs and there the notion remains a nonsense.

Curved screens's effectiveness depends on the viewer sitting precisely in the right spot. That means plonking yourself exactly in the centre of the circle which screen curve would describe if it continued beyond the panel edges, if you follow. Do that, and all parts of the screen surface present themselves perfectly perpendicular.

With a TV, that is unlikely. For starters, I suspect most will be sitting too far away. But even if you're at the right distance, only one person can be seated in the optimal central position. At best, curved TVs work only for solo viewing. In practice, curved will only make the screen geometry problem worse.

The thing is, and I did point this out last time, PC usage is a much more solitary affair. Bottom line, you can get yourself set up in exactly the right spot. The question then becomes that of how big the subjective impact is.

I've had a go with Samsung's new 34-inch curved effort recently, the S34E790C. And I can exclusively reveal that I'm not sure, but there might be something in it after all.

That's quite a bit of curve...

If that sounds like damning with faint praise, stick with me. And remember I was coming into this tech with a fair bit of negative baggage.

The main problem with making a definitive judgement call on this is that any 34-inch super-wide monitor (the S34E790C is a 21:9 aspect panel with 3,440 by 1,400 pixels) looks absolutely mega in games. Curved or not, the Samsung was going to look spectacular.

Then there's the fact that the screen looks pretty silly rendering the Windows desktop. The taskbar, for instance, looks thoroughly bent and broken, enough that when I first fired the thing up it had me checking the bottom bezel for curvature in more than one axis, even though I knew that wasn't the case. It looked so wrong I just had to check.

But once you fire up pretty much any game and leave behind the rigid rectangle that is the Windows desktop, it all changes. It's a subtle difference, to be sure. But I think - I sense - that the wrap-around effect does make you feel just that little bit more immersed, like the game world is enveloping you.

With flat 34-inch super-side screens, the far edges can feel awfully oblique and almost redundant. It's a reminder that you're viewing a rendered world on a 2D surface. The curved panel fixes that. In some games you may not really look at those far edges, but they certainly sit more naturally in your peripheral vision.

In other games, for instance those that plonk various menus, status displays and mini maps around the edges, curved really works. For pure gaming on a 34-inch panel, then, I would take curved, no question. Would I take curved for my main PC display that does much more than gaming? Nope.

Partly that's because I doubt I'd ever get comfortable with the curvature for non-game apps. But it's also because at this price point (£700 / $900+ and up, with this Sammy panel rocking in at around £800 / $1,100) I'd go with a 40-inch 4K panel. Actually, the 40 incher is cheaper. No contest.

The are plenty of alternatives to the slightly borky Samsung, including IPS efforts LG and Dell...

Finally, if you're wondering about the specifics of the Samsung S34E790C, I would recommend avoiding it for one of the curved alternatives, many of which are cheaper and potentially better.

The Samsung S34E790C sports a VA rather than IPS panel (here's my earlier breakdown of the various different panel types on the market, in case you missed it). I'm broadly a fan of good VA panels. Basically, I'm a sucker for their deep, inky black tones. But good VA panels are fairly rare and even then often not suitable for gaming due to poor response.

In this case, the response isn't actually the problem with the Samsung screen. That's just about tolerable. Instead, it's a combination of wonky colour calibration and painful pricing, the former a common problem with VA panels. To get the colours to look remotely right, I had to put the thing into 'game' mode.

That sounds OK, but I'm never terribly comfortable with a panel that looks really off at default settings as this Samsung does. It's almost comically cool and blue and subdued at defaults. If Samsung sorts the calibration and drops the price, the S34E790C could be worth a look. As it currently is, I'd pass.

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