Ever looked at your TV and found it too flat? Nope, us neither. That hasn't stopped manufacturers bending over backwards to get curved screens to the market right now.
At present it’s the only format you’ll be able to buy an OLED telly in, a tech that's promised to be a Next Big Thing for years. So is Samsung ahead of the curve with the KE55S9C, or will it just drive you round the bend? Sorry – no more ‘bendy’ puns, we promise.
Design – more than just a pretty face
If you want your TV to double up as a talking point, the S9C will do very nicely. Its design is jaw-dropping: a screen less than an inch thick, sitting in a large frame of chrome-plated aluminium. It’s the latest example of Samsung’s obsession with creating displays that appear to float, and with that distinctive curved sheet of glass at its centre, it's a triumph.
The frame doesn’t just look pretty: it houses a camera (for Skype and smart controls) and some speakers, and also serves as a stand. At 142cm it’s wider than most AV racks, but a support at the back means it won’t wobble like the Samsung UE55F8000 and its Klingon bat’leth.
There’s also the One Connect, a connections hub that sounds like a boy band. It keeps a nice collection of sockets – including four HDMI inputs and an optical out – separate from the back of the TV. It’s a neat way to keep the S9C slim, and you won’t need to fumble behind the screen every time you want to plug something in.
Screen – why the curved face?
Look, we don’t know why it’s curved. There’s plenty of marketingspeak around it, and conspiracy theories range from it being better for eye ergonomics to it existing purely to steal 4K’s thunder. Maybe they’re just doing it because they can. Maybe it's because it looks awesome.
Does it work? We’re still arguing about that. Some find it immersive. Some find it a distracting gimmick. Viewing from the side means the image won’t taper off uniformly, which will drive some people mad. Sitting front and centre, however, everyone seems happy. Because the picture is amazing.
Screen – out with the old, in with the OLED
OLED panels have self-illuminating pixels, so they don’t need the backlighting units that LCD tech demands, nor do they rely on plasma's superheated gases. That keeps their structure simpler and thinner, which gives manufacturers more flexibility in design.
The technology isn’t totally new. Sony made one back in 2007 – an 11in effort which cost around £3000. But the tech soon made its way into some smartphones (including the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4), and the rest is history. Now that it’s finally here in a big way, how does it look?
In a word: stunning. Dark scenes can get so black it leaves you wondering if the screen is on, while whites get dazzlingly bright. There is no LCD at any price that can present dark and light shades at the same time anywhere near as well as the Samsung. It’s also startlingly clear and crisp, with almost zero noise. Edges are sharply drawn, which really helps images pop. Colours are rich, vivid but never unnatural, making for an exciting watch.
Make sure to fiddle with the settings first, though: out of the box the S9C is almost bright enough to cause retinal damage.
There’s enough clarity and texture to count the lines on Daniel Craig’s face, but extreme blacks and whites could do with a hint more definition. On balance, it's superb - for a 1080p panel. The trouble is that 1080p isn't cutting-edge any more, and for £7k you could rightly expect 4K support.
4K sets such as the Sony KD-55X9005A are better with fine detail, as they have four times as many pixels on screen as the Samsung OLED does. And while there’s not much 4K content to watch right now, it’s an emerging market – which means your new telly will be out of date in a few years.
Sound – a nice surprise
Flatscreen TVs generally sound rubbish, but not the S9C. The frame holds two 10W drivers and a 20W bass driver, and between them they pump out a balanced sound. It never hardens up and there’s a decent amount of weight to it too. OK, so you won’t get the same detail and scale as you would from a dedicated sound system, but it’s perfectly fine for watching films and TV shows.
Smart stuff – Multi View
Tired of fighting for some telly time? Then you need Multi View. This mode plays images from two sources at the same time, then outputs each to a pair of 3D glasses. Basically, it means you can play Watch_Dogs on your new PS4 while your other half sits right next to you watching Downton Abbey. The headsets have built-in earbuds for sound, streamed from the TV via Bluetooth.
It’s easy to use, and you can flick between the two feeds with a button on the side of the glasses. The image is sharp, and motion is smooth, although Blu-ray pictures dip in quality a little, with extra noise giving them a slightly porous texture. So it’s not perfect, but it definitely works.
Smart stuff – everything else
As Samsung’s flashiest TV right now, the S9C comes with all the bells and whistles you’d find on all the other 2013 models. Samsung’s Smart Hub will be the main draw here: it’s supremely well stocked, with Netflix, Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and loads more. You can download video and social apps, stream from Samsung’s content library, or watch your own stuff from USB drives and networked computers. All that and it looks great too, with your apps dotted around five nicely designed homescreens.
Elsewhere, motion and voice control promise to make you feel like Tony Stark. But shouting at a screen and expecting a response feels silly, especially when it ignores you. Plus, dragging an on-screen cursor around just to change channels is tiring rather than cool. You’re better off sticking with the responsive physical remotes.
The Samsung KE55S9C is a great TV. The design is unusual, the picture is seriously impressive, and we really like most of the features offered. Then again, it’s eye-wateringly expensive, the curve isn’t all that necessary, and the lack of 4K means it’s not future-proof. There’s plenty to love here, but you’ll need deep pockets, and maybe a lighthouse to keep it in.