It’s no secret that almost every major manufacturer in tech is constantly looking for ways to differentiate, to show off products not offered by its direct competition, claiming that much-abused “innovator” label in the process. That’s all well and good and as it should be. But there is a line between a product that’s genuinely breaking new ground and a product that got built just for being different or first, without anyone responsible for it seemingly having thought this through. It’s the difference between a product consumers might actually be interested in and a product literally nobody asked for… like LG’s OLED Flex, a screen suffering from such an identity crisis that it’s amazing it made it past the concept stage, let alone the pre-production one.
So here’s the rundown: this is a 42-inch 4K OLED screen that can theoretically work as any typical TV — its panel flat, its bezels slim, its stand high — as well as a curved PC monitor of a 900R curvature, morphing from one state to the other using nothing but its remote control. Yes, the screen is bendable and not just between two extremes either: LG’s mechanism allows for 20 distinct “steps” of bending between totally flat and curved at 900R, which is impressive all on its own. Corsair actually showed off a 45-inch gaming monitor recently, the Xeneon Flex, that can bend in the same way. But consumers have to do the bending with their own two hands (!), which is admittedly somewhat crude. LG’s approach is much better and, well, definitely more safe-looking for the product itself.
Taking a closer look at the LG Flex, though, makes two problems immediately apparent. For starters, at 42 inches it’s probably too small to be used as any old OLED television under normal circumstances, even in a bedroom or dorm room (let alone a living room). Consumers would have to sit so close to the Flex for a typical TV viewing experience, that it would just not be practical — even for one person. Having more people try to watch anything on this thing, from different angles and distances, just isn’t going to work. No. If there is any point in using the LG OLED Flex, it is as a desktop PC monitor (even LG itself does not offer any press images of the Flex used as a typical TV but it does offer a couple of it being used on a desk).
That use case will almost certainly prove problematic too, though. The LG Flex is a 42-inch, 16:9 TV-like screen that is much taller than what gamers need in order to be “immersed” as the company promises. This is the reason why ultra-wide curved PC monitors exist, after all: their 32:9 aspect ratio does take up the entirety of a player’s field of view, and — provided he/she is sitting close enough for that — it really can provide the immersion LG is talking about. Most video games do not support the 32:9 aspect ratio, granted, but for curved screens — which are meant to be connected to gaming PCs, not consoles — that is less of a problem. The LG OLED Flex is impressive, but it’s no ultrawide PC gaming monitor. It’s as simple as that.
What’s more, if immersive gaming is the use case LG is promoting the OLED Flex for, then the company itself, as well as others, have… already met that need, no? People who have worked and gamed on 42-inch OLED screens or larger for more than a few days will attest to the fact that — at a relatively close sitting distance — the picture offered is already immersive enough because of its size. If that viewing distance is carefully adjusted and gamers can take in the entirety of the picture displayed (as they actually should), then there’s really no actual need for the screen to be curved: the flat screen takes up most of their field of view anyway — and it’s doing it with no distortion whatsoever. How much more immersive can a 42-inch OLED screen actually be in practice just because it’s curved at the sides?
Back in 2013–2014, it was LG and Samsung that tried to convince us that consumer curved TVs made sense because “their curvature followed the natural curve of the human eye to offer an IMAX-like theatrical effect in the living room”. It was not long before not just journalists, but everyone saw through the marketing lies, as it is obviously the size of an IMAX screen that makes watching films on it immersive, not the curvature. Home televisions at 55 inches would never be able to replicate the same effect. Consumers did see a point in using an ultra-wide curved PC monitor, though, because — in large enough sizes and the content displayed at a 32:9 aspect ratio — the picture can indeed be immersive as promised.
This leaves the LG OLED Flex in an awkward spot. It can’t really be used as an ordinary OLED TV because it’s too small and it can’t replace a proper ultra-wide PC gaming monitor because it’s not wide enough or big enough for that. Furthermore, the OLED Flex is essentially an LG OLED C2 TV: it’s amazingly capable, it’s extremely well-equipped in terms of ports and supporting standards and it offers a lot of useful extra functionality. But the 42-inch C2 costs around $1499 without the fancy bending mechanism of the Flex. It’s easy to imagine the LG OLED Flex going for $1999 when it launches at some point later this year, which would be too much money for a 42-inch 4K OLED monitor, bendable or otherwise.
There might be a few people that will be attracted to the obvious novelty of a screen that can be flat or curved at the touch of a remote control button. It will sure look cool at first, like a party trick. But — even leaving aside questions about the long-term durability of that bendable panel or concerns about potential creases affecting the displayed image — the LG OLED Flex seems to be another attempt at doing something different just for the sake of it. LG believes that consumers will have to gradually get acquainted with bendable screens because that’s a potential future market for the company, yes, that is well understood. It’s just that the first product showcasing this tech is unexciting and pointless. Here’s hope that someone at LG actually goes into the trouble of thinking this through next time around.