Do you really need a 4K TV?

June 14th, 2016 Back

It was 10:00 am and the electronics store was almost empty, except for a few gamers trying new gear and an older couple comfortably sitting in one of those cushy sofas.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the employees, “can you tell me a little bit about these 4K TVs? Are they worth buying?”

Staring at me like if I was asking him something utterly stupid, he gave me an eye roll,  a sigh, and a brief comment: “it’s just the best out there, you should get it.”

As I inquired a bit further, I realized the so-called technical employee had no clue about the differences between 4K and other TVs. His automated response of “it’s the best” sounded like I needed to do the research myself.

4k resolution

So, I called some of the engineers I work with, read a bunch a industry papers, watched a ton of videos, and, finally, learned just the basics of this TV technology.

It’s true that when I went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past January, all companies in the TV industry proudly displayed these two characters everywhere – 4K- as if someone automatically could understand the significance of it. At first I thought they were promoting some kind of running race, just short of the customary 5K but then realized…nah!

My conclusion from that trip was simple: 4K must be important and it’s coming this year to most of our households. Let’s dig a bit about what this technology is about and its progression in the last few years.

 

IN BASIC TERMS

Just like we did at VIDGO TV with the TV streaming devices post, the intention here is just to explain the terminology in very basic terms. So, the engineers out there should quit reading this article right now, because you may get bored by the lack of technical jargon and in-depth details.

This is for the regular person who may be thinking about upgrading or buying a new  TV and has no idea about all these new technologies available.

By now, most of you probably own a High Definition (HD) TV set, which was an upgrade from the Standard Definition (SD) TV. The difference resides mainly in the resolution of the image on the screen.

An image on your screen is composed of picture elements or pixels.

The more pixels we have per dot, the clearer and sharper the image is. The resolution is expressed by using two numbers (1,920 by 1,080). The first number represents the amount of vertical pixels, whereas the second one represents the horizontal pixel count.

If the example looks familiar -1,920 by 1,080- it’s because the full HD TV you may have in your living room has 1,080 horizontal pixels when delivering full HD content. No need to count them. Just trust me on this one.

Just like the difference between an old picture of your great grandfather from 100 years ago to a pic taken by a professional camera in 2016. The older ones looks grainy (pixelated) because there is not enough pixel concentration per dot to make it look clear. The same occurs with image definitions on your screen.

Now, when the HD sets first came into the market, the rage was high.

Early adopters, those people who cannot wait to buy the latest technology available, regardless of the price, rushed into the stores. The rest of us waited a while longer until the prices dropped. When we finally got our hands on the HD sets, we could finally detect all the minute details in each of shots.

Friends would gather around the screen to discuss how it was possible to even see the tiny blemishes on the faces of actors and athletes on the screen. It reminded not to get an HD camcorder to record myself. Sometimes, too much detail does not translate into a more pleasurable viewing experience.

Nevertheless, the viewing experience of those movies and sporting events was breathtaking.

 

A TINY PROBLEM

There was a small problem, however, with the introduction of those HD TVs: there was not much HD content available for broadcast. You see, in order to enjoy the HD experience, not only you must have the HD TV, but also the content must have been recorded using HD technology as well.

Which takes us to the technology that followed HD: 3D. When 3D television sets showed up in the market, the same cycle repeated itself. Adopters rushing and marveling at the new technology. The problem again: lack of 3D content.

Let’s step into today’s TV arena. 3D TVs have vanished. For instance, at this year’s CES in Vegas I mentioned earlier, I don’t recall having seen any promotion for 3D sets. Most of the TV manufacturers don’t even incorporate that technology into their new sets.

Thus, the latest and the greatest this year: 4K.

You may find, however, many TVs also including the letter UHD in their displays, with some of them even putting the two –4K and UHD in the same sticker. Is it the same as 4K? Not really.

4K was a standard developed for cinema, with an aspect ratio (comparison of width to height of 1.9:1, so the image is twice as wide as it is high).

UHD, on the other hand, stands for ultra high definition (3,840 by 2,160), it’s twice as higher as Full HD, yet not high enough as 4K (4,096 by 2,160). UHD was a standards developed for consumer displays, which have an aspect ratio of 16:9 (or about 1.8: 1).

So, if you look at the horizontal pixel count, you quickly realize that UHD and 4K are identical. Why don’t TV manufacturers make it easier and call both 2,160 just like they did with 1,080 sets? Good question and well beyond the scope of this post. Let’s just say that, for a person watching TV at home,

the difference is not perceptible

.

4K television display with comparison of resolutions. Ultra HD on on modern TV

4K television display with comparison of resolutions. Ultra HD on on modern TV

CONTENT + ADOPTION

While it’s true that the picture in 4K resolution (rember 4,000 refers to the horizontal pixel count) is extremely impressive -almost 3D like- and exactly 4 times higher than HD, the verdict about its consumer success is still in the air.

For a TV technology to really work in a mass scale, it needs two main elements: content and consumers willing to adopt the technology.

As far as content goes, many producers are still catching up with HD, so it remains to be seen whether they would jump again towards producing 4K content. Moreover, the production of content needs to happen quickly.

Otherwise, it makes no sense to spend the extra money purchasing a 4K TV to display HD content, just because you were promised that the content was on its way. As of now, there is almost no 4K content available out there, with a few minor exceptions.

 

WHAT SHOULD I DO THEN?

Even though we do not recommend nor endorse any products at VIDGO TV, I would advise to purchase a 4K TV set only if we are in the market to purchase a new TV since the technology will not be wasted -the ability to reproduce 4K content.

However, if you are only looking to upgrade because of all the hype surrounding the technology, I would say wait until at least the end of the year, when prices come down and 4K will be more prevalent across the industry.

As for the electronics store employee, next time I am there I will ask him again and in case he doesn’t give a sound answer, I will have to point him to this post.

If you have found this info helpful, please share it with friends.

Here is a collection of a few 4K videos.

From your friends at VIDGO TV, happy watching!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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