If you’re in the market for a new TV, you’re probably thinking about getting a 4K or Ultra HD model. Is there a difference, and what exactly should you be looking for when you buy? Here’s what you need to know before diving in.
HD, UHD, 4K and 8K
High Definition Television (HDTV) is the standard that’s been in use for the last decade or so, and you’ll find it difficult to buy a TV that isn’t at least “HD Ready”, which means capable of displaying at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p).
Not only that, but most modern TVs that you can still buy new are “Full HD”, which means capable of displaying at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (1080p).
The “p” here stands for “progressive”, meaning that the entire image is drawn each frame. The alternative is “i” for “interlaced” (and 1080i is a HDTV standard), meaning odd and even lines are displayed in alternate frames, resulting in a lower quality picture.
Along those lines, the term 4K refers to any display format with a horizontal resolution of approximately 4,000 pixels. This is slightly confusing as TV resolutions, at least up until this point, have generally been referred to by the number of vertical pixels.
- The Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) standard is the most common for digital production and mandates a resolution of 4096 x 2160.
- UHD-1, often referred to as 4K UHD or just 4K, and occasionally as 2160p, is a TV display standard that refers to a resolution of 3840 x 2160, which is four times the pixel count of Full HD.
Most modern TV displays are UHD-1 as the wider aspect ratio of DCI 4K is not suitable for most TV content. However, they are both almost universally referred to as 4K.
There is also Full Ultra HD, sometimes called 8K, which refers to a resolution of 7620 x 4320. There are few TVs that can display this as of this writing, and those that do occupy the extreme higher end of the market. (The smallest screen size for such a TV is 85 inches!)
For the most part, 4K and UHD can be taken to mean the same thing.
Well, Do You Need UHD?
We’ve previously discussed whether it’s worth upgrading to 4K (short answer: No), and while the content situation has certainly improved, the fact remains that you probably won’t notice the higher resolution even when watching native 4K content.
Sure, if you’re sitting less than six feet away from a 55-inch TV and you have perfect vision, you might notice a difference. At greater distances, smaller screen sizes, or worse eyesight, you probably won’t. In most circumstances, the difference is marginal and may not be worth the cost of upgrading.
But there may be other valid reasons to make the upgrade. The higher resolution may not benefit you much, but there are other features of UHD TVs that may persuade you. Not all UHD TVs have them, however, so it’s important to tread carefully.
The new Ultra HD Premium standard specifies increased color depth (over a billion colors) and a higher dynamic range so the quality of the picture should be noticeably superior to current standards. The logo is a guarantee that the device meets these rigorous standards and will be able to display UHD content as it’s meant to be seen.
This standard has been embraced by manufacturers like LG, Panasonic, and Samsung as well as content providers like Netflix, Warner Bros, and 20th Century Fox. Sony doesn’t use the logo even though it was part of the UHD Alliance that developed it, but many of its TVs meet or exceed the required specifications.
A Few Other Points to Consider
If you do take the plunge and treat yourself to a new UHD TV, you may need to make some other upgrades to get the most out of it. Your existing devices, cables, and services will all still work just fine but they may not allow you to view UHD-quality pictures.
While HD content that’s been upscaled to UHD will look fine, you’ll really want a provider that’s broadcasting in UHD.
Netflix has a growing amount of content available in UHD, but only on its premium plan. Amazon Prime members can view UHD content at no extra cost. In any case, you’ll need a streaming device that can handle UHD, and fast reliable broadband. (Netflix recommends 25 Mbps while Amazon recommends 15 Mbps.)
You may need to change your cable or satellite subscription plan to get access to UHD content. It will probably cost more.
Your old Blu-Ray player will also need replacing. UHD Blu-Ray players will upscale existing 1080p Blu-Rays as well as play the higher resolution (and more expensive) UHD discs.
You may need a new HDMI cable too. While HDMI 1.4 is capable of displaying UHD resolutions, HDMI 2.o is needed to display them at 60 frames per second. The vast majority of UHD content is still 30 frames per second but increases are on their way.
Ultimately, while it’s not yet time to throw your HD TV on the scrapheap, if you are buying a mid- or high-end TV in the near future, you’ll probably be looking for a UHD model.
The standard is still emerging and it will be a while before it’s universal, but the Ultra HD Premium logo should ensure that you’re buying something that will continue to display the latest content in the best possible way for years to come.
Have you upgraded to UHD? Can you notice the difference? Is it worth it? Or are you planning to upgrade? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credits: Resolution Comparison by Patryk Kosmider via Shutterstock, Side-by-side UHD by scyther5 via Shutterstock, Internet Speed by donskarpo via Shutterstock, TV upgrade by scyther5 via Shutterstock