What is 4K? Everything you need to know about 4K Ultra HD

4K Ultra HD: These days, it’s hard no to find a 4K TV when shopping for a new TV. Now the dominant standard for high-definition viewing, UHD TVs are available in a variety of sizes, with a variety of features and other add-ons to enhance the experience. While 8K TVs are gaining ground (with 16K models not far behind), 4K TVs are what you’ll need to maximize the performance of today’s HD components. We’re talking about things like gaming systems, Blu-ray players, and streaming media platforms.

Whether you’re shopping for your first 4K TV or just want to refresh the tech, we’ve got you covered with this detailed breakdown of the number of most sought-after pixels in TVs.

What is 4K UltraHD?

Simply put, 4K Ultra HD is the name given to a screen with four times the resolution of a Full HD (1080p) TV. That translates to 8 million pixels crammed into the same space that a Full HD TV fits just 2 million, which is achieved by making each pixel four times smaller. The result for the average viewer? A clearer picture, more accurate color, and with most new TVs, high dynamic range, or HDR (more on that in a bit).

Since each pixel is smaller, and therefore each is allocated a small portion of a larger image, it doesn’t make much sense to increase the resolution on smaller screens – the extra pixels have a bigger impact on a larger screen. big. because you can place more of them. As such, you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many 4K TVs with a screen smaller than 40 inches.

Is there a difference between 4K and UHD?

At the consumer level, no. The two terms are practically interchangeable. But talk to professionals in the video production or film industry and they’ll tell you how what we humble consumers call 4K isn’t really 4K at all. Technically, they are right.

In the professional world, 4K is a digital cinema standard that requires a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. That first number is a horizontal measurement, the last number is vertical, and they work because they adjust to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Looking at those numbers, it makes sense to use the term 4K, because the horizontal measurement is in the neighborhood of four thousand and double the previous standard of 2K (2048 x 1080).

A side by side comparison of 1080p vs 4K resolution.

Are you still with us? Good, because now we’re going back to the land of consumer television, where the vast majority of us live. Here we see TVs with an aspect ratio of 16:9 or 1.78:1. That’s not as wide as what the pros use, so the pixel resolution we get ends up being 3840 x 2160, twice the horizontal and vertical measurements of Full HD (1920 x 1080). Do those math and that’s four times the pixel resolution.

In 2013, the Consumer Electronics Association, now known as the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), decided that to end confusion and ease marketing, Ultra HD should be the official name of the new resolution standard. Unfortunately, people have been calling it 4K for so long that the name didn’t really stick, which is why manufacturers have opted to brand their latest models as 4K Ultra HD, or just 4K.

Do I need a 4K Ultra HD TV?

One might also ask: Do I have need a porterhouse steak? Of course not! You can do just fine with a sirloin, can’t you? Likewise, your 1080p HDTV will still be working years from now because 1080p digital broadcast standards aren’t going to go away like analog broadcasts did in 2009, even with 4K quickly becoming the industry standard. Still, you might be tempted to upgrade once you sit down in front of a 4K Ultra HD TV.

Bottom line: If you’re happy with your TV, there’s no need to upgrade, but if you’re buying a new TV, you’d be foolish not to make the jump to 4K Ultra HD. It’s not like the price stands in your way, either. There are plenty of budget 4K TVs on the market, with prices starting at around $300 for a modest 50-inch model, $400 for a 55-inch, and $500-600 for a behemoth 65-inch model. Not bad, right?

What brands make the best 4K Ultra HD TVs?

There is no shortage of 4K TVs on the market, and almost every manufacturer mass-produces them. However, that’s not to say they’re all worth your hard-earned money. If you’re on a sizable budget, you’re better off sticking with the higher-end models from bigger TV brands like LG, Samsung, and Sony, while those with less money to spend who expect to get the biggest screen for the cheapest price. As far as possible they should. turn your attention to TCL, Hisense and Vizio, brands that are churning out impressive 4K panels that are beginning to rival the big players.

In terms of which is the best, that’s relative to its price and what you’re hoping to get out of the TV. If you’re looking for a simple interface, with loads of built-in streaming features, you can’t go wrong with a TCL Roku 4K TV. To get the best possible images, you’ll want to choose an LG, Samsung or Sony, more specifically a QLED or an OLED. And for lots of screen space and performance on a budget, it’s Vizio.

The LG Signature W7 OLED Series 65 OLED65W7P wallpaper.
Rich Shibley/Clear Tips

Do all 4K Ultra HD TVs have HDR?

High Dynamic Range, known as HDR, in TVs includes multiple formats that deliver brighter whites and darker blacks, increasing color volume and shading, and improving contrast than standard displays, ultimately resulting in more vivid details. Lots of people (including us) say that when done right, HDR is a more noticeable improvement over 4K resolution, and if you’re looking for a new reason to buy a TV, this is a great one.

The screen of the LG A1 OLED 4K HDR TV showing images of a colorful landscape at sunset.
Dan Baker/Clear Tips

It’s rare these days to find a 4K TV that doesn’t have HDR on board, though it’s worth checking to make sure the one you’re looking at does, especially if you’re aiming for the lower end of the market. With that in mind, there are a few different varieties of HDR, including Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), which is a broadcast-focused version that’s starting to hit the mainstream, HDR10, and its more dynamic counterpart, HDR10+. . HDR10 is the most common variety, while Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are usually found on more premium models, with some brands choosing one over the other. HLG may be important one day, but in the US, it is less of a factor today.

Can 4K Ultra HD TVs play Full HD (1080p) content?

Yes, 4K Ultra HD TVs can play Full HD content, but it won’t display in the standard 1920 x 1080 resolution we all know and love. Instead, to fill the extra pixels that make up a 4K Ultra HD display, the content must first be upscaled. The same applies to content shot or rendered in SD resolution.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean you have to wait for HD shows to convert to a higher resolution before you can start watching them. The enhancement takes place in real time while the material is playing. Keep in mind, though, that while most 4K Ultra HD TVs from the big manufacturers do a solid job of upscaling, some budget brands don’t, so we’d suggest sticking with the aforementioned brands. for best results.

That said, if you’ve already pulled the trigger on a 4K TV with less-than-perfect upscaling, you have a few options: You can out it to a mid-to-high-end A/V receiver with 4K Upscaling, or if you’re playing a DVD, you can invest in a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player (or even an Ultra HD Blu-ray compatible Playstation 5 or Xbox Series X) as most of them have an upgrading processor of their own under the hood.

Where can I watch 4K Ultra HD content?

There are a growing number of on-demand streaming options available, including Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, and even Hulu has rejoined the party (to a lesser extent). If you’re more of a physical media type of person (and enjoy the extra performance quality they offer), the release of Ultra HD Blu-ray in 2016 opened up a host of additional options, a sizeable chunk of which can be rent via DVD from Netflix (Yes, that’s still a thing) or bought from Amazon. There are also multiple download services that offer 4K resolution content, including iTunes, Google Play, and others.

And finally, there are likely to be a host of new streaming services soon that will host 4K content. Disney added a major chunk to Disney+, which has hundreds of hours of movies and shows ready to fill all those pixels.

Netflix's selection of 4K movies and shows.

When it comes to live TV, you still won’t find 4K packages from many cable or satellite companies, but Dish Network, DirecTV, and Comcast have started to dabble in the space, but it’s still very limited and mostly relegated to pre-recorded content or transmitted. At the moment, 4K is mostly implemented for special events like the Olympics or other sporting events.

As for over-the-air TV broadcasting, Ultra HD isn’t available yet, though ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast standard, is coming and will pave the way for 4K broadcasts permanently.

Should I buy a 4K TV or wait for 8K?

While 4K Ultra HD may seem like the next big thing, there’s already a new kid on the block. It’s called 8K, and at a resolution of 7680 x 4320 (or 4320p), it’s four times that of 4K Ultra HD and 16 times that of Full HD. That might sound too appealing, but there are a couple of reasons you’ll want to stay away from them for now: The first is that 8K TVs are incredibly expensive.

Even if your pockets are deep, we recommend that you don’t pocket one right now. 4K Ultra HD has pretty much become the new industry standard, and there’s a lot of work to be done before 8K replaces it, even if it looks like development has come on in leaps and bounds. TV technology is likely to become very mature from time to time, which could ultimately render current models obsolete.

To make matters worse, the industry is already starting to talk about 16K, which you shouldn’t even consider if you’re not a member of the 1%. Even then, there’s no real 16K content at the moment, save for some pseudoscience that allows manufacturers like Sony to show their fidelity to the best of their ability. The same sounds for 8K, so you’d just be bleeding your wallet for the privilege of technological clout. Your only real reason to pick something in this category right now is if you have massive viewing needs, as the latest TV technology supports much larger sets than today’s mainstream 4K models.

Your best bet is to pour your budget into the best QLED or OLED (depending on your preference) TV you can find. It will serve you better in the long run and you won’t risk having an 8K TV that could become outdated before 8K hits the mainstream. Right now, 4K Ultra HD is the only resolution worth investing in, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

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