Why Isn’t the 4K TV Picture Better Than HD?


Q. I just bought a 4K TV and I have to say I am very confused. I would have to say the 4K picture is not any better than high-def. I’ve tried it on a bunch of stuff, like Blu-ray, Netflix and even DIRECTV, but it’s just not that great. Is that normal? Shouldn’t the 4K picture be better than HD? — Elvin, San Antonio, Texas.

Elvin, you are not alone. Countless 4K TV owners have commented at social media sites and Internet message boards that the 4K picture is not what they expected when they decided to plunk down a grand or two for a new set.

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They lament the 4K picture lacks the detail and crispness you would expect from a format boasting four times the resolution of a high-def image.

So is 4K TV a big hoax? A marketing scheme to get people to buy new sets?

Not really. I am a 4K TV owner (LG 55-inch OLED TV), and I am often amazed at how great the picture is. There is a realism and vividness to the image that I have never experienced before.

But that said, sometimes I am disappointed, too. The picture is flat, too dark, or just not any better than HD.

There are many reasons for this difference in quality, including:

* How the TV is calibrated
4K TV is not plug-and-play TV. After you bring the set home, you will likely have to adjust the TV’s picture settings to display the best image possible. If they are not, you are likely to be disappointed.

After I bought my TV, I spent several hours researching online for the best settings for my particular set, and then experimenting with several ‘picture modes’ before deciding on one. And even after I chose one, I had to go into the manual settings area to adjust a feature to reduce the contrast that was giving my picture ‘the soap opera effect.’

It was not an easy process. And I have been in this business for 25 years.

* The quality of the set
Even more so than High-Definition, the quality of the 4K TV really, really matters. If the TV is from a low-cost, little-known brand, your 4K picture will suffer accordingly.

* How the programming is viewed
If the 4K show is streamed, the Internet service has to be sufficiently fast to deliver the 4K picture. (Netflix, for instance, says the Internet speed must be a minimum of 25 Mbps to stream a 4K program.) So if your Internet service has issues, so will your 4K picture.

The 4K Blu-ray discs also vary in quality, depending upon how they were produced and manufactured.

* Whether the 4K program is HDR (High Dynamic Range)
HDR can add realism and detail to the 4K picture. But most 4K programs are still not available with HDR. As you can imagine, this can be quite confusing to the average consumer who wonders why his picture was so great on one show, but not so great on another.

* Where you sit
Yes, where you sit. You need to sit closer to a 4K TV screen than a high-def screen to truly appreciate the greater resolution of the picture. How close, you ask? It depends on the size of the set. But I sit about 5 feet from my 55-inch 4K TV. If I move back just 2-3 feet, the picture detail diminishes.

* The size of the set
Which brings me to my next point. The bigger the screen, the better the 4K picture will look. It’s not a myth. The added detail in the 4K picture can’t really be appreciated on a small screen.

I would not recommend anyone buy a 4K TV under 55 inches. And if you have the cash for a bigger set than that, buy it. I still wish I had the bought the 65-inch LG OLED.

There are even more reasons why the 4K TV picture can be less than perfect, but I will save those for another column.

To sum up, Elvin, the 4K TV can be a wonderful addition to your living room or media room. But I would not be honest with you, and all my readers, unless I said that it requires some work and research.

As your TV Answer Man, I will try to provide guidance here on how to improve the 4K TV picture as well as other 4K tips.

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Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvpredictions.com. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann

14 comments on “Why Isn’t the 4K TV Picture Better Than HD?”

  1. I Have a Panasonic TX-40EX600B 4K HDR TV which is 40 inches. It does not have all the bells and whistles of the better TVs in its range but i see a huge different between HD and UHD 4K HDR.

    it is in my bedroom so i sit on my bed when using the TV.

  2. Phillip is absolutely correct on adjusting or calibrating your picture when you get the set home. Do this first. You can find professional reviews and settings on most sets from sites such as CNET and Rtings. Use those settings and then adjust accordingly based on room lighting. The professional reviews are almost always done in a dark room. You can also buy a bluray calibration disc which will guide you through the process. Spears & Munsil or Digital Video Essentials are a couple of good ones.
    Your best 4K picture is going to be on a 4K Bluray disc. Netflix also has some excellent 4K programming with he best coming from their “Original” programming.
    If your set has built in Youtube or if you have a Roku or Apple TV 4K or another such streaming box, Youtube has some amazing 4K video demos that will make your set shine. Search for 4K.


  3. Elvin,

    You probably need to upgrade your HDMI cables like I did. Not even a top of the line Monster cable with gold in it from a few years ago works today. You need HDMI 2.0 compliant 18 Gbps cables today for HDR. The AudioQuest chocolate is my favorite. Try those. It will make a huge difference. What TV did you buy?

  4. Any Certified 4k HDMI cable will work fine. No need for expensive cables even though the Audioquest ones are nice. Monoprice as well as Amazon sells very affordable 4k Certified cables.

  5. You’d think so Claude but it’s not true. This move to 4K has been completely unregulated unlike the move to HD. So many things don’t work right and are painful to accomplish. Not even the Belkin HDMI cables from the Apple Store support the AppleTV 4K in HDR. You can use their “Check Cable” feature to test yours.

  6. Jim, I have had no issues with Monoprice Certified 4k cables. Samsung 65” 850D SUHD Tv, Apple 4k TV, Oppo UDP-203 4k bluray player.

  7. Claude: are the HDMI 2.0 or are they HDMI 1.4 ?

    If they are only HDMI 1.4 you most likely will get 4K at 30 fps

    If HDMI 2.0: you will get 4K at 60 fps

    HDMI 2.1 when it comes will do 4K at 120 fps

  8. Andrew, they are Certied HDMI 2.0. 18 Gbps. They pass the Apple 4K test with flying colors. I have replaced all my HDMI cables with them. Check them out. Not expensive. Great reviews.

  9. The main thing with 4K is you need to make sure your TV’s HDMI inputs and outputs are compatible with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 as well as the rest of the “chain”
    That would mean your receiver or pre-pro, source (streaming box/4k bluray player) and cables. The cables are especially important with HDR.

  10. Yes nobody should buy the first 4K tvs or cheap brands 4k tv’s as they often only have one or two HDMI ports that support HDCP 2.2 or even only have HDMI 1.4

    HDMI cables become more important with HDMI 2.1 with new features that only HDMI 2.1 ports and cables support.

    However firmware updates can enable SOME of those features like Dynamic HDR ( HDR10+ )

  11. JJK. your so very wrong. I can tell a difference in quality of picture with my Panasonic 4K HDR TV.

    It depends on who you buy a 4K HDR TV from.

    If you go cheap: £350 then expect it to be rubbish or not as good as more expensive sets !

    Pay £500 or higher for a 4K HDR TV at least and you will get a good picture

    But if you want an amazing 4K HDR TV your going to want to spend at least £1000

    Not all 4K HDR TVs are equal in quality.

    It also depends on the 4K devices and HDMI cables. Both should be HDMI 2.0 and support HDCP 2.2

    Wait for 4K and 8K with HDR that have HDMI 2.1 PORTS as thats the future standard

  12. Hi, replaced my HD 55 inch with 65 inch 4K and not impressed with the picture resolution. I read all the comments about HDMI cables 2.0, 2.1, etc. and I may try those, but I noticed (or it seemed) at first the picture was quite good. I proved it is not the TV itself, as 4K demo videos downloaded are incredible picture. Bought the 4K in December 2019, so it’s newer than the comments posted in 2018 by Andrew and Claude, who seem knowledgeable enough, so what’s the best cables now? ALSO, I thought at first it was the aspect ratio, as the picture is too big for the screen, even though I was able to fiddle with the settings on the TV I can’t reduce the screen picture size. I think 10% less would clear up the picture. Really disappointed about replacing our perfectly good 55″ HD tv with this 65″ blurry piece of crap. HELP!!! Thanks in advance.

    1. Jack, if you have calibrated you’re set as I mentioned in an earlier post and you are using 4K or 8K certified HDMI cables from Monoprice or Anazon, you should be getting a superb picture from 4K sources. Not all 4K is top notch though. It all depends on how it was created. Garbage in, garbage out, just like with standard HD. What set did you buy?

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