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4K TV: Is the Picture Really Better?

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

About TV Answer Man (1094 Articles)
The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than two decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television.

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