Q. I’ve been thinking of upgrading my Panasonic Plasma High-Definition TV to a new 4K TV. But I’m not sure if it’s worth the investment. Is 4K really better than HD? Or is it just a marketing scheme from the TV guys? My friend who has a 4K TV says he can’t see much difference in the picture. — Dan, Houston.
Dan, your friend is not alone in that assessment. 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.
But, that said, 4K TV is not a marketing scheme to get people to buy new sets.
I am a 4K TV owner (LG 55-inch B6 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 I have to admit that, 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 roughly 30 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. FuboTV, the live streaming service that offers live events in 4K, says it should be 40 Mbps.) 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.
(There’s also relatively little programming available in 4K. See this article for more. )
* 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. (It also doesn’t help that some sets are not compatible with all HDR formats.)
* 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 3-4 feet from my 55-inch 4K TV. If I move back just 2-3 feet, the picture detail diminishes. (See my article, ‘4K TV: How Far Away Should You Sit?‘)
* 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 that 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.
To sum up, Dan, 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.
However, here’s my final verdict on your question:
If you are in the market for a new TV, I would recommend getting a 4K set. The technology inside most new 4K TVs will make your high-def picture look even better, and, when the set is calibrated correctly, you will be pleased with how many 4K programs look as well.
But if you’re happy with your current HDTV, there’s no rush to get a new 4K one. In general, the industry is still working out the kinks.
In a year or so, when more 4K programming is available, when 4K technology standards are reconciled, and when set prices come down even further, I will likely have a different opinion. But until then…
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— Phillip Swann