Q. I bought a 4K TV for a lot of money, but I can’t see much difference in the picture between what I used to have and the so-called 4K picture. Is there something I need to do to make it better? — Corinne, Corsicana, Texas.
Corinne, you are not alone. Many 4K TV owners say they are disappointed in how their new televisions look when they bring them home. They say they expected an eye-popping picture that far exceeds the High-Definition image. However, after looking at the 4K set for a few days, they lament that it seems like it’s just a little better than HD, or perhaps, not even that.
There are two reasons for this dilemma. One I can help solve, and one I can’t.
Let’s start with the one I can’t.
4K TV can deliver a better picture than high-def. And, sometimes, the picture is much better. You will be amazed at how much detail can be seen with the 4K image which offers four times the resolution of HD. And if the 4K program or sporting event is produced in High Dynamic Range (HDR), the colors look even more vivid and realistic.
As an example, I recently watched Fox’s 4K production of the Thursday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. (The game was streamed in 4K on the Fox Sports app.) The picture was fantastic. You could detect individual blades of grass, and even the stitches on the football when it was placed on the ground. The color of the jerseys had an luminous quality that seemed to create a near-glow effect.
After watching the game for just a few minutes, you would immediately understand why someone would be excited about 4K.
However, the Fox game is the exception, not the rule in today’s programming. The networks offer very little content in 4K, mostly just sporting events that require a certain device, such as a Roku Ultra 4K player, or a subscription to a specific pay TV service, such as DIRECTV or Optimum. The streaming services such as Netflix feature some 4K programming, but both the quantity and quality varies.
There’s also 4K Blu-ray discs, but even those sometimes are inconsistent in picture quality.
So, it’s no surprise that Corinne and many other 4K TV owners can’t understand why their picture isn’t dramatically better. In most cases, the programming they watch isn’t much better, if it’s better at all.
There’s hope that the networks will deliver more 4K programming in the near future. But until that happens, 4K TV will continue to disappoint many viewers.
Now, let’s take on the problem I can help fix.
And that is, how can you improve your 4K picture when you are actually watching something in 4K?
There are several things you can do, such as:
1. Calibrate Your TV
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.
2. Buy a Top-Quality 4K TV
Even more so than High-Definition, the quality of the 4K TV really, really matters. If your TV is from a low-cost, little-known brand, your 4K picture will suffer accordingly. I’m not saying you should run out and buy a new one. But….
3. Get a Fast Internet Service
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.
4. Sit Closer
Yes, where you sit matters. 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 4 feet from my 55-inch 4K TV. If I move back just 2-3 feet, the picture detail diminishes.
5. Get a Big 4K TV
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, although I like my 75-inch Sony.
To sum up, Corinne, 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.
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann