Q. I watched the Super Bowl in 4K at a friend’s house. And I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed. The picture seemed a bit brighter and sharper at some points, but not what I was led to believe it was supposed to look like. I thought 4K was supposed to be this great breakthrough in picture technology, that you could see details you’ve never seen before. But I couldn’t see anything all that great. It was just a little better. What am I missing here? Am I crazy? — Pedro, Corpus Christi, Texas.
Pedro, I also watched the Super Bowl in 4K and, like you, I thought the picture looked slightly better than a traditional HD broadcast of the game. But, no, not dramatically better. The colors were more vivid, but the detail was just a marginal improvement over high-def.
There were numerous comments on social media sites, and here at TVAnswerman.com, that echoed that sentiment.
But…there were also a large number of people who posted comments suggesting they were dazzled by the 4K picture. They said they couldn’t believe how clear and realistic the picture was
And that is 4K TV in a nutshell. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new TV technology that has opinion so divided on its benefits and necessity. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, a Netflix original series, a Blu-ray 4K movie, or a travelogue on YouTube, there is no consensus on how good the picture is. Some love 4K; some say 4K is meh.
While 4K TV set sales have risen steadily over the last few years, there’s little evidence that 4K viewing has as well. The fact that the broadcast networks still do not offer 4K programming other than special events that can only be seen on specialty channels on pay TV services should tell you something. The network executives have clearly concluded there is only tepid demand for shows in 4K.
Likewise, HBO is still not offering a separate 4K broadcast, nor is Showtime, Starz, or any other leading basic or premium cable channel. ESPN is doing some college football in 4K, but again, you can only watch it on the specialty channels found on services such as DIRECTV and Comcast.
This is not encouraging for 4K fans considering that 4K TVs have been in stores now for nearly a decade. In comparison, there were a few dozen channels available in High-Definition roughly 10 years after HDTVs were launched.
I suspect this trend will continue because, in my humble opinion, 4K TV is just better than HD, not a lot better. And it’s only better when your 4K TV is properly calibrated, when you are watching on a top-quality 4K TV, when the show or movie is properly produced in 4K, and if you happen to be sitting close enough to the screen to appreciate the extra resolution.
Oh, you didn’t know that the quality of 4K can vary depending upon those factors, and several others?
It’s true. 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. You will also have to buy a 4K TV that’s highly rated because some low-cost models are not terribly good. And you will need to sit probably at least 3-4 feet closer to the screen than you normally would. And you’ll need at least a 55-inch TV, again to truly appreciate the extra pixels.
And if you get all that done — and the programmer decides to produce the 4K show or movie the way it’s supposed to be produced — you might see an improvement in the picture, and perhaps even be dazzled.
But that’s a lot of work to simply get a better picture, isn’t it? For many videophiles, it’s worth it. But for the average consumer, it may not be.
To sum up, Pedro, 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 a lot of work and research.
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— Phillip Swann