Q. I tried watching the Bears and Buccaneers game in 4K on the Fox app on Thursday night. It was a glitchy mess with the sound going off and the picture sometimes freezing and not looking very great when it wasn’t glitching. What’s the deal?!! Isn’t 4K supposed to be the next big damn thing?!! — Tony, Las Vegas. 

Tony, welcome to the unbearable madness of being a 4K TV owner.

Yes, 4K TV is supposed to be the next big thing, even the next big damn thing, if you will. But anyone who has tried to watch 4K on a consistent basis knows that it’s anything but consistent. Sometimes the picture looks great. Sometimes it looks awful. And sometimes it’s in between so you’re not really sure if it’s HD or 4K.

The reasons for the consistent inconsistency of a live 4K broadcast could fill a book. But they include whether you have calibrated your set; whether the broadcast is produced in 4K, or produced in high-def and ‘upscaled’ to 4K (Fox does that with Thursday Night Football.), the pay TV service or app you are using (some are better than others), whether you are watching over the Internet (a poor connection can cause technical problems), whether the broadcast team is having infrastructure issues, and so on and so on.

Bottom line: Unlike High-Definition, which usually delivers a consistent live picture, 4K’s picture quality varies dramatically. Two people in the same household could have totally different takes on how the 4K images look depending upon which device and set they are using, and whether the Internet connection is better in one room over the other.

The lack of a consistent standard is a major reason why 4K TV has not become the next big damn thing. It’s difficult to gin up any positive word-of-mouth when you can’t say that 4K looks great all the time.

The Thursday Night Football airing of the Bears-Buccaneers game on October 8 provided more evidence of the fickleness of live 4K. (The game was the first 4K TNF game of the season; Fox is doing 11.)

Fox did the broadcast which means they produced it in HD and ‘upscaled’ it to 4K for home delivery. Upscaling is when you take a picture in one format and transfer it to another, allegedly a better one. As you can imagine, that can be complicated and the transfer doesn’t always translate to quality. It also sometimes causes unexpected technical issues such as audio loss or picture freezing.

Just look at these complaints from Thursday night. (Social media on Thursday night overflowed with angry messages from 4K TV owners.)

But if you told some other 4K TV owners that the picture looked anything but sensational, they would look at you like you wanted to bring back Jay Cutler to quarterback the Bears.

So, Tony, and all 4K TV owners, all I can tell you is that 4K TV, particularly live 4K sports, can be a wonderous thing. But it can also be an exercise in futility and frustration.

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— Phillip Swann