What You Need to See 4K Resolution On A 4K Ultra HD TV

What are you actually seeing on that new 4K Ultra HD TV?

Sony X830F Series 4K Ultra HD TV
Sony X830F Series 4K Ultra HD TV. Image via Sony

Although many consumers are still getting used to HDTV, a growing number are making the jump higher into 4K with the purchase of their first Ultra HD TV.

There is a lot of hype about 4K Ultra HD TVs, and, no doubt, these sets can deliver a higher resolution image, but there some things to take into consideration that determines what you can actually see on the screen.

Screen Size, Seating Distance, and Content

There are three main factors to take into consideration in order to see the difference between HD and Ultra HD.

  • Screen Size. Although many 4K Ultra HD TVs come in sizes 65-inches and below, it may be difficult for many consumers to perceive a significant difference between 1080p HD and 4K Ultra HD at those screen sizes. However, in screen sizes, 70-inches and up - the difference between HD and Ultra HD begins to become noticeable. The larger the screen size gets — the more noticeable the difference, in terms of detail displayed on the screen, as 4K Ultra HD TVs will retain more of it. If you have the room and the budget, consider a 4K Ultra HD TV with a screen size larger than 65-inches.
  • Seating Distance. Along with screen size, the closer you sit to the TV also makes a difference. For example, if you shelled out money for a 55 or 65-inch 4K Ultra HD TV, you can sit closer to the screen than you may have with a previous HDTV of the same screen size and still get a satisfying viewing experience, as the pixels (the dots that make up the screen) are much smaller. This means that the distance at which a 4K Ultra HD TV's pixel structure becomes visible requires a much closer seating distance than you would find with a 720p or 1080p HDTV.
  • Content. OK, even taking the first two factors discussed above, those plunging into 4K Ultra HD notice that there isn't a lot of native 4K content available — which means that even if you have a 4K Ultra HD TV, you may not be able to fully take advantage of its higher resolution display capabilities. Just because you have one of these new cutting-edge sets, doesn't mean that everything you see on the screen is in glorious 4K.

As of 2018, there are still no 4K Ultra HD TV broadcasts, although they are on the way (the tuners built-in your 4K Ultra HD TV is a standard ATSC HD tuner). Cable isn't faring much better as there is only spotty service from Comcast. However, although limited, there is steady, 4K satellite broadcasting from Direct TV.

Also, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format is now in place, with both players and movies available in disc format. However, that does require the purchase of a new player and discs, but the upside is that those new players can still play your old DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.

It is important to note that Sony distributed a line of 4K mastered Blu-ray Discs that, although they are still 1080p for playback on standard Blu-ray Disc players, there are some added cues embedded in the discs that allow Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs to extract more detail and color clarity for display on their 4K Ultra HD TVs.

In addition, Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon all offer 4K streaming. These services are available on a growing number of media streamers from Roku, Amazon, Google Chromecast, as well as select 4K Ultra HD TVs that incorporate HEVC codec decoders. Also, a broadband speed of 15 to 25mbps is required for smooth delivery.

4K Upscaling

Native 4K Ultra HD bodes well for the future as content and compatible devices continue to roll out. However, where does that leave many 4K Ultra HD TV owners if they can't take advantage of the 4K content that is available?

The answer to that question lies in the fact that all 4K Ultra HD TVs can upscale currently available standard and HD resolution content to match as closely as possible to 4K. Also, in a parallel development, an increasing number of Blu-ray Disc players, and Home Theater receivers also incorporate 4K upscaling capability. In addition, Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players can also upscale DVDs and Blu-ray discs to better match the display capabilities of Ultra HD TVs.

Although not as accurate as true 4K, depending on the quality of the content, results can look better than what you see on a 1080p TV (taking the screen size and seating distance factors noted previously in this article). However, let's face it, VHS, standard resolution broadcast, cable, or satellite, and standard DVD won't look that great on a large screen 4K Ultra HD TV, but a good HD broadcast, cable, satellite, or Blu-ray disc can look great.

The Bottom Line

4K is here to stay. If you haven't shopped for a TV in a while, you will notice that a large majority of TVs on store shelves are 4K models. Most of these sets are also are smart TVs and a growing number also provide advanced features, such as HDR, which takes advantage of special brightness encoding on Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs and select streaming content.

If you are interested in jumping into 4K, check out our periodically updated list of available 4K Ultra HD TVs.