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?

LG UH6500 Series 4K Ultra HD TV
LG UH6500 Series 4K Ultra HD TV. Image provided by LG Electronics

The Move to 4K Ultra HD

Although many consumers are still getting used to HDTV, some are now making the jump 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 in terms of 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.

First, there is 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.

Second, there is 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 that you may have with a previous HDTV of the same screen size and still get a satisfying viewing experience, as the pixels are much smaller. In other words, 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.

Third, there is the Content issue. 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.

In other words, 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 2016/17, there are still no 4K Ultra HD TV broadcasts or cable (the tuners built-in your 4K Ultra HD TV is a standard ATSC HD tuner), but there is limited 4K satellite broadcasting from Direct TV.

Also, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format is now in place, and both players and movies are now available.

It is important to note that Sony has been distributing 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 now offers 4K streaming. Titles include House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, as well as some movie and documentary options. The service is available on select 4K Ultra HD TVs that incorporate HEVC codec decoders  - Also, a broadband speed of 15 to 25mbps is required for smooth delivery.

For the future, broadcasting, cable, and satellite providers are all experimenting with ways to deliver 4K content to consumers.

4K Upscaling

Native 4K Ultra HD bodes well for the future, as the content will come - but where does that leave most 4K Ultra HD TV owners now if they can't take advantage of what little 4K content is currently 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.

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.

Final Take

If you are interested in jumping into 4K - check out my periodically updated List of Available 4K Ultra HD TVs.

I also wanted to note that as access to 4K increases, this article will be updated accordingly, as that information becomes available - so stay tuned.