A recent article I read stated that by 2020, half of the tv’s in U.S. homes will be 4k. 2020 may seem like a long way off but it takes time for new technology trends to catch on with the general public. TV’s aren’t like other technology such as smartphones and tablets where one might replace them every other year or so. Many people keep their tv until it is outdated or until it just dies.
I am certainly in the early adopter spectrum when it comes to tv and sound system technology but if you’re reading this post, you probably are somewhere in there too. It’s fun to be on the cutting edge but it comes at a price. Early adopters have to spend significantly than their more patient counterparts when it comes to upgrading their technology.
4k has been available to consumers for a few years now but it still has only reached about 15% of consumer tv’s in the U.S. A small number to be sure but it’s poised to more than triple in 3 years. The question is what is the value of 4k and what does the future of 4k look like? Though I’ve already written a post about the difference between 1080 and 4k resolution, it is worth creating a separate post to further describe what all is involved in 4k and its semi-ominous number-letter combination.
Let’s repeat the basics. 4k (UHD) has four times the resolution of 1080p content. 8 million vs. 2 million pixels. This is a large numerical jump but you have to be about 6 feet or closer to your tv screen to notice the pixel improvement. Though the increase in pixels leads to a very crisp looking image, that isn’t the real value in getting a 4k tv. Everything else is improved as well, color processing, motion handling, brightness, thinness, HDR. Getting a 4k tv is only the beginning though because you need 4k content to make the value of 4k come to life. (If you’re going to purchase a tv, please buy a UHD tv because it will help future proof your new tv and 1080p tv sets are very poorly made now because they are considered obsolete.) For streaming services, this post pretty well covers where 4k content is available. It is important to keep in mind that whenever and wherever you stream content, your source will be compressed. This may not be noticeable to you but there will always be a smaller pipe when you’re pulling a file over the internet because that’s just the way it is. Boo! If you want uncompressed 4k beauty, you will need a 4k blu ray player. Samsung released the UBD-K8500 last year and is the player I currently have. Sony and LG have or will be releasing their own UHD blu ray players this year as well. Not only do you need a 4k tv and a 4k blu ray player, you will also need a high-speed HDMI cable and 4k blu ray discs. The cable is pretty easy to take care of, this is the one I use and it works perfectly. The discs are a bit trickier. Even some 4k discs aren’t truly 4k content. If the content you seek wasn’t originally shot or encoded in 4k, you can’t magically translate that to 4k resolution. It will typically end up being an in between resolution like 1440p. While this is an improvement over 1080p it’s disappointing to be investing in new technology and have downright confusing or even misleading labels. This website has a list of all (or nearly all) movies that have been released on 4k, and it says whether or not the content was shot in 4k. Beware of the “fake 4k” column because that content is only very slightly better than a straight blu ray disc.
The best selection of 4k blu ray discs is at Best Buy. I also like checking out Amazon because you can usually save 5-10 bucks by taking a look online. 4k blu rays come with the 4k disc, a regular blu ray disc and usually a digital download code. If you redeem this code on Vudu, you can save a 4k digital copy of that movie. I’m not aware of any other 4k redemption sites so this is the way to go if you like to have the option to stream it in UHD. If you do find a true 4k blu ray and you’ve taken care of the HDMI cable, tv, and 4k blu ray player, be ready for a real treat. Not only are true 4k discs incredibly detailed, they also have HDR encoded in which greatly increases image quality with brighter highlights and improved contrast. Win!
This isn’t an exhaustive explanation of 4k but it should fill the gap that companies and marketing fail to do. P.S. Companies want your money so if they can just slap a fancy label on something and sell it to you, they’re going to! Make sure you always do some research, especially on new technology before it becomes mainstream. Otherwise you might become a victim rather than a happy consumer.