4K TV: Everything You Need to Know About This Emerging TV Technology

4K television display with comparison of resolutions. Ultra HD on on modern TV

If you haven’t shopped for a new TV in the past few years, things have definitely changed — and one of the big changes is the introduction of 4K. Let’s take a look at what 4K is and what it means for the future of TV technology.

What is 4K?

4K represents 3,840 pixels across a TV screen and 2,160 pixels down the screen. This means that a 4K TV can display four times the number of pixels — or twice the resolution (2160p) — of current 1080p HD TVs.

To make 4K more understandable (and appealing) for consumers, the electronics industry has adopted the label “ultra HD,” or UHD, to describe a TV that has 4K resolution display capability.

TV manufacturers including LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, TCL, Hisense and Vizio are also using the ultra HD TV platform to improve color, brightness, contrast and other capabilities, in addition to the increased resolution.

Is Current HDTV Now Obsolete?

Although 4K ultra HD can improve TV viewing, current HDTVs aren’t becoming obsolete anytime soon. Consider the following:

  • You need a large screen to see the picture detail and quality difference between 1080p HDTV and 4K ultra HDTV. Depending on seating distance, a screen as large as 65 inches or greater may be needed to see that difference.

  • Also, when you bring home an ultra HDTV, you don’t start watching everything magically in 4K; content that has been created or recorded in 4K, and either transmitted, streamed or played on a 4K source device, is also needed.

Where’s the 4K Content?

Most of the 4K content available so far is via streaming (Netflix has started; Vudu and Amazon are on the way). For this, you need a very fast Internet connection (wired preferred) with speeds of 15 to 25 mbps second, and your ultra HDTV needs to also be a smart TV with the necessary built-in circuitry that can decode the signal.

4K content is also slowly becoming available via cable and satellite (DISH), which requires renting or purchasing a new cable box or satellite dish.

Other content sources are pending. For example, the ultra HD Blu-ray format has been announced, but that will require the purchase of a new player (starting in late 2015) and, of course, movies will have to be made available in the new format. The new players will still be able to play your current DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

Further off is 4K TV broadcasting. There is no official standard yet that allows over-the-air TV broadcasting in 4K. Once standards are approved, the built-in tuners in current ultra HDTVs will not meet the standard. If you already own an ultra HDTV or plan to buy one within the next year or so, to receive any forthcoming 4K TV broadcasts, you will need to add an external box (or buy a new TV at that time that has the proper tuner).

Reasons to Buy a 4K Ultra HDTV Now

The final decision to buy at this time is yours, but here are two things to consider:

  • All 4K ultra HDTVs have built-in upscaling. This means that current non-4K content (including DVDs, Blu-ray discs and HD cable/satellite) will look better on many 4K ultra HDTVs than they would on a current HDTV, thanks to the added processing capabilities of 4K ultra HDTVs.

  • Prices for a growing number of 4K ultra HDTVs are now more reasonable, with some priced not that much higher than their 1080p counterparts. Vizio is a prime example, with prices ranging from $599 for a 43-inch screen size to $3,999 for an 80-inch monster.

What Lies Ahead for 4K

Consumer help is needed for 4K to succeed. As more people purchased color TVs in the 1960s, more color TV programs were produced. The same went for HDTV — as more HDTVs were purchased (think late 1990s through early 2000s), more HD content was made available. And it will be the same with 4K; the more 4K ultra HDTVs find homes, the more incentive there is for content producers and delivery services to meet demand.

Looking ahead, both HDTV and 4K ultra HDTV can co-exist for the foreseeable future, especially when you consider that there is still a huge library of HD and even non-HD content available.

With the increasing availability of 4K ultra HDTVs on store shelves, combined with a corresponding planned decrease in HDTV production, and a steady increase of available content sources (especially streaming) moving toward 2016 and beyond, it looks like ultra HD will become the main content and delivery standard through the second half of this decade.