What is a 4K TV

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Ten years ago, the public has gone loco over HDTV and the direction of TV tech. And throughout this episode, some innovations gracefully succeeded while others flopped really hard (don’t forget curved TVs).

Initially released in the late 1990s, it actually took some time before people started to appreciate (and buy) HDTV. But when things started to click on the market, everything that we thought we knew about television (and video, in general) changed. Native sources were reformatted for compatibility, accompanying TV hardware and kits changed, the visual aspect of gaming improved drastically, and even the way we film stepped up. All in all, these changes were driven by the sole objective of viewing videos in a much better way.

Today, we are facing another tech shift. While it is true that HDTV is still the staple in most households, the progress of 4K TV might just spell the end of the former. This piece is all about 4K TV and the recent development of TV tech. It will cover key things that you need to know about this device.

History

In 2003, Dalsa Origin released the first commercially designed 4K camera mainly for cinematographic function. With the sheer supply-and-demand asymmetry, the item was deemed too pricey for the popular taste. In 2010, Youtube started to support 4K video upload. This development was enabled by the popularization of 4K cameras by the more popular manufacturers.

In 2013, 4K TV became increasingly popular in the market. By this time, entry-level models are available to the public with the starting price of $600.

What is 4K? Is it different from UHD?

Not so long ago, we published an article that talks about the ways of choosing TV. The discussion was basically centered on the pros and cons in choosing OLED over LED TV; and the competition between HDTV and 4K.

But what really is 4K? Well, the term widely refers to all the TV with 3840 x 2160 pixel on 16:9 display aspect ratio. They are also called Ultra HD or UHD. Even though they are used interchangeably (try to check your nearest TV shop), they are originally different. 4K was used when talking about to the cinematographic requisite of shooting at the resolution of 4096 x 2160. This was first introduced in the digital cinema, not television. But when 4K resolution became popular in the movie industry, TV manufacturers also started branding their UHD products as 4K. The name stuck to the public until today.

Is it a good buy?

Absolutely! In terms of performance, 4K TV is far superior compared to HDTV. It offers four times the total pixel found in your HDTV (1920 x 1080 pixel). That is twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of a standard HDTV format. It is like looking through a window and not watching TV.

Some people think that 4K shines because of its sharpness. But its real ace is actually on the detail and texture. Always remember that larger pixel density means more defined picture.

However, buying a smaller 4K TV (those below 45 inches) is really not that favorable considering the price. You’ll need a large screen to fully appreciate its glory. Though not necessary, some owners would even opt to sit closer to the screen for a better immersive experience.

There is little question that 4K TV is the future. Heck, you can even argue that people need to get 4K for the sake of device and source compatibility. It is hard to go wrong with them. They are relatively affordable vis-à-vis their quality and features. Their parts are also widely accessible which means cheaper repair cost.

4K Content and the Direction of TV Industry

Even though the 4K content is inferior in number compared to that of HDTV, the progress in this field is pretty fast. In 2014, US satellite provider DirecTV became the first to offer 4K content to the public (though the content is very limited). A British sports network named BT Sport broadcasted the 2015 FA Community Shield football match. Currently, the station still plays FA Cup and even added some leagues like Championship League Football and Premier League.

In 2016, Sportsnet broadcasted the very first NBA game in 4K – a game played by Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic at O2 Arena in London, England. Several American TV providers are also starting to venture the possibility of the 4K broadcast.

Movies are also becoming available in 4K after the release of the first UHD Blu-ray – a device that can process 4k resolution and “High-Dynamic Range” (HDR) at 60 frames per seconds (FPS). When it comes to gaming, PS4 and Xbox One S are available. Both of these consoles can do 4K streaming and gaming. The latter even features UHD Blu-ray disc drive. The newer model called Xbox One X also supports native 4K streaming/gaming. All in all, it is a crystal that the sole direction of these tech industries is to improve video quality and visual experience.

To further drive this point, we can cite its rising popularity in the CES Las Vegas – the world’s leading annual tech show. Apple’s upcoming 4K TV is also an obvious testament to this growing industry.

4K and the Internet

The Internet still remains the biggest source of 4K content. It is also good to know that all newly released models are formatted to support 4K streaming.

If you’re looking for native sources of 4K, Youtube offers a young but sizeable collection. Other online sites that offer 4K include hd-trailers.net and demo-uhd3d.com. Popular streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Video also offer 4k on selected content.

In fact, Netflix opened the streaming of Breaking Bad and House of Cards in 2014 at a 4K resolution to compatible devices with an HEVC decoder (a detailed discussion about this feature will be given later). More recently, Marco Polo and The Blacklist joined this list. Some UHD-scaled films also made it into the circle. Several nature and wildlife documentaries are also available in both of these streaming sites.

Due to 4K video’s voracious data requirement, your device will need the support of fast and stable internet speed. It would be interesting to see how the industry will innovate when it comes to data compression, bandwidth optimization, superior video decoders, and so on.

Things to Note When Looking for 4K

When dishing a considerable amount of money, you always need to at least know what you are buying. For the past years, many manufacturers are presenting “4K TVs” in the market but with far inferior features. As such, you need to skip the basic tags and understand the essential specs when shopping 4K. Listed below are the things that will define the quality of your set:

  • Its resolution should be at the very least 3840 x 2160 pixel. This is the most basic element of 4K.
  • It should be able to display 10-bit color depth or higher. This allows the projection of 1024 shades of each primary color. The then-popular HDTV with 8-bit can only project 256 shades (a stark downgrade). This feature explains one of the key reason why 4K gives off better color quality and vividness. In addition, the device should be capable of showing at least 90% of the P3 color gamut.
  • Look for models with excellent brightness feature (a contrasting black and white projection; dark and light colors). This improves the overall color contrast of your screen.
  • It should be HDR-enabled. While 4K gives detail and texture, HDR offers image richness. 4K and HDR should always go hand in hand. Currently, there are two types of HDR tech to choose from. There’s the open-format HDR10 that Sony and Samsung are using for their products. And the other would be the closed-format Dolby Vision. It is a built-in chip that can’t be added later in the device (unlike the open-format that simply needs a software update). Companies like LG and Vizio use both on their TVs.
  • Choose a 4K that is equipped with HEVC/H.265 High-Efficiency Video Coding. This is to facilitate optimum streaming functions. Technically, it allows the demanding data volume like 4K videos to be compressed and streamed online. Since 4K content can be mainly accessed by means of streaming or download, this feature is a must-have. The installment of HDCP2.2 is also essential for content compatibility.
  • Buy an HDMI cable that supports 4K and HDR. This is to maximize the power of your device. A 4K TV will underperform when backed by an outdated HDMI cable. Given the options today, it is advisable to pick HDMI 2.0 because it can support larger data bandwidth. At the maximum, it can support 4K feeds with full-color sampling at 60FPS. In contrast, HDMI 1.4 can only process 4K at 30FPS.

Aside from the minimum resolution, there really is no definitive standard when it comes to 4K. Thus, this checklist may be too ideal at some point. But as the consumer, you should always do more research to understand specific features and specs that will address your needs.

On the other hand, you may also want to check out our take on the best 4K video camera and our top picks for the best 4K TV.