Ultra High Definition 4K TV technology is the hottest topic in tellydom right now.
Major manufacturers are fast-tracking large screen 4K TVs able to display four times the resolution of current HD sets, while broadcasters conduct widespread technical trials behind the scenes.
The nascent format dominated this summer's IFA tech fest and it looks certain to do the same at the 2014 International CES in January. Even pro-broadcast bash IBC was 4K obsessed this year.
But for normal folks, it may be tempting to cock a snoot when it comes to shortlisting that next TV. However that could prove a costly mistake if you're planning to buy a well-heeled Full HD flatscreen.
Need convincing? Here are eleven reasons why we think your next TV needs to be 4K…
1. A 4K TV today will futureproof your viewing tomorrow
There may be naff all to watch in native 4K right now, but pay TV operators are quietly sketching out roadmaps and the Ultra HD content is coming. There have been experiments with all types of 4K delivery, from over the air and satellite to Internet streaming, and the general consensus seems to be that the technology infrastructure is all doable.
There's just the small matter of codecs and decoding chipsets to sort out; the most off-quoted panacea is HEVC/H.256, but in reality there are a variety of solutions in development. Increasingly programme makers are shifting to 4K acquisition too, as production formats like XAVC slash the economics of 4K TV production.
2. 4K makes today's Full HD TV look better
Native 4K TV may represent televisual nirvana, but the simple fact is a 4K UHD screen makes today's TV content look better too. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, a large screen 4K panel delivers a smoother looking image than an equivalent Full HD screen because the pixel density is four times greater – and having lived with a few 4K sets we can assure you that difference is noticeable.
Secondly, the upscaling technology used to interpolate 1080p content to 2160p is positively Asgardian in its brilliance. Rather than rely on linear scaling, top chips dynamically address image databases to interpolate data. The Panasonic TX-L65WT600, for example, employs a database of 120,000 textures used to guessitmate detail. And we know for a fact that at least one of those entries is dedicated to replicating sequins for Strictly Come Dancing.
3. 4K does justice to your digital photography
We all take digital snaps at a higher resolution than we see them onscreen. Watching your holiday JPEGs on the TV is fun and convenient, but you're only seeing a fraction of what's present in the image; a 4K TV with Ultra High Definition JPEG playback will reveal four times the picture information. It's like seeing your photographs again for the first time.
4. 4K Blu-ray is coming - and it's going to be magnificent
If you're an avid Blu-ray collector, then you'll want to ensure your next TV is able to make the most of Blu-ray's upcoming evolution. Although specifications have yet to be released, the Blu-ray Disc Association is on the cusp of green-lighting a 4K BD format which utilises 100GB triple layer discs. The new system will also support high frame rate UHD, so Peter Jackson's Hobbits should feel right at home.
5. 4K TVs aren't just about more resolution
The Ultra HD revolution isn't just about quadrupling resolution, it also supports faster frame rates, insane contrast dynamics and extended colours. According to research by the EBU and the BBC, viewers are equally receptive to high native frame rates (up to 100Hz), because images are perceived to be more naturalistic and detailed.
And unlike the resolution boost, high frame rate (HFR) UHD is appreciable from a variety of viewing distances and on different screen sizes. Indeed, it's HFR which will ultimately make 4K UHD the smart choice on screens smaller than 50-inches.
6. 4K internet browsing is frickin' mind-blowing
With a native 4K browser in your TV's smart armory, the Internet literally becomes a killer app. When you view Google Maps in a browser, it interrogates the resolution of your display and adjusts available information and detail accordingly. So while this makes the mapping experience is a bit 'meh' on a regular Smart TV, the level of clarity that springs up on a 4K set is eye-popping. It's like orienteering with a remote control.
7. 4K home movies are coming too!
To heck with Hollywood, you'll soon be able to record your own movies in 4K UHD. Sony's incoming FDR-AX1E camcorder records 4K in the new XAVC S home format (a derivation of the broadcast 4K video XAVC acquisition format), which uses MPEG-4 AVC/H.264. With a 3840x 2160 update seemingly planned for the AVCHD format, a 4K TV becomes a no-brainer if you want to see your family holiday videos played back in chilling clarity. And you can already get smartphones and action cams that record in 4K!
8. 4K gaming is an inevitability
Panasonic's 65-inch WT600 4K TV has shown just how compelling 4K gaming can look, thanks to its provision of a DisplayPort v1.2a connection. Hooked up to a PC with 4K graphics card (you're going to need something in the order of dual Nvidia GeForce GTX Titans, no small investment), the huge pixel-packed panel proves that high-frame rate gaming can look stupendous. When high-spec graphics cards begin to sport HDMI 2.0 connections, UHD gaming will really take off…
9. 4K TV sports coverage is better than actually being there
Sky and other international broadcasters have made no bones about the fact that they see 2160p 50/60Hz sports coverage as a killer app for the new Ultra HD format. The fluidity of movement that the technology offers, complete with unbeatable detail, delivers a viewing experience they believe punters will be happy to pay a premium for. Indeed, veteran Sky Sports director in the UK Tony Mills says that 4K could fundamentally change the language of TV sports coverage. "The extra resolution means you no longer need to keep cutting to big close-ups," he says. "You can clearly see the emotion on a player's face from a distance…"
10. 4K panel prices are tumbling
It's not a question of "when will…" 4K panels fall in price, more like "how far and how fast…" As more manufacturers commit to procuring more 4K panels, volume production from panel vendors will escalate and prices will tumble. This year it took just months for first generation screen prices to be revised downwards, and next year's UHD models are likely to carry only a modest price premium over similarly sized Full HD models.
11. 4K TV really isn't a 3D-like fad
It may be tempting to dismiss 4K as being as faddish as stereoscopy, however there's little reason to link the two. Home 3D has been widely derided largely because the viewing experience is both uncomfortable and gimmicky. None of that applies to 4K. A better picture is simply a better picture. Ironically, 4K also makes 3D look better, but we're not even going to go there…
Samsung UE55F9000 55-inch Ultra HD TV
Panasonic TX-L65WT600 65-inch Ultra HD TV
Sony KD-65X9005A 65-inch Ultra HD TV
LG 84LM960V 84-inch Ultra HD TV
Sony KD-84X9005 84-inch Ultra HD TV
More 4K TV reviews on the way from Toshiba, Sony and Philips
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