Is Now The Time To Buy Into 4K?

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4K_logo.jpgNew technology is like a pretty girl across the room at a party. From far away, she seems too good to be true; and, when you finally end up talking to her, that's often the case. So many times throughout history, a new piece of "revolutionary" technology has come along, usually making huge claims, only to die a whimpering death not long after. I've got a stack of SACDs right here that will back up this claim. I'm looking at you, Frampton Comes Alive!

These days, the new "pretty girl at the party" is 4K/Ultra HD, and it's poised to make a big splash. With support from all the major television manufacturers (who are looking for a way to get people to refresh their current TV sets), the press has been awash with 4K/Ultra HD news in the past few months. But should you rush out and get a new 4K television? Let's look at the evidence in the form of advantages and disadvantages.

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Well, let's get the obvious one out of the way: Ultra HD/4K has more pixels - significantly more than 1080p and enough to make 480p look like a Rubik's Cube. The standard resolution for 4K is 4,096 x 2,160, while the current crop of Ultra HD TVs has a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. For an example of the
difference in pixel count between your current television and an Ultra HD TV, check out the image to the right. 

2.jpgAnother potential benefit of 4K/Ultra HD is color space. For more info on this topic, check out this great article by our own Adrienne Maxwell. Basically the new Rec 2020 standard that Ultra HD/4K is capable of will offer richer, more vibrant colors (and more of them) over the current Rec 709 HD standard. The graph to the right shows how much of a difference there is between the two standards. 

Right now, Ultra HD TVs sit at the top of each company's lineup and are loaded with all the best technologies, which can include things like local dimming to offer the best contrast ratio in an LED-based LCD. I watched a great 4K demo shot from inside a cove next to the ocean and, although the cove was dark and the sky outside very bright, fine details were 3.jpgvisible in both the brightest and darkest spots. The sky wasn't "blown out," and the dark cove wasn't a murky mess. The picture to the right offers a similar setting so you can get an idea of what I mean. 

Another aspect of Ultra HD/4K that manufacturers are touting is the ability to upscale your current HD content to full 4K. Of course, upscaling is not going to give you the same the results as watching something that is natively 4K. I know people who are perfectly happy with the results of upscaling, and others who absolutely hate it. Personally, I think that if the pixels aren't there, they aren't's that simple. Upscaling algorithms have improved, but techniques like bilinear and bicubic filtering can't compete with true 4K and will result in a blurrier, less sharp image, as seen in the 
4.gifpicture to the right. Whether or not upscaling offers a worthwhile improvement is up to you to decide.

If you're a gamer, it might interest you to know that some companies, like Philips, have introduced 4K computer monitors specifically for gaming purposes. Being that one generally sits much closer to a computer monitor, the benefits of 4K's increased resolution would be especially noticeable in this setting. As gamers tend to be big on early adoption, I think this is one area where 4K could gain a foothold faster and easier, with some caveats that I'll discuss in the next section.

Another good reason to buy into 4K is to simply to ready your system for the future. If you are in the market for a new TV right now, you may not be convinced that you need 4K just yet. However, with the increased longevity of today's flat panels, you may still be using this TV when (if) 4K becomes the next standard for streaming, disc, and broadcast content. You'll be ahead of the curve, plus you can show it off to all your friends and feel cool.

Click on over to Page 2 for the Advantages, When to Buy, and the Conclusion . . .

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