Video and Audio Center Blog

Monday, January 06, 2014


Anyone who buys electronic equipment - or lifestyle products like MP3 players or smartphones or tablets - knows that you always pay more for the first generation of something "new." So you wait a while for the next generation to come out and the price to come down, at least for the first generation. But few buy that first generation product then because the 2nd has features the 1st lacked - usually hardware related that can't be duplicated.

So say hello to the exception - the 4K television. These high-def sets don't follow this "more to start, less later" rulebook at all. Let's huddle up to tag the reasons why waiting just isn't going to be necessary for anyone looking to have a really, really good picture for their home theater (make that bedroom or living room or called whatever you want).

4K to HDTV Isn't Like VCR to DVD

Resolution matters. A 4K's 3840 x 2160 pixel count is four times higher than an HDTV's 1920 x 1080. This isn't going to change from one generation of 4K TV to the next. You buy a 4K panel today or tomorrow and it's not going to change. But it's a mistake to think that the only difference between 4K and an HDTV is greater resolution, because it's not.

What also comes along due to the change in resolution is a change in the color palette and range of colors that are presented. At its most basic, blacks are blacker and whites are whiter to the eye, with the dynamic range of colors many times superior. So you could definitively say it's a broader, deeper color palette. This is something that can be seen and again is "locked into" the 4K system. The different TV manufacturers can modify the overall look through various enhancement technologies (Sony for example has their TRILUMINOS Display tech working here), but right out of the box a 4K TVs high-resolution picture is going to look fantastic every time your eyes hit the screen.

The Features You Want Are Already There

2nd generation models often had features in hardware that the 1st lacked, and which made having waited for them smart. But today's 4K sets are already "Smart" -- they all have "Smart TV" functions built in like the ability to stream video (Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, etc.), load in apps (Android and proprietary) and access specialized programming. Plus the support team for "Smart" is there as well -- by that we mean WiFi — a fast wireless connection so that no cables are needed — and which connect quickly and seamlessly to your home network in a way that, just a dozen years ago, would seem like magic to IT folks back then. Samsung's 55" 4K can even be updated like a computer moving forward, obviating the problem of something new in hardware causing grief because it wasn't available when you first got the set. They call it "Smart Evolution," but frankly it's just common sense.

Waiting for Mr. Content

A real argument against getting a 4K Ultra HD TV -- beside the belief of some that you can't "see" the difference between a 4K and a 1080p HDTV -- is that you'll have to wait on content for years, just like was the case with HDTV and networks/cable channels broadcasting in high resolution and the advent of Blu-ray discs. But while that was true then, the speed at which things are moving, 4K content wise, is almost scary. Movie studios are already making 4K movies available for home viewing (look at Sony's Ultra HD Media Player as an example) and discussions as to putting 4K titles on modified Blu-ray Discs isn't a fairy tale. Of course this requires players that can handle the bandwidth needs of 4K and a number of them are being announced as we speak at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) going on in Las Vegas. Broadcasts of 4K may be lagging behind a bit, but only a bit and they're coming along too — in the meantime, consider how incredible the Superbowl is going to look on one of these sets, like the Sony 65" X900A, and how much better to watch at home than being buffeted by crowds at a sports bar filled with flat-panel TVs that nobody ever bothered to calibrate for sports viewing.

One should add that up-conversion of existing 1080p content playing on a 4K set doesn't look shabby either -- in fact it looks darn good. Sure it would be nice to have all 4K on hand, but why lose out on your current library -- wasn't that a complaint when DVDs showed up to have folks replace their VCR tapes, followed by Blu-ray causing them to repeat this with their DVDs?

So What To Get?

That's the thing -- there's plenty of 4K TVs out there right now from Sony and Samsung and LG among others. Prices vary of course, but they're all surprisingly affordable, especially compared to what a bare bones HDTV cost just 5 years ago. Of course that doesn't take into account those honking big 84" 4k TVs that go for thousands and thousands -- if you can afford one of those, good for you and will you ever have friends every time you turn to a sports channel. For the majority though, the 55" and 65" models will do just fine -- 55" being the minimum for a 4K TV having a visual impact as we see it (and as a free gift, 3D viewing gets the same high-definition results that it usually loses out on when played on a 1080p HDTV). And if you're cool with using your home theater in conjunction with the 4K TV, then the cost of the set can go down even further since Sony's 4K 850A line pulls back on the speakers to cut prices significantly compared to their speaker-heavy 4K siblings. But that's why you have a 5.1 or greater home theater surround system anyway, right?.

 For those needing a surround sound system, the days of having to get a costly receiver and even more costly speakers is long gone: all-in-one gets you a receiver WITH a full set of speakers (subwoofer too) that is not just affordable, but can be had with a Blu-ray player or even "Smart TV" app functions built in -- that's LG's 1000 watt home theater system which even includes wireless rear speakers. How's that for smart? No need to put up with anything but immersive surround now.


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