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4 Reasons Not to Get a 4K TV — Yet

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 53 comments

Seeing a 4K TV (with fourfold HD resolution) is a revelation. In a video of a cityscape that Samsung showed at a press event earlier this month, individual windows in many of the buildings were visible, as were individual people walking in and out of the skyscrapers. On an 8-million-pixel screen, the grid structure disappears (unless you get very close), making the screen look as clear as a photograph, but with motion.

However, the world that TV makers show on their 4K screens is largely an illusion — made possible with a few select clips shot on high-end movie cameras.

Price is the obvious reason to not get a 4K TV (so named because the screens are about 4,000 pixels across). It typically costs at least twice as much as an otherwise equally tricked-out HDTV (high-quality panel, online capability of the same size). But assuming money were no object, or that the cost suddenly plummeted (not so far-fetched, as smaller companies are already slashing prices), there are still four reasons to wait before you buy a 4K TV.

MORE: 5 Easy Tips for Buying an HDTV

Little 4K video to watch

There is no Blu-ray disc, streaming video service, TV channel or even affordable camcorder that supports the 3,840-by-2,160-pixel resolution of 4K video. That's a good first reason to wait on this technology, and it could be a long wait.

In the meantime, TV companies are making a smattering of 4K content available on hard-drive-based players. Sony sells its 4K Ultra HD Media Player, complete with 10 movies on its hard drive, for $700. And Sony promises to have 100 videos available for download (certainly not streaming, given the size) to the player by the end of the year. That's a lot of money to pay for a TV that can show only a handful of movies.

Samsung plans to introduce a similar hard-drive device in the coming weeks.

Little benefit for regular HD content

In the meantime, 4K TVs can scale any HD video up by guessing at additional detail to fill in the extra pixels (as happens when you play an old-school DVD on an HDTV). The results are pretty good on some sets, such as Sharp's 69.5-inch (1.8 meters) AQUOS Ultra HD LED TV (listing for $8,000), which is certified by the labs at THX for its upscaling quality. But getting closer to a 4K TV, as the smaller pixels allow you to do, also reveals the grainy look of upscaled video.

Even with upscaled video, you might be able to comfortably sit closer to the screen than you would with an HD set, but maybe not close enough to make it worthwhile. Standards body the International Telecommunications Union recommends sitting at least 1.5 times the height of the screen away from a 4K TV (so as not to see distracting pixels) and three times the screen's height away from an HDTV.

For a 55-inch (1.4 m) TV, like the entry-level models from Sony and Samsung, that comes out to a little more than 3 feet (0.9 m) for 4K, or close to 7 feet (2.1 m) for HD. If you're not going to sit closer than 7 feet away, you're not going to get your money's worth. Samsung, for example, just began selling a 55-inch 4K model for $5,600. Its top-of-the-line 55-inch HDTV costs $2,800 (and it has other 55-inch models that are well below that price).

4K video can be choppy

The small selection of 4K video that is available won't appear at top quality, because the latest HDMI connections (version 1.4) delivering video to the TV can't handle all the data. The signal going into most HDTVs, such as from a cable box or a Blu-ray player, is at 60 frames per second. But the only way today's HDMI connections can carry data with four times as many pixels is to cut the frame rate in half. At 30 fps, video may not look as smooth.

4K video color is lacking

The other compromise is in color detail. With the bandwidth limitations, HDMI 1.4 can carry 4K signals with only enough data for 8 bits (256 shades) for each of the red, green and blue components of a pixel. Those primary colors can combine to produce a spectrum of about 16.7 million shades of color. That may sound good, but today's LCD panels can display at least 10 bits (about 1 billion shades) of color — so this high-resolution video will appear with a comparatively low amount of color nuance.

However, fixes are in the works. The new version of HDMI, expected to be called HDMI 2.0 and expected to have twice the bandwidth, could result in 4K video at a rate of 60 frames per second. Nonetheless, the color palette will likely still suffer until further upgrades come. But that hasn’t been officially announced, nor has whether or not it will support higher color quality.

The rumor among experts (nothing is official yet) is that HDMI 2.0 (or whatever name it takes) is coming soon. But there is no word on what "soon" is.

MORE:Why Plasma TVs Are Dying

The prospect of a new HDMI standard is cold comfort for people who buy today's sets with the current HDMI connection, though some companies are planning for updates. All of Samsung's 4K TVs, for example, have an external box that takes the video inputs and handles some of the video processing. As input standards improve, owners can buy new boxes that support them.

Still, it's a weak sales pitch to ask people to spend at least twice as much for a TV that shows a small amount of video that is a bit choppy and lacks color nuance, only to pay more money to fix it when the technology improves. And by that time, the 4K TVs on sale may be a lot cheaper anyway.

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    kawininjazx , August 16, 2013 10:04 AM
    I have little interest in 4K, the reason is because they haven't even gotten 1080p right. Some movies and TV shows look amazing on my 1080p plasma, and some are grainy and inconsistent. If they could make everything as sharp as watching a Pixar movie, 1080p would be fine for me.
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    kawininjazx , August 16, 2013 10:04 AM
    I have little interest in 4K, the reason is because they haven't even gotten 1080p right. Some movies and TV shows look amazing on my 1080p plasma, and some are grainy and inconsistent. If they could make everything as sharp as watching a Pixar movie, 1080p would be fine for me.
  • Display all 53 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    hakesterman , August 16, 2013 10:10 AM
    Too Expensive, Lack of Video's available in 4K are the only two real reasons you shouldn't bother with 4K TV yet.
  • 6 Hide
    gm0n3y , August 16, 2013 10:13 AM
    This isn't exactly news. Anyone buying the earliest models of a new TV tech tend to end up with sub-par specs compared to the mainstream models release a year or 2 later. Of course if you are able to throw $8000 on a TV today, then you can probably afford to spend another $3k a couple years from now to upgrade.


    He does mention price a couple of times but doesn't bother to highlight it because everyone already knows that they are expensive.
  • 6 Hide
    Avus , August 16, 2013 10:30 AM
    The real reason to spend > $5000USD for a 4k TV is not because you want to watch 4k content. It is mainly because you can show off to your friends and families that you can spend sh!t loads of $$ for a TV.... Just like many people buying super/exotic cars...
  • 5 Hide
    godfather666 , August 16, 2013 10:35 AM
    Well, one other reason is that you won't see that much difference compared to 1080p.
    For a typical 42-inch 1080p TV, the display becomes "retina" once you're about 5 and a half feet away from the screen.
    In other words, by sitting 5.5 feet away, 1080p is indistinguishable from 4K.
  • 4 Hide
    Vorador2 , August 16, 2013 10:40 AM
    You know, most movies are filmed at 24 fps. HDMI 1.4 can work 4k at 24 fps. It's not that big of a deal.

    Still, until there's an standard for 4k movies, i'm not buying. Sony recently said that they're working on 300 Gb disks that should work nicely for 4k video, but until then, i will wait.
  • 0 Hide
    mark0718 , August 16, 2013 10:40 AM
    No mention of color gamut, so I assume that it is limited to some TV or Adobe standard, not
    something that is a superset of the typical gamut of the human eye.
  • 1 Hide
    antilycus , August 16, 2013 10:41 AM
    oh yes. The TV. How much it's trying to be the "next graphics card" in mindset. Only problem is, that "constantly changing/upgrading" process pissed of GPU buyers as a whole and it's a MUCH smaller market than TV owners. All these industries are doing is promoting piracy because when people can't have what they want without selling the farm, they will "borrow" it permantely
  • 3 Hide
    hyperanthripoid , August 16, 2013 11:12 AM
    Still loving my 20" 360i tube tv. Been going strong for 30 years. The built in VCR broke and the rear coaxial connection fell off, but I still can connect my DVD player through the front RCA ports.

    I have 0 need for a new TV. I use my laptop/phone/tablet to watch online content and use the TV for the occasional DVD or VHS (yes they look great on this TV).
  • 2 Hide
    Thorfkin , August 16, 2013 11:38 AM
    This is an excellent article. The right time to jump to 4k will be a a bit after the Ultra HD media spec officially starts rolling out. Sony and Panasonic recently announced they were working together on a 300gb optical disc. It seems likely to me that the resulting product will end up as the official Ultra HD physical media spec to replace blu-ray. By then they'll also likely have an updated compression standard ready to go with the increased data capacity. By the time we have 30 (random guess) or so decent movies available on this new standard, the price on 4k televisions will have fallen to a more reasonable level.
  • 2 Hide
    DRosencraft , August 16, 2013 11:44 AM
    Classic issue with new tech - when do you jump on it. If everyone takes the wait and see approach, it starts to look like there is no interest in the product and all plans for it might get scrapped. If it does take off, chances are you dropped far more money on a product than you needed to, which will all around be worse than the product you could of had if you waited a year or two, or even a few months longer in some cases. 4K is definitely the future, but someone has to be the unfortunate guinea pig that buys these things now to tell everyone what's wrong with them.
  • 2 Hide
    g00fysmiley , August 16, 2013 11:59 AM
    while i agree there is little reaosn to have one as a tv, i would say it is idsengenuous to say there is no reason to get one. for use as a large monitor for a computer where you have the graphics power to push content on that kind of screen, I am sure games will soon have this resolution built into their engines at which point pc gamers will again be rewarded with being 5-10 years ahead of console gamers
  • 9 Hide
    bambiboom , August 16, 2013 12:26 PM

    An interesting article. It appears though that from a consumer perspective, the hardware is advanced ahead of it's need. But, there is a solution, that is to make 4K monitors affordable and put them in the hands of content creators.

    In my work- architecture, industrial design, that involves graphic design, rendering. and writing, I am constantly dissatisfied by 1920 x 1080 resolution on a 27" HP 2711x.

    It's not a bad image- there is good contrast, sharpness, gamma, and color balance, but it appears to me as a grainy grid of dots and what may surprise some, it's not images or video that are not satisfying as much as text. The problem is that when displayed at the scale of reading on a page, serif text can not display the thick and thin subtleties of the fonts. Constant zooming in is not entirely useful as it's necessary to see the overall composition of the page. Does anyone else- especially graphic designers- experience this?

    My thought was that during the time 4K lacked material that can take advantage of the resolution, it might be first put in the hands of content creators in the form of monitors- this could include graphic designers, CGI animators, game designers, studio / broadcast and the video monitors of super resolution video and even Panavision cameras. If the content creators are exposed to the very fine resolution, perhaps then the movies and games in 4K will appear.

    There are workstation video cards supporting 3,840 X 2,160 resolution- the Quadro K2000 (2GB, $450) does, and there are 4K monitors, like the 32" ASUS PQ321Q, but at $3,500 it's disproportionately expensive. Yes, a Quadro K5000 is $1,800, a 6000 is $3,600 and the 12GB Quadro K6000 is likely to be in $5,000+ range (guessing) , but the monitors will need to drop noticeably- (at least 50%?) in price before they become mainstream in imaging businesses, not to mention in homes.

    Still, remember the first large- I think it was 40"- plasma TV by Philips that when first released cost $15,000?


  • -6 Hide
    phillipw , August 16, 2013 12:59 PM
    Change the numbers to 1920*1080, and it could be a cut-n-paste from 1995. The same was being said (and written) about HD.

    I can give one good reason not to bother with reading this article; it brings nothing to the table.
  • 1 Hide
    phillipw , August 16, 2013 1:04 PM
    "The built in VCR broke and the rear coaxial connection fell off, but I still can connect my DVD player through the front RCA ports. "

    While true, even a DVD looks like garbage when watched via composite signals. :-)
  • 1 Hide
    ethanolson , August 16, 2013 2:49 PM
    Yo @bambibom, I'm a total resolution whore myself because of exactly what you're saying. I pixel peep everything and I want things to be ultra-sharp and smooth without aliasing. Microsoft's ClearType technology in Windows 8 is amazing, but it still can't replace actual resolution.
  • -2 Hide
    tomfreak , August 16, 2013 3:04 PM
    Raise the fps to 60fps. I can really see the frame shutter in 24fps blu-ray.
    Raise the 24/32bit color into Deep color = 40-48bit color. Look at the smokes u can tell there isnt enough grey color to correctly display the color.
  • 1 Hide
    IQ11110002 , August 16, 2013 3:23 PM
    All I am asking for and have been waiting years for is a 24-27inch monitor that does above 1080p@120hz!
    Been stuck on 1080p at 120hz for way too long, As a hard core gamer I don't mind spending hard earned on latest tech, The problem is what I and many others are after just doesn't exist. ;) 
    Give us 120hz on resolutions above 1080p THEN worry about 4k resolutions!
  • 1 Hide
    ramicio , August 16, 2013 3:51 PM
    I don't know why they keep harping on the link. ALL retail video is delivered in 4:2:0. Why do they insist on decoding to 4:4:4? Just transfer 4:2:0 to the TV and you won't need a high speed link. As for TV stuff, there isn't even 1080p60 yet, just 1080i60 and 720p60. There isn't going to be 2160x for TV stuff in the US for many years. People mainly want 2160p for movies, not TV. There is also BD-XL, that no one uses yet, and HEVC is on the way soon. Oh, and it's not called 4k, it's called UltraHD, or 2160p.
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