By Geoff Meeker
September 15, 2014 – A new TV format is competing for viewers’ eyeballs and is already positioned to become the new industry standard.
That’s right – now that the industry has updated its technology to high definition (HD), along comes the new 4K format (also known as Ultra HD).
The HD format gets its clarity from a screen resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The new format has a resolution of 3840 by 2160 – which is why they round it up to 4K.
I ignored the 4K TVs when they debuted last year because the $6500 price for a 65-inch screen was silly. This year, the TV is already into a second-generation screen and the price has dropped dramatically, to $4000 for a 65-inch screen. You will certainly pay less than that for an LCD of the same size but, still, the price point is more attractive for early adopters. And you can expect additional price drops in future.
Okay, I can see you there, sputtering and fuming about yet another TV format, now that you’ve got your home theatre set-up just where you want it. The good news is, if your display is 50 inches or smaller you need do nothing – your current TV is just fine.
The better news is, if you want crystal-clear detail on an even larger screen, you’re going to love 4K.
I dropped by West End Electronics last week to see this technology for myself. Sales Manager, David Budden demonstrated the Panasonic 4K with a massive 65-inch display. I was, in a word, dazzled. Budden played some demo video that was recorded in 4K format and the sharpness of detail was almost unbelievable – superlative, even.
It’s pretty much impossible to show you this in newsprint, but I think I’ve found a way to give you an idea of the screen’s sharpness. First, we froze the action from a soccer game and I photographed the full screen while standing at a distance. Then I moved in as close as my lens would allow and captured a small section of the screen.
Check out the pictures. Do you see what I mean? Even this close, the pixels are almost indistinguishable.
Yes, it’s impressive – but this doesn’t mean that your LED and plasma screens are suddenly obsolete.
“My thinking is that 4K is going to be better in the larger screen sizes,” Budden said. “I don’t see much point in owning a 40- or 50-inch 4K TV because the pixels are so close together, you aren’t going to see any improvement. On the bigger sets, it becomes way more important and much more noticeable.”
True fact. From normal viewing distance, the naked eye probably won’t discern the difference between HD and 4K – your old set is just fine – but on a larger screen, the clarity is astounding.
Should you run out and get a 4K set? Not yet, unless you’ve got money to burn and really want that large screen now.
For one thing, the price is going to continue to drop as the technology becomes established.
For another, there is the matter of content. Right now, there are no networks broadcasting in 4K, though Netflix does have some 4K programming.
“Netflix can detect if your TV is 4K and will automatically show you its 4K menu,” Budden said. “Some TVs have Netflix built in and this Panasonic 4K has a Netflix button on the remote! There are some 4K channels on YouTube… There will be a 4k Blu-ray player next year that will play native 4K, for the best picture quality you can get.”
The 4K Panasonic is a smart TV with all the bells and whistles, including wifi, but it also up-converts standard HD signals to 4K by adding extra pixels to match the surrounding imagery, and the results can be quite impressive. There is no need to hold back on purchasing a 4K due to lack of content. Bandwidth, however, is another matter.
“To stream 4K properly they say you’ll need (download speeds of) 25 MB per second,” Budden said. “A lot of people do not have that. And if there is a cap on your usage, you will pay big for bandwidth.”
Bottom line: check out the new 4K technology at your own pace. It’s here to stay and the price is going nowhere but down.