Understanding 4K Ultra HD

It's all about the detail

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You may have seen it written as “UHD,” “Ultra HD,” “4K Ultra HD,” or just “4K.” Without splitting hairs, it’s fair to say that they all mean the same thing right now. If you’ve experienced it in person, you know it looks good. But what is it, exactly?

Put simply, 4K Ultra HD offer four times the detail of a 1080p HDTV (the kind of TV you probably own right now).

In this case, “detail” refers to the resolution of the TV—the little pixels, or dots, that make up the image. A 1080p HD screen has roughly 2 million pixels. These new 4K Ultra HD TVs pack in more than 8 million pixels. “Ultra” indeed.

They’re gorgeous

Without the geek speak, this bump in resolution means 4K Ultra HD TVs display an incredibly clear image. Because the picture is so lifelike, there’s a greater sense of depth. Under the right circumstances it can almost feel like looking out the window, and that’s something that no TV could have boasted before.

Many new 4K TVs also support HDR (high-dynamic range) for better brightness, higher contrast and more vibrant colors.

Price are dropping

Compared to just a couple of years ago when they first debuted, 4K Ultra HD TVs aren’t all that expensive. It took HDTVs much longer to drop down to a mainstream price than it has taken 4K Ultra HD, which is great for the cost-conscious consumer.

Sure, you’ll pay more for really big screens, curved screens, or extra features like HDR, but consider it future-proofing your investment, because 4K is here to stay.

More content than before

When HD televisions first arrived, critics complained there was nothing to watch on them. Ergo, don’t buy an HDTV, or so the logic went. It was as flawed an argument than as it is now.

4K isn’t yet the dominant format for content, but it’s growing quickly. Most of the content comes from streaming services, including Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video. There are 4K Blu-ray disc players, too, and video game consoles that support 4K. Many smartphones can shoot 4K video, so you can add your home movies to the tally of stuff to watch in 4K.

It’s also important to note that the HD content you’re currently watching from satellite, cable, and antenna looks really good on most 4K Ultra HD TVs. That’s because these TVs can “upconvert” regular HD to near-4K quality. No, it’s not truly 4K quality, but it’s certainly better than HD, evident in a side-by-side comparison you can verify at some stores.

HD and 4K side-by-side
The difference between HD and 4K in a nutshell—it's the added detail that makes the picture more lifelike.

Screen Size and Viewing Distance Matter

Yes, 4K Ultra HD is an undeniable upgrade from HD, but of course mileage may vary. To appreciate the difference, a larger screen size (around 55 inches or above) is recommended. Either that, or pull the couch up and sit closer to the screen. After all, if you sit far away enough from anything, the detail is lost. And 4K Ultra HD is all about the detail.

4K is here to stay and it will be a few years before the next big revolution comes along (spoiler: it’s 8K, if you’re on the lookout). So don’t be afraid to jump in the pool.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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