Ultra High Definition televisions were some of the most visually exciting products at CES 2013—and yet, when I picture one in my home, I feel apprehensive. I imagine the silent speakers; the blackened screen—there's nothing to watch. The television industry's biggest content providers (Comcast, Netflix, Hulu) haven’t even begun the arduous shift towards supplying native 4K material to viewers.
Without content that makes use of this next-gen resolution, purchasing a UHDTV at this point is entirely premature. You wouldn't buy an easel and paintbrushes, and leave the store with no paint, would you?
"But what about upscaling!?" you cry, flailing your little arms in protest. Upscaling is indeed an answer for the lack of native content—I've been saying as much all week. Yet its presence only justifies a UHD TV purchase when the manufacturers have implemented it carefully. A few companies have dedicated processors or engines to aid in upscaling older material—but it may not be enough. Depending on the manufacturer, all of your cable content could end up looking unnatural at best, unwatchable at worst.
We took a close look at upscaled content from a lower definition source. Shadows in the background were blocky, and certain foreground elements were sharpened so much that they looked pasted onto the screen. This is what happens when a fledgling product comes to market undercooked.
There is a place where Ultra High Definition shines: creation capable devices like tablets and monitors. Televisions are consumption devices, and there's nothing to eat.
The Case For UHDTVs by Josh Fields
Let’s get this out of the way: Ultra high definition TVs are going to be expensive. But guess what? People will buy them anyways. The question is whether they ought to.
To begin with, UHD content isn’t widely available, but it’s a forward-moving world out there. Samsung says it intends to stream UHD content via Netflix in the future, so keep hope alive. Consider the early adopter for a moment. Where would we be without them? These poor souls (okay, maybe they aren’t exactly poor) have paid top dollar for new technology since the days of the Model T and the first microwave. To an extent, we have these people to thank for the progress behind our beloved, modern TVs. Remember: a 1080p TV went for about $8,000 in 1998.
But how should consumers deal with the lack of 4K content? This is where resolution upscaling comes in. If you want a large screen—think 84 inches and larger—converting HD content to UHD will look better, if done right. Why? As a TV screen gets larger, so do its pixels. Since a UHDTV has four times as many pixels as an HD one, the UHD’s pixels will be smaller, so broadcast and Blu-ray content are no worse for wear.
Of course not all UHDTVs are created equal. Some will handle this upscaling process much better than others, a fact we’ve already witnessed at this year’s CES. The models we’ve seen from LG, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba are all gearing up to offer consumers a new level of picture quality. This happens with every type of consumer electronics: Certain brands will make better products than others. You can’t compare a Westinghouse to a Samsung product—it’s just not fair.
LG was the first to release and price a UHDTV: $20,000 for an 84-inch! Yet after seeing it in action, I still walked away impressed. True UHD content looked amazing: The benefits of the enhanced color spectrum and the almost non-existent pixels were very visible.