What is 4k? How 4K Compares to Full HD

What is 4k

You’ve undoubtedly heard water cooler chatter about “4K” televisions. Or maybe someone at your local watering hole has lamented the establishment’s lack of “ultra high definition” TVs during the big game. Maybe you’re just hearing the terms “4K” and “Ultra HD” for the first time as you’ve read this article. Whichever camp you fall into, you’re probably wondering just what 4K/Ultra HD is, and whether it is something you really need in your television. But what is 4k, really?

4K and Ultra surely seems better, and you bet manufacturers are quick to point out these things on their shiny new products. But what is 4K Ultra HD? What is 4K resolution? What is 4K vs HD? Will you even notice the difference? Read on to find out what 4K Ultra High Definition is, and if its for you.


What Is 4K Ultra HD?

Unlike some of the more gimmicky features to pop up on TVs in recent years, like 3D functionality or curved screens, 4K Ultra HD is a measurable improvement in the resolution of your TVs display. Full HD or 1080, has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. 4K or Ultra HD has 3820×2160 pixels. Simply put, more pixels equals a more detailed image.

Ultra High Definition screens are the future. The picture quality of televisions has steadily improved as technology gets better and becomes more affordable, and 4K Ultra HD is the next evolution of TV technology. While the cost of a 4K Ultra HD TV has become much more affordable than when they first came out a few years ago, they’re still pricey enough to cause hesitation.

So 4K Ultra HD TVs offer a better quality image, but the question of whether or not you should rush to buy one is still up in the air.


Only As Good As The Content

Wile 4K Ultra HD TVs are great in theory, just because they are capable of delivering a higher quality image doesn’t exactly mean you’re going to get it. Basically your TV is going to be limited by its source. The overwhelming majority of broadcasts, whether it is through over-the-air transmissions or through cable or satellite are 1920×1080 or 1920×720, a pixel ratio that is significantly lower than the 3820×2160 boasted by 4K Ultra HD.

Many of the Ultra HD sets on the market offer the ability to “upscale” an image, which, at first glance, seems as though it can make a lower resolution image look better, but this isn’t always the case.


Is There 4K Ultra HD Content Available?

The short answer is that there isn’t a ton, but the amount of Ultra HD content is growing. Many companies realize that they can charge more for 4K Ultra HD content, and wherever there is money to be made, you better believe that there is research going into developing the product. For instance, Netflix offers some 4k content, but charges an extra $2 a month to gain access to it. Below is a breakdown of what to expect when it comes to 4K Ultra HD.


4k Streaming

Several streaming services are offering Ultra High Definition content, however be aware that the higher resolution video will need significantly more bandwidth. Check out our breakdown of the Internet speeds necessary for streaming. If your current Internet Service Plan isn’t ging to cut it, be sure to check out our ISP comparison tool to help you sort out what’s available in your area. It is also worth noting that many services, like Netflix, charge extra for access to their Ultra High Definition libraries, so be sure to do your homework.


4k Physical Media

4K Ultra High Definition Blu-rays were announced last year, and it looks like we’ll be seeing more and more UHD Blu-rays hit store shelves in the near future. This physical media is probably the most accessible way of getting your hands on true 4K Ultra HD content, however you will have to shell out for a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player as well as 4K UHD Blu-rays, which can cost about twice as much as standard Full HD Blu-rays. Head to blu-ray.com for a comprehensive list of what titles are currently available.


4k Broadcast Television

There isn’t a whole lot available, but it is definitely coming. 4K Ultra High Definition is the future, and networks are investing heavily into developing content for owners of the next generation of televisions. With news that DirecTV has announced their first-ever live 4K broadcast, other companies won’t be far behind.


4k Videogames

When Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One consoles came out, neither had the ability to support 4K Ultra High Definition resolution, however recently announced hardware upgrades for both systems will see 4K UHD support.

Pc gamers can theoretically pull off 4K UHD resolution, provided that their rigs have the grunt necessary to do so. Even so, many gamers will probably value the increased framerates at lower resolutions over the higher resolution graphics.


Is It Worth It? It Depends.

We’ve established that more pixels mean a more detailed image. Smartphones, tablets and computers have been in the “resolution” game for years, and it seems like with the release of every new flagship device, one of the most touted features is the resolution. In this case, the higher resolution is often warranted as our eyes are usually closer to the displays of these devices.

But with your TV, depending on the size of the panel and how far away you sit, you may not notice much of a difference between 4K Ultra HD and Full HD depending on how far way you sit from your TV and the size of the panel. Check out this handy TV size to distance calculator to see whether or not you will benefit from a 4K Ultra HD set in your home.

While the 4K Ultra High Definition ecosystem is still very much in its infancy, it is quickly becoming the standard. Most television manufacturers are pushing their 4K UHD sets over their 1080 Full HD models, with some manufacturers like Samsung not even offering a Full HD model bigger than 49 inches.

4K Ultra High Definition is inevitable, but the technology is still ironing out all of the kinks. If you don’t absolutely need a new TV right now, it is probably in your wallet’s best interest to sit back and wait for the prices to drop even further.

Have you purchased a 4K TV? Want to weigh in on the 4K vs HD debate? Let us know in the comments!

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Ryan Lynch

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