The holidays are approaching and that means many of us are looking for new AV equipment. But, what are the features that you should spend your money on? Which features are worth the upgrade? In this article we look at the most important new developments of the past year; Dolby Atmos, 4K Ultra HD, HDR and High-Res audio.
4K Ultra HD, HDR, High-Res Audio and Dolby Atmos
4K Ultra HD
You can hardly avoid it anymore, looking at the range in the stores. 4K Ultra HD has arrived and will continue to beat the clock for years to come. With a resolution that is four times higher than Full HD and the ever-growing range of Ultra HD content, you are actually no longer allowed to buy equipment that is not compatible with Ultra HD.
Three years ago we still had to dig deep into our pockets for a 4K Ultra HD TV, but that is no longer the case this year. The offer varies from less than 500 euros for a small model to tens of thousands of euros for an 80-inch TV. If you choose 42-inch or smaller, and sit at a distance of more than two meters in front of your TV, then Full HD is still fine. The higher resolution, and therefore sharper display, is only really visible on larger models.
It is important what exactly you are watching. The reason for this is that the Dutch TV channels will not switch to Ultra HD in the short term. In the coming years we will see our TV programs in full HD again. If you also regularly watch via services such as Netflix or Amazon, or if you like to buy (Ultra HD) Blu-ray films, then a 4K TV is definitely worth considering. The same applies to the fanatic gamers among us, especially with the arrival of the new Xbox One S and PS4 Pro.
HDR (high dynamic range)
Almost all top models of TVs today have it; support for HDR. Simply put, this means that these televisions have a higher (peak) brightness, so that they can combine deep black and clear white in one image when showing HDR content. The contrast is significantly increased, which provides a more realistic representation.
HDR content on an HDR TV looks impressive, regardless of the viewing distance from the TV. However, the range of HDR content is not yet particularly large. Services such as Netflix and Amazon are coming with more and more movies and series that can be watched in HDR and slowly we are also seeing more and more Ultra HD Blu-ray discs (with HDR as standard) appear in the shops.
However, there is an important aspect to consider when buying a TV with HDR. There are already several mid-range TVs with HDR for sale, but these models often only offer support to display the HDR content. However, the brightness of the panels is not as high as with the top models, so that the difference with SDR content is hardly visible. Manufacturers use different terms to refer to HDR support, and it doesn’t get any easier for consumers to see which TV can really display HDR in all its glory. Still, there is a way to see if a TV can actually display HDR content; look at the Ultra HD Premium Logo. This indicates that the TV offers a brightness that is high enough to get the most out of HDR. However, not all manufacturers participate in this, so the next step is to read reviews .
In our view, HDR is definitely worth the effort and the investment, and it is also a development that will not disappear. If you have a budget for a premium Ultra HD TV, it is advisable to immediately look for the best HDR experience. However, here it also applies that TV channels in the Netherlands will not do anything with this development in the short term.
High-res Audio, or high resolution audio, we see more and more often on products. From televisions and media players to receivers and headphones, many new products support the reproduction of high-resolution audio. Simply put, High-res audio is a term that describes audio that is better than 16bit / 44.1kHz CD quality. There are many different file formats (think of Flac, Wav, DSD, etc.) and within these also many bitrates (qualities). The higher the quality (lossless is actually the best quality as it is displayed without loss), the more subtle details music offers and the greater the range of the frequencies.
But, is it worth the investment to go for high-resolution audio? This depends on a number of things. For example, we do not see the use of high resolution audio with a simple bluetooth speaker or a cheap headphones. Yes, the product can display the file formats, but do you actually hear the difference between, for example, an MP3 file and a flac file? In our view, this is hardly or not the case with many cheap products. So you can quickly choose the better speakers and the better headphones. After all, they must be able to display the full range, including all subtle details. So you need to have some budget available to really enjoy high resolution audio to the fullest.
That said, the added value of high-resolution audio also depends on how you handle and experience music yourself. Obviously, the upgrade to high resolution audio is not necessary if you do not hear the difference between a dsd file and an mp3 file or if you do not find it sufficiently present. Actually, high-resolution audio is especially for those who really sit down, for a stereo system at home or with headphones on the couch. In many other situations, for example in the train or by bicycle, the difference will not be large enough to justify the investment. For example, we have a high-end audio system and mainly listen to high-resolution audio files from HDTracks and Qobuz, among others.
Read more about high resolution audio .
In the field of audio, we have seen an interesting development since last year; Dolby Atmos. Surround sound is no longer a ‘simple’ 5.1-channel system with two speakers behind you. With Atmos, the top of the listening position is also filled in and ‘3d audio’ gives you the feeling of being in the middle of the action. Dolby Atmos can be realized in various ways, for example with a 7.1.4-channel setup with four speakers hanging at the top of the room.
The use of even more speakers and the placement of these speakers against the ceiling is also directly the problem for many people. The trend is to use less and less (visible) speakers and to see as few cables as possible. However, the Dolby Atmos experience is so impressive in our view that it is recommended for any true home cinema enthusiast. If you have room for it in the house – preferably with a room that you convert into a home theater – then Dolby Atmos is definitely something you should consider. To fully enjoy Atmos, we recommend that you go for a 7.1.2-channel system at least. As a result, you must have a receiver with sufficient amplifiers and support for Dolby Atmos.