Lately we have often talked about the new term Ultra HD, also called 4K and UHD, and we have also seen a large number of Ultra HD TVs. Nevertheless, given the amount of questions we receive, it is not yet clear to everyone what this term exactly means and what the difference is with the now well-known Full HD.
What is 4K Ultra HD?
First, it is important to note that Ultra HD is also referred to as 4K. The reason for this is that Ultra HD actually includes two high resolutions; 4K and 8K . In the current context we are only talking about 4K, a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. 8K is an even higher resolution, but that is at least 5 years away from us. As you may see, there is a lot of uncertainty about the naming and each manufacturer has its own preference. Most manufacturers choose 4K or Ultra HD, but there are also manufacturers, including Samsung, who prefer to use UHD.
Ultra HD is therefore a very high resolution, four times higher than the Full HD that we now know, which has a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. The bottom line is that you get to see more pixels and thus can perceive more details on your TV. However, this also depends on the size of the screen and the viewing distance, more about that later. 4K Ultra HD is not completely new, however. Without being aware of it, you have been watching films in this high resolution for years in the cinema. In the living room, however, we have only had Full HD so far.
Advantages Ultra HD
The big advantage of Ultra HD (4K) actually speaks for itself; an even sharper display of images, provided the content supports this resolution. More pixels means more subtle details and thus a better movie experience. However, there is another important advantage, especially for those who like to watch 3D content. Displays that have an Ultra HD resolution are very suitable for displaying autostereoscopic 3D, 3D display without the use of 3D glasses. For display without glasses, multiple images must be shown by the TV at the same time, so that the full resolution cannot be used by one image. Autostereoscopic 3D is therefore not in Ultra HD resolution, but uses this resolution to display the images for both eyes and different viewing angles.
The current passive 3D technology, which still uses glasses, also benefits from Ultra HD as the resolution per eye is higher. With current TVs with passive 3D display , the resolution per image (per eye) is halved so that image lines can be visible. With an Ultra HD TV, the resolution per eye is still halved, but it is still so high that individual picture lines are not visible.
However, manufacturers seem to have opted to phase out 3D since the beginning of 2016. Philips and Samsung no longer market 3D TVs at all and Sony and Panasonic equip fewer models with them. It is therefore unclear what the future will bring for 3D.
Is it really sharper?
A higher resolution on an equally large display therefore means that the pixel density increases. You will then experience this sharper image. However, this mainly depends on the distance between you and the TV. This way you can no longer see the difference between Full HD (1080p) and HD-Ready (720p) at a distance greater than 4 meters. If you place a 50-inch 4K Ultra HD TV next to a 50-inch Full HD TV and you sit at a distance of 4 meters, then there is little chance that you will see a difference. It is therefore not so simple to say that you get a much sharper image as soon as you buy an Ultra HD TV.
4K Ultra HD TVs
To fully enjoy the 4K Ultra HD resolution, you need two things; compatible hardware and compatible content. In terms of hardware, there is already a lot available (2016). At the beginning of 2014, almost all major TV manufacturers announced a complete line-up of 4K Ultra HD TVs, varying in size from 49-inch to no less than 110-inch. We are now in 2016 and almost every middle class and high-end TV has the Ultra HD resolution. You can get a small-sized Ultra HD TV for around 600 euros. But, pay attention to the above; the smaller the TV at a normal viewing distance, the less clear the difference with full hd.
Keep in mind that a new HDMI standard has been developed especially for 4K Ultra HD. HDMI 2.0 (and now HDMI 2.0a ) can handle 4K resolution content in a 60fps frame rate and also offers support for a larger color range and multiple audio channels. When you are looking for a 4K Ultra HD TV, this is definitely something to keep in mind. For now, you can use any High Speed HDMI cable for a 4K Ultra HD TV .
To be able to display 4K material, you need a TV that supports this, but how do you get content in this high resolution to your TV? Several services, including Netflix and Amazon, have started streaming 4K content to the living room. This means that films or series in this high resolution are streamed to the TV via the internet. For this you obviously need an internet connection, but also a media player or an app on your TV that can receive the content and convert it into an understandable signal for your TV. Most TV manufacturers have already made apps available for streaming 4K content on Smart TVs (with Ultra HD resolution).
You must have seen it on some Blu-ray players or TVs; 4K Ultra HD upscaling. But what exactly is this? Simply put, it means that TVs and Blu-ray players that have this feature can convert low resolution (HD) content to the high 4K resolution. This is done with software and by means of various advanced techniques a sharper picture is made of it. However, this is not ‘native’ 4K content and will never be as impressive as original content in the high resolution. However, this makes it possible to watch your existing films and series in somewhat better quality on your 4K Ultra HD TV.
4K Ultra HD content
In addition to the option to convert your existing content to 4K resolution using a scaler in a player or TV, you naturally also want to be able to display native 4K content. But where do you get this from? As indicated above, various companies, including Netflix, have started offering 4K content in the form of films and series. This means that you can, for example, use an app on your TV or Blu-ray player or use a special 4K media player to stream series and films to your TV via the internet. Manufacturers themselves, including Sony and Panasonic, are also increasingly setting up a platform on which 4K content can be found, only for products of the relevant brand.
But, of course you want to watch Ultra HD content in the highest quality. Since the beginning of 2016, this has been possible thanks to Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. These are Blu-ray discs with films and series in the high 4K resolution. These discs are slightly more expensive than normal Blu-ray discs and can only be played in an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. These players currently cost between 350 and 799 euros.
HDR and a wider color gamut
Ultra HD, however, is only part of the TV revolution we’ve seen since 2015. More and more TVs have support for HDR ( high dynamic range ) and a larger color range (rec. 2020). These additions increase the contrast, we get deep black and intensely clear white in one image and more colors are displayed more accurately. These two elements together with Ultra HD provide a much better viewing experience. In most cases, the latest UHD Blu-ray discs contain content in 4K resolution, with HDR reproduction and with a larger color range. Combine this with a compatible TV and Blu-ray player and you have the ultimate viewing experience.
Should you buy an Ultra HD TV?
The answer to this question has changed in 2016. You can’t really ignore it anymore. As mentioned, most mid-range and high-end TVs nowadays have the 4K resolution and even with a small budget you can choose the higher resolution. So it is no longer so much the question of whether you should go for it, but to what extent you want to look beyond Ultra HD. Do you also want support for the aforementioned HDR and the larger color range? And do you want the best image techniques? If so, you will end up with the top models.
You also have to take the content into account. How will you display 4K content on your new TV? Do you have a subscription to a streaming service that will play 4K content? Do you know whether the offer of this service is sufficient for you? And do you want to renew your Blu-ray collection with the slightly more expensive Ultra HD Blu-ray discs? Or are you already happy with the upscaling function with which, among other things, your already purchased Blu-ray films can be converted to the higher resolution?