4k TV: A Must-Have Or Marketing Hype?

4K ultra HD 4K TV - no doubt you've been hearing or reading about it recently, and make no mistake you'll be seeing it around a lot more in the coming months. For anyone serious about picture quality, it's potentially a great development...or is it?

What is 4K TV?

4K TV (also known as Ultra High Definition TV) is a next-generation format that has over four times the resolution of current 1080P high definition technology. TVs and projectors are now all over the market sporting this new display resolution. To be classed as Ultra HD, televisions or projectors must have a resolution of at least 3,840 pixels horizontally and 2,160 vertically, be 16:9 widescreen aspect (or wider) and be capable of accepting compatible inputs without requiring upscaling. With four times the pixels as the current technology, it would have to be a good thing, right?

The facts about 4K

In answer to the above question, yes it is a good thing...but just not for everyone. Why? Well here are some undisputed facts about picture quality:
  • The most important elements that determine picture quality are (in order of importance):
  1. Contrast ratio (especially the black levels)
  2. Colour saturation
  3. Colour accuracy
  4. Resolution
Source: SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)
  • The human eye has limits to the amount of detail it can perceive
  • For most TV sizes and viewing distances, it's impossible to tell the difference between 1080p and 4K TV.
Below is a chart that shows the viewing distances needed to appreciate the quality of different resolutions (image via carltonbale.com)
4K TV resolution chart Click to enlarge
The bottom line here is that, unless you have a massive (i.e. 80" plus) 4k TV or a 4K projector, you're unlikely to be able to see any difference between 4K and 1080p without sitting ridiculously close to the screen. For a 60" TV, you'd need to be sitting 1.3 metres away to get the full benefit, and beyond 2.4 metres you'll see no difference at all. For a quick calculator to help you work out if 4K will work for your viewing distance (and excellent further info about 4K , click here >>

Contrast and Colour

Regardless of how close you sit, what you will notice is contrast and colour. A television with high contrast ratio based on its ability to render deep-inky blacks, and reproduce well saturated and accurate colours, will just look stunning. These are the two elements you should look for first and foremost.


The other big issue for 4K is the lack of available content. Blu-ray doesn't support it and it's likely to be years before it's widely available as the 4K version of that format has hit rocky waters. Broadcast is a problem too, as 4K requires so much bandwidth it would need to be heavily compressed to to be viable as a broadcast format, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a higher resolution in the first place. Netflix launched in Australia in March 2015, bringing a limited range of programming in 4K (more no doubt to follow), so we are finally starting to see some content coming through.

So why is 4K the TV buzzword du jour?

Simply put, it's about marketing. TV manufacturers need new technology to keep consumers upgrading. After digital TV we went to high definition, then 3D TV. The latter is a bit of a dud, with consumers lukewarm to say the least and many broadcasters now dropping it. 3D TV is a good example of technology marketing over-riding common sense. Without a massive cinema screen to make an immersive 3D experience, it's a fizzer. Add the need to wear daggy 3D glasses and it's a flop.

Our recommendation

Our recommendation is to save your money by not going to 4K TV unless you've consulted the chart above and you know you'll be able to see the difference in resolution (by having a big TV you'll sit really close to, or a projector), and you're prepared to wait for more content to arrive. Furthermore, future developments like HDR (High Dynamic Range) video promise to deliver the next great leap forward in image quality, so it may be better to sit tight until that appears on the market. For now, you can't go better than investing in a quality 1080p television or projector that has excellent native black levels (vs artificially boosted via dynamic contrast controls that can have negative impacts on other areas of picture quality) and wide gamut, natural colour reproduction. Once again, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers tells us to look at these elements (in order of importance):
  1. Contrast ratio (especially the black levels)
  2. Colour saturation
  3. Colour accuracy
  4. Resolution
If you're in the market for a new TV or projector and need some expert guidance, feel free to call us on (07) 3552 7000 or pop into our store to see what it's all about for yourself!