4K is a term to describe a maximum video resolution of 4096×2400 pixels. However, the most commonly used resolution is UHD (Ultra High Definition) at 3840×2160 pixels. This resolution basically allows for four full HD signals of 1920×1080 pixels to be displayed on a single screen.
Unfortunately, the pure pixel count doesn’t tell the complete the story and this is what makes things a bit tricky – at least for now! The following overview will look into some key differences to provide you with a better understanding of potential requirements to help you select the most suitable solutions.
What is resolution?
Resolution, in terms of TV hardware, refers to the number of pixels that compose the picture on the TV. A single pixel, or discrete picture element, consists of a tiny dot on the screen.
There are numerous resolutions found on flat-panel TVs. Older TVs, and many 32-inch models sold today, have a million or so pixels (720p). More recent and slightly larger TVs (typically 49 inches and smaller) have a little over 2 million pixels (1080p). Even newer and bigger TVs (typically 50 inches and above, although numerous smaller sizes too) have 8 million (for 4K Ultra HD). And the newest, largest and most ridiculously expensive TVs have over 33 million pixels (8K). You’ll have to look very closely, or whip out a magnifying glass, to discern each one.
Resolution is one of the most common specifications used to sell TVs, partly because “4K” and “8K” sound really high-tech and impressive.
However, resolution is not the most important ingredient in picture quality. Just because a TV has higher resolution than another, doesn’t always mean it looks better. It might, but not always, and for reasons that have little to do with resolution. A TV with better high dynamic range (HDR) performance, a better overall contrast ratio or better color will look better than one that just has more pixels.
That said, it’s still worth understanding the various resolutions used by TV makers and others. Here’s a bit more, ahem, detail.
4K vs UHD: what’s the difference?
Technically, “Ultra High Definition” is actually a derivation of the 4K digital cinema standard. However while your local multiplex shows images in native 4096 x 2160 4K resolution, the new Ultra HD consumer format has a slightly lower resolution of 3840 x 2160.
This is one reason why some brands prefer not to use the 4K label at all, sticking with Ultra HD or UHD instead. However, the numerical shorthand looks likely to stick.
What 4K Really Means for Consumers
The increasing availability of 4K delivers consumers a greatly improved video display image for larger screen applications, and can greatly reduce the ability for viewers to see any visible pixel structure on the screen unless you place yourself extremely close. This means even smoother edges and depth. When combined with faster screen refresh rates, 4K has the potential to deliver almost as much depth as 3D—without the need for glasses.
The implementation of Ultra HD doesn’t make a 720p or 1080p TV obsolete, although, as 4K Ultra HD TV sales pick-up and prices come down, fewer 720p and 1080p TVs are being made. Also, the current HDTV TV broadcast infrastructure will not be abandoned anytime soon, even as ATSC 3.0 begins to be used for content transmission.
Of course, just as with the 2009 DTV transition, there may come a date and time certain where 4K may become the default TV broadcast standard, but that means a lot of infrastructure needs to be in place.
Why should I care about 4K Ultra HD?
There are many reasons why 4K should make you rethink your next TV purchase (actually, there are eleven and you can read about them here), not all of them immediately obvious.
Photographers who routinely view their work on an HD TV are seeing but a fraction of the detail inherent in their pictures when they view them at 2160p.
An Ultra HD display reveals so much more nuance and detail – the difference can be astonishing. While 3D has proved to be a faddish diversion, 4K comes without caveats. Its higher resolution images are simply better.
The higher pixel density of a 4K panel also enable you get much closer without the grid-like structure of the image itself becoming visible –this means you can comfortably watch a much larger screen from the same seating position as your current Full HD panel.