Seriously. I know you have that holiday bonus burning a whole in your pocket. I know you’ve been to your local Sony Store and been blown away by their 4K demo. I know you really want a new TV, and you don’t want to get stuck with “yesterday’s technology.” But you must wait. You have to wait. It just doesn’t make any sense to buy a 4K TV this year.
First: What is a 4K TV? Basically, they are TVs with greater resolution than what’s currently considered high definition. Some companies call them 4K, others call them Ultra HD (or UHD). They have approximately four times the resolution of a 1080P set (the highest current standard of HDTV). At larger sizes from the right distance, the difference is striking. So if you can afford the new TV, it’s a no-brainer, right? Not by a longshot…
There is little-to-no 4K content. It’s going to be years before your local cable/satellite/fiber company offers 4K channels and Blu-ray simply wasn’t designed with 4K in mind. Your only hope for content in the short-term is via streaming services — which are still trying to figure out how to compress all that data for the average American broadband connection. Chances are, you’ll need to upgrade your broadband service. What little content is being made available to early adopters comes at an additional price, and the options are slim. If you buy a Sony TV, for example, you’ll get access to SOME Sony Movies, but that’s it. Yes, Netflix is working with TV manufacturers to provide 4K versions of their original programs, but there’s still no timetable for when it’ll be implemented, and even when it does, we’re still only talking about a handful of programs you might actually watch.
Another way to look at it: a 4K version of a movie is essentially a digital negative, hence studios are going to delay making them readily available for as long as they possibly can out of piracy concerns.
There are still some standards yet to be determined. A fancy new screen isn’t worth as much if its ports and software are outdated within a year or two. For example, the current standard for HDMI wasn’t designed with 4K transmissions in mind. You do not want to buy a 4K TV unless it supports HDMI 2 and the first round of 4K TVs didn’t (because the standard hadn’t been finalized yet).
Price. I’m not talking about the price of the 4K TVs, which can be equivalent to the price of a small car. I’m talking about the price of the current generation of HDTVs — they are so affordable now, it’s ridiculous. You can buy a well-performing 50incher now for less than $500. Want to go bigger? You can get 60 and 70 inch screens for less than $1000, and not from knock-off brands either but from legit companies known for producing quality HDTVs. It makes no sense to spend an egregious amount for a “future proof” TV now when the current cost of a 4KTV is enough to buy both a regular HDTV now and a 4K TV later. Yes, I know Vizio just announced a 50 inch 4K TV for $1000, and yes, Vizio is one of the HDTV brands I trust, but — and this is a big BUT — it remains to be seen what compromises Vizio has to make to reach that price point. For example, we know for a fact that Vizio is dropping support for 3D, which is a shame, because passive 3D on a 4K set is SPECTACULAR. It’s theater quality. Vizio’s $1000 4K TV is also likely to offer a contrast ratio on par with its other “cheaper” models, which is good but not great. Remember, resolution and image quality do not go hand-in-hand. It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that a high-end 1080P set will perform better than an entry level 4K set, and for less money.
Will you even notice the difference? If you’re only in the market for a 50 incher, and you’re not planning to press your face up against the screen, the extra pixels probably won’t even make it your eyes. From what I’ve seen so far, 4K is really for the next generation of extra-large TVs with 70, 80, and 90 inch screens. And those are the sets that still require a mortgage to buy in the short-term.
So even if you’re superrich and can easily afford to be an early 4K adopter, I still can’t advise it. If you’re that rich, you probably have a special media room in your mansion set aside just for movie watching with blackout curtains and sound-absorbing walls. You don’t need a 4K TV because you have a kickass projector. Keep enjoying it and use the money you’d spend on a 4K TV on a first class ticket to Tokyo or something. I hear the robot show is amazing.