One of the most common questions we’ve been getting here is ‘which 4K TV should I buy?’
Unless you’ve got bottomless pockets, our answer is almost always none of them. While we’re convinced 4K Ultra HD will be amazing, everything we’ve seen and heard so far is enough to convince us to be patient - good things come to those who wait.
Here’s why we think you should hold fire on 4K Ultra HD. For now.
1) 4K TV sets are too expensive.
When 4K Ultra HD TVs first went on sale in the UK, the price tags were something akin to what your average Premier League footballer earns in a week.
Unless you’re one of those guys, a lottery winner or an oil baron, you probably didn’t buy a 4K TV in 2012.
If you ask us that’s still way north of what we expect you’ll pay when you actually enter your credit card details. The cat was let out of the bag back in September 2013, when Jonathan Marsh, head buyer at John Lewis told TrustedReviews that 4K TVs would probably cost as much as high-end Full HD sets towards the end of 2014.
You can pick up a 55-inch 1080p TV for around £800 at the moment - would you rather spend £800 on a 4K set or £8,000?
2) HDMI 2.0 was too late to the party.
A slightly boring but relevant point (that’ll allow us to segue neatly into Point Number 3) is HDMI 2.0.
The long-awaited HDMI 2.0 standard arrived in September 2013 and we were underwhelmed. Mainly, admittedly, because it enabled 4K Ultra HD video at up to 60fps (frames per second), which by that point industry commentators were saying wasn’t enough to accurately capture things like live sports.
Broadcasters are saying that we need at least 100fps in order for things like football matches to look their best and not be plagued by lighting issues and blurry fast panning. Having seen 4K at 50fps ourselves, we're inclined to agree.
But even if HDMI 2.0 did allow for 4K video at 100fps, it wouldn’t have mattered if you’d forked out for a 4K TV before then - the first 4K TV set to go on sale in the UK with an HDMI 2.0 port was Panasonic’s TX-L65WT600B. It's a classic case of early adopters getting burned.
Image: Marcus Linder/Flickr
3) Broadcast standards are still not defined.
Broadcasters like the BBC and Sky are working hard with the DTG (Digital TV Group) in the UK to define the broadcast standards for 4K Ultra HD in the UK.
Their work will also inform decisions made by foreign broadcasters - and TV manufacturers.
Until a 4K broadcast standard is defined, we won’t get to see Sky Sport’s amazing Premier League coverage in 4K nor the BBC shooting events like Glastonbury, Wimbledon and the FIFA World Cup in next-gen HD.
Sky has successfully tested 4K transmissions on its satellites, so it knows its current infrastructure can handle it. But what about digital terrestrial TV? How much space in the airwaves would you need for 4K? We don’t know when 4K will arrive on Freeview and YouView yet.
In short, why buy a 4K TV when there aren’t any 4K TV channels?
Image: Irregular Shed/Flickr
4) Your broadband can’t handle 4K streams.
But in order to get 4K from Netflix, you’ll need a minimum of 16Mbps just for the stream, though Netflix recommends 20Mbps, which gives you some headroom in case of any service variability issues.
That’s a constant 20Mbps stream by the way - if you’ve got an ‘up to’ 20Mbps service, but you’re watching during peak time (when the network will be congested) you probably won’t get Kevin Spacey’s face in four times the detail. Sorry luvvies.
According to Ofcom’s latest figures on the state of Broadband Britain, most of us aren’t getting that. BT’s rollout of superfast fibre (FTTC and FTTP) up and down the country combined with Virgin Media’s latest speed boosting programme will change that long-term.
Right now, unless you’re living in an area where you can get gigabit fibre from Hyperoptic, Gigler, B4RN, Gigaclear or BT (if it’s offering FTTP in your manor) or cable broadband from Virgin Media, you’re not going to get 4K streams on your expensive new TV. When the Sky-TalkTalk-CityFibre project starts bearing fruit, a number of York premises ought to be able to stream all the 4K they want.
If you were to download some 4K content, unless your TV can handle HEVC, you might not be able to play it.
Sony recently announced the FMP-X5, a media player peripheral that’s due out in August. Costing £300, this will let owners of early Sony 4K sets unable to play 4K media files with the HEVC (H.265) codec watch them. Or, if you’d waited, you could have saved £300, plus however much you shelled out in the first place.
5) But I really, really, really want a 4K TV set.
In truth, the best argument for getting a 4K Ultra HD TV right now is that any Full HD content you watch on it will look better. Most 4K sets should upscale 1080p content to give you an ‘Ultra HD experience’, similar to how DVDs played in a Blu-ray player look better.
But just as that doesn’t make them Blu-rays, it doesn’t make your Full HD content 4K.
We think that the cost is far too much and the benefits far too small - your old movies might look a bit better, but aside from those, there's not really a lot else to watch.
Like we said earlier, if you’re itching to buy a new TV, we would recommend getting a big Full HD TV instead or saving your money and waiting until 4K Ultra HD is good and ready.
Image: Carrie Nelson/Flickr