4K (Ultra HD): Picture Perfect?

/4K (Ultra HD): Picture Perfect?
4K (Ultra HD): Picture Perfect? 2017-04-26T13:45:42+00:00

Decisions…decisions.

The Basics

You’ve got your 65″ 75″ HDTV with billions of colors. It’s got 3D capability, OLED, and every other buzz-worthy term that the marketers can think of. You’ve just spent your bonus on it or, more realistically, you just put it on your Best Buy card. Hey, it’s ok – that’s what people do. And all for the sake of entertainment.

But what if it’s not the next big thing?

Ok, let me backtrack a bit. I’ve run a web site that reviews DVD’s, Blu-ray’s, Games and even does the occasional interview. I’ve been doing this since 1999 and I’ve had just about every combination of television, receiver, speakers, player that you can dream of. It makes me sick to think of how much I’ve “invested” in this (and I use those quotes as ironically as possible) in my hobby. But I also get to hold my head high when I see others’ setup and quietly judge them. Or not so quietly envy them if their setup happens to be superior to mine. But this isn’t a pissing contest, so I won’t list off what makes up my personal system.

Here’s the deal and what I say will either blow your mind or you’ll think I’m an idiot. Or, more to the point, both.

Your basic, “run-of-the-mill” HDTV has 1080 lines of resolution. This is what’s known as HD and you’ve no doubt heard this term. Marketers love it and they use it for everything from sound to picture quality. If it’s HD, it’s got to be good, right? Right. As of this writing, April 2017, you can go to any big box store (we’ll just use Best Buy, since they’re about the only one left) and pick up a 50″+ HDTV for very little money. Yes, there are variances in what the TV can do, but if you compare it to one you got five years ago, it’s a night and day difference.

The Past

I got my first HDTV back in March 2001 – a 55″ Mitsubishi model with a chunk out of the front missing (which allowed me to save a few hundred off the price). In 2001 there was hardly any HD content on demand and certainly not in Little Rock, Arkansas where I was living. The best I could do was watch DVD’s all the time which I did – it was my job, so to speak.

A few years later, the prices came down and the televisions got slimmer. Yes, that 55″ model I had was the size of a dresser and it was a rear projection model (DLP if you’re curious). It still looked good, but I longed for a true flat screen plasma that I’d seen in stores.

Technology continued to improve, as did the picture quality and the prices were going down. It figures, spend $3k on a television and a year later you can get the same thing for half price. Isn’t technology grand?

So let’s skip forward to, say, 2012. I’ve now got one of those coveted flat screen plasma’s and life is grand. But there’s a new buzzword around – 4K. What is that? Well it’s four times the resolution of a standard 1080 HDTV, didn’t’ you know? Couple one of those with a Blu-ray player and you’re all set! Right? By now (“now” being 2012), things looked pretty good. Over the air was broadcast in 1080 and it looked beautiful. I mean really, could it get any better than this?

Oh it could!

The Present (sort of)

Let’s jump forward another few years to, say, 2015. By now 4K was the marketing buzzword and this is finally what I’m writing about. I took the plunge with a work-based bonus and purchased a new 4K TV. As I said in the first sentence, it’s got 3D, a smart hub (which I never use) and bells and whistles. It’s mounted on my wall and cost as much as my first HDTV did a decade and a half prior. Aside from the obvious difference in picture quality – what’s the real difference and why would you need to upgrade?

This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road.

Take my money, please?

Let’s say that you’ve got a 65″ HDTV (non 4K model). You paid a pretty penny for it a few years back and let’s say you sprung for a Blu-ray player. True, there are a lot of folks out there that still have a DVD player and are fine with it. Those people aren’t reading this article right now. Truthfully, if you were to have a true 4K setup with a 4K television, a 4K player and a similar setup that did Blu-ray, I’d have a hard time telling them apart. Yep, it’s true. For someone that refers to themselves as an “authority”, the technology is such that it’s really difficult to tell the difference between 1080 and 4096 lines of resolution. Oh sure, they’ve got a setup at Best Buy that has a split screen. You marvel at the obvious difference in the two and say to yourself “I need a 4K television. I can’t believe I’ve been living in the dark ages all this time!” Yes, you actually say “dark ages.”

I’m sure there’s some article somewhere else that says how the naked eye can’t tell the difference between so many lines of resolution from xx feet away. I’ll let you find that. This is coming from someone that watches a movie (sometimes two) a day and has for nearly two decades.

The truth is…there’s really not that much difference between the two.

Color – To HDR or not to HDR

One of the benefits of a 4K television is the High Definition Range (henceforth referred to as HDR). What is it? It’s a broader enhancement of the color spectrum. The bottom line is that it’s supposed to give better color rendition and will correctly approximate what your naked eye sees.

Uh huh.

Ok, I’m not doubting that there are differences between a Blu-ray and an Ultra HD (4K) movie. Yes, of course there are. Companies like Samsung, Sony and LG wouldn’t lie to us, would they? Of course not. But the question you have to ask and the one I’m asking is…do you need it?

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Tell that to someone who purchased a 4K setup.

The Product(s)

Which one belongs in your 4K collection?

Putting aside the technology from the hardware point of view, let’s shift the focus (pun fully intended) to the actual discs you buy. Yep, you have to still do that and put these things in your player else, what’s the point?

For the most part, all Ultra HD/4K titles come with a Blu-ray as well. So if you really want to “future proof” your setup, the price difference between buying a regular Blu-ray and Ultra HD title is only a few bucks. Plus you get the Blu-ray to boot. If you buy the Blu-ray only sometimes that’s all you get, though a few studios do throw in a DVD for whatever reason.

The selection of titles is growing and I’m not really sure if there’s a rhyme or reason as to how they’re selected. For every movie that’s “deserving” of being on 4K like Passengers or The Martian there are also titles that make you scratch your head and say, literally, “WTF?” I mean is there really a need for Eddie the Eagle or The Girl on the Train on 4K? Methinks not.

The Bottom Line

Is this: if you’re someone who watches television and movies all the time, like your games and movies as crisp and sharp as they can be then by all means, take the plunge on a 4K system. For the rest of you (notice I didn’t say “us” since I classify myself in the upper echelon), you don’t need it. My parents have a 1080 75″ television and a Blu-ray player and, you know what, I’m perfectly content to watch television or a movie over there. I know that something “better” (again, quotes used ironically) exists, but there’s no need for them or the masses, purchase it. Suffice it to say that you’re not missing out on the end all be all of human existence if you don’t own a 4K setup. Yes, there was a difference between VHS and DVD and even a modest difference between DVD and Blu-ray, but beyond that – the naked eye can only see so much.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Send ’em on.