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The typical resolution of a 4K TV is 3,840-by-2,160-pixels, which is about four times the number of pixels in the hi-def 1080p televisions that most of us are currently viewing. This produces a clearer, more detailed, and more true-to-life picture. While the 4K moniker was first used to describe these high resolution TVs, the name Ultra has emerged as a replacement name for 4K. Basically, you can assume that 4K and Ultra have the same meaning.

A few years ago, when 4K TVs first appeared, they were very expensive, there were no standards available, and there was very, very little content. In the past few years, however, all of that has changed.

Prices Plummet

Prices have not just come down, they have plummeted. Just a few years ago, a 65-inch 4K TV cost upwards. Now the same size TV can be purchased. That’s a price drop of 75%, which make the 4K televisions very appealing.

New Standards

Previously you needed to check the compatibility of the video compression encoding and compression, now almost all 4K TVs have the correct specs built-in. Also, additional standards have recently been implemented. The UHD Alliance, an industry group of 35 companies, including Dolby, LG, Netflix, Panasonic, and Samsung, has decided on basic standards, as well as a logo the will certify a 4K television as “Ultra HD Premium.” There are minimum specifications for resolution, color, and bit depth. The screen must display an image resolution of at least 3840 by 2160 pixels, with a display reproduction capable of 90% of P3 colors, and a 10-bit signal for color depth.  While you may find a good 4K TV without the HD Premium label, the label does give a good indication of a quality television.

4K TV

More Content

After several years with a scarcity of content, 4K content is quickly becoming available. Amazon and Netflix deserve much of the credit for this. They have both been filming and distributing their original content in 4K. Other streaming services are following suit. While streaming sources are leading the pack in 4K content, broadcast TV is much slower in its move to 4K. Most 4K TVs are Internet-connected and can be used as streaming devices. Be aware, however, that if you can’t stream from your TV, your streaming device must support also support 4K. The Amazon Fire TV and the Roku 4 both support 4K streaming, but the new Apple TV does not. Also know that Netflix currently charges an extra 3 a month to stream 4K content. Amazon doesn’t charge extra for 4K content.

4K is coming to TV broadcasters and producers a lot more slowly. Promises have been made and some are moving faster than others, but it will likely take them years to complete the move to 4K, which means replacing their HD equipment with 4K cameras and paraphernalia. In the meantime, however, streaming and Ultra Blu-ray discs can provide adequate content for most.

Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs

4K Blu-ray discs are just being released. I saw the first ones on the store shelves last week. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is one of the leaders in this area, so you will find some good movies represented. You can get clips, trailers, and new disc announcements at the Blu-ray Disc website.

The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) recently announced the new Ultra HD Blu-ray specification for discs. This ensures that discs have a 3,840 by 2,160 resolution.

These new discs have much higher specifications than regular Blu-ray discs. Ultra HD Blu-ray can display a wider color gamut that displays over 75% of the visible color spectrum. This more than twice the color range of current digital TVs.

4K TV

Also, the new Ultra HD Blu-ray discs can hold up to 66GB on dual-layer discs and 100GB on triple-layer discs. This is a dramatic increase over a single-layer Blu-ray disc that can hold up to 25GB of data or the dual-layer disc that holds up to 50GB.

Ultra HD Blu-ray supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) video. This is the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks, so that high contrast can be seen with greater detail. Check out this comparison of standard range vs. HDR from the Ultra HD Blu-ray website.

4K TV

The Ultra HD Blu-ray standard also support for more powerful surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS.

Of course, you will need a 4K Blu-ray player to play 4K discs. The BDA began licensing this a new format for Ultra Blu-ray players last summer, so by now, most 4K Blu-ray players should support this new format.

Upconvert

One bonus that you get with a 4K TV is that much of the 1080p content will look better, because all 4K TVs upconvert the lower resolution video signals to fit the higher resolution screen. Fortunately, new techniques are making upconverting better than it used to be. Unfortunately, some TVs do this better than others and it is something that you usually can’t assess properly in the store. Reading online reviews of individual TVs is one of the few ways assess the quality of the upconvertion for individual devices.

Hidden expense

When you purchase a new 4K TV, adding a new HD Ultra Blu-ray player, as well as new discs, is an added expense. There is also a hidden expense. Right now, 4K content is available from only streaming services, so you will encounter an additional fee for services like Netflix and/or Amazon if you don’t already subscribe. As you can imagine, 4K uses a lot more data. Netflix’s current bitrate for 4K is 15.6Mbps. So if you have an average Internet connection of less 15 Mbps, you will want to up your Internet speed, at, of course, an additional cost.

Summary

It clear that 4K TV is here to stay but 4K TVs won’t make 1080p TVs obsolete anytime soon. So if you have a good HD TV, you may want to keep it. As long as it is working properly, it will certainly remain viable for a few more years. If, however, you old TV is failing or you are looking to add a TV to your home arsenal of devices, 4K is a way to future-proof your purchase. Remember that most experts agree that the larger the screen, the more 4K makes a difference. You can now find a 4K TV to fit nearly any budget, so go as big as you can. I am sure you will find that with streaming and Ultra Blu-ray discs, there is enough content to make you smile.