4K UHD TV Buying Guide 2016

It seems like only yesterday that unsuspecting shoppers strolling through department stores were stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of HDTV. They were widescreen, sharper, and brighter than ever before, and would eventually usher in an new era for home theater.

Now, it’s 2016, and HDTV seems old and busted sitting next to the new 4K UHDTV hotness on retail shelves. You’ve seen them on display at stores, and in every Sunday paper, but is it time for you to make the jump to 4K? If you’re like most shoppers, that answer is not clear cut, as new technology brings with it new questions and things to learn, and that’s where bfads.net comes in. We’re here with our first ever 4K UHDTV buying guide!

It’s important to note that while a lot has changed with 4K UHDTV, not everything is different. Here, we’ll cover what is new with 4K UHDTV, but for questions on HDTV standard features like screen types, refresh rates, smart features, etc, have a look at our HDTV buying guide to brush up on the basics before moving on.


4K UDHTV, What does it all mean?

4K UDHTV, What does it all mean?

Any time there is a new technology that breaks into the mainstream, you can bet that it will bring a lot of new acronyms along with it. With 4K TV, this can be particularly challenging since advertisers use every acronym possible to maximize ad space.

First and foremost, whether you see “4K” or “UHDTV” advertised, they are usually talking about the same technology. UHDTV just took the old moniker of High Definition Television and added the word “Ultra” in front of it, to signify a higher resolution screen than 1080p HDTV.

The increase between resolutions from HDTV to UHDTV is where things become a bit more complicated. In the past, the shorthand terms like 1080 and 720 told you the number of vertical lines that made up the image. 1080, for example, was shortened from 1920x1080; that is, 1920 lines of pixels horizontally, and 1080 lines of pixels vertically to form the image on the screen.

With 4K, the number is instead representative of the number of horizontal lines in the image. Well that must mean there are 4000 lines of horizontal resolution right? Well, no, actually in most home 4K TVs, the resolution is 3840x2160. If this sounds like bait and switch, this is why manufacturers push the UHDTV or Ultra HD name instead of 4K, since term 4K technically represents 4096 x 2160, the resolution of most movies shown in your local theater.

On higher ends sets, you’ll sometime see manufacturers boast “Certified Premium UHDTV,” which may sound like marketing spin. What this actually means is the set is manufactured to meet a specification set by a group of manufacturers called the UHD Alliance. Without getting too technical, these sets will have the best color, contrast, and brightness on the market. Whether or not this is worth the extra cost is up to you. The best thing to remember when shopping for any TV is to trust your eyes and buy what looks good to you, not what has the best specs on paper.


What are the benefits of 4K UHDTV?

What are the benefits of 4K UHDTV?

So now you know what most of the terms you’ve seen splattered across Sunday ads mean, but what does having a 4K UHDTV actually do for your home theater experience? The answer is a dramatically better picture, especially with larger sets.

With an increased resolution, you’ve got a much higher number of pixels making up the images on screen, roughly 4x the amount of pixels. This means you can get up close and personal with your screen, or have a massively large TV and not lose any clarity in the image.

Years ago, Apple famously named the screens of their iPhone “retina” display, to signify that, unlike their prior phones, the pixels on their screens were so tiny that they could not been seen by the naked eye at normal viewing distances. That is analogous to the comparison between HDTV and UDHTV. For each pixel on a HDTV, there are four pixels on a UHDTV occupying the same space on the screen. This allows for a level of detail never before possible in home theaters, even at close distance.


High Dynamic Range (HDR)

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Every year in home theater, there seems to be a new buzzword that grabs everyone’s attention. Who could forget the mania created in years past by “Full” HD, 120hz refresh rates, and of course, 3D? Some of these stick around and become staples, and others prove to be little more than gimmicks and marketing hype. This year, high dynamic range, or HDR, is all the rage, and you are sure to see the term plastered everywhere in advertisements, comment sections, and buying guides for the foreseeable future.

Many of you may recognize HDR from high end digital cameras, or even as a feature on most smart phone cameras, but while high dynamic range is the exact term used in both technologies, they are not the same thing at all. In digital photography, toggling HDR on in your settings will make your camera snap the same picture at several different exposure levels and combine them to form a single photo. This helps add detail to shadows and eliminate bright flare ups from lights or bright sun, the result of which is a more highly detailed if not wholly surreal image.

In UHDTV, the goal is also to add more detail to the on-screen image, but having high dynamic range in a UHDTV means something entirely different that with a camera. Without getting too technical, HDR means the set is capable of displaying a vastly larger amount of colors compared to normal UHDTVs, while also having superior brightness and contrast. This means more realistic and lifelike color, brighter brights, and darker darks, all without losing a bit of detail within those extremes.

Keep in mind that in order to enjoy this benefit, the content being displayed must also be HDR enabled.


HDCP 2.2, HDMI 2, and You

HDCP 2.2, HDMI 2, and You

Have you learned enough acronyms yet? It’s almost over, but if you remember any of this tech jargon, remember HDCP 2.2.

High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection represents the seedy side of the hi-def home theater, and has been present since the inception of HDMI in an attempt to thwart bootleggers.

So why should you, a legitimate, law abiding shopper worry about copyright protection schemes? The new specification of HDCP, version 2.2, is specifically designed to stop the copying of 4K UHD content, and the restrictions are stringent to say the least. So much so that 4K UHD content can only be displayed through an HDMI 2.0 port that is HDCP 2.2 compliant, and every device between your content and your screen must also be HDCP 2.2 complaint or your picture will be downgraded.

This means if you were one of the first adopters to purchase a 4K TV, or a 4K media device that does not have HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, you cannot view legitimate UHD content on your UHDTV. Furthermore, since every device in your setup must have HDCP 2.2, if you buy a new UHD Blu-ray player and a new UHDTV, but hook them both up to your trusty ol’ HDMI 1.3 home theater receiver, your picture will still be downgraded.

This means shoppers must be as vigilant as ever when shopping for 4K UHD products. If you’re looking for a 4K TV, make sure it supports HDCP 2.2 with HDMI 2.0. Not only that, but many lower cost UHDTVs, particularly Black Friday door busters, will advertise multiple HDMI ports while also boasting HDCP 2.2 compatibility, but this does not mean that all of the HDMI ports support HDCP 2.2. If you haul home your new UHDTV with hopes of hooking up a new 4K Blu-ray player and a 4K enabled FireTV stick, you’ll be out of luck if you picked up a bargain basement set with only one HDCP 2.2 port.


4K UDH Content

4K UDH Content

If everything you’ve read so far has you ready to head out into the cold this Thanksgiving to snatch up a new 4K UHDTV, remember that in order to take advantage of HDR, extra pixels, 4K resolution, and all the greatness that is UHD, you must have 4K content to feed to your new 4K UHDTV.

4K UHDTVs are more affordable than ever and are sure to dominate the doorbuster scene for many Black Fridays to come, but in 2016, the truth is that the selection of 4K content is still lacking if not altogether laughable.

That isn’t to say that your options aren’t growing by the day, keep in mind that in 2016 alone, we’ve seen 4K enabled video game consoles like the Xbox One S and the Playstation Pro, and even 4K versions of the Amazon Fire TV. 4K bluray players become more affordable week after week while 4K blurays are no longer a rarity. On top of that, many streaming services are available, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Youtube 4K, and many Smart UHDTVs include 4K streaming apps that eliminate the need for a dedicated streaming device.

This is all great news for those wanting 4K, but the truth is that even with these services and devices, most content is still boring old 1080p, which means most of what hits your UHDTV will be upscaled to match the resolution of your new set. The selection, however, will continue to grow, and UHDTV is the future of home theater that will eventually be the standard. So if you’re on the fence and worried about buying into a fad or a gimmick, rest assured the 4K is here to stay. If you’re willing to take the plunge if it means your new set will be as future-proof as possible, a 4K UHDTV is the way to go.


Accessories

Accessories

As with HDTV, there are a lot of traps out there when it comes to accessories for UHDTV, and there is no bigger offender year in and year out than HDMI cables. Whatever you do, do not pay extra for cables that cost more because they are HDMI 2.0 complaint, as any HDMI 1.3 or 1.4 compliant cable (most cables made since 2009) will work just fine for HDMI 2.0. Second, just as in the past, it’s always best to check out online retailers like Amazon and Monoprice, as usual you can pick up great cables at a fraction of the cost at retail.

We'll be releasing even more buying guides and roundups as we get further into the Black Friday season! We'll help you find the best TV deals and give you tons of insight on how best to purchase a snazzy new set. Do you have any questions about 4K UHD? Drop 'em in the comments below. Thanks for Visiting and Tell Your Friends!

October 14, 2016
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