FALL 2018 EDITION: Where’s all the 4K?

Every so often I get it in my head that I ought to write an article about 4K TV. The last time I really sounded off was back in April. So here I am again, six months later. What’s changed?

Diddly squat, that’s what.

Inquiring minds…

It seems like about once a week I get someone asking me if they should get a 4K TV. My answer has changed over the year. Six years ago it was “definitely not.” Two years ago it was “if you want to be futureproof.” Today, it’s “meh.” Although, that’s not really fair. Let me back up.

If you’re planning on getting a new TV today, I think it should definitely be a 4K TV. It’s not so much because of the 4K-ness of it, it’s more because if you want a good quality TV with HDR and a high refresh rate it’s going to be 4K. HDTV is really reserved for smaller, less expensive TVs.

Because, you see a high refresh rate and HDR are far more important. A refresh rate of 120Hz or higher is going to benefit two kinds of people. Movie fans are going to get a purer experience, especially paired with a Blu-ray disc player or streaming box that can output a 24-frame signal. Sports fans will love the clearer, sharper appearance that high refresh rates can bring.

As for HDR, it’s actually the thing that drew you to high definition in the first place. With HDR, colors look more pure and blacks look blacker. While I wasn’t a fan of HDR TVs initially, it looks like there’s finally some support for the format through Amazon, Netflix and others.

If you want a high refresh rate and HDR, you’re getting a 4K TV. Simple as that.

Content? Content?

Sadly we still haven’t reached the saturation point for 4K content. Don’t blame DIRECTV, they’re doing everything they possibly can to get 4K content out there but there’s only so much that a single company can do. Both Google and Netflix now support 4K but it’s going to be very dependent on your home internet connection. Not only that, streaming 4K tends to be pretty weak. It’s much more comparable to disc-delivered HD than it is to satellite-delivered 4K.

Of course, we’re still not seeing NFL football in 4K and there’s no news yet as to whether the Super Bowl will be broadcast in 4K. It probably won’t be, since you would have heard about it by now. I firmly believe that NFL football will be one of the “killer apps” for 4K and I don’t quite understand why that hasn’t happened yet. I know for a fact that several stadiums use 4K production, and AT&T has mastered 4K distribution of live sports at this point. What’s the holdup?

Seems like it’s evidence…

The lack of 4K programming seems like evidence of a change in people’s habits. I know that the CES show people don’t want you to believe that. Unfortunately, it’s true. Certainly having a large TV was seen as a status symbol for decades. Sure, that “large” TV might have only been 25″ diagonal, but that was pretty big back in the day. TVs got bigger and bigger and bigger, even up to the early 2010s. The funny thing is. after that they stopped getting bigger. Now they just get cheaper. Large TVs aren’t found in high-end department stores or specialty electronics retailers. No, they’re found, row after row, in club stores where their profit margins have been cut to the bone.

Today’s status symbol is still a big screen. It’s not the big screen of your TV, though. It’s the big screen of your phone. A decade ago we called a 3.5″ screen HUGE and today a 6″ screen is easy to get at a medium price. People want to watch more and more video on their phones, on their time. That’s just a fact of life. Even if those 6″ screens were 4K (and some of them are darn close) you wouldn’t be able to make out the tiny detail differences that distinguish 4K from HD.

4K over-the-air? Don’t count on it.

I’ve talked about this recently in other articles so let me just say that any momentum that 4K over-the-air broadcasting might have had in the first part of the year is long gone. If we see 4K OTA, and that’s a big if, it’s years away.

Hope springs eternal

Even though I haven’t been optimistic about 4K these last several years but I think that it will come eventually. There has to be some reason for it, some program that really drives 4K adoption. Back in the ’00s we had Planet Earth which convinced a lot of people — myself included — that HD was for real. Sure, Planet Earth II was in 4K but it didn’t capture the popular imagination the same way. I think something will, but until that happens, I think you’re ok keeping that HDTV.


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.