Before you buy that cheap 4K TV…

If you’re looking for bargains this year, you’re certainly going to be tempted by some of the 4K TVs you’re seeing in holiday ads. I’ve seen a 50″ 4K TV advertised for under $300, which is just flat out absurd considering that I remember paying $700 in 1990s dollars for a 27″ SD tube TV. Is it worth it?

Simply put, no.

These 4K TVs aren’t lying to you… they do have a native resolution of 3840 x 2160, which means they are techically able to give you 4K. But, they’re missing a lot of features, and some of them will definitely be missed.

HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2
It’s pretty obvious that you’d want a 4K TV to be compatible with a 4K streaming box or satellite client. Yet, a lot of these inexpensive TVs do not support the HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 standard that you’ll need for every single 4K product, whether it’s DIRECTV, DISH, or something else. Since these TVs don’t have any streaming capability themselves, you don’t really have a 4K TV, since it can’t show a 4K picture.

Picture quality could actually be poorer
That’s right, when you watch your new 4K TV you might just find that it looks worse than your current HDTV. These discount 4K TVs are made from the lowest-possible quality LCD panels, usually reserved for cheap PC monitors. The picture could look dim, fuzzy, or streaky, and you could see large areas of very bright color in the middle of otherwise flat colors.

You certainly won’t be getting the dynamic range you want.
The best 4K TVs give you blacker blacks and whiter whites. This is called “High Dynamic Range” and it’s really what gives you that “looking out a window” feeling. Cheap 4K TVs may not be able to give you even the same dynamic range as HDTVs and so the picture may look flat and uninteresting, with dull grey dark areas and yellowish bright areas.

Forget about upgrades.
Here’s a fact of life today: Most products leave the factory with bugs. Manufacturers don’t care because if the product can connect to the internet it can get bug fixes anytime. This is just part of life today and it’s rare to find any sort of complex equipment that doesn’t need an almost immediate upgrade in order for it to work.

Except, in the case of cheap 4K TVs, you usually can’t connect them to the internet and that means… you get what you get. If it doesn’t work right when you get it, you’re done.

Cord-cutting? You’re kidding, right?
There’s a whole new crop of TVs being sold as “tuner-free” or “tunerless.” The idea here is they can offer you a lower price because these TVs don’t have a built-in tuner. Manufacturers forget that millions of people get their TV from an antenna, and these TVs don’t let you hook one up. Of course, Solid Signal will be more than happy to sell you one, but there’s no guarantee it will be compatible with these inexpensive TVs. (In fact, it’s technically illegal to call them TVs, you should call them monitors.) You may end up using two remotes or even worse, there may be connection issues.

This year more than ever, you have to shop carefully to make sure you’re getting the TV you really want. Even well-known manufacturers are getting into the low-end game, with TVs that lack the features you really want. Be careful and if you’re really looking for a 4K TV that will satisfy you, be prepared to spend close to $1,000 especially if you’re looking for something in the 60″ or larger range. Anything less and you’re probably going to be disappointed.

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 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.