Happy holidays! With Thanksgiving out of the way, holiday deals abounding, and your guests’ desire to watch Thursday’s NFL games finally satisfied, now might be the right time to finally ditch the old 1080p TV and spring for a 4K set.
But when it comes to 4K TVs, options are aplenty, and tech buzzwords and jargon can get pretty confusing, thus shattering any desires you may have had in favor of “a good deal.” From inexpensive sets to high-end screens costing thousands of dollars, each 4K set is slightly different, but it’s possible to see through the cloud of terms to pick the right one for your needs. Here’s what you need to know to pick the best 4K TV for you.
4K, UHD, and Ultra HD
First up, you should know what the “4K” on the box means. The term is a shorthand, and refers to the approximate horizontal display resolution of the set (in this case, nearly 4000 pixels across). When it comes to 4K sets, names like “4K UHD,” “Ultra High Definition,” or “UHDTV” all mean basically the same thing, though “UHD” can also refer to the budding tech of 8K TVs. (Fun fact: There is another standard used exclusively in movie theaters — known as DCI 4K — which boosts the horizontal pixel line count from 3840 pixels to 4096 pixels.)
The standard resolution of 4K TVs is 3840 x 2160 pixels, four times the pixel count of your now-aging 1080p HDTV. In addition, all 4K TVs double the pixel density (measured in pixels per square inch, or ppi) of your 1080p TV. That pixel density helps at larger screen sizes, and is why a smaller TV looks “sharper” than a larger one, and why huge 4K TVs blow similarly sized 1080p TVs out of the water in terms of image sharpness.
In general, refresh rates, being the number of times per second that a display is updated, on 4K sets come in two flavors: 60Hz (60 new images per second) or 120Hz (120 new images per second). A higher refresh rate means less motion blur, and a sharper overall image. When buying, be wary of brands touting refresh rates of 240Hz or higher — these numbers are inflated with software tricks and features generally detrimental to your viewing experience. Be sure to look for the native refresh rate — 60Hz is fine, but 120Hz is ideal, and found on more expensive sets.
Watching 4K Content
Of course, if you’re looking to watch 4K content, you’ll need more than the right TV. You’ll need a quick internet connection. Streaming 4K content often requires a broadband connection, and the majority of streaming services require a speed of 25 Mbps (megabytes per second) or greater. As for actually streaming it to your TV, you should use a wired Ethernet connection to your TV or streaming device. For those going wireless, 4K streams could be limited by your router’s capabilities, meaning you may need to upgrade more than your set.
Still, if you really want to enjoy your cinematic masterpiece on your 4K set, you’re better off ditching the streaming services and buying your media. Specifically, you should consider purchasing content stored on Ultra HD Blu-Ray discs, which support 4K resolution, as well as features like High Dynamic Range (HDR), which offers more vibrant colors and darker blacks, or increased frame rates.