Decided To Upgrade To A 4K HDR TV? Here’s Everything You Need To Know
Stephan Jukic – December 23, 2017
This is probably one of the best times there is for buying a 4K TV. Why? Because for one thing, 4K TV technologies for display and compatibility, as well as premium features, have finally become standardized enough for stable, quality future-proofing for at least the next few years and secondly, because the last month of this year and the first month or two of the next year are always the times when newer television models start selling at their lowest prices.
Furthermore, if you’ve gone at least a couple years or more since your last TV purchase, this is a very solid opportunity to upgrade in terms of genuinely useful new technologies such as high dynamic range, wide color gamut, better-than-ever display brightness and connectivity features. In other words, today’s 4K televisions are the best they’ve ever been at the lowest prices they’ve ever had, and they’re good enough to stay awesome for several more years even if new technologies emerge in next year’s models or those of 2019 and so forth.
With that said, let’s get down to the key things you need to know if you’re going to be buying a new model for this year’s Christmas season or any time soon.
Picking the Right 4K TV For Your Budget
As a general and very basic rule, some of the most expensive 4K TVs on the market today will also be the most expensive models available, with the best technologies. However, this doesn’t mean that excellent large and high quality TVs can’t be found for less than $1500 or even $1000 in some cases. Our listing of Best 4K TVs for $1000 or less on this page offers and excellent rundown of the best budget models.
Beyond this, we can’t recommend much on price because budgets will vary enormously by individual buyer. However so long as you keep certain key considerations in mind based on your specific budget, you’ll have a much lower chance of buyer’s remorse. These are as follows:
- OLED TVs are almost always more expensive than LCD TVs in the same size range. They deliver better picture quality in many ways but it comes at a price.
- Local dimming, complete HDR (for both color and contrast) and exceptional brightness will all cost more, but they’re usually worth it.
- Go for the brightest and most HDR-complete TV you can comfortably afford, you’ll be thankful of the picture quality improvements.
- Smart TV platforms by brand of TV don’t really matter, there are plenty of external streaming devices out there with their own huge selections of apps.
- Also get the biggest size of display you can comfortably afford, it will make a difference.
4K TV Size Essentials
For any TV, the bigger the better but for 4K ultra HD TVs, this applies with particular rigor, but with some limits. For one thing, the resolution provided by a 4K display can best be appreciated at a comfortable viewing distance with TV sizes of roughly 49 inches or larger. So if the 4K sharpness is something you really want to enjoy and be able to notice, you’ll probably need to get a larger television than what you might have been used to with older HDTVs. Smaller rooms like bedrooms or studios can comfortably do with a 40 to 45 inch (the smallest that 4K TVs go) UHD television since you’ll be view9ing them from close enough to appreciate the ultra HD despite the smaller screen but if you’re going for a living room TV, keep proportionality to the rest of your room and your average viewing distance in mind. The image below delivers an excellent guide for the ideal screen size for a given viewing distance, but you can also just get a larger TV despite this. The extra pixels on the screen will ensure that it avoids the blurriness you might get from using a really large 60 inch+ HDTV inside a small room.
That said, for most average-sized living rooms, a 55 to 65 inch television will both look ideal and offer more than enough display real estate at an average viewing distance of 10 to 12 feet. This is in fact why these are the most commonly manufactured TV sizes for the vast majority of today’s 4K UHD TVs.
The bottom line is that as long as you get the ideally-sized TV for your space, it’s up to you if you want something even larger if you can afford it, as long as you don’t mind it looking disproportionately big where it’s positioned. If huge size is what you’re after, you’re also in luck: getting a bigger 4K TV is now cheaper than ever as many budget HDR models (such as those listed below) hit the market with prices of less than $3000. Ultra-premium 60 inch+ 4K UHD TVs however still sell for hefty prices and most will cost well above $3000.
Why You Also Need HDR
We already mentioned HDR technology above and here we’re going to go into a bit more detail on it. This is the major new display spec that virtually all 2017 4K TVs now come with by default, and even most 2016 televisions include it as well to some degree. This is the case for a reason. High dynamic range really does create a difference in the quality of the home theater experience if it’s used to view HDR content. Colors, contrast, shadows and just about every aspect of picture quality look more vibrant, more realistic and much better overall if the content is mastered in HDR and viewed on an HDR TV.
Unfortunately, HDR content sources are still not as common as we’d like them to be but this is changing at an accelerating pace and right now a majority of new 4K content of any kind comes mastered with HDR by default, ensuring that the technology spreads faster and sticks around.
In other words, if you’re going for a new 4K TV, a model with HDR is going to ensure that it’s much more future proof and that it delivers a generally better content experience for the latest sources of 4K ultra HD entertainment.
Now, not all HDR televisions are created equal. The spec can vary by model and price. The better HDR specs in existence today offer support for 10-bit color, wide color gamut and extremely broad contrast with high peak brightness. Lower-end HDR TVs often don’t offer particularly high brightness or support for wide color gamut. Thus, yes, pricier 4K TVs do generally offer high quality HDR performance but this isn’t absolutely, always the case. There are lower priced models such as those listed below which are excellent producers of high dynamic range color and contrast despite their more affordable prices. Additionally, some 4K TVs support multiple HDR formats, especially both HDR10 (which is pretty much universal in all HDR TVs) and the more refined Dolby Vision, which is available in certain 4K HDR TVs such as all models from LG, all Vizio models, all premium Sony TVs and TCL’s premium but highly affordable 4K HDR TVs.
The bottom line for high dynamic range is that most newer televisions now have it to some extent at least and that you should absolutely get a TV with the technology
Other Key 4K HDR TV Technologies
Besides HDR and the obvious feature of 4K resolution, several other key specs are ideal for your next 4K TV. Though they’re not essential for a good display experience, they definitely add to picture quality. These are the following:
Local Dimming: This guide here covers local dimming and backlight in 4K TVs in details, but in basic terms, this feature allows for sections of the LED backlight in LCD TVs to turn off for better black levels in darker scenes. The result is superior contrast and a more realistic level of picture quality. You don’t need local dimming for decent picture quality but it definitely helps contrast and HDR rendering. Get it wherever you can afford it. Vizio and TCL’s 4K HDR TVs, as well as Sony’s X900E television and Samsung’s MU8000 or higher 4K HDR TVs all offer local dimming despite being priced relatively affordably.
High Peak Brightness: This technology relates to HDR. The brighter your TV screen is capable of going, the better it will deliver on overall picture quality. Fortunately, since most 4K TVs for 2017 come with high dynamic range, they’re also brighter than ever before as a general rule. However, some premium models offer peak brightness specs of over 1000 nits (brightness in a TV screen is measured in nits, from 0 to an absolute maximum of 2000 with current TV technology). Most mid-range televisions can manage at least 400 nits of peak brightness while Sony, Samsung, and other brands best ultra-premium televisions can hit 800 nits or higher. Buy whatever you can comfortably afford but as a general rule, the higher the peak brightness, the better.
If you want to know the peak brightness of a TV you’re thinking of buying, all of our own reviews at 4K.com include the brightness specs of each model. These can be found under the “Visual Specs” section of each review.
Refresh Rate: All 2017 4K TVs come with two possible refresh rates: 60Hz or 120Hz. Many of them will have hype for features like 240Hz or even higher supposed refresh rates but these are just that, hype for mostly useless enhancement technologies. In terms of actual native refresh, it’s either 60Hz or 120Hz. Our guide to refresh rates in 4K TVs covers this in lots of detail.
120Hz native refresh rate does create a better overall smoothness for gaming or fast-paced sportscast content but even most newer-model 60Hz TVs these days offer excellent motion handling despite their lower refresh rate. In any case, Native 4 UHD video won’t reach your TV at more than 60 frames per second anyhow due to HDMI connectivity limitations. Thus, go for a 120Hz 4K TV if you can afford one but understand that an otherwise good 60Hz 4K TV will still offer a generally decent to great content motion handling experience.
Smart TV: All modern 4K Televisions come with their own native smart TV platforms. These offer access to content apps, web browsing, gaming and other interface features which can all be accessed via the TVs remote control. Most current television smart platforms come with a large selection of 4K and ordinary content apps but if one doesn’t on a TV that you otherwise really like, it’s no big deal either. External streaming media devices like the Roku Streaming Stick+ or the Amazon Fire TV 4K are available with their own smart platforms which you can plug into your TV and use instead right away. In other words. While a good native smart TV platform is great to have, this feature isn’t as important as sheer display quality.
OLED vs. LCD vs. QLED
Our guide to OLED vs. LCD cs. QLED TVs covers the difference between all of these types of models in detail but to give you a basic rundown of what’s what, the best overall 4K TV performance comes from OLED TVs. They create perfect black levels, perfect infinite contrast and excellent color management. They’re also usually more expensive than their LCD TV counterparts. Most 4K HDR TVs are LCD televisions and all budget 4K TVs being sold today are also LCD TV models (though OLED TVs are getting cheaper by the year). QLED TVs are sold only by Samsung so far and consist of the brand’s top-shelf models. However, don’t be confused by their name. These are also still just LCD TVs but with special quantum dot color filters built into their display for better color rendering. If you can afford an OLED TV, we definitely recommend it. LG’s B7 and C7 models are especially affordable and excellent performers. However, most LCD 4K HDR TVs also deliver fantastic performance that a majority of buyers will be happy with.
Other Things You’ll (Maybe) Need
Internet Connectivity: 4K TVs deliver most of their content and benefits via streaming media apps and thus, they’ll absolutely require at least some consistent internet connectivity to really work well For effectively streaming 4K video from apps like Netflix or Amazon Prime, they’ll need at least 25Mbps of constant broadband speed to give you a smooth viewing experience. Thus, if you can at all get your hands on it, go for an ISP plan that offers the above speed if you want to see native 4K video play on your TV. Our guide to 4K TV content sources, here, goes into all your options for getting the best entertainment value from your TV. If you can’t get your hands on a 25Mbps+ broadband connection in your area, not all is lost. For one thing, 4K TVs make even most streamed HD content look fantastic, and secondly, as we cover in the guide we linked to above, there are plenty of alternative 4K content options out there which don’t rely on high-speed internet
Sound Power: Most of today’s 4K TVs offer…. decent…. Native audio power but if you want some serious kick, an external speaker system or sound bar will give you a much better sound experience. These can be bought for as little $100 but for a really robust audio experience, you’ll likely be spending at least $180 to $250 for a sound system. If immersive audio is really important for your home theater system, a sound bar will be a must-have extra.
Media Devices: Our Media Devices page covers pretty much every possible existing streaming media option on the market today. However to give another brief rundown of these, they’re a plug-and-play alternative to your 4K TV’s native smart platform. Most smart TV platforms in today’s TVs offer all the essential 4K content apps and hundreds or even thousands of other media apps but if there’s some particular feature you can’t get from your TV’s own smart platform, external streaming media devices like those listed on our media devices page are an excellent option.
Where to Buy & When to Buy Your 4K TV
Right now, at the end of the year and into the beginning of 2018, before the new 4K HDR TV models for next year get announced and then released is probably the single best time of the year so far to buy a new 4K HDR TVs. The models of 2017 are still the latest there is but their prices are now competitively falling almost across the board, along with those of any 2016 4K TVs you might still find from assorted retailers. In other words, your best discounts on brand new HDR 4k ultra HD televisions are going to be found right around the holidays.
As for where to buy them. Well, almost any major retailer is a good choice since most of them maintain pretty narrowly competitive pricing amongst each other. However, if you’re buying online, we’d say that the most reliable overall shipping and low price deals are those you’ll find with Amazon.com due to its sheer size and customer-obsessed sales policies.
As a final caveat, we mention what we covered in detail here, in this guide to used TVs vs. New TVs. Buy a new model with a full warranty whenever you can, even if it costs a bit more. They’re worth the extra dollars spent and problems with parts quality that you might have with refurbished, used 4K TVs.