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Why you shouldn't buy a 4K TV this year

Standards for Ultra-High Definition TV are still far from complete

November 27, 2013 01:01 PM ET

Computerworld - Ultra-High Definition (UHD) 4K televisions are sure to be on many holiday shopping wish lists this season, but industry experts say now is not the time to buy.

For one, they're still pricey: Most UHD TVs large enough to showcase their better picture quality - that is, 65-in. or larger -- cost $5,000 or more. There's also a lack of 4K content that can be viewed, and industry standards that need to be hammered out.

In fact, the lack of standards is hampering the availability of 4K content.

"You can get more for your dollar going with a good LED HDTV from a top brand," said Veronica Thayer, an analyst with IHS Research. "They're coming out with great prices for this holiday season."

For example, Visio is expected to offer two HDTV specials this season: a 60-in. LED HDTV for $688 and a 70-in. model for $998, "which is much lower than ever before," Thayer said.

Ultra High Definition (4K) TV technology offers a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, or 8 megapixels -- four times that of 1080p HD TVs. In addition to far higher resolution, another advantage cited by industry experts is that 4K TVs can display passive 3D better than today's 1080p sets.

Screen resolution, however, is only part of the reason for superior UHD TV picture quality. The sets also have improved color standards, are capable of higher frame rates and have greater dynamic range (i.e., brighter highlights and darker shadowing).

For example, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) tested 4K televisions with viewers earlier this year and found the audience appreciated higher frame rates much more than increased resolution. "Early results give a clear indication that higher frame rates are appreciated by the observers, to a significantly greater extent than increased resolution," the EBU said in a statement.

While UHD TVs sport four times the resolution of 1080p HD TVs, some experts have argued that the human eye is only able to perceive the improved picture quality of UHD TVs at a close range -- within 10 feet or less. Viewing from further away, it's the size of the TV more than the resolution that plays a bigger role in perceived picture quality.

Seiki is offering a 55-in. 4K TV for $850 this holiday season, the lowest price ever for a UHD TV, according to analysts.

Lack of 4K content and standards

One of the biggest issues facing the UHD TV market is a lack of "available" content. That's not to say there aren't plenty of 4K movies and TV shows ready to be streamed to the public. Since 2004, the movie and television industry has been producing 4K content for the digital market.

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