The big theme of the Consumer Electronics Show this year was 4K TVs, sometimes called Ultra HD.
Everyone from LG to Toshiba to Sharp is working on a 4K UHD set, and Samsung is one of the first manufacturers to start selling them.
But what the heck does that mean for you, the regular consumer who’s looking for a new TV?
In short, 4K TVs have pictures that are much sharper than the regular HD TVs you’re probably used to by now. It’s called “4K” because the screens have 4,000 pixels across the horizontal axis.
All the photos and videos of the TVs that came out of CES don’t do the picture quality justice.
The resolution on 4K sets is so clear and intense, you feel immersed in the images you’re looking at. This isn’t some gimmicky feature like 3D; the 4K resolution really is stunning. And the effect is especially impressive on the super huge TVs like this 85-incher from Samsung.
Now for the drawbacks.
4K sets are expensive. Samsung’s 85-inch set, which it officially priced today, costs a whopping $40,000. You can buy a BMW 300 series sedan with plenty of options for that kind of cash. The smaller sets are cheaper of course, but you should still expect to pay around $25,000.
Then there’s the content problem. Regular HD content is easy to come by nowadays. It’s broadcasted for free on network TV stations like NBC, CBS, and ABC. You can stream or download it over the Internet from services like Netflix or iTunes.
But 4K content is harder to find. It needs to be shot with a special (and expensive!) camera in order to achieve that resolution, and almost no content providers broadcast their programming in 4K.
Delivering a feature-length 4K over the Internet can eat up 100 GB or more. Most people don’t have Internet connections fast enough to stream content at that resolution, and downloading a 4K video file will eat up a ton of space on your hard drive.
On the flipside, 4K is still in its infancy. Prices will go down as the technology progresses, and as more people buy 4K sets, more content providers will start making shows and movies in 4K resolution.
The bottom line: Unless you of a ton of cash to burn, you shouldn’t even think about buying a 4K set. And even if you do, chances are high you’ll have to wait a few more years for enough 4K content to become available for you to actually enjoy your purchase.
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