THIS BLACK FRIDAY, I TOOK THE PLUNGE AND BOUGHT MY FIRST 4K TV. Throughout the buying process and up until the TV actually arrived, I was concerned about some things:
- Is it worth buying a 4k TV at all? Is it really that much better than 1080p?
- Is it worth buying if I can’t afford one of the best ones available?
- Is it worth buying if I can’t get the recommended screen size for my living room?
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The answer to all of these questions is “yes”, but I’ll explain further.
All 4k TVs Will Upscale Non-4k Content, Making it Better
4k TVs are a better watching experience, even when you’re watching lower-resolution content. Why? Because 4k TVs upscale low-res content, and they do a good job of it.
For example, I just watched a 480p (DVD quality) copy of an episode of Pokémon (from 1997) with my kids, and it looked better on the bigger 4k screen than it did on the smaller 1080p one that we used previously.
TV Reviews Make Lower-End 4k TVs Look Bad, But They’re Not
All things being equal, we’d all get the best TV on the market, every time. However, all things are not equal, at all.
The best TVs right now are OLEDs. My phone, the Samsung Galaxy S8+, has an OLED screen, so I know what it looks like, and it looks really good. OLEDs, for instance, turn off pixels displaying the color black, so blacks look super black. It’s cool. Unfortunately, OLED TVs are extremely expensive. More expensive than I can afford.
Online reviews for OLED TVs are gushing, and are so complimentary that, by comparison, regular LCD and LED TVs seem bad. But are they actually bad?
Tech Reviews Can Be Confusing
I’ve noticed this is a trend in online tech reviews: to be critical of tech products to the point where I no longer identify with most of the complaints professional reviewers make.
That’s not to say I don’t care about image quality. Actually, I care a lot about image quality, especially color reproduction. The problem is that reviewers often take into account (subjectively) small technical inferiorities between TVs, making them sound like a bigger deal than they are, at least to me. Image quality is objective, but personal experience of a screen is subjective. Five years ago, the TV I just bought may have been the best TV in the world.
I don’t begrudge anyone who cares about all the technical aspects of screen quality. If I could afford the best TV out there, I would probably buy it. The question is: Is the less-than-the-best 4k TV you can buy still good enough to buy?
The bottom line is, I want the TV to look good. I don’t consider myself an undiscerning buyer at all, but I’m not going to look at it under a microscope. I care about the big picture (ha) more than the details. I’m most likely going to be relaxing when I’m looking at it anyway.
Consumer Tech is Always Going to Be a Step Behind Right After You Buy it
This is a bigger conversation about consumer technology in general. Tech is always getting better, and everything you buy now is going to be comparative trash in five years or so, maybe even sooner. There’s really no way to combat this. Even if you buy the best TV on the market today, it will be made inferior almost immediately, and defunct not long after that.
So, without current tech as the measuring stick by which you make your decisions, what do you do? The answer is this: Instead of worrying too much about the best product out there, you get something that you like better than what you have now.
What I’m getting at is this: My lower-end Samsung 4k TV is leagues better than my older 1080p TV. Don’t worry yourself too much with what’s out there and just get the best thing you can at the moment. If you’re going from HD to UHD like I did, it’s going to be a major improvement.
That being said, for my usage and taste, I do care about some of the technical aspects of a TV:
- Resolution, obviously, is why I’m buying it.
- Display lag, now that I’m playing Call of Duty again, is also kind of important.
- Screen size, of course, matters, so you can see what you’re watching from where you want to watch it.
Beyond that, as long as the color reproduction is good, I’m good. What I’m saying here is that you can shop for what’s important to you in a TV. It doesn’t need to be the best to be way better than what you have now.
I couldn’t get the Recommended screen size, and that’s okay
Before I bought the TV, I measured the distance from the sofa to where I planned to put the TV, then checked online to see what size TV is recommended at that viewing distance. Well, the websites I referenced told me that I’d need 75″+ for the people sitting at the far end of the couch to have the optimal viewing experience. Okay, that would be great, but prices increase like crazy when you go beyond the most popular screen sizes, so I can’t afford 75″. Now what?
Well, I picked the biggest one I thought I could afford, and tried to buy it, but it wasn’t available. I agonized a bit, then took this as an opportunity to save some money. I ended up getting a TV that was 10″ smaller than the already supposedly-too-small TV I tried to buy. That doesn’t sound good, right? I had a hard time picturing what the TV would look like in my living room anyway, no matter what size it was going to be, so I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a problem or not. I decided to just take the chance.
As it turns out, the TV is totally sufficient, and in some ways, great. It’s big. Not movie-theater big, but big.
Movies and TV shows are great. Really great, actually. It’s a massive step up from the 1080p TVs I’ve used in the past. I have a 2.5k monitor that I regularly watch on while I’m writing posts, and even though watching on the 4k TV is the exact same image I’d watch on my monitor blown up to a bigger size, it looks way way better.
Playing split-screen Call of Duty does require that chairs be used, pulled up closer to the TV so you can really see what you’re doing. I’m not sure how big a TV would have to be to get around this for me, but I’m positive it would necessitate a truly massive screen. Also, I’ve literally never done it any other way, so it works for me.
Smart TV Features Are Awesome
I didn’t really look into Smart TV features before I made my purchase, knowing that I could just use a Chromecast Ultra or something similar if my TV had any streaming app deficiencies. I usually use a PS4, computer or smartphone to stream all my content, so I didn’t need Smart TV features to watch what I want.
Even though I went in fairly indifferent to them, Smart TV features really make everything easier, with support for all the streaming services I use. This includes Plex, which I use every day to stream media files from my computer to all my (and my family’s) devices. It works very well, making everything faster and easier than if I had to turn on the PS4 just to watch something.
Another crucial aspect of on-TV streaming apps is that you don’t need any special devices or cables to watch in 4k. My launch-day PS4, for instance, will not play Netflix in 4k. You need the PS4 Pro for that. My TV itself will stream in 4k, however, through its Samsung Netflix app. This is perfect for me, as I don’t buy or use physical TV or Movie media like Ultra HD Blu-rays.
Just Do it
Even though I didn’t follow the best practices for selecting a new TV by getting a lower-end 4k TV that was quite a bit smaller than recommended, it was a huge step up in terms of viewing experience. I’m really happy with it, and you might be, too.
Here’s the TV I bought, by the way: