Are 4K TVs worth buying?

It seems not too long ago that we were making the switch from Standard Definition (SD) TV to High Definition (HD). Now, within the past few years the buzz has been about 4K TV, which is supposed to be the next logical step for a crisper, clearer viewing experience. 4K TVs tout a resolution that is 4 times higher than the current HD resolution (1080P). On the surface, the choice seems easy: A higher resolution means a better picture. However, there is something important to consider before you move forward with a 4K TV.

It is not always possible to tell the difference between 720p and 1080p resolution.  For the human eye to discern the difference, you would need to be sitting closer to the screen to notice the details with the higher number of pixels. Also, for viewers to begin to see any difference between 720p and 1080p, they would need a screen that is at least 42 inches. Since the most popular TV size is around 50 inches, the 1080p resolution makes sense.

This information applies to 4k TVs even more. The sizes of our homes and viewing distances are staying the same and people are still purchasing TVs around 50 inches. To be able to see the benefits of a 4K TV, we would need sit closer and have at least an 80-100 inch TV, which most homes can’t support.  (Refer to this chart courtesy of Carlton Bale for more detailed information on optimal viewing distance).

So in the end, what’s the best choice? The general perception might be that “more is better” when it comes to pixels, even if the viewer can’t really tell the difference. Don’t get me wrong, 4K is awesome, but it might be better to consider the space you have in your home and your comfort level sitting closer to the TV before making the jump to 4K.

Image courtesy of John Karakatsanis via Flickr. Used under terms of CC BY-SA 2.0.

Phuong Truong is a Departmental Technology Analyst (DTA) at the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities. He enjoys fishing, is a big sports fan, and currently spends much of his free time modifying and tracking his car.