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A beginner’s guide to 4K technology and UHD TVs

With new technologies constantly releasing, the simple desire to purchase a ‘good’ TV or screen has become a complex undertaking.

Once upon a time buying a TV was about choosing something that looked good. Now you have to worry about refresh rate, high dynamic range and smart features as well as choose whether you want HDR, OLED, AMOLED, QD or UHD.

But understanding 4K technology isn’t only important for TVs: it’s used in everything from computer monitors to smartphones and cameras. We use screens every single day, but who on earth has time to decipher all that techno mumbo-jumbo?

Well, as it turns out, I do. We’ve put together the ultimate beginner’s guide to 4K technology to ensure that whether you’re buying a new iPhone or a gaming monitor, you’ll choose the best screen possible.

What is 4K UHD technology?

4K technology refers to a resolution that is four times the pixel count of Full HD resolution.

Full HD is measured at 1920 x 1080, so that means 4K resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels. More pixels means a clearer image, so in simple terms, 4K resolution is four times clearer than Full HD.

The difference between HD, FHD and UHD

A simple graphic showing the differences in resolutions. (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

You will often see the term 4K followed by ‘UHD’, which just means Ultra High Definition. UHD is currently synonymous with 4K products, but when even higher resolutions like 6K or 8K enter the market, they’ll also be defined as UHD.

What are the advantages of having a 4K display?

4K resolution brings a level of sharpness and smoothness to digital screens that are far superior to normal HD. For most people, however, it takes a screen larger than 45 inches diagonally to notice a real difference.

Those using 4K screens will instantly notice the crisp images, vivid colours and graphic details that accompany the technology. Unless you happen to be my dad, in which case you’ll say there’s no difference to the TV he used to watch M*A*S*H as a kid.

Whether you’re buying a tablet to read comic books or a computer monitor to write your debut novel, having a 4K display will make the screen much more pleasant to use.

4K TV underwater scene

One glance at a 4K UHD TV displaying an underwater scene will make you fall in love. (Image: David Clode)

The best way to understand the advantage of 4K resolution is to experience it in real life. Head into an electronics store and ask to look at a 4K screen in comparison to a Full HD one – you’ll have to restrain yourself from buying one on the spot.

It’s important to remember that a 4K TV is only as good as the resolution it is displaying. For example, Foxtel only has one channel that broadcasts in 4K, meaning that the rest of the time the TV is displaying programs in Full HD.

If you are going to purchase a 4K display, you will need to be aware of what content actually streams or plays in 4K.

What’s with all the different 4K screen technologies (such as HDR, OLED, AMOLED, QD and UHD)?

The most important abbreviations to understand in relation to 4K TVs are HDR and OLED, but there are plenty of variants to make everything sound a bit more confusing.

HDR (high dynamic range)

HDR stands for high dynamic range and enhances picture quality by adjusting brightness, colour, contrast and darkness. By doing so, it allows for sharper colours and lighting.

OLED (organic light-emitting diode)

OLED is far superior to LCD/LED technology, and here’s why.

LCD stands for “liquid crystal display” and both LED and LCD TVs are liquid crystal displays. The basic tech is the same – both have two layers of polarised glass through which liquid crystals block and pass through light. Essentially, LED TVs are a subgroup of LCD.

LED stands for “light-emitting diode”. It differs from LCD TVs by using light emitting diodes instead of fluorescent lights. The position of the lights also differs – fluoro lights in an LCD TV sit behind the screen, but on an LED, the light-emitting diodes are often placed around the edge of the screen.

This difference means that LEDs are generally thinner, more energy efficient and produce clearer, more vivid pictures.

However, because the LEDs in these TVs turn on and off depending on what part of the screen needs to be light or dark, the technology can be imprecise. Often, the screen illuminates or darkens far too much or not enough.

With OLED displays, there is no panel or LEDs behind or around the edge of the screen. The actual pixels within the display create their own individual lights, and the light of every single pixel can be controlled.

This means that OLED provides a better contrast ratio, viewing angle and black level than LCD and traditional LED, and enables thinner designs.

OLED vs LED/LCD

A visual explanation of the difference between LCD and OLED. (Image: LG)

AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode)

AMOLED simply refers to a type of OLED that offers no restriction on screen size and can turn on/off each pixel in order to save power. The majority of consumer OLED screens use AMOLED technology.

You may also come across the term SuperAMOLED, which refers to an AMOLED display with a touchscreen built in. SuperAMOLED screens are very thin and now commonly used in flagship smartphones.

QD (quantum dot)

Quantum Dots (QD) are made of a material that absorbs light and then re-emits the energy as a frequency of light. The material projects – and creates – different colours, resulting in a TV display with much richer colour saturation.

What should I look for when purchasing a 4K TV?

If you’re shelling out at least $600 for a new TV, you want to ensure whatever you pick ticks all the right boxes.

The most important thing to look out for is display performance. The best – and usually most expensive – 4K TVs have deep black levels, high contrast, a wide colour gamut, 10-bit colour depth and HDR if possible.

A 4K TV with the above specifications will suit any potential buyer. What you’re looking for is a TV that provides great pictures that move smoothly across the screen with no motion blur.

If you’re going to be using your TV or display for 4K gaming, you’ll want to avoid budget HDR screens. They often have terrible motion blur and will make your games look pretty, but run worse.

Do I really need to buy a 4K TV?

Kingsman 4k UHD

Your 4K TV will only be as good as the content you display on it. (Image: 20th Century Fox)

4K TVs are great. They provide a remarkably clear, crisp image with vivid colours and provide one of the best viewing experiences available outside a cinema.

However, 4K TVs are only as good as the content they display. Using a 4K TV to watch regular 1080p shows or video games is like only driving a Lamborghini in a school zone.

You will only benefit from 4K if you do the following:

  • Buy a large display: You won’t get the most out of 4K unless you get a screen that is 50 inches diagonally or larger. Anything smaller and you won’t discern much difference between HD and 4K.
  • Get a 4K UHD player: Different from DVDs or Blu-Rays, UHD discs show movies and TV shows at 4K resolution.
  • Get a PS4 Pro, Xbox One S or high-end PC: These devices support 4K gaming. Any other console will not display at 4K resolution, no matter what television you have.
  • Subscribe to a 4K streaming service: Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and YouTube all have content that streams in 4K. Make sure your internet is up to the larger files, though.

4K technology has been in the market for several years now and if you’ve been sitting on the fence for a while, 2019 is the perfect time to make 4K resolution your New Year’s resolution!

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Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

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