4K TVs and Monitors - When and Why

By Rob Enderle December 23, 2014

As we approach the last days before we break for Christmas let’s talk about a category of product that lots of folks seem to be rushing out and buying, and after Christmas there are likely to be sales getting even more of you to buy a 4K TV. Virtually all but one size of 4K Vizio sets (they provide the best value at the moment) at Costco are sold out in the on-line store, but they still had some in store when I last checked.  Costco is a good place to start if you want to see what something should cost because they price both consistently and aggressively. 

Prices have been coming down sharply and generally you can buy a big set (70” class) for around $2,500 and a small set (42” class) for around $500. The small set is the better deal and this isn’t just about the price. 

Distance

What makes 4K TVs better than HD is the number of pixels they display. Typically they have over four times the number of pixels which makes the images much sharper but only if you are really close to the set. This makes the smaller 4K TVs better because you tend to sit closer to them often within 10’ where with big sets you are likely to sit back 15” to 20’ and at that distance the difference between a 4K set and an HD set is really hard to see.  Since an HD TV in the large size range is generally less than half the price of a similar 4K set, if you are getting a big TV you are going to sit back from, your better buy may be an HD set and, even better, you may already have one. 

Connection Seed:  HDMI 2.0 

Connection comes into play as well, particularly if you want to play games on a 4K TV. Most are still shipping with HDMI 1.4, which doesn’t have enough bandwidth to play games at full speed.  You both need to make sure it has an HDMI 2.0 capability and can play 4K video at 60Hz otherwise you’ll likely find it unacceptable for games.  

By the way, this isn’t just on the TV side, playing 4K video at full speed really taxes the PC and only current generation relatively high end cards from NVIDIA and AMD can function at these speeds. It does you no good to have a true fast 4K TV and not have the hardware to drive it. 

Monitors

Monitors clearly make the most sense, but like TVs getting the right connection has proven a problem.  Early monitors and graphics cards required you to use two connectors to get the needed speed and resolution and often the HDMI or DisplayPort connections on the TV or PC don’t have the necessary bandwidth alone. I’ve also noticed that when I search for 4K monitors often the ones that come up aren’t full 4K but a lesser resolution—these do work on more PCs. So while monitors make more sense there is actually an even bigger chance you’ll get something that underperforms unless you are really careful. Biggest clue is if the monitor has a really great price, the true 4K monitors are still pricey and a great deal likely means the monitor either can’t perform at full speed or at the resolution you thought you were buying.  

8K

And if this all isn’t bad enough we have technology coming that makes 4K look grainy.  8K sets (here is a Sharp example) appear to both provide the advertised resolution and the needed speed (120Hz) and they are already being sampled in the market.  

Content

There still isn’t much content but Netflix has started to stream a limited number of 4K titles and Amazon is ramping up as well. By this time next year we should have enough 4K content to make these TVs actually look good. But until then make sure you see them running HD content, as some of the lowest cost 4K TVs don’t display HD content well at all and require an up-converter to take HD content and translate it to 4K content.  

Wrapping Up: 

If it were my money I’d wait until late next year to buy a large 4K TV or monitor—both will improve in performance and price greatly by then and programming will be far more plentiful. However, if you are in the market for a smaller set, and want to try 4K these are a better deal and you won’t break the bank.   I picked up a Samsung 4K at Costco (in store) in the 42” class for around $500 after instant discount and it is an impressive set that I’m very pleased with.  

Otherwise wait until late next year, it’ll give you something to look forward to and you’ll be far happier with the result.   




Edited by Maurice Nagle

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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