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Understanding the Difference Between 4K and UHD
Now that 4K televisions have become the standard, with streaming giants increasingly offering native 4K content to their subscribers and 8K models appearing on the horizon, let’s take a look at two terms that have quickly become synonymous: 4K and UHD (Ultra High Definition).
4K and Ultra High Definition may look similar to the casual viewer, but technically, the two are different (even though manufacturers have been using them interchangeably).
Let’s take a closer look at the bigger picture and get a clear definition for each.
By The Numbers
The basic rule of picture clarity is that the higher the pixel count, the higher the image's resolution. 4K image technology was initially introduced for digital cinema, which standardized the spec for digital projection in movie theaters at 4,096 x 2,160 pixels. A 4K TV comes equipped with this same resolution—roughly four times the resolution of the previous 1080 standard—whereas UHD offers a display resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. While this is slightly short of "true" 4K, UHD resolution is often rounded-up and referred to as 4K for the sake of simplicity. But in reality, there is technically more texture and detail shown in a 4,096 x 2,160 display resolution than UHD.
Truth be known, buying a 4K TV versus a UHD TV will not make much of a difference to the average viewer, with both offering excellent resolution. However, if having the highest possible picture clarity is essential to you, you'll want to look for a 4K unit that displays at 4,096 x 2,160.
There is already a newer version of UHD boasting an even higher resolution of 7,680 x 4,320, commonly known as 8K. While 8K is the (eventual) future of high-resolution technology, these models currently come with a hefty price tag and a shortage of available 8K content. So, fear not, as it will be a while before they become more commonplace and affordable.
When you watch lower-resolution content on a 4K TV, upscaling is the technology that helps increase the resolution, converting and optimizing to fit the display panel of a 4K TV. In other words, it doesn't just stretch the image; it "upgrades" and enhances it for the 4K display.
To be clear, it does not convert the content to a native 4K resolution, but it does make the lower-resolution content look better on your television. It does this by automatically analyzing the resolution to reduce noise, improve details and provide optimum contrast and color so that you can view the content in 4K-like quality.
If you're not ready to buy a 4K TV, a workaround may help. Buying a top-end UHD Blu-ray player and routing your content through it can give you an improved "upscaled" experience.
OLED or QLED?
Another thing to consider when purchasing a new 4K or UHD television is the refresh rate.
Refresh rate is the number of times per second (written in hertz, or Hz) a TV refreshes its image. Movies are almost always filmed 24 frames per second or 24Hz, and live TV shows and streaming content will generally refresh at 30Hz or 60Hz. Most new 4K TVs refresh at 60Hz, while some midrange and higher-end models offer 120Hz.
The refresh rate is especially noticeable when watching sports or content with a lot of action and quick movement. And if you're a gamer playing on the latest generation of consoles (PS5, Xbox Series X), a higher refresh rate will significantly enhance the experience and be worth the investment because they are capable of taking advantage of up to 120Hz.
It might seem counterintuitive, but a 1080p television with a refresh rate of 60Hz will often look better than a 4K unit that only refreshes at 30Hz. Therefore, the refresh rate is another vital spec that you'll want to pay attention to when selecting a new 4K or UHD television to ensure you are getting the clearest possible picture.
Note: To take advantage of 120 frames per second, your TV must have at least one HDMI 2.1 port for the supporting device to connect to.
Lastly, what’s the point of buying a new 4K television if you don’t have any 4K content to take advantage of it? Thankfully, big-name streamers like Amazon, Apple+, Disney+, and Netflix have been offering 4K content for a number of years now. And, if you’re a cord-cutter, live TV services like YouTube TV are also beginning to offer 4K content, including some live sports and VOD, and most streaming devices—like Fire Stick 4K, Apple TV, Chromecast with Google TV, or the TV itself—support 4K resolutions.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below! If you're looking for tips on how to pick the perfect television, check out our blog on the topic.