What is HD TV, 4K, and Ultra HD?
4K, Ultra HD, UHD, HD, Retina Display, 1080i, 1080p, 720i, 720p, SD… these are key words that you will see all over the marketing materials on the TV. These terms refer to the “resolution” of the TV, screen or monitor. The resolution is essentially the number of pixels on the screen. The more pixels on the screen, the “smoother and crisper” the picture will look.
How is 4K Ultra HD Different Than HD?
4K Ultra HD has 4x the pixels of a standard 1080p HD TV. A 1080p HD TV has a resolution of 1920px Wide x 1080px High (2,073,600 pixels) while a 4K Ultra HD TV has a resolution of 3840px Wide x 2160px High (8,294,400 pixels).
Are More Pixels Better?
Technically, yes, more pixels generally are better since it will give you a smoother image. The big question you should ask yourself is, are more pixels worth the extra cost of an 4K Ultra HD TV? The answer to that all depends on your budget, the size of the TV you can physically fit in your home, and how far you will sit from the TV.
Does this mean that I should run out and buy a 4k TV today since more pixels are better? If money isn’t an issue, then go pick up the largest 4K Ultra HD TV that will fit on your wall.
If you do have a budget, then keep on reading.
Can You See the Difference?
Even though I mentioned that more pixels are generally better, that doesn’t mean that us “humans” can actually see the difference. The biggest benefit of picking a TV with a higher resolution is that the image looks better the closer you sit to it. This allows you to purchase a larger TV while still having a good looking image.
When looking at the different TVs in the store, you will probably come upon a display that shows a HDTV next to an 4K Ultra HDTV. In the store, you will probably see that the 4K Ultra HDTV does look better because you are standing 2′ – 3′ from the screen. In your home, you are probably sitting 10′ – 12′ away from the screen. At this distance, you may not be able to perceive the difference in the resolution due to your own Visual Acuity.
What Size HD or 4K Ultra HD TV Should I Get?
When picking out any TV, it’s always appropriate to figure out the size range that is appropriate for your room. As interior designers, we believe that bigger isn’t always better, especially when you may live in a smaller condo or town home in the city of Chicago. You will want to pick out something that scales properly for your room or fits appropriately in your cabinet. If you are trying to keep the cost down or don’t plan on rearranging your room to sit significantly closer to the screen than you do now, then you should probably save some money and pick up an appropriately sized HDTV.
If you are trying to future-proof your purchase a bit, sit closer to your screen, or significantly increase the size of your screen, then use the table below to determine if a 4K Ultra HD TV might be right for your situation. I’ve also included HDTV sizes for convenience.
|Viewing Distance (FT)||HDTV Size||4K Ultra HDTV Size|
|4′||19″ – 32″||35″ – 65″|
|6′||26″ – 48″||50″ – 90″|
|8′||32″ – 63″||65″+|
|10′||40″ – 80″||80″+|
|12′||46″ – 96″||95″+|
|14′||52″ – 112″||100″+|
Making the Final Decision – A Real World Example
As with most things in life, there are plenty of options out there with no simple answer that is right for every situation. When I recently selected a TV for a basement renovation project in Chicago, I went through the following steps to help make a recommendation:
- Budget – Figure out your budget. If you want to keep your purchase under $800 (as of December, 2014), then you will probably want to start with searching for HDTV’s. My customer wanted to keep the cost under $1,000.
- Viewing Distance – The physical boundaries of your room will usually force the viewing distance. For my customers, it was around 10′ from where their heads would be when sitting on the sofa to the front of the screen.
- Size – Determining the appropriate size is very important. It’s important to pick something that looks visually pleasing and scales appropriately in the space but also fits your viewing needs. The chart above can be used as a guide. For the project, we determined that anything from a 55″ – 70″ would look appropriate in the room. Since it was a basement that was designed with the intention of being a place for the family to watch movies, the family was okay with the screen being a bit larger. If this were a living room, I would probably try to keep it under 50″ just so it doesn’t overwhelm the space.
Based on the constraints listed above, we decided to go with a 60″ Visio 1080p HDTV with a refresh rate of 120Hz. We could have gotten a 4K Ultra HDTV if we went over their $1000 budget by $400, but as you can see from the chart above the viewer would have to sit 8′ away or increase the size to 80″ to really see the difference. This constraint combined with their budget made a standard HDTV come out on top.
If more 4k content were available or if they didn’t have twin 2 year olds that could easily trash the TV, I may have leaned towards a 4k Ultra HD model. In this situation, it was tough to justify the extra money when this excellent model is available for under $800. Instead, we put the extra cash into their sound system to help round out their movie room.
Ultra HD and HD Cables
Since all of the signals that pass from your Blu-Ray Player, DVD Player, XBox One, PS4, and other devices all digital, a reasonably priced HDMI Cable will do the trick. I’m a big fan of the Amazon Basics HDMI Cable. For around $7, you can get a high quality 10′ HDMI cable that will work perfectly for your shiny new TV.
I wrote this guide as a quick reference to choosing the right size TV. If you want more information on this topic, I found some other great guides online that will either help you out or overwhelm you with more information since they get rather technical.
- What is the Resolution – I love the chart that helps you show when a certain resolution of TV is (e.g. 720p, 1080p, 4K Ultra HD) “worth it”
- Why Ultra HD 4K TVs are Still Stupid by CNET – This article provides a realistic approach to TVs and the appropriate size for the majority of households
- Visual Acuity (Wikipedia) – learn how the eye works and why we can’t see much of the detail in these higher resolution screens
Some of the links in this article may link to an affiliate partner, which means if you purchase, Design Inside may get some cash money. Thanks.