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Do you REALLY need a 4K TV?

Updated on: Apr 02, 2014

Yes, they are big and beautiful. But there are still hurdles to overcome in the potential love affair between you and a 4K telly

In the last two decades we've gone from hold-the-antenna-to-get-reception to wave-your-hand-to-switch-channels with our TV sets. Not only has the user interaction changed but the quality of imaging itself has improved exponentially. What better testament to that than 4K TVs being launched by every major tech company over the last year or so. Even during Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year, these super-sharp tellys were one of the major crowd pullers.

While it doesn’t take much for a new technology to gain consumer acceptance – take for example, smartphones, tablets and e-readers - 4K is yet to meet the same fate. Despite its promise in elevating your viewing experience, 4K tellys remain an unattainable luxury for most consumers in India. You could blame part of this on the trend of consumers still just about upgrading to HD or the fact that there’s very little content available even if you decide to part with a big chunk of money and go in for an UHD TV. With that in mind, let’s look at what a 4K TV really is and whether you need one right now.

What is 4K? Technically, it’s 4096 x 2160 pixels, but marketing gurus sure know it’s easier for the consumer to refer to it as 4k instead of the accurate pixel count. So that makes a 4K TV, or any form of 4K display for that matter, four times the resolution of your regular HD i.e. 1080p.

That’s as far as the format is concerned. But as far as TVs go, the companies have smartly started referring to Ultra HD displays as 4K as well. This can get a bit confusing as Ultra HD displays do not have the same resolution as 4K displays. They are a resolution of only 3840 x 2160 pixels. Most “4K” television sets being marketed currently are actually just Ultra HD displays. They are a definite step-up from Full-HD (1080p) but not as sharp as 4K TVs. However, in the market the two terms are being used interchangeably. As far as the consumer is concerned it’s difficult to tell the two apart when you’re viewing content on it.

Hurdles As is the case with most new technology, the cost of 4K TVs has been quite steep since it was launched into the market. The price in itself is a big hurdle for most consumers who might have wanted to try out 4K TVs. When Sony and LG first came up with 4K TVs about two years ago, they were priced around 12-15 lakhs. You could go around the world twice for less. However, the price has been gradually slipping, with HD TVs from brands such as LG now selling for as low as 3 lakhs and Vizio set to launch low-end 4K TVs for a little less than 2 lakhs.

Even if you decide to part ways with this kind of money, there’s very little content in the market to leverage the ultra-high resolution of 4K TVs. Sony curated its own Video Unlimited Service with gives you the option to buy or rent movies, TV shows and special features in 4K resolution, and lower if you need it. This service is available in almost 10 countries worldwide but not in India. Blu-ray discs that contain 4K content are yet to be made available to the market. However, both Samsung and Panasonic are said to be working on it. In another couple of years, they should be ready with 300 GB discs that can contain one feature-length 4K movie. Samsung is already set to launch a 1 terabyte Ultra HD Video Pack with five 4K movies including Night at the Museum and X-Men Origins: Wolverine and three documentaries. The 1TB hard drive will cost about $299.99 (Rs 18,000 approx.) which by no means can be tagged affordable.

A step ahead are streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and Amazon, some of whom are ready with a couple of 4K TV shows and other video content but are restricted to countries in the West. Even if these services come to India, we neither have the market nor the bandwidth support to stream 4K content. Netflix, for example claims you need a 15 Mbps connection to stream their 4K content, with others hovering around the same bandwidth demand. We’re more than a far cry away from those sort of speeds in India.

A big chunk of our population is only now getting around to (or yet to) upgrading to full-HD TVs. For the time being, it looks like the promise that 4K holds is going be overshadowed by the lack of bare necessities that enable a 4K television.

Published on April 02, 2014

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