4K in the Home

Read this cnet article by Geoffrey Morrison called Why 4K TVs are stupid. Read every word. Because it is smart.

Have no doubt, manufacturers are going to start pushing 4K (some already are). The thing is, though, you don’t need 4K, because in the home, 4K is stupid.

Morrison goes on to back up this assertion with wonderful facts and math. If you bought a 60” television, you’d have to sit about four feet away from it before you’d perceive the full benefit of 4K over good old 1080p.

My favorite part of the article is this:

A few years ago I did a TV face-off with trained TV reviewers and untrained participants with Pioneer’s Kuro plasma (768p) against several 1080p LCDs and plasmas. Not one person noticed the Kuro wasn’t 1080p. In fact, most lauded it for its detail. Why? Its contrast ratio was so much better than on the other TVs that it appeared to have better resolution. The difference between light and dark is resolution. If that difference is more pronounced, as it is on high-contrast ratio displays, they will have more apparent resolution.

Those same few years ago, I would use charts like this to guide friends shopping for TVs toward a comparatively inexpensive 720p Panasonic plasma, because the deep, rich blacks matter more to our perception of sharpness than pixels too small to resolve at normal seating distances. Those who followed my advice were invariably happy with their choice.

I never doubted that last year’s push of 3D televisions would fall on its face, but I do worry about consumers being tricked into thinking 4K matters, because they were with 1080p. Many friends ignored my advice to go for the crisp plasma blacks of the 720p Kuro and instead opted for a 1080p set, due to the same inability to shake the sense of more-is-always-more that drives consumers to buy increasingly high-megapixel point-and-shoot cameras.

Back when Morrison was conducting his experiments and I was pushing 720p, we were already fighting a losing battle. No one wanted 720p TVs, even if their viewing experience would be better with them. 1080p became a buzzword, a must-have—charts and math be damned. Now you needn’t even check if a TV is 1080p “full HD”—they pretty much all are, because that’s all that would sell.

And today, that’s not such a bad thing, because the contrast levels of 1080p sets are now quite good. There are worse things about modern TVs than their excessive pixel counts.

Is 4K unilaterally worthless in the home? Not if you’ve got a projector, a huge screen, a close seating distance, and perfect eyesight. I’m building a new home theater, so this stuff is on my mind. I’m considering a 134” screen and a seating distance of about 15 feet. That puts me right on the very edge of wishing I had more than 1080 pixels across my screen.

A case can be made for 4K with larger screens at home. At the moment, though, light output limits screen size far more than resolution. For home projectors, let’s just shrug and ask, “OK, why not?”

The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, that 4K is expensive/unavailable in the home just now. But that will change. Eventually, all big TVs (and projectors) will have more pixels than the bare minimum for 1080p, and eventually this won’t be something you need to pay a premium for, or for which you’ll have to give up other features that matter much more, such as contrast.

In the meantime, buy your TV (or projector) not for its pixel count, but for its black level, and you’ll be happy.