4K TV is here… but is it worth your money?

by , TVs 25/11/2013
Panasonic 4K TV

Panasonic has joined Samsung, Sony and LG in launching a 4K, or ultra-high-definition (UHD), television set in the UK, but at £5,499, you’ll need deep pockets to afford the 65-inch WT600 (above).

After 3D TV did not live up to their expectations, the big brands now have high hopes that 4K – capable of four times the sharpness of Full HD – will supercharge sales.

However, we’ve run picture quality tests on two leading models and found they struggle when playing genuine 4K content, and overall we feel they can’t  justify their high price tags.

LED, LCD and plasma TVs – choose a TV easily with our independent reviews

4K TV – Panasonic’s TX-L65WT600

Panasonic’s new 65-inch WT600 is among the first 4K TVs to come with the second generation of HDMI connectors, HDMI 2.0, enabling it to handle 4K content at 60 frames per second (fps).

Some industry watchers say that 4K TV channels when they launch will be broadcast at 60fps to cope with the extra pixel-power involved. Bear in mind, though, that no broadcasting standard has yet been agreed for 4K, and the BBC currently airs its HD TV programmes at just 25 fps, so we’re talking a big jump to 60fps.

However, having the latest HDMI 2.0 standard on board should mean Panasonic’s TV is compatible with future 4K streaming media players and set-top boxes. Like other 4K TVs, the WT600 can upscale standard and high definition TV, Blu-ray 1080p movies and your photos to the higher 4K picture quality.

HD TV vs 4K TV: Which? puts 4K to the test

If the Panasonic WT600 is a bit rich for your money, there are more affordable 4K TVs available, but at several thousand pounds more than a Which? Best Buy HD TV, they’re still not what you’d call cheap.

We wanted to find out if 4K TVs are worth the money, so we commissioned a professional filmmaker to shoot some material in true 4K, and then played it on the Samsung UE55F9000 and Sony KD55X9005A.

Although we saw some glimpses of what 4K can do, overall these TVs did not wow us and only scored a very average three stars out of five for true 4K content. Worse still, their picture quality was not good enough overall to warrant the extra cost over a comparable 55-inch HD TV.

See our comprehensive 4K test results online. We’ve tested Samsung and Sony 4K TVs so far, but hope to get Panasonic and LG 4K models into the lab soon.

Which? Expert view – ‘It’s probably worth waiting for prices to fall’

Andrew Laughlin4K is most definitely the future of television. With more than four times the pixels of Full HD 1080p, a 4K picture almost looks 3D – and you don’t need special glasses to watch it. We’re excited about 4K, but just like 3D in the early days, there’s very little 4K content to actually watch.

No 4K TV channels have launched yet in the UK, and only a handful of heavily-compressed 4K films are available on Blu-ray. Netflix hopes to launch 4K video streaming next year, but our creaking broadband networks will need to improve before that can become widely accessible to most people.

To put this all in context – the first HD TVs went on sale in 1998 (with similarly huge prices), yet it took over a decade before HD reached the mainstream. In my opinion, unless you have money to burn, or you’re a real audio/visual buff, it’s probably worth waiting for prices to fall and content to become widely available before considering the upgrade to 4K.
Andy Laughlin – senior researcher

More like this

4K TVs on test – find out how the latest 4K sets compare
Best Buys TVs – discover the HD TVs that have excelled in our testing
Samsung UE55F9000 first look – an almost affordable 55-inch 4K TV

5 comments

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David Mackenzie

Andy,

“No 4K TV channels have launched yet in the UK, and only a handful of heavily-compressed 4K films are available on Blu-ray.”

There is no 4K content on Blu-ray. The discs you’re thinking of are normal 1080p HD discs that are made from 4K studio masters, and by 1080p standards, Blu-ray is the least compressed HD source around with a max video bit rate of 40mbps.

I imagine we’ll get an announcement regarding actual 4K Blu-ray Discs and players soon.

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David Robinson

“4K is most definitely the future of television. With more than eight times the pixels of Full HD 1080p…”

No. “4k”, in TV land (not the cinema) has EXACTLY four times as many pixels as Full HD. It’s also a misnomer, having only 3840 pixels horizontally.

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Petri Teittinen

What the heck did I just read?

“they struggle when playing genuine 4K content” – HOW, exactly? What was wrong with the image? Did the TVs not display the entire resolution? Were the colors off, image distorted, WHAT?

“we commissioned a professional filmmaker to shoot some material in true 4K, and then played it on the Samsung UE55F9000 and Sony KD55X9005A.” – HOW did you play it? What equipment was used? How was the original 4K footage converted from REDRAW into something you could feed into the TVs? What encoder was used, what bitrates, which codec?

Your “Expert” view isn’t worth much when the said expert claims “only a handful of heavily-compressed 4K films are available on Blu-ray” which is quite simply not true.

And on the “What is 4K TV?” page you claim “Standard dual-layer Blu-rays contain 50GB of space – that’s nowhere near enough for a 4K movie, and so the content has to be heavily compressed to fit on one disc.” What utter rot. It’s possible to put a 2-hour 4K movie on a 50GB disc right now using a H.264 compliant encoder and get a very good 4K image. Switch to HEVC/H.265 and 50GB streches to a 4K movie plus extra features!

You’ll have to pardon my tone but reading crap reporting like this article makes me very angry.

Hi Petri, thanks for your comments. I am sorry that you are not happy with what we have done.

If you click on the ‘see our comprehensive 4K results’ link it takes you through to our advice guide, where you will see more details on how we tested the 4K TVs.

The 4K material was shot on a Red Epic camera and then played on the TVs using a RedRay cinema grade 4K player. We had a 4K splitter and was able to do side-by-sides, as we do with HD TV testing. We had world-leading experts involved in this test and are very confident in our methods.

In terms of your point on Blu-rays, yes, I can understand where you are coming from, but current ’4k remastered’ Blu-rays are heavily compressed. HEVC will go to great lengths in improving compression standards, but it is thought that we will need bigger Blu-ray discs before we can see great 4K movies on disc that most people can actually play.

Regarding David Robinson’s comment, apologies for the error in the expert view, it should be four times not eight, and that has now been corrected.

Andrew

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Tony

I don’t know why we are talking about 4K tv yet and sources of input, either by players or broadcasts, when we STILL don’t get FULL HD broadcasting from any tv source ie terrestrial or other. whats the point of going 4K broadcasting if this matter of full hd broadcasting has not been met yet.

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