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