Sign In

4K TV Deals May Be Awesome, But You'd Be Stupid to Buy One

Updated

Update: We've changed our tune!

A lot has changed since we originally published this feature; more content providers offer 4K streaming, and prices have gotten even cheaper — including sizable discounts on high-end sets. Click here to read more about why it may be time to buy a 4K TV. Or, check out our 4K TV deals here.


It's probably safe to say that unless you happen to be ungodly wealthy, the thought of buying a 4K or Ultra HD television has, until recently, never really crossed your mind. Just this past January, at CES 2013, representatives from Sony, Toshiba, and LG were showcasing 4K TVs in the $20,000 price range. (That's $20K, by the way.) Sure, a near pixel-free viewing experience is titillating, but such technology is still prohibitively expensive — or at least it was.

Just three months later, the cost of 4K TV prices have dropped to a point that doesn't seem outrageously irresponsible for a budget-minded shopper. Sony unveiled 55" and 65" sets in its XBR series; at $5,000 and $7,000, respectively, they're significantly more affordable than their 84" predecessor ($25,000) shown at CES. Then, with consumers perking up to 4K TV prices, little-known manufacturer Seiki put its 55" 4K TV on the market for $1,500 — and it has since fallen to as low as $1,099 (currently $1,445.99 with free shipping at Amazon, a low by $54).

4K TV Prices Are Great, But You Won't Notice the Higher Resolution

That latter price point is especially within the financial reach of many people, but is it really the right time to buy a 4K TV? While Seiki's 4K set may seem like a bargain in comparison to Sony's latest offerings, it's still more than twice the cost of most 1080p HDTVs of the same size. Still, there are factors besides price that you may want to consider before purchasing a 4K TV.

Even those who have been dazzled by 4K picture quality at close range will admit, the advantages of 4K may be entirely superfluous. As resolution increases, the benefits are only noticeable by increasing viewing distance and screen size proportionately. As most viewers have continued to watch television at an average distance of nine feet even after switching from analog television to digital HD, it is presumable that they will not change their viewing habits (i.e. move closer) after going 4K. Thus, unless consumers are planning to purchase a ridiculously large screen of 80" or more, all the extra pixels will more than likely be completely lost on them.

There's Nothing to Actually Watch on Your 4K TV

While the "more is better" hook makes 4K TVs an easy sell — and it is probably inevitable that 4K will become a commonplace technology — you're going to have a hard time finding stuff to watch on your souped-up set at the moment. Content is a concern that Sony (a manufacturer that seems more gung-ho about 4K than anyone else) is looking to address. The company has already announced that it will ship a 4K media player, the FMP-X1, this summer with a MSRP of $699. The player will link up with Sony's on-demand 4K movie download service scheduled to launch this fall. Pricing for the content itself is still unknown.

In the meantime, users can watch the 10 movies with which the 4K media player comes loaded, including The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall (the 2012 version...), and Taxi Driver, as well as three Blu-rays (Spider-Man, Ghostbusters, and Angels & Demons) that come with Sony's 4K sets on Blu-ray (while supplies last). Labeled "mastered in 4K," these films don't actually have 4K resolution, but they have been enhanced to take advantage of the increased picture quality.

Given that Sony also sells two UltraHD video cameras used for shooting films and television, as well as the 4K projectors used in cinemas to project such movies, it's not surprising that they're making a big investment in the technology. They've already struck deals to film and potentially broadcast this year's Wimbledon and next year's FIFA World Cup tournaments in 4K.

While Blu-rays are capable of holding 4K content, most agree that the future of the advancement lies in streaming. Netflix, which already shoots its successful original series, House of Cards, in 4K told The Verge that it plans to deliver 4K content within the next two years.

Technology Is Changing, So Your TV Might Be a Useless Antique Soon

Many plans are afoot for the future, but 4K content is still largely nonexistent. And when it does become available, some worry that today's sets won't be able to handle its content: it will likely be compressed using HEVC, which current HDTVs aren't equipped to decode. Elsewhere on the 4K horizon, there's speculation that the next MacBook Pro will be capable of creating and editing UltraHD content, and Panasonic is hoping to go 4K in a big way in 2014. But none of this has come to pass yet.

So while the allure of having enough extra pixels to watch 3D content in HD — or being able to sit just a few feet away from your TV (something our moms always told us would hurt our eyes) — without experiencing pixelation is certainly strong, the tech world's overwhelming consensus is suggesting consumers hold off on purchasing a 4K set for at least a year or two, especially since we will no doubt see plenty of innovations — and price cuts — during that time. Like any brazenly new technology that requires seismic shifts within the industry, we think good things will come to those who wait.


Contributing Writer

Stephen Slaybaugh is a Brooklyn-based writer with more than 20 years experience. He covers consumer electronics and tech for dealnews and has also written for The Village Voice, Paste, The Big Takeover, and many other publications.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
18 comments
tophat
Got my Samsung UN55f9000 made in Feb 2014 and the picture is amazing. I guess if you don't have a great signal to receive HD broadcast, this may not be good for you?? I am stunned and the family loves it. Plan on adding the new Samsung DVD player nest week, just to pair them up. This is a TV for the stand, wouldn't recommend wall mounting as the built in camera would be restricted and you want to view this baby head on, 8' away is crazy beautiful!
tophat
Maybe the editor has vision problems, I don't know. As a owner of the Samsung UN559000 made in Feb. 2014, I can tell you that the picture is amazing, flat out jaw dropping. Sure, there are not a ton of things to watch in 4K, but bet your behind, the industry is headed that way. The up scaling capabilities are too breathtaking. It will take more than paring up a UHD Blu Ray Player to a HD set to give the same results, but if close is good enough, there's an option?? I did a ton of demo's and hands down, the Samsung 4K's are the ones to own. No I don't work for Samsung!! Just love the new set and passing it along.
Keith999
The Truth is to only the most gullible videophiles really care about this. The Average Consumer is not going to notice a difference or even care. Hell Blu-Ray's haven't even took over DVD's in Market Share yet.
daniel-phillips33
well said and my example I own a Mitsubishi laservue spent $6000 on this incredibly awesome tv ..Guess what Mitsubishi going out of the tv business So no one to fix my tv .
tsais
Are you calling all the people stupid who use 50" and 39" 4k TVs as excellent, large, high resolution computer monitors?

Goes to show, couch potatoes / people who just consume content shouldn't attempt to give advice on the internet, huh?
dukemj86
Your crazy man. I got the Samsung 65 inch 4k tv and the viewing is awesome. I had a lg 55 inch 3d tv with 240 gz lcd and led screen. The LG tv can not touch the quality of the picture I get with the 4k tv. Before you write a column you should actually try the products out. If you would have done that then I would have not wasted my time reading your meaningless article........
erikig
I got the Seiki 39" 4K unit for my application development monitor and so far it is great. It required some tweaking to get it just right but once I did its been a workflow-changer.
dealnews-Lindsay
I'd be curious to see what the Seiki 4K TV does during Black Friday... retailers might think it makes an impressive doorbuster.
dazey6
4k is going to be very available within the next year to two years. It is going to be pushed heavily next year and to be clear with one of the comments below. The PS4's 4k option can only display pictures and some video content. If you are looking for a console that can play games, videos, and TV at 4k. I would point you towards the Xbox One. It again supports 4k for games, videos, and TV. Your cable box can also be hooked up to this device and voice operated to switch between TV, the internet, games, and apps seamlessly and you can even watch TV and surf the web at the same time (not limited) with the Xbox One too.
epski
I know I don't represent the majority, but in the absence of a retina display for my Mac Mini, I am working off of a 42" LCD HDTV, and so even reading your article was more eyestrain-inducing than it would be on a Retina-like 4K TV. Reading on-screen has been one of the great high-pixel benefits for cell phones, tablets, and notebook computers. I can't wait to use one for movies, TV, gaming, and computing, even if the bulk of that content is unconverted, at best, for now. Simply improving text display is going to be worth going for something like the Seiki. In fact, the majority of the Amazon reviewers are using it as a monitor already (linux).
javielon1
Technology is ever changing.With that in mind.A very good point is the fact that much like buying a 5.1 third party solution for amazing sound 10 years ago when we first heard of it without any available content is just a mute point(After all thous of you that purchesed a 4k TV.Did becouse you want to watch 4k content) .I am as excited as the next person to experience this new technology and hope it willl be available to the masses sooner than later.
dealnews-Lindsay
@Icallbs We don't pay MSRP round these parts.
Hologramz
Interesting article. I would propose to the author that be performs a visual comparison test sitting exactly 9 feet away from two screens, one of them 1080p with 1080p content and the other a 4k wth 2160p content (both 55" screens). For consistency I would suggest the same content synchronized on both screens (eg. Spider-Man as mentioned above). I believe the author might then realize that simply because he cannot see the individual pixels on either screen with the naked eye, it does not mean there is no perceptible difference ("4K TV prices are great, but you won't notice the higher resolution..."). From my own tests I can say with 100% certainty that the 4K image is not only sharper but significantly so. The fact that Sony is driving the content on this one certainly doesn't make me feel at all like an idiot for buying one or in any way sour the deal. The PS4 & MSXO will support 4K playback, reason enough to get one this year, and Sony is known for proliferating titles.
Hologramz
Interesting article. I would propose to the author that be performs a visual comparison test sitting exactly 9 feet away from two screens, one of them 1080p with 1080p content and the other a 4k wth 2160p content (both 55" screens). For consistency I would suggest the same content synchronized on both screens (eg. Spider-Man as mentioned above). I believe the author might then realize that simply because he cannot see the individual pixels on either screen with the naked eye, it does not mean there is no perceptible difference ("4K TV prices are great, but you won't notice the higher resolution..."). From my own tests I can say with 100% certainty that the 4K image is not only sharper but significantly so. The fact that Sony is driving the content on this one certainly doesn't make me feel at all like an idiot for buying one or in any way sour the deal. The PS4 & MSXO will support 4K video playback, reason enough to get one this year, and Sony is known for proliferating titles.
Icallbs
Also the 4k is VERY noticable from a distance and up close as I both own and see them all the time at our local stores, I recommend spending more time with product prior to reviewing it before giving an educated guess on things.
Icallbs
so 1500$ is more than double the price of a 55" 1080p? Where are you buying ur 55" screens from lol, and please do share w/ all of us. 1500$ for a 55" is about the same you'd pay for 55" w/ smart technology lol. So please do point out where you're finding these less than 750$ HD 55" TV's w/ bells and whistles.
bilboBagit
I need to get with it. Hadn't heard of 4K until reading this.
I wonder about face closeups on some actors/actresses when there's something that shows clearer details than HD. yikes!
agkapsner
A pleasant, informative read. Thanks!
Leave a comment! or Register