Big picture is a big part of our everyday experience; for over a decade we have been progressively pushing the boundaries of televisions and computer monitors to give us brighter, crisper, more clean picture. The move from SD (480p) to HD was an impressive increase in quality, first to 720p then to 1080p, something that went hand in hand with the upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray. The next step is an interesting one because it has been littered with industry terms: 4K, UHD, SUHD, Super UHD, OLED, and HDR. Understand the difference between 4k and the rest and simplify your buying decision. Read on to get started.
There are a number of things to consider when you step above 1080p as a resolution. A quick sidebar: in computing there is a mid-step between 1080p and 4K, called 1440p; it’s picking up steam as a popular option as manufacturers split the difference between resolution and natural refresh rate. Many gamers are choosing 1440p and a 144Hz (or greater) refresh rate attached to either AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync monitors. If all of that felt like a mouthful and you’re mostly just interested in 4K computer monitors or TVs, don’t worry: it really doesn’t affect you.
4K Basics and the truth about resolution
So let’s get down to brass tacks with 4K. First of all: to appease the nerds out there like myself, yes it’s disingenuous that 4K was termed 4K, which is why some manufacturers are choosing to call it something else. Why is it a bit disingenuous? To understand that we need to think about how resolutions are typically measured. There are two numbers: the first is the number of horizontal lines of pixels, the second is the number of vertical lines of pixels. The higher those two numbers are, the higher the resolution and the sharper the image. Let’s look at the previous two standards
- 720p is a resolution of 1280 horizontal lines by 720 vertical lines
- 1080p is a resolution of 1920 horizontal lines 1080 vertical lines
Reasonably speaking, 4K should be 4000+ vertical lines, right?
4K resolution, along with UHD, Super UHD, and SUHD, currently all mean a horizontal resolution of approximately four thousand lines. In fact, the resolution of most “4K” displays is 3820×2160. This is known in broadcast as UHD-1. There IS a 4K specification that reaches 7680×4320 known as UHD-2, but currently there aren’t any consumer level displays that support that specification, and there isn’t any readily available consumer content to view it on.
I guess the marking folks thought that 4K sounded better than 2160p. So does that mean that 4K isn’t worth it? Far from it. I’m typing this on a brand new 4K monitor, and in my living room there’s a 4K TV. Even with 1080p content on my 4K TV I am always astounded at the improvement in quality, and 4K resolution on your computer is something of a double-edged sword; it’s absolutely beautiful, but once you’ve experienced it you’ll never want to use anything else.
Deciphering UHD, SUHD, Super UHD, and more
There’s one other 4K resolution out there: 4096×2160. The professional term for it is “DCI 4K” resolution and it’s used by the film and television industry to produce and master high resolution content. Because this resolution is typically termed “4K” due to it being twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of 2K video, many manufacturers are stepping away from identifying their displays as “4K” and instead using other names.
So that’s the big deal! A case of mistaken identity as brands are looking to help consumers decide which TV to buy. The downside: they’re starting to muddy the waters a bit more. So let’s break it down:
UHD is a term that many manufacturers were using to describe 4K TVs from 2014 through to now. UHD TVs are 4K, which means their resolution is 3840×2160.
- Samsung calls their standard 4K displays “UHD TV”
- LG calls their their standard 4K displays “4K Ultra HD TV”
- Sony calls their standard 4K displays “4K Ultra HD TV”
- Vizio calls their standard 4K displays “4K Ultra HD TV”
It was at CES in 2015 where Samsung first started using the term SUHD; there were a lot of questions at the time as to what the S stood for. Some speculated it meant “Super” while others argued for “Spectacular”, “Stupendous” or even the very on-the-nose “Samsung”. In an effort to differentiate themselves in the market, Samsung took the high end set of their 4K displays and designated them as SUHD. The hallmarks of these displays included Samsung’s implementation of Quantum Dot display tech, offering wider colour gamut and a richer visual experience. SUHD TVs, 4K HDR TVs, Super UHD TVs, and Ultra HD HDR TVs are all 4K, so they too have a resolution of 3840×2160.
Everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon too, so much so that LG has dubbed their higher end non-OLED 4K displays as “Super UHD” this year. Given that UHD means Ultra High Definition, Super Ultra High Definition feels like a title that would be given to a Street Fighter game from Capcom. Nonetheless it helps to designate displays that have enhanced colour technology. Going forward from 2016 this technology will include High Dynamic Range as a feature (HDR).
- Samsung calls their higher end 4K displays “SUHD”
- LG calls their higher end 4K displays “Super UHD”
- Sony calls their higher end 4K displays “4K HDR”
- Vizio calls their higher end 4K displays “Ultra HD HDR”
Where does OLED fit in all of this
Most televisions (whether 4K, SUHD or whatever else) employ an LCD screen where the “liquid crystals” get illuminated from a strong LED backlight. These screens can be amazingly thin, light (so you can easily mount them onto most walls), and very bright. OLED TVs are quite different. OLED stands for “organic light emitting diode” and each organic pixel illuminates itself. That allows for more precise illumination where you need it, more precise colours, and, best of all, no need for a backlight. These screens are extremely thin and light. For example, the new LG W7 “wallpaper” televisions are less than 1/2 a centimetre thick. They have 4K resolution too! But without the need for a backlight, they have better colours, better blacks, and are thinner than non-OLED TVs.
You can learn more about OLED TVs in this article.
Don’t be intimidated by difference between 4K, UHD, etc
Despite the fact that there’s a lot going on in 4K right now, it’s not that scary. 4K/UHD tends to be used to describe standard models that offer amazing picture quality and great colour. Stepping up to 4K Super UHD/SUHD/4K HDR gets you the same resolution but with better colour features.
Should you be upgrading to 4K? In my opinion yes, and I’d recommend giving HDR a lot of thought; I think it’s worth the extra money now, and will continue to be in the future. Want to learn more and find a 4K TV that fits your needs? Check them out on bestbuy.ca here.