1080 HD vs. 4K UHD: Is There a Difference?

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4K UHD vs. 1080p HD Is There a Difference?

4K UHD offers greater resolution than 1080p HD. This article examines whether people will actually perceive this difference.

Technology products are often marketed by declaring technical specifications. It doesn’t matter whether the product is a smartphone, tablet, computer or garage door opener. Marketing experts love to tout specs, and a lot of consumers enjoy regurgitating them. Anyone who has read comments on tech sites is well aware of this. People get into angry, spiteful arguments over specs.

The problem is that corporations can often sell inferior products by marshaling technical specifications. They will only mention the specs that are superior to competing products. Other aspects of their products are ignored. Overall product quality goes beyond specifications. Design, build quality and system integration are often ignored. This is played up by marketers and fan boys alike. A smartphone’s megapixel count becomes its ultimate trait. This is a completely distorted and useless way to evaluate a product, but it’s simple and easy to understand — more is better, bigger is better. People feel intelligent when they regurgitate technical specifications.

The Internet has poured gasoline onto the fire. Click-baiting bloggers can easily marshal an enumerated and biased list of superior features. The comment sections boil over with vitriol and rage over products that are about as different as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. It’s a nightmarish synergy of consumer culture, narcissism and remote, depersonalized misanthropy. It reminds me a bit of when I was a kid and we discussed the merits and detractions of video game consoles (Atari vs. Intellivision) and home computers. But we were never so angry or extreme, even though the products differed much more back then.

Long before the rise of smartphones and personal computers, televisions were marketed based on specifications. TV makers like Sony, Panasonic and Zenith touted statistics in an effort to attract customers. TVs even had standout features permanently labelled on the set itself. Labels like Trinitron and Tau Flat Screen were meant to inspire consumer pride in selecting the right product.

As TV technology continues to evolve, resolution has improved dramatically. The HD revolution has brought high-definition video into our living rooms. 4K UHD offers even better resolution, but do we really need it?

Current TVs Do Not Have Tuners for Over-The-Air 4K UHD and HDR Broadcasts

Remember when broadcast TV transitioned to digital? There was a huge rush to buy new televisions and adapters before the deadline. Although there were some delays, most analog broadcasts ceased on February 17, 2009.

4K UHD is still an emerging standard. The FCC is discussing the future of over-the-air support for 4K UHD and HDR (High Dynamic Range) digital broadcasts. Currently, there are no TVs sold in the U.S. that support ATSC 3.0, which is the emerging standard for over-the-air digital broadcasts.

4K UHD HDR Over-The-Air Broadcasts Coming Soon

You may be happy with cable, satellite or a TV device, such as Chromecast, Roku or Amazon Fire TV. If that’s the case, an existing 4K TV is compatible with any device that supports the technology. You still might want to hold off on buying a 4K TV. The next generation of over-the-air digital broadcasts will offer better reception. This means you can get a solid picture, even if you are farther away from a broadcast transmitter. A lot of cord cutters use over-the-air broadcasts to get sports, news and local channels. This supplements content from TV devices and allows them to cancel expensive cable or satellite service. When ATSC 3.0 goes live, perhaps by 2018, cord-cutters may have access to even more over-the-air channels, but only if they have compatible TVs. It’s all the more reason to wait for 4K UHD TVs to support the new broadcasting standard.

The Human Eye Limits Detail Perception

The human eye is a remarkable organ, however, it’s not perfect. As humans, we tend to believe we are superior to other, lesser animals, but not when it comes to eye site. Most birds have much better eye site than humans, as they have evolved to spot prey from the sky. Birds that couldn’t see well didn’t survive long enough to reproduce. Humans have never had the same natural selection process.

This means that there is a limit to what the human eye can perceive. It’s why Apple created the Retina display. Unfortunately, the corporation became more marketing-driven, due to leadership changes, and they came up with something better — the Retina HD display. I guess it’s useful if you lend your iPhone to a bird. Other smartphone manufacturers offer screen resolutions that are similarly superfluous. The human eye simply cannot perceive this level of detail. It doesn’t matter how great your vision is, if you notice a difference, it is likely due to the placebo effect.

This applies to TVs even more, because we watch them from a distance and most people do not have obscenely large televisions. Given the limitations of the human eye, TV screen size and viewing distance, most people cannot tell the difference between HD and UHD.

Screen Size and Viewing Distance Matter

TV screen size matters a lot when comparing HD to UHD. There are some circumstances where UHD can really shine, especially on a large screen. That’s because as screen size increases, pixel density decreases. They are inversely proportional. If you plan on getting a very large TV (over 60″), UHD may be a great option. (continue…)

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