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What Makes 4K UHD So Much Better than Today’s HDTV?

Not just about more pixels, it is about smarter pixels.

4K UHD is more than just more resolution. When combined with High Dynamic Range and other technologies, it delivers images with a wider range of truly life-like colors, greatly expanded contrast range and faster motion, which means less blur.

A quick and easy way to explain what 4K UHD with HDR is to note it is not just about more pixels, it is about smarter pixels.

“More Pixels” is the dramatically increased resolution of a 3840 x 2160 set that has 8 million pixels; that’s four times more than a 1920 x 1080 HDTV and even more than a 1280 x 720 set. Think of this as looking at a scene through a fine mesh screen that all but disappears, rather than the holes in a fence that get in the way of the picture.

“Smarter Pixels” means that 4K UHD not only has more pixels, but also images with better color rendition. These “smarter pixels” finally allow you to see programs the way the producers and directors intended. There are three main parts of the equation:

  1. High Dynamic Range, or “HDR,” is a key feature of many new 4K UHD TVs. Simply put, HDR refers to the greater range between the brightest and darkest parts of a scene. Remember the old saying about “being able to see a black cat in a coal mine”? HDR might just let you do it. While some equate this to brightness, HDR is about contrast.
  2. The other major component of Better Pixels is Wide Color Gamut (WCG). This broadens the range of colors that a 4K UHD TV can display along with deeper saturation of the individual colors. With WCG, a television can finally display the true yellow color of a NYC taxi or the red color of a London bus, not to mention the proper red color of a famous cola drink can. Even the best HDTV sets cannot do that. Use those examples to easily describe what these technical terms mean and the benefits they bring.
  3.  In addition to a wider color gamut, many HDR sets also offer more shades of color. A 4K HDR set with 10-bit color can display over 1 billion shades. Compare that to a standard 8-bit set, which only renders about 16.7 million shades and it’s 64 times more colors. This results in a smoother transition of color, such as in a blue sky, for a much more realistic picture.

Like many of the latest models of 2K HDTVs, 4K UHD sets also can reduce motion blur. Have you seen a ball or puck stutter as it moves from player to player? That’s less likely to happen with the majority of the most recent displays, including 4K UHD displays. Most 2K HDTVs and 4K UHD TV sets use LCD displays. However, there are several new video technologies that enable 4K UHD with HDR.

An LCD TV does not make its own light. A light source behind the LCD panel provides the illumination. Early LCD sets used a type of fluorescent bulb to produce the light, but today’s LCD TVs use Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). This makes the TV brighter, lighter, more energy efficient, and more environmentally sensitive by doing away with the hazardous materials in the bulbs.

To further fine-tune the color output of the light passing to the LCD panels, many manufacturers use a variety of technologies to deliver a wider color gamut, which gives the viewer a much more precise color palette. Depending on the brand, you may see this shown as “Quantum Dots,” or “QD” (Some manufacturers refer to as “QLED.”) This produces better color that works in conjunction with HDR.

OLED or Organic Light Emitting Diode displays are emissive (compared with LED/ LCD panels that are transmissive, and require a backlight to shine through the individual pixels). Because OLED TVs produce their own light, they are able to turn each of the 8 million pixels off when no light is desired. This, in turn, improves contrast, particularly in dark scenes, and makes OLED optimized for HDR while still providing the expanded and refined color palette.

For viewing rooms where truly large screens are appropriate, home theater projectors have also joined the 4K UHD revolution. Yesterday’s bulky tube-based projectors are long gone, and many home 4K UHD projectors now use laser technology, rather than bulbs to light the screen. That means the picture is stable without brightness shifts as the bulb ages.

There is also a new generation of “short throw” projectors with special lenses and optical systems that allow the projector to be placed right up against the screen.


Just as current HD and standard definition video will look better than ever with 4K UHD sets, the audio with existing programming will work perfectly with 4K UHD equipment. However, to complement the great video, much 4K UHD content will also include immersive, multichannel formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Check the description information for streaming content or the back of an Ultra HD Blu-ray box to see what audio is available.

When connecting a 4K UHD streaming device or player, make certain that any audio gear in the signal path has the latest versions of HDMI and HDCP. If not, connect it to the TV, and use the Audio Return Channel (ARC) to carry the audio back to an AVR or soundbar with no compatibility issues. With Ultra HD Blu-ray players, an HDMI 1.4 output is usually available for audio-only connections to older audio components. Connect the player’s HDMI jack to the TV and the “audio” jack to the rest of the system.


Remember that 4K UHD is not just better resolution. Present it as providing important benefits:

  1. “More Pixels” means clearer pictures.
  2. “Smarter Pixels” describes more life-like color that is much closer to what the eye can see.