When HD TV came around in a big way in the 21st century, I started with a 37-inch commercial-grade 480P Panasonic Plasma that I bought online for about $2,000. Then, I moved up to a 42-inch 1080P Panasonic Plasma. My current set is the final plasma Panasonic ever made, a 50-inch 1080P display that I absolutely love. I swear by it: deep blacks, amazing contrast, and it doesn’t have that ugly digital video, computer-monitor look that so many newer sets have.
But my beloved Panny Plasma is now about 5-years-old. That’s forever in TV years, and with 4K, HDR, DolbyVision and OLED turning the market upside down, upgrade-itis is infecting me something fierce. Last year, I upgraded to an Atmos (Dolby’s latest surround technology) sound system and a 4K-capable Yamaha receiver. I have all the pieces in place. You’d think that by now I’d have a 4K TV.
But I don’t, and I don’t plan on getting one just yet. You’re probably wondering if it’s time to upgrade as well. After all, 4K TVs are everywhere.
So is it the right time to invest in 4K? My short answer would be the same thing I tell myself: not just yet. Unless you need to buy a new TV today (in which case, yes, you should grab a 4K HDR TV that should last you a few years), here’s why you should wait just a bit.
THE CONTENT IS WEAK
Yeah, there isn’t a ton of compelling content available in 4K. That said, if I were to list the things that are available in 4K, the list would be initially impressive: Mozart in the Jungle, The Martian, and Transparent on Amazon Instant Video; House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and, uh, Smurfs 2 on Netflix; and then a smattering of things available on YouTube, Vudu and Sony’s confusing “Ultra” 4K UHD streaming app.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s a fair amount of stuff available in 4K, and new movies are being released on UHD discs on a regular basis. But if you were to bring a TV home tonight and pop open Netflix or Amazon, you’d be hard-pressed to be very excited about your options. You’d watch* Breaking Bad* again and be impressed. You’d watch Red Oaks and appreciate the dry humor and beautiful 4K cinematography.
And then you’re be bored once you run out of 4K options.
On the gaming content front, there are some compelling titles on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This week, the PS4 Pro saw Horizon Zero Dawn released, which is already looking like a stellar title, and not just in terms of graphics. On the Xbox One, you’ve got Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Forza Horizon 3 just to name a couple. And with Microsoft launching their 4K Project Scorpio Xbox later this year, 4K gaming has a bright future.
But, that future just isn’t today for an abundance of available 4K content.
IT OPENS YOU UP TO AN EXPENSIVE LIST OF OTHER UPGRADES
So let’s say you go out and buy a 4K TV and you’re ready to enjoy all the delicious, super high-definition content. Sure, your new TV might have Netflix built in, and you could fire it up and start watching House of Cards, and you’d be pretty happy. But keep in mind that even that out-of-the-box experience will cost you: Netflix charges an extra $2 per month to move up to UHD. To be fair, Amazon Prime does not levy an additional charge for UHD content. Bless them.
Assuming you want to do 4K properly, you’ll want a good sound system to go with it as well. That means you’ll need a receiver or sound bar that’s capable of decoding Atmos and passing that 4K signal properly over the latest HDMI cables. Such receivers start around $300. If you don’t already have speakers, you’re talking at least another $300 for an array of speakers right there (unless you go with a sound bar). And don’t me started on subwoofers.
If you don’t want a receiver and plan on just using your TV for sound and device switching, that’s fine, but remember that you’ll be limiting yourself on the sonic and expandability side of things. I mean, if you’re going to drop the cash for a 4K TV, you may as well have the latest in sound quality.
And then there are the players. UHD players are hitting the market rapidly, but they’re still running at least $200 for a decent one. You could double down with a Microsoft Xbox One S to get both games and UHD discs, but that too will run you $250. Keep in mind the PS4 and even the newer PS4 Pro do not play UHD discs (although the Pro will play 4K games).
PRICES ARE STILL DROPPING
Speaking of expensive things, there’s a basic law of electronics prices that you can almost always count on: they will go down. Consider this: The first 4K TV released in the United States was the Sony XBR-84X900. It cost an insane $25,000. That’s not a miss-print. That’s three zeros. Today, there are 4K TVs available for under $1,000.
That may sound cheap, but keep in mind that the cheaper end of 4K TVs will get you a cheap TV that isn’t much (if any) better than a similarly-priced regular HDTV. You will quickly find that by the time you find a 4K TV that meets your needs in terms of features and quality, you’re still talking about a pretty expensive set.
As manufacturers race to grab a piece of the growing 4K market, their prices are screaming downward to attract attention. If you can wait, do so: The TV you want today will cost you a lot less next year.
THE TECH IS STILL CHANGING AT A CRAZY PACE
Speaking of races, as manufacturers scramble to release the best 4K TVs, they’re also jamming them with loads of features. Everything from picture quality to backlighting technology and even basic display technology like OLED is all developing and changing at a mind-numbing pace. What is great today is mediocre tomorrow, quite literally.
You may argue that that’s pretty much the case of all technology, like smartphones and computers, and you’d be half right. Smartphones and computers certainly do advance technologically pretty rapidly, but 4K TVs are in their lifecycle infancy, and that means that they’re changing faster than just about any other area of consumer technology today. That’s good news for you, though: as other customers buy them, review them and make their preferences known via sales, manufacturers will rapidly release updated versions with more features for less money.
So if you’re on the fence, be it for financial or technical reasons, wait. 4K TVs are changing rapidly, and even in 6 months’ time, you’ll get a lot more pixel for your pennies.