Ultra High Definition TV: What is it and should you bother?

Britta O'Boyle
Ultra High Definition TV: What is it and should you bother?

You might have heard the term "Ultra HD" - but few of us have even seen a set, let alone watched a programme in it.

At Berlin's IFA conference last week, it was clear that momentum was gathering behind the technology - which offers TV sets with four times the resolution of Full HD sets.

Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic all announced 4K UHD TV's at IFA - and prices plunged. More importantly, Sky is testing 4K broadcasts of shows such as Premiership games.

These TVs are still costly - £4,000-plus - but could soon be appearing in pubs, offering cinema-quality visuals - and perhaps even in time for an "Ultra HD" World Cup.

Here we explain what it is, and what it will mean for your Saturday (and Sunday) X Factor viewing experience.

What is Ultra High Definition?

The Full HD technology found on many TVs these days has a 1920 x 1080 resolution.

The next generation of 4K high definition display technology has been called Ultra High Definition (UHD) and the clue is in its name – it is "Ultra" better than HDTV.

UHD TVs deliver four times the resolution of Full HD, at 3840 x 2160.

Should you care?

If you want a sharper, crisper picture then you should care. Taking the numbers out of the equation, an UHD TV will give you more pixels, which in turn will provide you with more detail and a smoother appearance of curved and diagonal lines.

It will also mean if you are a front row cinema fan, you will be able to sit closer to your TV without seeing the grid lines. The difference between the 720p and current 1080p was you could move 2 metres closer with a Full HD TV.

With UHD TV you can sit as close as 1.6 metres from your TV - any closer and you’ll be in it! Plus, it also means you can have a bigger TV as the higher the pixel count, the bigger the image can be before it becomes distorted.

What can you play on UHD TVs?

The answer to this, is not very much. This is likely to change in the very near future however.

Sky recently filmed and broadcast a premier league football match in 4K, and the BBC's Natural History Unit are apparently looking to film the Survival documentary in UHD.

There is also talk of You Tube and Netflix offering their own 4K content, with Netflix currently demoing it. A UHD TV will handle everything you already get from your current TV no problem, you’ll just have to wait a while longer to experience its full potential.

Should you buy now?

If you have the cash and want one of the best TVs out there, then go for it. It's worth noting that you'll be paying for the 4K advantage that you may not be able to use just yet though.

Many of the UHD's on the market have the technology in them to upscale the content you are watching and give you the best possible image they can. But the TV is creating the content from a lower resolution so it has to invent the detail to fill those pixels. Therefore, upscaling can be good, but it is not as sharp and detailed-packed as native 4K content.

You'll be ready for 4K when it does go mainstream, but you'll be waiting for that to happen before you get the most out of your money, by which time, the prices will certainly have dropped with all the additions hitting the market over the last few weeks.

When will UHD kick off?

Apart from Sky's broadcast showing it can, and a channel kicking off in Korea, it’s very early days on the broadcast TV front. But probably not early enough to warrant you spending your hard earned cash on an expensive TV that isn’t 4K-ready.

Blu-ray will be the first to really take advantage, along with streaming online, but there are currently only a few services that offer it, including Sony, who announced its 4K UHD Video Download service at IFA.

It’s just a matter of time before UHD comes, as some smartphones are now capable of 4K video and both Sony and Microsoft have integrated the technology in their latest consoles. The Xbox is capable of 4K gaming and movies, and the PS4 is able to process 4K movies but not games.

But when it hits mainstream, be prepared to be sitting 1.6 metres away from a sharp, clear and crisp view of Louis Walsh and Sharon Osborne.

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