Sound Advice: 4k TVs aren't worth the price

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2013 - 1:25 PM

Q: I’m in the market for a high-end 55-inch TV. What do you recommend? Are the 55-inch 4k TVs worth $5,000?

A: While the store demos look impressive, I don’t think 4k is a worthwhile investment now.

There really isn’t anything to watch in 4k. Even if there were, you must sit close to a 55-inch TV to see the difference between 4k and 1080p. It’s important to remember that higher resolution is just more pixels on the screen. Color rendition and accuracy, contrast, shadow detail, motion rendition and other factors play as much or more of a role in picture quality than does resolution.

Introducing a 4k format seems premature when we’re not using the existing system anywhere close to its full potential.

Have you ever noticed when you switch through HD channels that there are often big differences in picture quality between them? One might look fantastic and another could look blah, even though both are broadcast in HD. That’s due to the production values of the content creator and the broadcaster or satellite/cable company. Garbage in = garbage out.

Until we get everything looking a lot like a well-mastered, beautiful-looking 1080p Blu-ray disc, pushing for more resolution seems silly.

If you want the best TV that money can buy, the televisions taking reviewers (including myself) by storm are the new Panasonic VT60 and ZT60 plasmas. For example, CNET gave the VT60 a perfect 10 for performance, and HD Guru called the ZT60 “extraordinary … the best display we have tested to date.”

I agree. I recently finished Season 4 of “Mad Men” on Blu-ray, watching it on a 60-inch Panasonic VT60. Although not a 3-D presentation, the image looked incredibly deep, and when a scene opened in Don Draper’s office, the stark modernist decor contrasted with the bright colors of the characters’ clothing perfectly and naturally. It looked sharp, yet delicate, with every hue of color perfectly rendered in such a way that I noticed little things in office scenes that I hadn’t noticed before. You could appreciate the makeup artistry that expertly creates a 1960s look. Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs in a darkened room was like sitting in the stands, or at least like watching through a window.

A 55-inch VT60 sells for $2,499, half the price of a 55-inch 4k set.

I’d love to see a third party conduct a scientifically controlled, real-world comparison test. Put a 55-inch Panasonic VT (or ZT) plasma next to a 55-inch LED-LCD 4k TV, set the pictures on both properly, and use the same model of Blu-ray player to play high-quality Blu-ray discs such as “Mad Men” and “Avatar” simultaneously. Ask people which they prefer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Panasonic take the prize, at half the price.

Send questions to donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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