Sound Advice: Buying a new TV? Plan for the future by considering a 4K set

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2014 - 1:46 PM
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A Sony 4K flat-panel television was on prominent display at Sony headquarters in Tokyo.

Photo: Associated Press,

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Q: I’d like to buy a new television. My first thought was to buy a plasma TV, but the room is bright so I thought I might be better off with an LED-LCD set. That gave me the idea to jump up to one of the 4K sets. Unfortunately, there is little 4K content to watch, and it will be a long time before we see it. What I did see in 4K TV advertising is that the TV will up-convert the incoming signal.

Have you seen any of the 4K TV sets ­up-convert? If so, can you comment on the ­picture ­quality?

A: If I were buying a new top-of-the-line TV set, I’d almost certainly buy a 4K set, especially because Panasonic is not making its amazing plasma TVs anymore. Samsung and LG still make great plasma TVs, but you won’t see plasma 4Ks, because plasma technology is extremely inefficient at 4K resolution, at least in screen sizes found in most homes. If you are satisfied with a 720p or 1080p set, plasma is still an amazing value.

You’re wise to ask about how well the up-converting works. After all, unless it’s a 4K signal, everything you watch is going to be ­up-converted.

Watching 4K demo material in stores is truly breathtaking. Demo material is recorded to have tremendous visual impact, blending impressive subjects with the highest production values possible. The producers use top-of-the-line recording equipment under ideal conditions, and the footage is edited and tweaked to perfection.

You won’t be getting that kind of technical excellence at home. As I have said in the past, we aren’t even exploiting the full quality available from our 1080p sets yet.

A lot of 4K TVs look terrific with 4K demo material, but when you feed them a signal that’s up-converted from a TV broadcast or a Blu-ray player, it isn’t always impressive.

I recently experienced this firsthand. I watched two Sony 4K TVs that were right next to each other, playing the same material simultaneously. Both looked mouth-watering good with the 4K demo feed and were pretty much indistinguishable from each other.

Next came a Blu-ray disc of “The ­Avengers.” The earlier Sony 4K TV, the XBR-55X850B, didn’t look nearly as good as my Panasonic ST50 plasma from a few years ago. However, the newer Sony set, the XBR-55X900A, looked absolutely phenomenal. In fact, I liked it just as much as any of my plasma TVs. Colors and contrast were natural, it was extremely sharp and detailed, and I didn’t notice any problems with motion.

I’d buy an XBR-X900A series TV in a heartbeat if I needed a new, top-of-the-line television. It has amazing quality with the program sources we have today and the potential to play the 4K material of tomorrow.

I encourage you to consider a 4K set, because there is something to the new standard and I believe that eventually it will be successful.

To make sure you get a TV you will be happy with, bring your favorite Blu-ray movie to the store and ask employees to play it for you so you can see what the TV looks like with material you are familiar with. If they aren’t willing to do this for you, find another retailer willing to cooperate.

 

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

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