Samsung, Sony and LG trigger 4K small screen revolution
Smaller 4K TVs are coming to our living rooms - we take a look at the offerings of Sony, Samsung and LG
17 Jul 2013
Until recently Ultra HD - or 4K - was only available on the kind of gigantic TVs which adorn the walls of footballers' and soap stars' pads.
But the technology's major players are rolling out sets that squeeze the resolution into 55 and 65-inch screens - perfect for your living room wall.
Sony launched its smaller UHD sets in the UK earlier this summer, and is now rolling out a 4K media player in the US that plays native 4K content on the TVs. Meanwhile, Samsung is this month (July) launching 55 and 65-inch UHD sets in the UK, with LG soon to follow - 4K mania is starting to take hold.
What is UHD, 4K or whatever it's called?
This is great news for us all, but what exactly is Ultra High Definition? UHD TVs boast four times the resolution of regular 1080p full HD. So the idea is that 4K TVs are capable of delivering a resolution of 3840x2160. That's eight million individual pixels. More pixels mean a better picture - sharper, clearer, totally cooler. Simple yes?
Sweta Dash, senior director of display research and strategy at research firm IHS, says: "Ultra HD TV also provides greater depth to picture quality, giving a more immersive experience."
The technology was the main talking point of the International CES in January, and sets sporting it were the darlings of the Las Vegas trade show.
The mammoth 85-inch screens of sets like Samsung's award-winning S9 had us gasping for breath. However, their sheer scale and hefty price tags meant many of us would be looking elsewhere for our next living room TV. Until now, that is.
Sony adds new 4K media player to smaller UHD sets
Sony made the idea of owning a 4K set a reality this summer with the launch of TVs which wouldn't totally dominate your wall or drain your savings account.
Sony said the new 55 and 65-inch sets were "sure to bring the enhanced viewing experience of 4K TV to a whole new audience".
We took an in-depth look at the Bravia X9 here, but the firm has also just announced the launch date for a media player to accompany it.
This is a pretty big deal, as there's not that much native 4K content around just yet. This will all change in the near future - FIFA and Sony shot some of the Confederations Cup in 4K, and the 2014 World Cup could go the same way.
Sweta Dash says: "4K cameras and camcorders are now on the market, enabling creation of 4K content. Movies in 4K are likewise starting to show up."
But until native 4K content arrives proper, all the major manufacturers have built in up-scaling to their sets - so shows and movies shot in regular full HD will be overhauled to be shown in UHD resolution.
Dash goes on: "With upscaling technology, consumers can see better picture quality even when watching (current) HD content."
But Sony's CEO Kaz Hirari says "4K is not the future; it's now".
Spider-Man and Karate Kid in UHD? Sony has it covered...
With Sony's new media player people can watch native 4K content on their Sony 4K sets. The FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD Media Player will be launched in the US soon. We first checked out the media player at CES in January, and have been awaiting its launch ever since.
The box only works with Sony 4K sets such as the X9, and comes with 10 feature films and video shorts in spangling 4K resolution. Sony says the content included on the player is worth around 300 dollars alone.
The movies include The Amazing Spider-Man; Bad Teacher; The Karate Kid; The Other Guys; Battle: Los Angeles; That's My Boy; Salt; Total Recall 2012; Taxi Driver and The Bridge on the River Kwai.
But it's not all about Sony.
Smaller 4K sets from Samsung, feature same design as much-loved F8000
Back at CES it was Samsung's S9 UHD that grabbed most of the major headlines. At a mammoth 85 inches, the set left me and - pretty much everyone who saw it - lost for words. Swinging majestically in an arty easel frame, it looked as though it was floating. And the picture, well, it was 4K. It was the future.
Now Samsung has squeezed the technology into new sets designed to "follow in the footsteps" of the S9.
The F9000, out in the UK this month (July), shrinks 4K resolution down to a living-room-friendly 55 and 65-inch screen size.
Samsung and LG are also partnering with five Korean cable operators to bring native 4K content to the masses in their home nation. This is expected to see live and on-demand 4K content streamed into people's living rooms via smart TV apps by late this year or early 2014.
For the rest of us, like we said earlier - native 4K content is on its way soon. But in the meantime the F9000 will upgrade regular full HD content to 'UHD-level quality'. Like Sweta Dash at IHS says, upscaling technology means "consumers can see better picture quality even when watching (current) HD content".
Samsung says: "The F9000 UHD TV utilises Samsung's proprietary Quadmatic Picture Engine, a four-step process including signal analysis, noise minimisation, UHD up-scaling and detail enhancement to seamlessly upconvert SD, HD or Full HD content to UHD-level picture quality."
The F9000 has more in the can than eight million pixels, however.
For starters, it looks just like the slinky and sumptuous F8000, a TV which has been racking up awards all year and which we loved so much we handed it an Our Experts Love label.
The F9000 boasts the same Precision Black Local Dimming and Micro Dimming Ultimate technology as the F8000.
This may sound like nothing but words, but trust us - it's the business.
Precision Black technology dims LEDs in dark areas of the picture to give you deeper blacks without affecting brighter parts of the picture, while Micro Dimming sharpens images and contrast with a special algorithm.
The F8000 was handed a 10/10 by Cnet in both its sub-categories of design and features, and the same minimalist design can be found on the 4K F9000. It boasts most of the same features, such as voice control and S-Recommendation, which knows what we want to watch before we do.
LG bringing 4K into the mainstream
LG blew our socks off when it first revealed its mammoth 84-inch 4K set back at the end of last year, so it's only natural it too has scaled down the technology into smaller TVs.
Its 84-inch set was the first 4K TV available for sale, and now LG has shrunk the technology into smaller 55 and 65-inch sets - with them heading to the UK 'soon'.
So what makes the LA9700 special? The fact it includes full-array local dimming, according to LG.
LG says full-array backlit dimming will deliver better contrast and the "deepest, darkest, and most natural colours". It also says we can expect a "more uniform" picture thanks to what it calls in-plane switching technology.
Like Samsung and Sony, LG has developed technology to upscale full HD content for display on its 4K screen. It does this using what it calls Tru-Ultra HD, which it says uses a "four-step process that enhances the detail of your show, movie, game or sport, so that you can enjoy the benefit of 4K resolution today".
It also packs the latest smart features offered on LG TVs, including the new voice-and-motion-controlled magic remote and technology to help you choose what to watch.
The rub - 4K is here to stay
So there we have it - 4K is no longer just a pipe dream, something to be gawped at on news reports of the huge TVs coming out of shows such as CES. It's here, it's now and it's coming to your living room - thanks to the new generation of smaller, cheaper TVs and products such as Sony's 4K media player.