Upgrading your TV can be a real pain in the rear end. There are literally hundreds of choices from over a dozen manufacturers. Most TVs also have extra features that you may or may not actually need. They can range in price from a couple of hundred bucks to thousands of dollars. There are tons of TVs. It can get overwhelming.

4K is one of those newer options. The number of 4K TVs has grown over the last few years. The prices for them have dropped as well. It’s starting to sound like a better and better idea to go 4K over 1080p. With all of the options available, the decision can get overwhelming. Maybe we can help. Here is our 4K vs 1080p guide.

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TL;DR – 4K vs 1080p

We have a lot of information, but you may be busy. We’ll summarize our viewpoints below with longer explanations below that. That way you can get the gist before exploring further.

Reasons to go 4K:

  • It’s where technology is going. New stuff like OLED and HDR are pretty much only on 4K TVs. Additionally, general improvements to color, sharpness, and other underlying features are mostly only on a 4K.
  • Many video streaming services and cable providers are moving to 4K. Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube already have 4K content available. Additionally, there is talk of cable providers moving to 4K sooner rather than later as well.
  • Likewise, many game consoles are 4K compatible now. The Xbox One S (and soon, the Xbox One X) and PS4 Pro already have 4K and HDR support. Other hardware, like the Chromecast Ultra, Roku, and UHD Blu-ray players have 4K and HDR support.
  • The prices are dropping. Don’t get us wrong. The upper echelon of 4K still costs upwards of $20,000 or even more. However, there are now plenty of decent options for less than $1,500. There are even some very acceptable options for below $1,000.
  • Your living room will be future-proof for a long time. There are whispers of 8K and such, but those are many years away. A 4K TV will remain relevant for a really long time as technology grows into it.

Reasons to stick to 1080p:

  • There really isn’t anything coming down the pipe for 1080p. The technology is about as good as it’s going to get. That means it’s predictable. Some 4K features, like all the various types of HDR, can be confusing. 1080p is reliable. You know exactly what you’re getting.
  • They are cheap. Like really cheap. You can get a decent 40-inch TV with Roku for less than $300. That means you can get that as well as a gaming system (or Blu-Ray player, Chromecast, etc) for less than you’d pay for just a somewhat decent 4K TV. There is no shame in that living room set-up.
  • Many 1080p TVs come with the same smart features as 4K TVs. That includes things like Roku or Googlecast built-in and basic smart TV features like apps. They’re not exactly the same, but you’re not missing out on much in smart TVs by sticking to 1080p.
  • Most content is 720p or 1080p. That includes most streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and even the second wave like VRV, Google’s Movies Anywhere, and others. Your cable box probably only supports 720p or 1080i. The latest line of online TV providers like YouTube TV, SlingTV, PlayStation Vue, etc also usually stream in 720p. Upscaling that to 4K can be rough.
  • You are basically upscaling everything anyway. Like we’ve said a bunch of times, almost everything is in 720p or 1080p. A few older shows on Netflix and DVDs display at 480p. Upscaling that to 4K is a mammoth task for a TV and one that many 4K TVs don’t do well. Upscaling to 1080p is much easier and you’re likely to lose less detail and sharpness upscaling to 1080p vs 4K.

In favor of 4K vs 1080p

Now that we’ve gone over the basic stuff, let’s get more in-depth! 4K TVs are interesting. They’ve only been out a few years and they’re already as diverse as the 1080p TVs they’re replacing. The features are piling up. The panels themselves are getting better. 4K is definitely better than 1080p as long as you get the right one. Let’s explore:

It’s where tech is going!

All of the latest features are going to 4K and there are a lot of them. High dynamic range (HDR) helps brights get brighter, darks get darker, and colors pop better. There are a variety types of HDR. HDR seems to be improving every year. Some games, DVDs, and even some streamed movies have HDR. The Xbox One S and PS4 Pro have it. Netflix also supports HDR as well as Dolby Vision. It’s not difficult technology to get a hold of and use if you have the right 4K TV.

OLED is another excellent piece of technology almost exclusive to 4K. OLED is kind of like this generation’s plasma. It offers much deeper blacks and dramatically better viewing angles than LCD. The tech is still very expensive. However, OLED is almost exclusive to 4K TVs. Those looking for the absolute best and most recent screen tech pretty much have to go with a 4K OLED TV.

Of course, there is also the fact that the panels themselves have more pixels. A 4K TV has four times as many pixels as a 1080p TV. That’s why they call it 4K to begin with even though the official resolution is 2160p. Never mind that 1080p TVs are already becoming harder and harder to find in large quantities. Buying old doesn’t give you more options anymore. Most TVs in your local Best Buy are 4K.

4K video is already here.

One of the big drawbacks to 4K TVs a couple of years ago was the lack of content. You could buy these super expensive TVs. However, most stuff ran in 1080p. The TV upscales it to 4K. That drawback doesn’t exist anymore. Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube have a range of 4K videos that you can watch and enjoy.

Admittedly, the selection isn’t overly diverse yet. Netflix streams some of its original content in 4K. YouTube 4K videos are kind of difficult to find. Hulu and Amazon Video are just starting rollouts of their 4K content. However, the big picture is that companies are moving to 4K resolution TV. We’re on the verge of seeing a lot more 4K content.

There is proof of that as well. An op-ed by the FCC chairman Ajit Pai has called for cable providers to embrace 4K. DirecTV is already boasting a small library of 4K content. There are UHD Blu-ray players to enjoy the increasing number of UHD Blu-rays out there. The Chromecast Ultra, some Roku devices, and other hardware can support 4K streaming. We’re not waiting for 4K content anymore. It’s here and the collection of available 4K content is growing every month.

Game consoles can already do it in 4K.

Game consoles have embraced 4K in a big way. Both Sony and Xbox launched second versions of their latest generation consoles to support 4K and HDR. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One S are both capable of native 4K resolutions as well as HDR. November 2017 will see the Xbox One X. That will have even better 4K support.

Those who go the PC route can play in 4K as well. You can build a computer capable of 4K gaming for a much more reasonable price than prior years. Both console and PC have a small, but quickly growing library of 4K-ready video games that you can enjoy. Additionally, both PC and console can stream stuff from Netflix, Hulu, etc at 4K.

Thus, much like video, it makes more sense to buy 4K now than it did before for gamers. It’s not 2015 when all you had was 1080p gaming and you were buying for the future. The future is pretty much here and it should only get better over the next few years.

The prices are dropping.

4K TVs are dropping in price. They used to go for at least $2,000 for even mediocre TVs. These days, you can get a relatively decent 4K with some of the current features for half of that price. There are exceptions. An OLED TV is still pretty expensive. Dolby Vision TVs (and other proprietary HDR technologies) are fairly difficult to find in general, let alone in a lower price range. However, you can get a decent, LCD or FALD 4K panel with HDR10 for around $700-$1,500. The price varies depending on how new it is.

You won’t get the very top of the line at those prices. However, passed that point and you start talking about diminishing returns. OLED is still generally around $2,000 or more, but most OLED TVs have the same features as their LCD and FALD brethren. Dolby Vision and other proprietary HDR tech usually isn’t in that cheaper price range either. However, smart TV features, Googlecast, and other features are available. The quality of the TVs are pretty good as well.

They’re not all great. You can get 4K for cheaper than $800, but you only have a couple of options at that point. It’s not the bargain that 1080p TVs are these days. However, you’re also not spending the same amount of money some people would need as a down payment on a house anymore either.

Future-proof.

We’ve discussed this multiple times already. This is where technology is going. Streaming services and cable services are getting more 4K content. Cable providers are as well. Blu-ray players, video game consoles, and streaming sticks are 4K now. It’s fairly evident that 4K isn’t going to fail massively like 3D TV technology did. 4K is here to stay, companies are making stuff for it, and stores are stocking them like crazy.

It is more expensive than 1080p. That’s for sure. However, you’ll be able to sit in your living room and watch as literally all of media catches up to you. Most companies are committing to HDR and 4K. It’s happening right now. You can be in the front row and enjoy all this new content as it comes out instead of waiting for the future to catch up yourself.


In favor of 1080p vs 4K

It may seem like we’ve just sung the praises of 4K for like 1,000 words. That’s a fair assessment. However, there are still some palpable advantages to buying 1080p. There are even 1080p TVs that are better than some 4K TVs. Especially when it comes to value and bang for your buck. Let’s explore the advantages.

1080p is predictable.

1080p technology has been around for a long, long time. You know what it is. You know what it does. There aren’t any surprises or mysteries surrounding it. It’s a TV, potentially with some smart features. It has HDMI inputs and some other basic TV features. It’s friendly, it’s familiar, and it’s nothing too crazy.

There’s a reason this is a good thing. HDR isn’t impossible to understand. However, whether or not a 4K TV supports it can be confusing. Some support HDR10. The downside is that TVs also needs the right screen brightness and wide color gamut to make full use of it. Thus, some can process the signal without actually showing you any improvements. Confusing, right? 1080p TVs don’t have that problem.

It may be worth it to wait on 4K to stabilize a little bit over the next couple of years. Eventually, standardization will set in to some extent. That should make shopping for a 4K TV much easier for people like us. Until then, 1080p is cheap enough that you can get by with it until 4K gets easier to understand.

They are even cheaper.

1080p TVs have been dropping in price for years. The proliferation of 4K has substantially hastened that drop. Most high end 1080p TVs are $500-$800 these days. You can find them for under $400 in some circumstances. On a good sale day, you can get them for under $250. That’s a great deal for a centerpiece for a living room.

On the right day, you can get a 1080p TV, a streaming stick like Chromecast, and a video game console for the price of a single decent 4K TV with room to spare. That’s a respectable living room set up. The relatively upper tier of 4K runs $2,000 or more depending on where you buy. Imagine what you could do with that kind of money if you just bought a $500 1080p TV instead. That’s like 1,500 tacos from Taco Bell or just under three tacos a day for a solid year.

4K can be a great bargain for the right buyer. However, 1080p very clearly wins the best bang for your buck. It’s not even close, really. DVDs are cheaper, 1080p Netflix is cheaper, and even the Internet connection required to stream 1080p videos is cheaper. 4K is no slouch and many current home Internet connections simply can’t do it without an upgrade.

You’re not missing out on that much.

We’ve discussed some of the 4K specific features above. However, aside from OLED, HDR, and the higher resolution, you’re really not missing much. 4K doesn’t have the exclusivity of things like smart TV features or HDMI ports or even USB slots for flash drives. These are all features you can find on 1080p TVs as well.

In some cases, people may even prefer not having any smart features at all. That’s one less account to sign into, one less device connected to your router, and one less hassle for those who aren’t so tech savvy. In that case, the lack of features is a positive thing. Not everyone wants a billion devices connected to a router with accounts to remember. A 1080p TV, your smartphone, and a Chromecast puts all of the Internet’s content on your TV and it’s wicked simple to use.

It’s not just that stuff, either. There are 1080p TVs with Roku and Googlecast. Apple TV’s 4K support isn’t great. A few manufacturers like Sony may even bring HDR to their 1080p TVs. When you subtract OLED, HDR, and 4K in general, there really isn’t anything that 4K has that 1080p does not.

1080p isn’t as outdated as you’d think.

I know, we totally listed this as a good thing under the 4K section, but hear us out. There is some 4K content out there. A lot of companies are releasing more 4K content every month. On the other side of that coin, there still isn’t that much out there. That can present a problem.

Those looking for a bunch of stuff to watch simply won’t find it. Additionally, if you don’t like Netflix original series, YouTube, or Hulu, you’re out of luck. Getting UHD movies requires either a compatible streaming service or a UHD Blu-ray player. 4K is an investment and it’s not just the TV. There are plenty of other things you’ll have to have to watch it.

It’s a matter of perspective and mindset. Some people want to future proof their living rooms, have the money to do it, and don’t mind the small amount of content right now. However, a lot of people just want something that works well right now. All of the major streaming services stream in 1080p by default. All major cable providers do either 1080i or 720p. Even if game consoles support 4K, most games don’t. A 1080p TV is not nearly as outdated as one might think.

You’re basically upscaling everything you watch anyway.

Perhaps the biggest problem with 4K is upscaling. Upscaling means taking something of a lower resolution (like 480p DVD) and stretching it out to fit on higher resolution display. All 4K TVs upscale, obviously. However, not all of them do it very well. Poorly upscaled content can look grainy and soft with jagged edge and loss of detail. Even older standard definition can look just plain bad no matter what 4K TV you buy.

There are some 4K manufacturers that do it well. Samsung and Sony upscale better than most. Budget 4K TVs typically don’t upscale very well at all. Thus, if you simply can’t afford a TV in the sweet spot range (between $700 and $2000), you’re probably not going to have a great experience with older stuff. Many pre-HD era shows on Netflix (like early episodes of Burn Notice or NCIS) stream in 480p. All cable TV is 720p. Even budget TVs can do 720p fairly well most of the time. However, pretty much any pre-HD era stuff (DVDs, older TV shows) are going to be hit-and-miss.

This isn’t a problem on 1080p TVs. Those TVs still upscale. However, the upscaling isn’t nearly as dramatic. Going from 480p to 1080p isn’t nearly the same jump as going from 480p to 2160p(4K). Thus, DVDs will look sharper with better detail and less grain. Cable TV is only scaling up one notch and won’t lose hardly any of its sharpness. Those who watch a lot of cable TV and either own a lot of DVDs or watch a lot of old shows on Netflix may have a better experience on 1080p than 4K at a cheaper price. That is, unless you buy a 4K TV that upscales very well.

Further reading: OLED vs LCD vs FALD

 


4K vs 1080p: Final Decision

So, which one should you buy? We can’t tell you because we don’t know your situation. We’re hoping that by reading the information above, it helps you come to a decision. Your mindset and the depth of your wallet are everything in a decision like this. There are legitimate pros and cons either way.

However, being in the middle of the road is lame. Those who have at least $700 to spend should definitely go 4K. With that kind of money, the reasons to do so outweigh the reasons not to. 4K TVs like the Vizio 2017 M-Series or the TCL P605/607 have things like FALD, wide color gamut, Dolby Vision, HDMI 2.0, and HDR10. Both of those TVs go for right around $599-$799. If you absolutely need a TV right now and you don’t have enough for at least one of those two TVs, then you’re better off going with a cheaper 1080p panel now and saving for a better 4K TV later.

If we missed any good reasons to go with 4K or 1080p (or good reasons not to), tell us about them in the comments! We may not always respond, but we are always listening.

Other 4K content worth checking out

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