What Is 4K TV? Breaking Down the Basics of Pixel Perfect TV Resolution

Lydia Schapiro
Written by Lydia Schapiro
Updated May 4, 2022
woman watching tv on the sofa
Photo: MixMedia/Getty Images

Highlights

  • The “K” in 4K refers to the number of horizontal pixels in a display.

  • 4K TVs have higher resolutions, and clearer pictures, than both UHD and HD TVs. 

  • You can stream most major services with 4K TVs, but 8K TV options are severely limited.

  • Typically, 4K TVs cost between $500 and $700.

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Whether you’re in the market for a birthday present or just want to splurge on your next electronic goodie, 4K TVs may be worth the upgrade. 

TVs come with many associated buzz-words that feel overwhelming if you just want to choose the one with the highest TV resolution. Luckily, we’ve broken down all you need to know about 4K TVs below (and why 8K TVs should be on your radar, too), which should help you decide which TV is right for you.

What Does 4K TV Mean?

The “K” in 4K stands for “kilo,” which means “one thousand.” Therefore, 4K TVs are units with nearly 4,000 horizontal pixels, or a 4K resolution. Resolution refers to how densely together the pixels (tiny dots) are placed on the screen. The larger the resolution number, the smaller the pixel size. And the smaller the pixels, the clearer the picture. 

Altogether, the individual pixels compile the image you see on the screen. 

4K TV vs. Ultra High Definition vs. High Definition

Many use the phrases 4K TV and Ultra HD (Ultra High Definition) interchangeably. But this is not entirely accurate, as the pixel dimensions vary slightly between the two.  

If you’re wondering what UHD means, it refers to what consumers see on 4K TV displays. Most UHD TVs are 4K ultra high definition displays. However, if you see the phrase “cinema” 4K, you’ll get a higher resolution (picture quality). 

Finally, traditional Full HD (High Definition) TVs have substantially fewer pixels making up the display, at just 1280 x 720 pixels.

TVResolution
HD1280 x 720 pixels
UHD3840 x 2160 pixels
4KUp to 4096 x 2160 pixels

4K TV vs. 8K TV: Which Option Has the Highest TV Resolution?

Instinct may have you browsing the aisles for 4K models, but 8K TVs actually boast the highest TV resolution. Yes, 8K TVs have hit the market, and they feature twice the resolution: 7680 x 4230 pixels. This means you’ll enjoy a sharper, more detailed picture quality. 

That said, you need actual 8K content to get the most out of any 8K TV. And right now, the content available at this quality is very limited. More on this later. And exactly how much of those details your eyeballs actually pick up depends on the distance from your couch to the TV.

Choosing the Right TV

modern living room with large flat screen tv
Photo: Lumina/Stocksy/ Adobe Stock

Picture quality, while important, comes at a price. Consider your budget when choosing which TV type is best for you. The cost for 4K TVs has dropped over the last few years, but they’re still an investment at around $280. However, most fall between $500 and $700

On the other hand, 8K TVs are a serious splurge; don’t expect to land one under $2,000. If you’re living in a very small space and looking to pinch pennies, maybe hold off on buying one TV for a bit. 

You’ll also need to think about the content available on each type of TV. 4K TVs offer libraries upon libraries of content.  Most—but not all—TV service providers offer 4K content, and many new streaming devices support this type. Plus, an upgrade to a 4K TV might also warrant an upgrade in TV size, as this type of high resolution is pointless on a smaller model. The options are even fewer for 8K TVs. Currently, only YouTube and Vimeo offer 8K streaming.  

And for many viewers, the content is the most important feature. So before you get too excited, figure out if your must-watch shows are available in 4K or 8K.

4K TV Frequently Asked Questions:

What content is available on 4K?

You can stream HDR video content from most major streaming services, including Amazon, Google Play, Itunes, Netflix, and Vudu with a 4K TV. You can also use this content in various forms, such as 4K Blu-ray players, cameras, and smartphones. 

In addition, 4K content is gamer-friendly. You can use major gaming platforms such as the PS5 and Xbox to stream 4K gaming.

What are 4K TV refresh rates?

These models have come a long way since the blurry home movies of the 1990s. This is due in large part to advancements in refresh rates. The refresh rate is the number of times per second that a TV display updates. 

A 4K TV comes in two settings: 60Hz (60 new images per second) and 120Hz (120 new images per second). The more rapidly the display changes, the less motion blur you’ll see. Therefore, the higher the refresh rate, the sharper the image. 

What is the necessary internet speed for watching 4K TV?

Most streaming services require internet speeds of at least 15 Megabits per second. If your internet speed drops below that, your display will revert to Full HD only. 

What size TV should I get?

In some cases, bigger is better. A larger TV screen size is better for watching from farther back—this is known as field of view. If you’re too close up, it might feel uncomfortable, and upgrading to 4K (or 8K) won’t make much difference if you don't plan on moving your couch closer. 

When it comes to what size TV to buy, the most popular model is 65 inches. Generally, the further you are from the screen, the larger the screen size you’ll need to see the image well—your TV screen will fall within 30 to 40 degrees from the center of your viewing point. For example, your picture on a 65-inch will be most clear when you sit about 9 feet away.

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