TV Broadcasts Aren’t Even In 1080p, So Why Worry About A 4K TV?

TCL X1 4K Dolby Vision HDR TV
TCL X1 4K Dolby Vision HDR TV

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

While our technology obsession continues, such as missing out on flash sales over 8K RED Helium cameras, most shooters are still contemplating simply moving to 4K. What’s taking so long? Well, could it be that most broadcasters aren’t even showing their programming in 1080p yet? Some are even still in 720p!

“The difference between 720p, 1080i, and 1080p has been debated for years. 1080p is superior in quality, however whether or not that quality can be delivered is a whole other matter. In this world full of ads and sales for technology in 1080p HD, 2K, and 4K , the vast majority of content that you can actually watch is neither.” – LiveProductionBlog

HD Cable ChannelsIt may shock many who have plunked down nearly $600 or more for a 4K TV, but those ultra high definition (UHD) won’t really get much of a 4K experience with it. This is largely due to the fact that most broadcasters are sending out either a 720p or 1080i signal into homes, and encoded in MPEG2, as well

According to Live Production Blog, less than 0.5% of all broadcasters in the U.S. and Europe have TV channels broadcasting in 1080p. If you want to see a complete list of broadcasters and TV stations and the resolution quality they broadcast in, check out this wiki page. The big names? Well here’s a quick look: ABC promised to “revolutionize TV” in 2015, but they still broadcast in 720p. So does Fox. CBS and NBC, and the vast majority of cable channels broadcast in 1080i.

In fact, only a few stations have begun experimenting with the new ATSC 3.0 standard which would allow them to show broadcast television in full HD, but even they have no official plans to broadcast in 1080p for the next five years. That’s right, even in 2021, most broadcasters will not be broadcasting in 1080p, much less 4K.

Direct-TV-resolutionsBut what about cable and satellite — they use 1080p, right? Well, for pay-per-view event, sure. That’s really all they have control over. But even then, they are using MPEG 4 AVC/H.264 file compression.

Netflix may flout that they stream House of Cards, Luke Cage, and the rest of their original programming in 4K, but all too often, you’re reliant on your download stream, and Netflix’s streaming is usually only at 15 Mbps. Not only that, but you will also end up with a downgraded signal if the congestion gets bad (like around dinner time, especially weekends). But that won’t stop Netflix from charging you extra for the privilege. YouTube is even worse, calling their UHD streams 4K, even though they mostly max out at 3840 x 2160 vs. 4096 x 2160. Shameful.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that there’s still a lack of 4K content. You’d think that by now every movie would be out in 4K since TVs are dropping in price, and we’re getting quality 4K Blu-rays and Ultra HD movie players.

Of course, there are many good arguments for shooting in 4K and above, but a bigger conversation should be had about dynamic range and more, when it comes to what movies, TV shows, etc., should be filmed on.

Then there’s the size of your TV… If you’re sitting in your room and you just got that 4K TV, after a while you may think that it looks no better than your old 1080p set. And you’re probably right. You may not even see the difference with your older 720p set. But that’s probably due to the fact that the TV you got was too small, or you’re sitting too far away. To really see the difference between a 1080p LED TV and a 4K UHD TV, you either have to sit a LOT closer, or you have to have a TV that is at least 70 inches (some argue larger), and after 55 inches, the cost of a TV becomes very expensive.

Blu-ray is another story though, and that’s where an HDTV can run on all cylinders. With Blu-rays, you’ll be able to see a movie and TV show exactly as the director or broadcaster intended, because there’s little compression, and there’s no downgrading of a signal for broadcast. It’s the full resolution. And as time goes on, and more content comes out in 4K Blu-ray, it’ll be even better. But it’s history repeating itself: You switched to HD Blu-ray a few years ago, and now it’s time to go to UHD Blu-ray. Some movie fans have abandoned discs altogether, and moved to digital downloads.

For me, the real saving grace will be high dynamic range (HDR). With HDR and its new Ultra HD Premium standard, we’ll be able to see a far superior image, not because it’ll be in 4K, but because it’ll have far better dynamic range to see details in light and shadow. That’s a far better reason to upgrade your camera or video recorder, or even your TV, than going strictly with higher resolution.

Sure, you will future-proof yourself going down the road. But right now, technology is advancing, but what is it advancing to? The future? Sure. But unless it brings along the supporting technologies to enjoy it, the future will be like looking through somebody else’s glasses.

I should also point out technologies that either went mostly nowhere (3D), or haven’t yet been proven to be popular with movie goers and TV watchers (virtual reality).

We can do better than that, but even when we do, we’ll have this conversation all over again with 8K.

About doddle 16509 Articles
Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.



  2. I’m a COX cable subscriber in Kansas and even a dweeb like me knew my provider only sent out 1080. 4K is only for Computer monitors, consoles, and High-end DVDs. If you’re a Cable subscriber expecting 4K, you’re gonna have to wait years just like I did for 1080.

  3. I have an older 720p Toshiba LED that has deeper colors better, contrast and a sharper image than a new (2019) UHD Sharp (actually Hisense) that I bought for a rental property.

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