4K Ultra HD, 4K UHD, or just plain old 4K. These have all become stock phrases you have probably seen or heard shouted loud and proud from ads and promotions for the latest TV sets. But what exactly do they mean, and why should you get excited about them?

Technical jargon has a way of worming itself into our collective vocabulary without much thought about whether everyone really understands what the terms mean or not. 4K Ultra HD is a classic example. Over the last few years, it has become marketing shorthand for “this TV provides amazing picture quality - don’t settle for any less when you are bingeing on your favourite series or cheering on your favourite sports team!”

And that’s as much as the average person in the street would be able to tell you - 4K UHD means brilliant picture quality. But what is the difference to, say, plain old HD? And is 4K really the best of the best if you are on the hunt for the perfect picture?

Screen resolution explained

Let’s start by going back to basics. HD, of course, is shorthand for high definition, which is a term used to describe the resolution, or picture quality, of a screen. Resolution is a technical feature defined by the number of pixels on the screen. The basics of it are, the more pixels you have on a screen, the more detail you are able to render and so the better the picture quality.

Prior to the arrival of HD in the late 1990s, the standard definition for TV sets (SDTV) had been 720x480 pixels - or close to 350,000 pixels in total. When HDTV arrived, it improved on this in two phases, first of all with ‘HD ready’ sets with roughly one million pixels (1366×768 was a typical resolution of early HD ready LCD screens), then ‘full HD’ - 1920×1080, or approximately two million pixels.

This is where the naming conventions of screen resolutions starts to get a little confusing. Full HD is often known as ‘1080p’ - describing the number of pixels you get in a single vertical column on the screen. At the same time, you may see it referred to as ‘2K’ - because full HD screens usually have around 2000 pixels in every horizontal row.

It is this latter (though probably less common) convention that the ‘4K’ part of 4K Ultra HD has followed - UHD screens have roughly 4000 pixels in every row. A typical Ultra HD resolution, for example, is 3,840x2,160. The mathematically minded amongst you will have spotted that that works out as more than eight million pixels in total - so four times the resolution of a full HD screen.

So if you’re looking for the best picture quality available, surely it’s a no-brainer - you have to go for 4K UHD, right?

Well, yes and no. There’s no doubting 4K looks great, it’s a marked improvement even on full HD, and 4K screens are no longer even that expensive. But whether you need 4K UHD is another question. To get the best picture quality on the biggest screens, for example - certainly anything upwards of 40 inches - you want as many pixels as possible, so 4K should be your starting point. But if you are content with a much smaller screen - for secondary TV screens in bedrooms, for example - you might not notice much of a difference between full HD and UHD.

Another consideration is that to get the true Ultra HD experience, TV programmes and movies have to be shot in UHD as well as broadcast/played in UHD. Although production companies are now responding to increased demand for 4K, there is still a lot of TV and video content out there that is made for lower resolution playback. Put simply, video filmed below 4K doesn’t have the detail to fill all those pixels on a UHD screen. Your Ultra HD set therefore has to adjust to fill in those blanks, and some people complain they don’t like how that looks.

Finally, while 4K Ultra HD has become the de facto standard for new TVs and film making, it is no longer the hottest prospect in town in terms of picture quality. If you really want to crank up the picture quality - and have the deep pockets to match - 8K UHD next generation screens are available, packing a massive 32 million-plus pixels, or four times the resolution of 4K.

Whether you decide to play it safe with a budget full HD TV or splash out on a next generation 8K set, make sure you insure your TVs with’s fabulous value TV insurance, starting at just £1.49 a month.

ultra 4k tv with man watching Netflix in his modern living room

*The information in this blog is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. Please seek a professional for expert advice as we can not be held responsible for any damages or negative consequences upon following this information.

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