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4K vs. HD: Can Audiences Really Tell the Difference?

Caleb Ward

4K is better than HD, but can audiences even tell them apart?

Eventually 4K TVs will be cheap enough for the average consumer to buy, while at the same time more productions will deliver a finished product in native 4K…but we aren’t there yet. As it stands right now, TV manufacturers are shoving 4K down the throats of consumers, but unlike the switch from SD to HD, the jump from HD to 4K isn’t as appealing to the everyday consumer. With many consumers having  made the jump to a flat screen plasma or LED in recent years, it’s likely tough for them to justify the cost of a 4K set, especially because TV longevity is much longer than it used to be. Additionally, the 4K broadcasts tests that have been done to date show there are still many kinks to work out (including the problem of increased steady bit rate delivery by providers).

Some video pros are shooting in 4K, taking advantage of the high-fidelity in post, but ulimately scaling down before delivery.

And ultimately, the question looms…can audiences really tell the difference between HD and 4K?

When can you tell the difference between 4K and HD?

For the sake of this comparison, let’s assume that most audiences have 20/20 vision. If a person is sitting in their living room watching ‘House of Cards’ on their 65 inch 4K TV they would only be able to see the full benefits of using a 4K TV if they were 4.2 feet away from the TV screen (Carlton Bale). Now compare that with the average household viewing distance of 9-10 feet (CNET). Are we starting to see a problem here? So for the average consumer sitting an average of 9-10 feet away you would need to have a whopping 140-inch TV in order to get the full benefits of using a 4K monitor. Let’s put that in perspective: Average Viewing Distance Comparision

To see the full benefits of 4K at an average viewing distance you would need a 140-inch TV.

As you can see in the example above, such a TV would be taller than the average male in the United States. So needless to say we won’t be seeing any 140 inch TVs above any fireplace mantels in the near future. Now this screen size does outline the “optimal” distance for 4K viewing, but even to see any noticeable distance at 9 feet you would need to have at least a 75inch TV.

resolution chart

Chart Courtesy of Carlton Bale

So practically speaking, the average person at a normal viewing distance on a reasonably sized TV (under 75in) would not be able to see a noticeable difference between HD and 4K. However, the average person working on a computer has a viewing distance of only 30 inches. At this distance you would be able to see the full benefit of 4K on a 25 inch screen. As the industry stands right now this is the only foreseeable reason why the average consumer should posses 4K technology.

Are you shooting 4K? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Resources: Does 4K Resolution Matter? – Carlton Bale Why Ultra HD 4K TVs are Still Stupid – CNET