4K vs. UHD (Ultra HD) – Are they the Same? What’s the Difference?

Thinking about getting a gaming monitoror a TV and getting confused by all the 4K, UHD and HDR acronyms? I understand, and that is precisely why I thought this was the right time to write a post explaining the concept of 4K and UHD.

Let’s start with understanding what exactly 4K is and how it is better than the traditional 1080p displays out there.

4K vs. UHD (Ultra HD)

What is 4K?

A 4K display has a resolution of 3,840×2,160 pixels and it can fill up to four 1080p screens. These many pixels amount to the clarity in a picture or a video that you might never have experienced on a 1080p display. The 4K monitors are already mainstream and you can go ahead and buy one from Amazon today. The level of detail you get to see on a 4K display is four times of what you see on a 1080p Full HD display.

4K as a resolution works best if you have a screen size of above 50-inches but that doesn’t mean you cannot get it on a smaller screen. There are smartphones out there which come with 4K displays out of the box. But, having so many pixels on a small screen doesn’t really make much sense in the long run. Also, 4K isn’t a good option for smartphones unless we get a breakthrough in the battery technology. Since a 4K display has a pixel density which is four time to that of a 1080p display, it sucks power out of a battery much more faster than a display with lower resolution.

A full HD 1080p display has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels while a 4K display 3,840×2,160 pixels. The Cinema 4K screen has a resolution of 4,096×2,160 pixels which is a bit taller than a normal 4K display.

A few years ago, purchasing a 4K display used to be a very costly affair and used to do a damage of around thousands of dollars but the recent updates to the technology have made the displays cheaper and much more accessible to the public. These new 4K displays come with extra techs like HDR and Quantum Dot. OLED display panels are also becoming mainstream which is a good thing for the consumers who want to have a 4K TV or a monitor in their homes.

Why is 4K called “4K”?

To put it bluntly, 4k=4000.

The name of 4K was adopted for this resolution of 3,840×2,160 pixels just because the width of the image in this resolution is very close to 4K and 4K means 4000 which is very close to 3840×2160 pixels. I know, it is quite confusing and you might hear people also call it 2160p but this is what the industry calls it and this is what it will be!

Does 4K make a significant difference over 1080p?

If you want the simple answer, yes, it actually does but if you want to dive a bit deeper you will understand that 4K makes sense only when the display size is right. See, we already discussed the smartphones having 4K display which you won’t even be able to differentiate until and unless you look very closely. But if you have a TV or a monitor that is of big size, it will help you see much more details.

More pixels mean more detail but as always, you will only be able to experience the details when you are watching 4K content on the display. Any other type of content, for example, a video in 1080p will not show as many details on a 4K display.

If you go ahead and compare the jump from 480p to 1080p (or even 720p), the difference was huge. Upgrading from a CRT display to a full-fledged 1080p monitor or a display was significant. Now if you compare the same from 1080p to 4K, there won’t be many differences unless you have a really close look at the display. This is why companies that sell 4K displays add things like HDR to make the whole deal much more sweeter.

Is HDR Necessary for 4k?

HDR makes sure you are able to see much more vibrance on the content that is being displayed on the 4K TV or monitor. But then again, the difference really shows when you are watching content that is HDR supported. The whole thing about the wow factor when upgrading to a 4K display is there but it isn’t that significant.

Ultra HD and 4K – What’s the difference?

I discussed the difference between Cinema 4K and 4K above so let me recap it for you. Cinema 4K has a resolution of 4,096×2,160 pixels while normal 4K has a resolution of 3,840×2,160 pixels. UHD or Ultra HD is derived from Cinema 4K but has a bit lower resolution than 3,840×2,160 pixels. This is exactly why many companies use UHD or Ultra HD label instead of 4K. The resolution isn’t drastically low so can be given a pass to being similar to 4K.

Keep in mind that resolutions that are higher than 4K can also be called UHD and hence this term makes it so confusing. Let’s say 8K displays become mainstream tomorrow, they will also be labeled as UHD. Welcome to 2019, it is confusing as heck.

UHD Alliance & UHD Premium

Did you know that different companies have come together and formed a group called UHD Alliance?

This group will collectively decide what will be present in the next UHD monitor or a TV that you’re going to buy. Named companies like LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba, Sony, Sharp have joined the alliance with companies like Dolby, dts, and many others as well. The group has 50 members at the moment and the number will only grow as the time passes.

Even Netflix is part of the UHD alliance so we might see some really amazing stuff in future TVs and monitors that we will buy.

UHD Premium was announced back in 2016 at the CES or Consumer Electronics Show. The main motive of UHD Alliance is to produce the content for these UHD displays that the studios can then show as they intended to on these displays. The UHD Premium itself is nothing but a boilerplate list of features that a UHD display has to fulfill so that there is a compatibility with the kind of content that is being produced for these displays.

If a product has a UHD Premium certification, it will have the following spec list:

  • At least 3840×2160 resolution
  • 10-bit color depth
  • 1,024 shades of colors red, green and blue. The current 8-bit standard just has 256 shades.
  • HDR capable so that the pixels can display different levels of brightness as required by HDR.

If a product carries the above-mentioned specifications, then it will be certified with the UHD Premium tagline. The best thing about such displays is that the colors really look good and even if you are looking at blacks, they will be darker instead of the black that we are used to seeing on traditional monitors and TVs.

BUT and this is a big but here, companies like Samsung and Panasonic are using the UHD Premium tags for their products while other companies like Sony or Phillips will be using their own tags like 4K HDR and others for their products even if the product completes the mentioned requirements. The UHD Alliance can also set the progress in the monitors and TV markets very slow just so they don’t have to introduce new things in their products but we always have companies like Xiaomi etc. who are willing to work independently and release their own products with their own list of specifications.

Gaming in 4K or UHD?

We have already covered a set of 4K gaming monitors that you can purchase today. You can also read the review of Acer’s 4K monitor for gaming that we have covered. There are no extra things needed but there are issues with the current gaming scenarios for gaming. You cannot use a normal HDMI monitor for 4K gaming as HDMI doesn’t have enough bandwidth to support 4K gaming. You can use Display Port instead so that makes the monitors not really accessible for gamers who use a console. PC, on the other hand, has been able to support 4K gaming for a while now.

Coming to the consoles, PlayStation 4 Pro supports 4K gaming and Microsoft isn’t behind with their Xbox One X which offers native 4K gaming.

This is all you need to know to have a good idea about 4K and UHD but we will keep updating the post as we get something new to add here!

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