Finally, in the year of our pixels 2016, I can recommend 4K. The tech has been unstable for years, with manufacturers varying on support and television sets quickly becoming obsolete as substantial new features were added to the 4K spec. That spec is complete, though, and it’s now that we can buy 4K sets without worrying about them losing out on major features next year. Technology is technology, and it’ll continue to advance, but with the 4K spec complete, the basics won’t be changing for a while.
With that in mind, let’s put together a list of the best ways to dive into 4K this holiday season.
Money is No Object
LG 77″ G6 OLED TV – $19,999.99
I thought about going with the dream-car-priced 120″ Vizio Reference television, but ultimately the pull of OLED won me over. For pure viewing pleasure, nothing beats OLED, and LG’s 77″ set is the king right now.
OLED televisions are the king when it comes to pure picture quality, thanks to the excellent color reproduction of OLEDs and the ability of each OLED to light itself independently. LED-powered televisions might have tens or, at the top end, hundreds of light zones to provide better brightness and contrast, but that can’t compare with OLED.
Yeah, it’s expensive. And yeah, it’ll probably be obsolete in five or ten years. But hey, if you have the money – this is the television to get.
Gifts Under $2000
Buying a television that costs about as much as a Kia Sportage is a fun idea, but it’s not even a fantasy for most of us. Spending somewhere less than $2000 on a television isn’t exactly small fries, but at least sits in the realm of possibility. In that case, Samsung’s KS8000 is one of the best buys on the market.
For starters, it checks all the basic boxes. It’s a great-looking piece of technology whether you have it turned on or off. Setup is fairly straight-forward. It has plenty of HDMI inputs, and the on-board software and apps get the job done handily.
Compared to most other UHD LED televisions on the market, though, it has a few distinct advantages. The KS8000 gets brighter than most non-OLED televisions, meaning that the images it displays look good in just about any environment and light setting you want to put the set into.
If you’re planning to play games on your set, the KS8000 is as good as it gets right now. Most HD televisions these days have a low-input gaming mode. On many 4K televisions (Such as Vizio’s otherwise-excellent P-series sets), the low-input mode doesn’t offer HDR color, meaning that you have to make a choice between responsive gaming and seeing the full range of color new HDR games have to offer. The KS8000 not only has some of the lowest input lag on the market, hovering right around 20ms, but it offers that with HDR, which is the whole reason we’re buying these sets.
You can’t go wrong with this one.
Gifts Under $500
Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 Pro – starts at $299
Once your HDR set is plugged in and ready to go, you need something to make it pop and set your eyeballs on fire. Game consoles are the best way to do that and right now they’re serving double and triple duty.
First and foremost, video games are one of the best ways to show off HDR. Because the whole game world is built from the ground up, game developers are able to make good use of the full range of the HDR color gamut and the increased range of brightness.
In addition to gaming, these consoles are the best streaming systems out there. Stuff like the Roku Premiere+ and Chromecast Ultra are great if you don’t plan to game at all, but if you’re a gamer, there’s no reason to have both. Netflix’s library of HDR content is exploding, and it looks great on these systems.
If you’re on a cruddy internet connection, worried about Comcast’s “Generous” transfer cap, or just like physical media, Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are the best way to watch HDR content right now. Ultra HD Blu-ray players are expensive, though. There are only a few of them, and they’re often even more expensive than the Xbox One S. If you’re looking for a UHD Blu-ray player, an Xbox One S is worth seriously examining.
Each of the two consoles has one caveat worth mentioning, though. The PlayStation 4 Pro is much more powerful than the Xbox One S. They both do HDR and look great doing it, but the PlayStation 4 Pro is about twice as powerful and games will likely start to see substantial, visible differences between the S and the Pro. On the other hand, the PlayStation 4 Pro can’t play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
It still comes down to a matter of which system has the games you want, but there’s no doubt that a gaming system is a perfect companion for a new HDR-capable television.
Gifts Under $100
Uncharted 4 (PlayStation 4) – $59.99
Not only is Naughty Dog’s most recent entry in the Uncharted series a great game, it’s great looking in HDR. Drake’s adventures have always been brightly lit, and adding HDR into that equation is icing on the cake. The image above isn’t an HDR image. That stuff simply doesn’t show up on non-HDR displays. You’ll have to use your imagination. But you really can’t go wrong with Uncharted 4.
Gears of War 4 (Xbox One S) – $59.99
Just like Uncharted 4 works well because of all the sunlight, Gears works because of darkness. The less light you have, the more every bit matters. HDR televisions can display far more detail in dark images, turning images that were previously jet-black into fully realized images. It makes a world of difference, and Gears of War 4 is a great way to show that off.
Gifts Under $50
The Revnant Ultra HD Blu-ray – $24.96
Not all Ultra HD Blu-rays are created equal. While it’s quite often the case that films are recorded in 4K resolution, they’re often mastered at 2K, or with their special effects in 2K. On an HD Blu-ray, that means the creator has some room to scale down, fudging some effects if needed and working more quickly.
Last year’s Oscar winner for best director and best actor, The Revnant, however, was filmed in 6K and mastered at 4K. Right now, The Revnant is one of the Blu-ray discs considered to be a demo for the capabilities of HDR. On top of that, it’s the film that finally won DiCaprio his Oscar. You can’t go wrong. Unless you don’t like bears, I guess.
The LEGO Movie Ultra HD Blu-ray – $29.99
Stepping out of the real world and into some family-friendly fare, it turns out The LEGO Movie is a great test of this new format, as well. The movie is, of course, fun for its surprisingly engaging plot, silly visual jokes, and amazing cast. But part of what makes it work is that it doesn’t look like CG. It looks like LEGO bricks.
In 4K and HDR, that’s even more the case. Unlike The Revnant, The LEGO Movie was upscaled from 2K, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sharp increase in detail. Subtle wear on bricks becomes apparent, and the range of HDR brings a light to the bricks and characters that adds that last little bit to complete the picture.
Product images from Amazon.