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What is 4K resolution? What does 4k mean?

TV with 4K logo displayed on the screen
Andres Jasso | Unsplash and Howbigg

Written by

Jacek Obst

3 min read

1. What is 4K Resolution?

4k is an ultra high screen resolution. It can be labelled as 4K, UHD or 4K UHD.

It's the most popular TV resolution today, not without reason - it features impressive image quality, allowing you to watch the image from closer than ever before!

Why is it called 4K?

Comparison of 4K, 1080p and 720p resolution size FORREST CAVALE | Unsplash and Howbigg

Tke "K" stands for "kilo" - a thousand. 4K refers to a horizontal display resolution that has approximately 4,000 pixels. More specifically, a 4K display typically has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which means it has almost 8.3 million pixels in total.

For comparison, a typical 1080p display (Full HD, which was the previous standard for high-definition displays) has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, so just over 2 million.

Brief History of 4K Technology

The origins of 4K resolution can be traced back to the early days of digital cinema when filmmakers began experimenting with higher-resolution cameras and displays. In 2004 Sony released the first 4K digital cinema projector, and other manufacturers soon followed suit.

Over time, more and more movies were made in 4k, and more cinemas were buying 4k projectors. By the mid-2010s, 4K displays were becoming more common in consumer electronics, particularly for high-end televisions.

Advantages of 4K Resolution

So why is 4K resolution so important? Simply put, more pixels mean more detail. With a 4K display, you'll be able to see much finer details in images and videos, particularly in areas with intricate patterns or fine lines.

This can be particularly beneficial for content like nature documentaries or sports broadcasts. Seeing every blade of grass or individual player on the field can enhance the viewing experience.

2. How Close Do I Need to Sit to a 4K Screen?

Chart showing how close you should sit to see the difference between various resolutions Howbigg

The ideal viewing distance of a 4K Ultra HD TV is about 1 to 1.5 times the diagonal width of the screen.

To fully realize the additional detail and appreciate the full potential of a 4K display, it is not only possible but recommended to sit closer to it than you would with a display of lower resolution.

To get the point, let's imagine you are sitting on a couch and looking at three different 100-inch TVs: 720p, 1080p, and 4K. From the 5 feet distance, you see the quality differences with your naked eye. However, from 20 yards, you can't notice any difference at all 😉

You can check the minimal and optimal viewing distances for your TV more precisely with this free calculator.

3. How Much 4K Content is Available? Is Netflix In 4K?

Dark room with Netflix logo on TV Thibault Penin | Unsplash

There are already hundreds of 4K series and movies on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Paramount, Hulu, and Peacock.

However, it's worth noting that not all content is available in 4K. Even when it is, you may need a higher-end subscription to access it.

To watch Netflix in 4K, you must get the most pricey subscription plan!

It's worth mentioning that YouTube is increasingly becoming a source for high-quality 4K videos from independent creators. Moreover, newer Blu-ray releases frequently include 4K options, and some broadcast television channels are beginning to provide 4K programming.

4. 4K vs. UHD: What's the Difference?

Comparison of 4K and UHD resolution size Alex Plesovskich | Unsplash and Howbigg

4K resolution, also known as 4K DCI, is a standard for cinema projection established by the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI). It has a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. It's called 4K because it is approximately 4,000 pixels wide.

UHD, or Ultra High Definition, is a term commonly used in the consumer electronics and television industry. It has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, exactly double the horizontal and vertical resolution of Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). It's sometimes also called 2160p or 4K UHD.

4K DCI has an aspect ratio of approximately 1.9:1, while UHD approximately 1.78:1 (16:9) aspect ratio. This means that 4K DCI is slightly wider and less tall than UHD, giving it a more cinematic appearance.

While both 4K and UHD refer to high-resolution formats, the key difference lies in the specific resolutions they represent. UHD is slightly lower in resolution than true 4K. These two terms are often used interchangeably in consumer electronics, as the difference in resolution is minimal and not easily noticeable to the human eye.

5. What's Next for 4K Resolution?

Cozy room with TV turned off Grant | Unsplash Even though 4K screens are still pretty new, there are already talks about even better screens with higher resolutions. These 8K UHD screens have a resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels and are starting to show up in fancy TVs and computer monitors.

It's unclear whether 8K will become the new normal or if 4K will stay popular. But for now, 4K will likely be a big part of the high-quality screen world for a while.

6. Conclusion

To sum up, 4K resolution significantly improves detail and sharpness compared to lower-resolution screens, and it's quickly becoming the new normal for high-quality watching.

Even though there are still some hurdles with getting enough 4K content and getting people to use it, 4K screens will undoubtedly be more and more popular in the next few years.

If you are looking for a new 📺 in 2024, there should be no other option than 4K.


Is 2160p a 4K?

Yes, 2160p is commonly referred to as "4K". The term "4K" is often used as a shorthand for a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which is approximately four times the resolution of Full HD (1080p). The "2160p" resolution signifies that the image or video contains 2160 horizontal lines of pixels. This resolution is widely adopted in the industry for high-definition content and is commonly associated with the term "4K."

Is 4K always better than 1080p?

In terms of resolution, 4K has a higher pixel count than 1080p, which can result in sharper details. However, the benefits of 4K are more noticeable on larger screens or when viewed from a closer distance. The quality of the content and other factors also impact the viewing experience. So, in general, 4K can offer a better visual experience.

Can the human eye see 4K?

Yes, the human eye can see the difference between 4K and 1080p resolutions. Factors like screen size, viewing distance, and individual visual acuity play a role in determining how noticeable the difference is. On larger screens and when viewed up close, the higher pixel density of 4K can result in sharper details. However, the difference may be less discernible on smaller screens or when viewed from a distance. The quality of the content and whether it is native 4K or upscaled from a lower resolution also affect the visual experience.

Does PS5 support 4K?

Yes, the PlayStation 5 supports 4K resolution. It is capable of rendering and outputting games and content in 4K resolution, which provides a higher level of detail and visual fidelity compared to lower resolutions like 1080p. The PS5 is designed to take advantage of 4K displays and televisions to deliver a more immersive gaming experience with enhanced graphics and resolution. However, it's important to note that not all games or content may be available in 4K, as it also depends on the specific game developers and the capabilities of individual titles.

Is there anything higher than 4K resolution?

Certainly! Resolutions higher than 4K, such as 8K, do exist. 8K resolution provides an even higher level of detail and clarity compared to 4K, but it's worth noting that the availability of native 8K content is currently limited. Additionally, the hardware requirements for displaying and processing 8K content can be demanding.

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