When should you upgrade to a 4K TV?

Not sure if you should upgrade to a new Ultra HD “4K” TV? Here’s a handy guide to figure it out.

If you’re happy with your TV, keep it. But if your TV is getting old and you’re curious how much better modern TVs are, this guide should be able to help you out.

What we’ve done is break it down by type and age of the TV, and given a recommendation about whether you should consider upgrading.

Should you upgrade at all?

Generally speaking, if your TV works and you’re happy with it, don’t worry about upgrading. We’re a long way off from the majority of TV shows and movies being in 4K resolution, let alone high-dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamut (WCG) or any other widespread change in content availability that would call for a new TV. There isn’t even one all-4K TV channel yet. If and when those things happen, 4K TVs will be way cheaper than they are now.

Even without 4K content, however, buying a 4K TV now makes sense if you actually do want to upgrade. One reason is because 4K TVs usually deliver better picture quality, with any source, than non-4K models (for reasons that have nothing to do with resolution).

Before we get any further, I want to note that this guide is specifically for those of you looking to buy a 4K LCD TV. There are a few 1080p and 4K OLED TVs, but they’re either expensive for their size, or just flat out expensive. Their picture quality is incredible, though, so if you have money for one of those, go for it. Only the best of the best of recent TVs can even come close.

So, if you have a…

LCD without local dimming: Maybe upgrade

Most LCDs more than a few years old don’t have local dimming, our favorite picture-enhancing feature for LCD TVs. It allows the TV to control brightness in different areas of the screen. Modern LCDs with local dimming will look more real, have more apparent depth, and have more “punch.” The top of the line models will have HDR and WCG, which can look really amazing.

Depending on the age of your current LCD TV, and of course on what 4K TV you end up buying, the difference may be significant. Of all the categories of TVs we’re talking about here, this is one of the ones I’d be most likely to recommend upgrading from, especially if you’re looking for something larger.

LCD with local dimming: Don’t upgrade

With few exceptions, local dimming LCDs look pretty good. Most of the ones with a full-array (as opposed to edge-lit) local dimming look pretty great. Many edge-lit models look good too.

True, the HDR and WCG capabilities of modern LCDs will make them look a bit better, but the difference won’t be as significant as if you were upgrading from some of the other TVs on this list. Generally, I’d say save your money.

Plasma TV (2008 or newer): Don’t upgrade

This is especially true if you still have a Pioneer Kuro or one of the last Panasonic or Samsung plasmas from 2012 or 2013. These later generation plasmas still look fantastic compared to most LCDs. Once HDR and WCG become more commonplace, then an upgrade is worth considering. Until then, enjoy your awesome TV.

Plasma TV (2007 or older): Maybe upgrade

Again, if you’re happy with your TV, keep it. The older the plasma is, the less it holds up to modern TVs. LCDs with local dimming will certainly be brighter than old plasmas, and might even have better contrast ratios. The motion blur might be acceptable (depending on the refresh rate), though off-axis (how far you can sit off to the side and still enjoy the image) will likely be far worse on a modern LCD.

Rear-projection TV: Probably upgrade

I’m surprised you’re still able to buy lamps for your TV. If you still have an RPTV, let me know what kind in the comments below, I’m curious how it’s fared. Most new LCDs will be far brighter, and likely have a better contrast ratio than just about any RPTV. If you have a DLP-based model though, the motion resolution on it will be way better than an LCD.

CRT ‘tube’ TV: Probably upgrade

I’m impressed with your ability to keep a TV running, but modern TVs will be bigger and brighter. If you ever need to replace your Blu-ray player or media streamer, most of the latest models only have HDMI (which your TV probably doesn’t have).

Front projector: Don’t upgrade

If your projector is from the pre-3D era, newer projectors are likely a lot brighter. Unless you’re really well heeled, they’re still just 1080p though. If you’re really feeling the itch to upgrade, I’d recommend getting a new PJ over a 4K TV any day.

Bottom line

As usual when someone asks, “Should I get a new ___?” the best answer is “It depends on what you already have.”

By the way, if you’re looking to upgrade the size of your current TV, it’s worth remembering that a new 4K model isn’t necessarily the best bang for your buck. Yes, 4K TVs generally have better picture quality, but big 1080p TVs are still perfectly fine if you have a limited budget and still want to go big.

Though many of us were worried that TV picture quality improvements completely would stagnate with the death of plasma, TVs (even LCDs) do keep getting better. After all, even I say 4K TVs aren’t stupid anymore.


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