I’ve been seeing a lot of confusion on social media about why not every feature of powerful consoles like the just released Microsoft Xbox One X, as well as the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro (PS4 Pro), are supported on recent 4K TVs. I’d like to quickly clear some of that up.
First off, every 4K TV supports 4K resolution, which is 3840 pixels × 2160 lines. Compare that to standard HDTVs that support 1080p resolution, which is 1920 pixels x 1080 lines (some smaller TVs still only do 720p resolution, which is 1280 pixels x 720 lines). Obviously, a 4K TV has a nice resolution bump, but, although still beautiful, can sometimes be hard to notice with even the largest televisions considering how far many of us sit from our displays.
Resolution is not the only piece of the puzzle, however. At its simplest, HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, is a way to achieve a far greater color gamut than we’ve previously been used to. Many people – including me – claim that HDR is more important than the resolution bump, for instance, making colors pop and bringing out amazing details in shadows. In fact, you can have 1080p HDR content that looks spectacular. Both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro have support for 4K HDR games and video.
Unfortunately, not every 4K TV – particularly older 4K TVs or today’s less expensive 4K TVs – support HDR (side note, Dolby Vision is a proprietary HDR-like standard that is even better, but not as widely supported, but is always paired with HDR for the best of both worlds). That means when you break out your shiny new Xbox One X or PS4 Pro and it tests your TV’s feature-set, there will be a lot of non-resolution checkboxes that are crossed out.
As for me, I have an older Vizio 4K TV in our master bedroom that only has 4K resolution. That’s not that important because it’s mostly used for watching a little late night TV before falling asleep. Over the summer, after a good bit of research, I bought a new family room TV, an LG, that supports 4K and HDR/Dolby Vision (and paired it with a good Bose surround sound system; sound is also an important factor with today’s media, and even our master bedroom TV has a decent sound bar). Since we’re now cord cutters, I paired it off with an Apple TV 4K, which supports HDR/Dolby Vision. With such perspective, I can understand why people might be frustrated that their primary 4K TV doesn’t support the wider color gamut.
An important final point, of course, is that, as with the slow transition from standard definition TV (SDTV) to HDTV, you specifically need content designed for 4K/HDR/Dolby Vision to take advantage of it. While many Xbox One X and PS4 Pro games support improved resolution and/or color gamut, many others don’t. The same thing with streaming video and even Blu-Rays, i.e., you specifically need a service and/or content that is clearly labeled as supporting 4K/HDR (and, among consoles, only the Xbox One S and X support 4K/HDR Blu-Rays).
So, what do you do if you have a TV that doesn’t support the latest and great standards? The good news is is that consoles like the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro provide other performance benefits outside of resolution or color. This can take the form of things like improved frame rate or dynamic resolution scaling. It’s not ideal if you were counting on your TV to fully support the latest and greatest technology, but obviously not a total loss.