Not very long ago, “4K” was the buzzword in the television industry. Fast-forward to 2022, TVs packing in 4,000 pixels have become pretty much par for the course.
There are now many 4K televisions at different price points than one could have imagined only a few years ago. Even the expensive 4K TVs available on the market now are considerably cheaper compared to their equivalent, not-very-old predecessors.
Since an inexpensive 4K TV is within reach of several more buyers than before, does that mean spending top dollar on an expensive 4K TV is an unnecessary splurge? Maybe not.
Let’s dig deep to learn more.
- Why Are Some 4K TVs Cheaper Than Others?
- What’s the Difference Between a Cheap 4K TV and an Expensive One?
- Are Cheap 4K TVs Worth It?
- 4K Upscaling: Are Cheaper 4K TVs Capable of the Same?
Why Are Some 4K TVs Cheaper Than Others?
A significant reason for this increased proliferation is 4K TVs getting cheaper. Not all are cheap, but quite a few have come down in price to become more accessible to the masses.
Some 4K TVs are cheaper than others since the technology is predicated on different variables. Also, it’s not the only thing contributing to the cost of a television. Other aspects such as audio, connectivity, software, etc., too, add to a TV’s price.
The cheaper 4K TVs tend to skimp on some of them. More on that down below.
What’s the Difference Between a Cheap 4K TV and an Expensive One?
A TV is more than just its native resolution or the number of pixels it packs per inch. To continue from or elaborate on the above, 4K TVs are available at varied price points, as there are multiple features that some could omit or adopt a sub-par version of.
An expensive 4K TV is likely to sport a more high-quality panel. In other words, an expensive 4K TV’s brightness and contrast levels would be markedly better than their cheaper counterparts.
The viewing angles or field of view would be a lot wider. The panel’s capabilities in regard to HDR (high dynamic range), color accuracy/reproduction, black levels, etc., would be superior as well.
All of the above attributes are basically synonymous with an OLED panel.
An expensive 4K TV would pretty much always sport an OLED panel. The cheaper TVs would use LED-backlit LCD instead, since it’s a more inexpensive display technology.
Why is OLED expensive? Because it’s relatively new and costlier to produce. The organic LED, or organic electroluminescent diode, is costly to make. The relative scarcity of OLED manufacturers, high error rate, etc., are some of the other things keeping OLED costs high.
Some expensive 4K TVs may use LED to sidestep the above concerns. Still, those panels would be built to the highest quality, justifying OLED’s omission and the TV’s price to a considerable extent.
For instance, the expensive LED TV would make amends for its display technology disadvantage by adding other features — such as a more vivid backlight, a greater amount of tiny dimming areas, etc.
Some choose to take the middle ground and opt for a QLED (Quantum dot light-emitting diode) panel, such as Samsung. To learn more about QLED and how it compares to LED and OLED, watch this video:
And to spice things up, expensive 4K TVs almost always come with a 120 Hz or higher refresh rate display. The cheaper option is 60 Hz only.
Kindly note, if you’re buying a smaller 4K TV (55-inch or smaller), the above disparities may not be as noticeable as they would be if you stretch the screen size to beyond 55 inches.
The type of processor used in a 4K TV to render the images varies across the price range. An inexpensive 4K television is likely to pack in an inferior or less powerful processor.
A processor is the brain of the TV. Its responsibilities include:
- Ensuring fast-paced sports, action film sequences, etc., are snappy and blur-free
- Displaying visuals with little to no image noise
- Boosting colors without straying away from reality, etc.
A cheap 4K TV would likely respond to your commands slowly and would not excel at “upscaling” due to its weak processing power. (More on upscaling later.)
When people shop for a 4K TV, they generally don’t pay much attention to the chip because they simply don’t know anything about it.
Most TV manufacturers are mindful of the same and equip their more affordable 4K TVs with weak processors. Several big brands reserve their advanced picture processing engines for their flagship televisions.
Sony, for instance, equips its standard 4K TVs with X1 HDR (or an older processing engine) while allocating the X1 Ultimate processing engine for its high-end Master Series televisions.
A cheaper 4K TV’s user interface would likely be less responsive and shoddily laid out. After you turn on the television, you’ll almost immediately learn you are not the brand’s “elite customer”.
The software may look half-baked, since the manufacturer could have devised it solely for its inexpensive 4K TVs. The operating system is also likely not to be a derivation or the “lite” version of the OS found on the brand’s expensive 4K televisions.
And as the processor running the show is likely to be inferior (as discussed above), remote interaction with the device would feel botchy and buggy, hampering the experience altogether.
Since you get what you pay for, the built-in speakers of an expensive 4K TV would be louder, more precise, and more immersive than the cheap TV.
Provided you were not living in a cave, you should know that televisions are getting slimmer with each generation. A slender television means constricted space for audio hardware.
Brands cannot afford to impede the audio quality of their top-of-the-line 4K TVs, as that would hurt the line. Therefore, they spend more effort, money, and time packing in loud, premium-sounding speakers into their expensive 4K TVs.
For the cheap 4K televisions, they don’t put in much effort. Audio on inexpensive 4K televisions is underwhelming almost every time.
They won’t sound loud or room-filing. Even if the audio is loud enough, it would likely be muddier, or the tuning will be off.
While the expensive TV’s integrated speakers are no substitutes for standalone TV speakers, such as soundbars, you will not miss those dedicated speakers terribly if you choose to play with the TV’s built-in audio prowess instead.
Build Quality, Aesthetics, Support, Etc.
Though not directly lending to the TV’s performance, a few things relating to the TV’s exterior could differentiate an expensive 4K television from the cheaper version.
On the premium device, the bezels are much thinner than they usually are, adding to the aesthetics of the television.
Though all modern or smart TVs are devoid of the CRT TV hump from the past, the side profile of an expensive 4K TV is class-leadingly thin too. Some are even thinner than your smartphone or a few credit cards stacked together.
The cheaper 4K TV, on the other hand, isn’t that clandestine. It also uses a lot more plastic in its build. The bezels and the back panel are plastic.
Premium 4K TVs employ as much metal as they can in place of polycarbonate. If not, the plastic they use is high-quality and not thin, flimsy material.
The table stand would be metallic and more modern-looking. The other accessories and essential supplies in the package would be high-quality too.
Are Cheap 4K TVs Worth It?
Cheap 4K TVs are worth it if you’re not a heavy, discerning TV user and aren’t looking for the largest 4K television out there. And for the relatively affordable prices these cheap 4K televisions are sold for, they certainly pack some punch.
As mentioned earlier, inexpensive 4K televisions would seem glaringly lacking if you stretch the screen size to above 55 inches and multiple members in the house watch TV from various angles in a reasonably large room.
4K Upscaling: Are Cheaper 4K TVs Capable of the Same?
Everything you watch on a 4K television won’t play in the TV’s maximum or native resolution.
If you’re not subscribed to 4K TV channels, do not have a premium Netflix subscription, or don’t use an Ultra HD player, the resolution of what you watch on the screen would be under 4K.
4K upscaling addresses this issue by making standard- and high-definition TV, streaming, and DVD content appear sharper. The upscaling results in the visuals filling the screen’s 4K resolution.
The processing entails analyzing the video resolution and type signal, picture noise, edges, details, textures, etc. After the process is complete, the signal is turned into 4K to match the panel’s resolution.
To learn more about 4K upscaling, watch this video:
Most 4K televisions have an upscaling engine, but some models could miss the feature. Expensive 4K TVs, quite obviously, do the better job. A cheap 4K TV’s results would not be comparable to an expensive 4K TV’s output.
Kindly note, Full HD or standard definition content upscaled to 4K is no substitute for actual 4K content. Moreover, upscaling could lead to increased macroblocking or noise.
Based on the panel, the upscaled images could be anywhere between satisfactory to being incredibly soft. Even the crème de la crème of 4K TVs wouldn’t be able to compensate for the lack of natively produced 4K with their upscaling prowess.
1. Are cheap 4K TVs better than 1080p?
Inexpensive 4K TVs are better than 1080p televisions, since the latter is now almost or close to past its time.
Full HD is now the standard on pocketable devices, such as smartphones. In the television realm, you need 3840 x 2160 pixels to play with to tag the viewing experience as “premium”.
Besides jamming in four times the pixels per inch, a 4K panel will pack more dynamic colors and deeper shadows — thanks to HDR, which is not an option with Full HD. Also, you can watch 1080p content on a 4K TV (upscaled or not), but the reverse is not possible.
Perhaps, the only area where a 4K TV trails its 1080p sibling is in content availability. As of now (January 2022), 4K content is still not universal or as widespread as 1080p. Things, however, will only improve for the 4K content landscape.
Full HD televisions have been at their zenith for quite some time. With 4K being the next big thing, do not expect new features or advancements in Full HD. The focus is now unequivocally on 4K.
An inexpensive 4K TV, as a result, is a better option, even if considerably pricier than the best 1080p TV money can buy. Just make sure you do not cheap out on your 4K TV purchase or go with a no-name brand to save a few bucks.
Just a final note on price — the price gap between a 1080p and inexpensive 4K TV is gradually narrowing since the latter is becoming the norm.
No doubt, most buyers care more about the display than the hardware running the show from behind. Manufacturers, therefore, primarily focus on elaborating on their 4K TV’s display prowess or the number of pixels they pack.
However, with 4K resolution not being the USP anymore and 4K TVs becoming a lot more affordable and widespread than before, brands have no option but to pivot their marketing efforts.
They must educate the market on other aspects of their 4K TVs and not just continue singing the praises of 4K.
Without a shift in their marketing approach, brands cannot justify the premium price tags of their high-end 4K TVs. Hopefully, this article has helped you discern the significant differences between cheap and expensive 4K TVs.
Inexpensive 4K TVs are certainly no demons. If your budget is limited, go ahead and pick one up.
Splurge if you have the money to spend on a slightly more costly 4K TV. The high-quality panel and powerful internals would be worth the spend.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.