Jon Bentley tests: HD, 4K and curved TVs

The Gadget Show team put HD, 4K and curved TVs to the test, to find out which TVs had the biggest emotional effect on the viewer. Jon Bentley talks us through the results, you may be surprised.

The results of our HD versus 4K versus curved TV test surprised me. I’d expected the curved telly to win easily. Personally I’ve found the slightly wrap-around feel of curved screens on test in my living room a rather more enjoyable and involving watch than flat ones. And I definitely think curved screens look better, as part of the furniture, when they’re switched off.

Our tests, however, confounded my expectations. The first one we shot was an “arousal” test. Gawain Morrison from Sensum, an “emotion-based” market research company, assessed a group of viewers’ emotional engagement by measuring skin conductance. Having attached his equipment, the resulting charts soon revealed that the curved screen didn't sustain its initial wow factor when we were viewing action footage.

In spite of this I felt sure that the higher overall specification of the curved set would impress TV quality assurance expert, Simon Jarvis, on our second shooting day the following week. I was certain that he would respond positively to its fancier local area dimming and wider, more eye-popping colour gamut. But instead, it soon transpired that he was spotting processing errors, artefacts and movement problems with the curved screen that didn’t trouble the flat sets.

Both tests showed that the 4K flat TV was a better overall buy than the 4K curved one, particularly when the curved set’s considerably higher price tag was taken into account. But buying 4K over mere HD was much easier to justify. On Gawain’s charts it was clear that, whether flat or curved, the 4K sets relaxed people watching our "soothing" footage much more effectively than HD.

The tests left me in no doubt that, when it comes to TVs, megapixels matter. Maybe this is because, thanks to the need to record and process 25 or more frames per second, TV pixel counts are actually relatively low. HD broadcast telly normally has less than one megapixel per frame while Full HD on Blu-ray discs is only around 2 megapixels. When exposed to the glories of 4K footage with its 8 megapixels per frame, our panels revelled in the difference.

So, out of the three TVs, the best value set was the 4K, flat one. It still gives you the lasting satisfaction and future-proofing of 4K without the short-lived and expensive thrills of going curved.

But in the more distant future, will even 4K be detailed enough to satisfy our thirst for ever higher resolution moving images? The first 8K screens, boasting a staggering 33 megapixels per frame, are already starting to appear, and Japanese broadcaster NHK is planning to have regular 8K transmissions in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We’re still years away from widespread 8K streaming and transmission here in the UK but, when it arrives, I’m looking forward to inviting Gawain along with his testing kit to discover whether the step up from 4K to 8K gives even more of a boost to our TV enjoyment than the jump from HD to 4K.

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