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Why you should add a 4K television to your holiday shopping list

4K is about four times the resolution of 1080p HD, translating into better picture quality, especially on displays larger than 60 inches because of the greater number of pixels and higher density between them.

Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

It used to be that buying a TV was easy, but it's become almost agonizing with all the new technology and features entering the fray. Don't fear: This may be a good time to buy a new set, particularly a 4K TV.

The terms 4K and Ultra HD are synonymous – they mean exactly the same thing, although some manufacturers may use one term more than the other.

The comparison between 4K and high-definition 1080p is simple arithmetic on paper. At 3840 x 2160 pixels, 4K is about four times the resolution of 1080p HD (1920 x 1080). This translates into better picture quality, especially on displays larger than 60 inches because of the greater number of pixels and higher density between them.

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Beyond that, 4K opens the door to high-dynamic range (HDR), which produces brighter whites and more accurate colour saturation for picture quality that industry insiders believe will have a major impact. The technology will make things interesting when it starts in 2016.

4K content

Having 4K is all but academic at this point, since an overwhelming majority of TVs and projectors sold in retail will be 4K-enabled by the end of 2016. The issue is content, or lack thereof. Outside of Netflix, YouTube and a smattering of up-scaled Blu-ray films, the dearth of content means there is little to watch at the higher resolution.

To date, 4K broadcasting has been non-existent, although Canadian cable company Rogers has announced that it is rolling out live 4K broadcasts of all Toronto Blue Jays home games for the 2016 season on Sportsnet, along with a "marquee" package of 20 NHL games beginning with the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 23.

The company also announced that more than 100 hours of content on Shomi, the streaming service it jointly operates with Shaw, would also be streamed in 4K. Videotron announced plans to offer 4K service in Quebec, and it's expected Bell and others will do the same in the new year.

The current infrastructure of copper wiring used for cable and satellite connections is insufficient for 4K broadcasts, which require fibre-optic cabling, thereby moving things to the home Internet connection.

Adopting a 4K TV package will also require signing up for a much faster gigabit Internet connection (with no monthly data cap) that starts at 1Gbps (gigabits per second). That's up to four times faster than the quickest Internet plans providers offer now. Expect monthly fees to be higher for these plans.

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It should be noted that 4K TVs can also provide a moderate improvement to existing 1080p programming, as well as broadcast via cable, satellite or over-the-air digital antenna, which displays at a lower maximum of 1080i.

Curved versus flat

Curved TVs have grown in number, and the premise behind them is to emulate the curvature typically seen in movie theatres. The slight concave may have a unique look to it, but for all intents and purposes, the visual splendour such a TV is meant to provide can only truly be appreciated at higher screen sizes of 70 inches and larger. In addition, the curvature, while not especially acute, does also shorten the viewing angle for larger groups or larger rooms. Wall-mounting them isn't as practical, either. For larger screen sizes in relatively smaller rooms, such as basements or dens, a curved TV can fit in well, but it doesn't necessarily trump a regular flat-panel TV.

Smart TV and streaming

By and large, all TVs sold nowadays are "smart" in some way, though you would be better off utilizing a streaming set top box, such as the Apple TV, Roku or Google Nexus Player. The breadth of content, coupled with a superior navigation experience, make them a cut above anything the TV manufacturers are able to do.

The one exception, however, is having a 4K-ready smart TV with Netflix built in. This would be one of the only options to viewing 4K content on the popular streaming service, which none of the top streaming boxes is capable of doing.

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Finding the right deal

Samsung's curved SUHD TVs are well designed and offer excellent picture quality, particularly the 65-inch that sells for $5,999.99.

LG's IPS LED TVs come at a premium because of their improved image quality, although sizes and prices range widely. Within the mix, 60- and 65-inch models are the most common, and they have proven to be stellar.

If you want to try a curved TV, LG's OLED (organic light-emitting diode) offers the best contrast and colour of any TV in its class, but only 55 inches is available at a cost north of $4,000. A 65 inch is reportedly coming, albeit without a confirmed launch date.

If you want to go big, and have the budget to match, the Sony 75-inch 4K Ultra HD is fully loaded and sells for $5,499.99.

The Vizio 60-inch 4K Ultra HD TV is a good deal in the range of $1,699.99. Going down to a 50 inch can be had for as low as $1,000.

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