The AVForums 4K Ultra HD TVs of 2013

Here is our guide to all the 4K Ultra HD TVs released this year

by Steve Withers Dec 19, 2013 at 8:36 AM

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    The AVForums 4K Ultra HD TVs of 2013
    2013 will be remembered as the year that 4K TVs really arrived.
    Yes there had been a couple of 4K TVs launched the year before, with both LG and Sony releasing their 84-inch models but with a list price of over £20,000, they were never intended for the mass market. We actually reviewed LG’s 84LM9600 this time last year and were impressed by its potential, even if the price was as daunting as the screen size. What we couldn’t have predicted then was just how precipitously 4K TV prices would drop in 2013, with the premium over regular high definition almost evaporating.

    Despite the fact that the term 4K is used extensively in the film business and essentially describes exactly what it is, the consumer electronics industry felt they needed a different term to hang their marketing campaigns on. The result was Ultra High Definition, which can be shortened to Ultra HD or even UHD and bears all the hallmarks of a committee decision. We certainly think there’s plenty of room for consumer confusion and Sony would seem to agree, preferring to stick with 4K because it’s an area where the Japanese giant has a competitive advantage. Toshiba meanwhile have hedged their bets and are referring to the new technology as 4K Ultra HD.

    At the cinema the resolution used for 4K is 4096 x 2160 pixels which is the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) standard. However all the Ultra HD TVs currently on the market use panels with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which will probably be the standard used by broadcasters. We say probably because the standards have yet to be agreed and this is a particular issue when it comes to frame rates. With one exception, all the TVs on this list use HDMI 1.4 which is technically limited to 4K at 30Hz, which is fine for 24p movie content but might be a problem if the broadcasters decide to use 50/60Hz or even higher. Exactly how the manufacturers will address this issue remains to be seen but most have promised some form of upgrade path for existing owners.

    So as we approach the end of 2013, here is our guide to all the 4K Ultra HD TVs released this year.

    Samsung F9000
    The winning combination of performance, features and price makes the F9000 very hard to resist.

    It was a close call but ultimately Samsung’s F9000 just edged out Sony’s X9005 to take the top prize as our favourite Ultra HD TV of the year. The two competing TVs both delivered excellent pictures, with native 4K and upscaled high definition content, but the Samsung won by a nose thanks to some clever ideas on the part of the Korean giant. The design of the F9000 is surprisingly traditional, especially when compared to some of Samsung’s other flagship TVs this year but we liked the 'plain' stand and simple bezel. What was unusual was Samsung’s new One Connect box which allowed you to connect all your sources to this outboard device, which was then attached to the screen by a proprietary connector. This clever idea means that when the Ultra HD standards change, all Samsung need to do is send out a new box and your TV will be immediately updated.

    We reviewed both the 55-inch and the 65-inch versions of the F9000 this year and were hugely impressed, awarding them both Highly Recommended badges. The picture quality with native 4K content was obviously superb but the F9000 also did an excellent job of upscaling high definition material. The black levels, image accuracy and motion handling were also impressive, as was the active shutter 3D, and the implementation of local dimming was simply the best we have seen to date. Once you added surprisingly good sound and Samsung’s reference setting Smart TV platform, you had a combination that was difficult to resist. At a current price of around £3,200 for the 55” model and £4,800 for the larger screen size, the F9000 is also competitively priced, making it our 4K Ultra HD TV of the year.

    Sony X9005
    With is gorgeous gloss black finish the X9005 easily wins best looking 4K TV of the year.

    Taking a design cue from last year’s 84-inch monster, the X9005 certainly wins best looking TV of the year with its gorgeous gloss black finish and front firing speakers. There may be those who intend to use the TV with an outboard audio solution and would rather the speakers weren’t there but anyone else certainly won’t be disappointed with the sound quality on the X9005. In terms of picture quality, it’s neck and neck with the Samsung F9000, offering a similar level of performance with stellar 4K images and top drawer upscaling thanks to Sony’s Reality Creation image processing. The motion handling, black levels, image accuracy and local dimming were also excellent, delivering superb pictures no matter what the source.

    We reviewed the 65-inch model and were very impressed, awarding the X9005 a Highly Recommended badge. Thanks to the 4K panel, the passive 3D was fantastic with full 1080p delivered to each eye. However it should be stressed that this is not the case with the 55-inch model, which we didn’t review, and here the 3D is limited to 540p for each eye. The X9005 also lacks the elegant simplicity of Samsung’s One Connect box, although Sony has recently released a firmware update in Japan to allow 4K at 60Hz, so it would appear they intend to honour their commitment. The features provided were also very good but Sony's Smart TV platform is not as comprehensive as the one provided by Samsung. Both the X9005 screen sizes are as keenly priced as the F9000, making it a photo-finish but, for the reasons just listed, the Samsung takes home the gold.

    Philips PFL9708
    In terms of pure value for money the PFL9708 is second to none.

    Philips may have been relatively late to the 4K party, launching their PFL9708 at IFA in September but in terms of pure value for money, nothing comes close. The 65-inch version we reviewed can be picked up for £4,449 and its combination of performance features and price earned it a Recommended award. It’s simple unfussy design hides a host of useful features and whilst the Smart TV platform might not be a comprehensive as some of the competition, Philips prefer to concentrate on delivering the important content. There may have been some minor banding and occasional motion artefacts but overall the PFL9708 delivered a great picture with accurate images, good blacks and impressive upscaling. There’s even a separate HDMI input for native 4K content that bypasses a lot of the video processing to maximise the integrity of the image. The passive 3D was also superb, whilst the audio performance was equally as impressive, which means that Philips should be the third candidate on any 4K shortlist, along with Samsung and Sony.

    LG LA970
    The slide down soundbar on the LA970 is a unique solution to the audio problems on slim TVs.

    After impressing with their 84-inch model last year, we expected big things from LG and thus were a little disappointed when the 65LA970 arrived for review. First of all, at £5,500 it was considerably more expensive than most of the competition, although in fairness LG has dropped the price since then. The 65-inch model can now be picked up for £4,499 whilst the 55-inch version, which we haven’t reviewed, is available for £2,999. There was much about the LA970 that we liked, it was attractively designed, had a superb Smart TV platform, a host of features and a slide down sound bar that resulted in superior audio quality. The passive 3D was awesome thanks to the higher resolution panel, native 4K was jaw-dropping and the video processing was generally excellent. However where the LA9760 began to fall down was in terms of image accuracy, with bugs in the CMS and the white balance control. The back levels were also very poor and there was significant haloing once you moved off axis. In an attempt to improve the backlight, the LA970 uses a full LED array behind the panel. Unfortunately due to the proximity of these LEDS to the panel itself, there was noticeable banding on any camera pans. As a result of these issues, the LA970 just missed out on a badge and it’s a decision that the recent price reductions don’t change.

    Panasonic WT600
    Panasonic's WT600 is currently the only 4K to use the latest HDMI 2.0 connection.

    Panasonic caused something of a stir at IFA in September when they announced that their first 4K Ultra HD TV - the WT600 - would include the new HDMI 2.0 connector. The WT600 is still the only 4K TV to include the new connector, which means it can accept 4K at up to 60Hz. That wasn’t the only useful feature and the WT600 also has a DisplayPort connection and it can stream MPEG-4 video at 4K from the internet. of course all this comes at a price and the 65-inch WT600 currently retails at £5,499, making the most expensive for that screen size. Naturally 4K content looked wonderful and some decent video processing delivered a great upscaled image with 1080p content as well. The black levels and contrast ratio were also impressive, whilst the active shutter 3D was excellent and the colours accurate. Unfortunately all of Panasonic’s good work was undone by a number of issues including very noticeable banding, significant haloing and poor viewing angles. The local dimming was also inadequate, whilst there was blurring on 1080i content, especially with fast-paced sports action. As a result, Panasonic’s 4K debut misses out on a badge and leaves us hoping for better next year.

    Toshiba L9363
    Toshiba currently offer the cheapest 4K TV in the UK market place.

    There’s no question that Toshiba’s L9363 4K Ultra HD TV is currently the cheapest in the UK market place and even the 84-inch model we reviewed 'only' costs £8,999. That’s still quite a lot but the 64-inch version can be picked up for £3,599, whilst the 58-inch version costs as little as £2,299. When it came to native 4K content the picture was impressive and the 3D was excellent but in certain key areas the L9363 really struggled. We found the user interface to be buggy, the screen uniformity was poor, the scaling was soft and the video processing was mediocre. As a result, despite the attractive prices we were unable to recommend Toshiba’s current 4K line-up.

    It's worth remembering that despite the increased native resolution, all these 4K Ultra HD TVs still use LCD panels and LED backlights and thus they inherit all the usual strengths and weaknesses of those technologies. This may explain why Samsung and Sony offer the best options because currently they also make the best high definition LED LCD TVs. We will have to wait until next year to see how good, and how expensive, the alternative is - 4K OLED!

    Well that’s our views on this year’s Ultra HD TVs but perhaps you already own one of them. If so, we’d love to hear what you think.

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