As you can read in Mark Henninger's report about his visit to Consumer Reports' TV-testing facility, CR is nothing if not thorough in its evaluation of televisions. So it was with great interest that I read an article on CR's website asking—and answering—the question, is Ultra HD worth the extra money to buy now?
The setup and testing procedure were beyond reproach. A Sony XBR-65X900A was fed native UHD from a Sony FMP-X1 media player, while an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player fed 1080p to two high-end plasma TVs (Panasonic TC-P65VT60 and Samsung PN60F8500), a mid-level LG 55LA7400 LED-LCD TV, and a Sony XBR-55X900A UHDTV to take a look at upscaled 1080p. All TVs were calibrated to CR's usual test standards, and the Blu-ray signal was passed through a distribution system.
Claudio Ciacci, CR's Electronics Testing Program Leader, obtained Blu-ray copies of the titles on the server (Sony's "Mastered in 4K" versions if available) and cued up several of them on the Sony server and Oppo Blu-ray player to the same points. He watched from a couple of feet away and also from a distance of about seven feet, and he paused on the same frame in several cases to closely examine the differences in detail. The results are documented in revealing photos in the article. He also looked at the other UHD material on the Sony server, which had been shot with 4K cameras.
The bottom line is that native UHD on a UHDTV does, in fact, look sharper, and a UHDTV with a good upscaler can improve 1080p, at least from close up. But from a normal viewing distance, the difference in perceived detail is minimal. This reinforces my growing conviction that the most important quality improvements of UHD are not in the realm of resolution—at least with smaller screen sizes—but rather in greater dynamic range, wider color gamut, and greater color bit depth, none of which are settled in terms of content creation, delivery, or display.