Monday 21 January 2019

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


JVC 40-inch LT-40C860
JVC 40-inch LT-40C860
Wraps Talk wristband headphones
Sony WS413
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q: I'm getting a new TV. Is it worth spending more for a 4K model? Do networks broadcast in such high resolution?

A. On balance, it is now worth getting a 4K television. But it's especially recommended if you're into sport.

For years, 4K (also called 'ultra high definition' or 'ultra HD') was not important to have because hardly anything was being made in the format. In 2017, there is enough content being made in 4K to justify it. This is especially so in sport. Most big events are now moving to 4K, including Premier League football and UEFA Champions League. Because of the higher resolution, the action flows more smoothly. It's arguably a similar leap in quality to that we saw a decade ago from older, standard resolution sets, to high-definition formats.

However, it's not as impressive for all categories of programming as it is for sport. While Netflix and Sky are both showing more and more movies and programmes in 4K, some of these look prematurely thrust into the higher resolution format, even amateurishly so. Make-up on actors is sometimes visible and production values occasionally don't suit the resolution at all.

Size is also a factor. Just like HD before it, the argument for 4K gets more compelling as your TV size increases. So a 60-inch telly will massively benefit from 4K in a way that a 40-inch TV may not. You'll still see some benefits on the 40-incher, especially with the likes of a football, rugby or tennis match, or a golf tournament. But the real upgrade happens on bigger screens, given the laws of physics.

Simply put, the bigger your telly, the more it has to stretch a picture in roughly the same way as blowing up a digital photo: it loses sharpness the more you magnify it. That's why having the higher resolution to begin with is so important for larger screens.

Incidentally, if you're thinking that a 60-inch television is outlandishly large, think again. Forty-inch TVs are now regarded as 'small' main television sets. The average model sold in Ireland now hovers closer to 50 inches. And no, this isn't about vulgar consumerism, it's about pragmatism.

TVs are thinner and are generally wall-mounted now, or can sit flush against a wall on a stand. That means they don't take anywhere near the same amount of space as older TVs did. (Remember when the sitting room television closed off an entire corner of the room?)

Because they're wall mounted, they're also frequently a couple of feet further away from the person viewing. That means they need to be a bit bigger for the viewer to see the content as clearly as the smaller TV (which was closer to them) before.

The other critical issue around 4K technology is pricing. 4K TVs have come right down in cost. Indeed, most mid-range tellies you now buy come with 4K as standard. That includes virtually every large-screen TV that costs €500 or more. For example, JVC's 40-inch LT-40C860 is a pretty good television with 4K resolution and costs €399 from Currys. You'll pick up a 40-inch Nordmende (NM40) 4K model for the same price from Power City.

So unless you're really looking for ultra-budget models of €299 or less, a 4K model is probably in your sights now anyway.

To be clear, RTÉ isn't putting out any 4K content yet (or even 'full HD', as it restricts its offerings to the entry-level HD standard, maybe assuming that people still have 28-inch televisions).

But getting a 4K television is the smart option. It's no longer just a future-proof choice.

RECOMMENDATION: JVC 40-inch LT-40C860 (inset, €399 from Currys)

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Two to Try

Wraps Talk wristband headphones  (€24.95 from Avoca)

Wraps Talk wristband headphones

What's the biggest hassle with budget earphones? Next to falling out of your ear, it's the tangled mess they get into. Wraps are a pretty nifty way around that. They're designed to be worn as a wristband, which means they're easy to immediately locate and rarely get tangled. The Wraps Talk model I got also comes with a microphone, which lets you use them as a hands-free accessory for your phone.

Sony WS413 (€90 from Currys)

Sony WS413

If you haven't entirely converted over to music streaming services, Sony's waterproof wireless sports MP3 earphones are worth looking at. With 4GB of internal storage, you can hold a few hundred songs in almost any format. Tucked into your ear, they can withstand all manner of moisture, including full immersion to two metres.

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