4K, or Ultra HD, is the future of television. That’s a fairly indisputable fact. It’s the same step we took a decade ago to high-definition TV. And like with the very first HDTVs, the first 4K sets we’ve seen have been expensive. Sony released a screen with a $25K sticker price last year, and even models coming out now generally retail for at least $5,000 when you can find them. Little-known HDTV manufacturer Seiki is challenging this notion with the SE50UY04, a 50-inch LED-backlit set with 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160—four times that of 1080p) and a price of just $1,499.99 (list).
It’s not only the first 4K HDTV we’ve tested, it’s the least expensive we’ve seen. But when you consider you can get a similarly sized set like the 46-inch version of our Editors’ Choice RCA LED42C45RQ for less than half the price, though, you have to ask yourself just how much 4K content you’ll be able to get your hands on now, or even in the near future. If you need 4K now, you won’t find it for less, and for this, we’ve rated this set slightly higher. But be prepared to make some picture-quality and feature sacrifices for all these pixels at this low price.
The SE50UY04 looks very simple, with a thin, glossy black plastic bezel that runs around the entire screen, concave at the edges to give it a sense of depth. It sits on a rectangular black glass base that holds the screen steady but doesn’t let it pivot. A light on the bottom center of the screen turns blue when switched on and red when plugged in but switched off.
The back of the panel holds a USB port, an HDMI port, component video inputs, and a 3.5mm headphone jack facing left. Two more HDMI ports, another USB port, a VGA video input, 3.5mm, coaxial, and RCA stereo audio inputs, and an F connector for an antenna face downward. Basic controls sit tucked behind the right edge of the screen, but you’ll probably use the 7.2-inch matte black remote the majority of the time. The buttons are small, rubber, and not backlit, but the Menu button and navigation pad are easy to find under your thumb.
Despite its ultra HD resolution, the SE50UY04 is a barebones HDTV. You get no network connectivity, no online services, no 3D, and none of the other extras you’d expect from a 1080p HDTV in this price range. It does support a 120Hz refresh rate, which puts it slightly above many $500 budget sets. The menu system is similarly simple, with very few picture options. This proved to be an issue during testing, since I couldn’t adjust the aspect ratio to correct for overscan when the set was connected to a computer. The HDTV cropped the 1080p picture slightly, shaving off a slice from each side. A “dot for dot” aspect ratio also lets you view content exactly as sized, centered on the screen.
Given its test results, the SE50UY04 should a have remarkable picture. We test HDTVs using a Klein K10-A Colorimeter, DisplayMate test patterns, and SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 software, and after basic dark room calibration the screen produced a peak brightness of 350.287 cd/m2 and a black level of 0.009 cd/m2. These are excellent levels and produce a very impressive contrast ratio of 38,920:1. However, while the panel gets very bright, I noticed that it blew out several of the higher white level squares in the test pattern, indicating that it loses detail in highlights. The 1080p RCA LED42C45RQ doesn’t offer nearly as high a contrast ratio (1,796:1), but it showed slightly better shadow and highlight detail.
Color accuracy was disappointing, as seen in the CIE color chart to the left. White was warm and slightly green, while red, green, and blue all missed the mark compared with their ideal values. The chart shows the measured values in circles and the ideal values in the squares, and green and red barely got within range while blue was completely off.
4K vs. 1080p
Because no consumer media currently supports 4K resolution, Seiki supplied us with a media server loaded with native 4K stock video, which looked excellent, even when you were standing right up next to the screen. Footage of cityscapes, bustling urban intersections, speeding trains, and computer-generated action sequences looked incredibly crisp and clear, with far more fine detail than you’d see on any 1080p movie. But that’s less a testament to the panel’s quality and more to the potential of 4K video technology.
You probably won’t buy a 4K HDTV to watch 20 minutes of sample stock footage. You’ll want to watch movies and television, and for that you’ll need to rely on the SE50UY04′s upscaling processor. It produces video that isn’t nearly as sharp as the sample, because it has to take each pixel and convert it into four pixels on the screen. It doesn’t just quadruple the pixels’ size to fit the screen, though. It uses an algorithm to determine the edges and curves of the screen, and tries to determine what each pixel would be at 4K resolution. The result is slightly splotchy video filled with artifacts, like watching a standard DVD upconverted to 1080p. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening; in both cases, the screen has to fill in the gaps of the video provided, so pixels and jaggies, which we’re used to, become splotches and blurs. This isn’t a testament to the SE50UY04′s quality, either; even the 4K-upconverting Editors’ Choice Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player produced similar results when processing video on its end. This is again an issue of the technology itself, not the products.
I watched Tron: Legacy on Blu-ray on the SE50UY04, and while the picture certainly wasn’t bad, the upconversion didn’t make it look any better than on a nearby 1080p screen. Shadow details looked muddled, and made further indistinct with the splotchy upconversion. While this panel can get very dark and very bright, it doesn’t offer the subtle steps necessary to really show off sharp objects in dark scenes. For the same $1,500, you could get the Samsung PN51E6500EF, a plasma HDTV that offers not only much better shadow and highlight details, but better colors and features like online services and out-of-the-box 3D.
For a 50-inch edge-lit LED HDTV, the SE50UY04 is a bit of a power hog. Under normal viewing conditions the set consumes 114 watts, which is high for an LED TV of this size. Because the panel has such a high pixel density, it likely requires more power, but we can’t confirm that this is the case. Typically, backlighting is what eats up the most power, with LED HDTVs consuming least, followed by CCFL sets, then plasma. For comparison, the 60-inch Vizio E601I-A3 LED consumes 118 watts and it’s a bigger panel.
Still in its infancy, 4K has a long way to go. And while the Seiki SE50UY04′s $1,500 price tag makes it at least feasible to purchase, there isn’t enough 4K content to justify it yet. It’s a decent screen that gets satisfyingly bright and dark, but color issues and light bloom keeps its performance solidly in the budget HDTV category, where you can find our Editors’ Choice set, the 42-inch RCA LED42C45RQ for a third of the price, or the larger and full-featured 60-inch Vizio E601I-A3 for two-thirds’ of the price. Unless you’re really committed as an early adopter, the SE50UY04 has too many attractive 1080p competitors and not enough 4K media to make it worth the cash.
|Video Inputs||Component, Composite, HDMI|
|Diagonal Screen Size||50 inches|
|Pixel Refresh Rate Speed||120Hz|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc