Why Does Upconverted HD Look Bad on 4K Ultra HD TVs?

Got a tech question for Sound & Vision? Email us at AskSandV@gmail.com

Q The 4k content I see on UHDTVs in stores looks awesome. But when I ask the salesperson to flip the feed to regular HD (from Direct TV), the picture doesn’t look nearly as good. It looks worse, in fact, than the same content shown on the standard HDTVs, and certainly worse than on my 10 year-old Sony SXRD.  My question is, if I buy a new UHDTV, how can I make the picture look as good as what I’m used to seeing on my Sony? There isn’t much 4K content yet, so what I’d mainly be watching is regular HD.—Ben Soave

A Okay, you had a bad experience in the store, but believe me—regular HD upconverted to 4K can look extremely good. Here’s one example: In a recent comparison I made of 4K stored on a Sony FMP-X10 4K Media Player with the same content on Blu-ray upconverted to 4K by Pioneer’s BDP-88FD BD player, I found it difficult to tell the difference between the two unless I literally put my nose up to the screen. For real.

In that situation, the player was a $2,000 flagship model with Marvell Qdeo 4K upconversion—the same processor found in other well-regarded high-end BD players including those made by Oppo. My experience has been that the upconversion on 4K TVs that I’ve reviewed pales in comparison with what I see from BD players with Marvell Qdeo. As far as I know, this feature is not available on any current 4K LCD TVs.

Another variable here is the quality of the demo being conducted in the store. HD content from sources such as DirecTV and cable are inconsistent at best. And TVs in retail environments are typically switched to a store demo preset that’s meant to grab eyeballs by pumping up the brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness in pictures.

Bottom line? Regular HD content upconverted to 4K by any new TV you buy will undoubtedly look better than what you saw in the store—provided you make an effort to carefully tweak picture settings using a test disc or, better yet, hire a video calibration pro to adjust it for you. And HD pictures upconverted to 4K will look better if you use a high-quality source such as the Pioneer BD player mentioned above, or one from Oppo, which will provide the added advantage of upconverting external sources connected via its HDMI inputs.