Everyone wants an Ultra HD 4K TV! Yes, okay, we all know there isn't much 4K source material to properly showcase the stunning picture quality, but Netflix has at least started to offer 4K content and there's a 4K Blu-ray format on the way too.
For new TV buyers at the moment, it's all about future-proofing, though there's slightly more to it than that; some of the first batch of Ultra HD TVs pump out best-ever Blu-ray images, thanks to some wonderfully adept upscaling tech.
The birth of 4K could also lead to the re-birth of 3D – it just looks so much better at this higher resolution.
The Sony KD-65X9005B is a thoroughly intoxicating example of leading-edge 4K tech. The UHD image quality with native content exhibits a depth and detail that's beguiling, while its 2160p upscaling talents are top notch. You can be confident that this set will make all your current TV favourites look better than they've ever done before. Active Shutter 3D performance is (literally) outstanding. The provision of HEVC decoding and HDMI 2.0 compatibility ensures a level of future-proofing, important as 4K standards remain in a state of flux. Overall, the KD-65X9005B is a genuine showstopper. Sony is back at the top of its TV game.
Out earlier this year, the sexiest 4K TV currently available has to be the Samsung UE65HU8500. Measuring 65-inches across it's curved panel, it offers stunning visuals unlike any other TV we've tested. It makes a mark right away with its curved screen, immediately standing out from last year's uniformly flat 4K crowd. Its connections are much more up to 4K speed than those of most of last year's Ultra HD sets too, including HDMI 2.0 ports and support for the new H.265 4K video codec that's being used by Netflix (and likely others) for the delivery of 4K content.
Make no mistake, the Panasonic TX-50AX802 is a stand-out 4K UHD TV in most every sense. It delivers cracking picture quality with Full HD sources and is capable of a stunning native 4K performance. The Freetime roll-back TV programme guide makes catch-up part of the regular linear TV watching experience, and Panasonic's my Home Screen launch page makes it easy to create a bespoke UI, and the curated my Stream content recommendation engine is a fun addition. When it launched it was incompatible with Netflix 4K, but a recent firmware update has fixed that little hiccup!
Do you need a curved TV? Of course not. Does it help the picture? Not particularly, but there's no doubting that this 55-inch edge LED-backlit LCD from Samsung is one of the best looking TVs around. Treating Blu-ray and Freeview HD very well with high detail, accurate colour and bags of contrast, the app-packed UE55HU8200 is a great all-rounder that only struggles with its smart interaction voice control, and the odd motion blur. As the most affordable way to get a curved TV, the UE55HU8200 should have wide appeal.
4k will catch-on when it becomes affordable, and that era started with the release of the Toshiba 58L9363. The undisputed cheapest Ultra HD TV out there in the UK, it's three-inches wider than the 55-inchers from LG, Samsung and Sony – and its announcement actually caused the prices of those three to be hugely slashed. Using the Active Shutter 3D system, the 58L9363 is Toshiba's second-generation 4k TV after 2012's 55ZL2 glasses-free telly than also sported a 3840x2160 resolution. Its smart TV options – called Cloud TV – aren't as slick as on the pricer brands, but its CEVO 4k engine upscales HD-to-4k, and this remains the cheapest way to get eight million pixels into your life.
LG's spirit of design and feature innovation is fully on show with the 55UB950V, and fits handsomely with the futuristic feel of the set's UHD technology. The set looks lovely, is aggressively priced and features the most user-friendly operating system to date thanks to webOS. UHD pictures look ultra-sharp and richly coloured, too. Its potential market is ultimately limited, though, by problems matching rival screens in the key picture performance area of contrast and input lag levels too high for gamers.
By creating this widest-ever 55-inch TV Sony may have inadvertently blotted-out the very reason for the the penchant for small (ish) 4k TVs, but the KD-55X9000A is nevertheless a timely reminder of how crucial sound is to higher-res movies. Native 4k looks pin-sharp and upscaled Blu-rays – both 2D and 3D – have never looked better, but it's those built-in side-mounted Magnetic Fluid speakers, complete with two subwoofers, than are the biggest delight. With only slightly less wow factor than its big sister, the far pricier KD-65X9005A, the KD-55X9005A, which uses passive 3D specs, is one of the best value Ultra HD tellies around. The catch is that there's no HDMI 2.0 compatibility and now HEVC either, meaning it's not a future-proofed option.
Philips TVs and always all about detail – and the 65-incher, in that sense, is no mould-breaker. However, in every other regard the 65PFL9708 is a one-off. The smallest in Philips' flagship 9000 Series, the 65PFL9708 comes armed with a HEXCore processor that feeds Philips' own Ultra Pixel HD Engine, which is built around an ULTRA Resolution upscaler. It cleverly splits each pixel in HD source material into four, then intensifies them to find additional colour and detail. Also featuring an ambient light sensor that noticeably deepens blacks are purifies whites in high ambient light levels, the 65PFL9708 also includes Ambilight. Philips promises us that a small converter box will be available soon to upgrade the 65PFL9708 to HDMI 2.0.
Just like the early flat TVs – and the smaller, far more affordable 55-inch version, the KD-55X9000 – this 65-inch stunner from Sony uses forward facing stereo speakers either side of the 4k display, though the glossy design sees a single sheet of edge-to-edge glass across the front. Native 4k has absolute fidelity and image depth on the KD-65X9005, and Blu-ray is upscaled so well, but it's those Magnetic Fluid speakers that we're really taken by. Adding immense depth and stereo imaging as pin-sharp as the onscreen antics, the KD-65X9005A becomes so much more than just another large screen telly – it's perhaps the ultimate all-in-one home cinema product. It's another watershed moment, though at this price it will remain out of reach of most of us.
Having eight million pixels instead of two million helps 'passive' or Cinema 3D systems immeasurably, but what about the Active Shutter 3DTVs from Samsung? It's a company that's stubbornly stuck to this increasingly unpopular technology, but UE55F9000 proves that it's not misplaced loyalty; we're talking a cracking visual density and – compared to passive 3D TVs – a startling level of extra resolution and detail. Meanwhile, native 4K content looks so good it's silly, while upscaled HD looks crisp and clean. Although it uses a now standard edge LED lighting system, the UE55F9000 also boasts local dimming tech for better contrast. One of the slimmest Ultra HDTVs around, the UE55F9000 also has the best smart TV platform.