Is your living room ready for a 4K TV?
The latest and greatest TVs are all about resolution and color, but there’s much about them that your living room may not be ready for. With brighter panels, images that need different lighting conditions, and with often radically different chassis designs, housing a 4K TV can mean a tweak or two to the layout of your living room if you’re to get the most out of your big screen purchase.
If you've got a 4K TV just in time for Christmas (or Santa dropped one off), then read on to find out how to rearrange your room for maximum viewing pleasure.
This guide concentrates on setting up your room. If you want tips on calibrating your TV set for the best possible picture, check out our how to set up your TV for the perfect picture tutorial.
1. Where to put the sofa
Walk up close to a Full HD TV and you can see the pixels. There’s literally a grid of them right there in front of your eyes. Now do the same to a 4K TV. Nothing. But the almost invisible pixels of 4K TVs have one significant consequence; you should sit closer.
Since it’s unlikely you can easily re-position your sofa, it’s much easier to find the correct TV screen size for your room before you make a purchase. While for HD TVs the rule of thumb is to sit about 1.5 times the screen’s diagonal measurement away from the set, for 4K TVs that figure is reduced by half.
You don’t have to do this – and moving the sofa may be impractical, but if you don’t, the optical conclusion is obvious, and depressing; you probably shouldn’t have bothered buying a 4K TV.
2. How to support the TV
How could the increased resolution of a 4K TV affect what it should sit on? Since a higher resolution is a tough visual sell in the store, TV manufacturers have sought to make them look irresistibly different.
They may be super-slim, but in 4K, bigger is definitely better, and 4K TVs tend to have a larger footprint than Full HD TVs. That certainly applies to a curved TV, which is also only going to be more immersive if it’s a giant-sized example – say, 65-inches in diameter. That has obvious repercussions for its footprint.
Another reason why the purchase of any 4K TV is likely to mean you needed to buy AV furniture with a larger surface area is the width of the support. With the arrival of 4K TVs, PC monitor-style desktop stands are out, and feet far on each end of the TV are in. The end result is that your new 4K TV will likely be wider than your existing AV furniture.
3. Planning for a curved TV
‘Curved like your eyes’. Oh dear, did you fall for the marketing and go for a 4K TV with a bend? Though they’re sold as an easy way of creating a more immersive viewing experience, the angle of the curve is so small that such TVs can bring more cons than pros (unless you live in a lighthouse.
The most obvious issue is that curved TVs are difficult to hang on a wall. It’s not impossible to do – and some curved TVs do have the same industry-standard VESA fixings on the rear to attach to a wall-mount – but it can look pretty weird.
However, the biggest problems for rooms with curved TVs are reflections and distortion. The former can be lessened by positioning the TV away from windows and lamps, the latter by watching from the straight-on sweet-spot rather than from an angle.
4. Adjusting the lighting
Whatever mood lighting you have in your living room, the arrival of a 4K TV is going to change everything. Almost all 4K TVs are also HDR-ready, which means they can reach 1,000 nits (the exception being 4K OLED TVs). Now that’s bright.
You might think that watching in a blackout is the ideal scenario for viewing but in practice that means tired eyes and reduced contrast. Since your eyes average-out contrast in light levels, watching a very bright TV in a very dark room actually lessens the impact of what’s on screen. For instance, you’ll quickly notice that the ‘blackest-ever blacks’ claim of the TV manufacturer was pure hype; even high-end 4K LED TVs have grey-looking black in a blackout.
The answer is to put a subtle light source near your TV, thereby increasing your perception of contrast. Experiment with putting a soft lamp alongside, but just behind your TV (thereby avoiding reflections). Or you could invest in a Philips Ambilight 4K LED or OLED 4K TV, which emit light from behind the TV to purposely lessen eyestrain and increase contrast.
5. Creating a 4K home cinema
Who has a spare room to create a customised home cinema or home theater? Very few, but it’s possible to plan in detail how a living room's design can flexibly adapt to some of the necessities of 4K.
A good way to maximise 4K is to keep out as much daylight as possible by using blackout curtains if you’re planning to watch HDR material on a bright sunny day. However, a complete blackout isn’t the optimum condition for HDR, and you can control the ambient light levels better by installing a dimmer switch for the living room’s main light. It’s even possible to buy remote control versions that can be gradually dimmed from a universal remote control.
If you really want to stick to the ‘closer is better’ mantra for 4K material, consider putting either your TV on AV furniture or cinema chairs on wheels so you can bring them closer. Is that going too far? Perhaps, but if SD, HD and 4K are equal parts of your TV’s diet and you’re after perfection, it pays to be adaptable.
6. Housing an Ultra HD Blu-ray player
OK, so there are some 4K movies and TV on Netflix and Amazon, but after a few years without a disc spinner in your living room, it could be time to embrace the new Ultra HD Blu-ray format.
Unlike the move from Full HD to 4K TVs, there’s no change in chassis design here; think a black box and you’re not far wrong. So far there are only a few to choose from, from Samsung and Panasonic, but if you’re a gamer you can save cash and space by opting for the supremely talented Xbox One S.
7. Designing for Dolby Atmos audio
Although 4K TVs can’t handle it per se, object-based immersive sound is central to the specification for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. One of the formats is Dolby Atmos, which uses a 7 or 5.1.2 system that provides audio at different levels to create a 360-degree effect that better apes reality. That’s very different from the 5.1 system that home cinema used to be based around, and that has ramifications for your living room.
As well as requiring a Dolby Atoms-compatible AV receiver from the likes of Onkyo, Denon, Yamaha and Pioneer, you’ll need an array of speakers, with those height speakers the new addition; we’re talking a couple of speakers mounted above the TV.
If that’s too much for you, there’s also the Samsung HW-K950, a Dolby Atmos soundbar.
8. Designing for DTS:X audio
Although the rival object-based audio format on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, DTS:X, is broadly similar to Dolby Atmos, it’s favored by some for two reasons. As well as usually having higher bit rates and, therefore, more detail, the ideal DTS:X set-ups rely more on height channels.
That’s a bit of a problem for the clean lines of a living room because with DTS:X, the more ceiling speakers you have, the more effective it is.
However, there's no need to get carried away; DTS:X is designed to adapt to whatever speakers are present. If you don't want the hassle, Yamaha’s YSP-5600 sound projector/soundbar can handle DTS:X.