Consumer Reports: $1,500 Ultra HD TV Is Just a Mediocre LCD TV

The Seiki 50" Ultra HD TV sells for around $1,500, but Consumer Reports says to save your money.

The Seiki 50″ Ultra HD TV sells for around $1,500, but Consumer Reports says to save your money.

With many Ultra HD (or 4K) TVs ranging in price anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, early adopters who want that level of visual definition without going bankrupt may be tempted to buy Seiki’s 50″ Ultra HD for around $1,500. But our TV-testing siblings at Consumer Reports say you’d probably be better off saving your money for now.

CR hasn’t run the Seiki through the full battery of poking, probing and prodding, but the initial tests on the TV reveal that it’s just “a mediocre to below-average LCD TV, albeit one with a higher-resolution screen.”

Ultra HD screens have four times the number of pixels as today’s 1080p HD TVs (the 4K moniker comes from rounding up the 3840 horizontal pixels to 4,000), and just like other 4K sets, native Ultra HD content looks great on the Seiki, with sharp, detailed images and no visible pixel structure, even up close.

But as CR points out, while you get the fancier 4K screen with the Seiki, the manufacturer has cut features that most high-end TV buyers have come to take for granted, like wifi, Internet connectivity, and 3D. And while competitors like Sony, LG, and Samsung have been bolstering their top-dollar Ultra HD sets with improved sound systems, you won’t find one on the Seiki.

“More problematic for us were the TV’s basic picture controls,” writes CR, “which made it difficult for us to accurately calibrate the set.”

CR notes that customers can have their controls unlocked by a professional calibrator, but that would require spending hundreds of dollars, further eating into the value of the set.

“As a result, the TV had below-average color accuracy,” explains the magazine, “in part because the tint adjustment was grayed out and inaccessible.”

Since there isn’t exactly much in the way of native Ultra HD content out there — most of what I saw 18 months ago at CES were still images — most buyers of 4K sets will be upconverting HD content to the higher resolution.

But CR says that the Seiki’s image processing gives people and objects “an unnatural look that detracted from the overall picture fidelity” and that upconverted content “looked pasty and cartoonish.”

And though the Ultra HD set is supposed to be an improvement on HDTV, CR found that the Seiki still has several problems that you see on current LCD screens, like motion blur on faster-moving scenes, and a moderately narrow viewing angle.

“While we applaud Seiki for offering an Ultra HD TV at a more reasonable price, the reality is that apart from the higher-resolution screen, the Seiki is really just an average to below-average LCD TV, and one without many features,” writes CR. “We’re also still not convinced that the higher resolution really makes much sense in this screen size, unless you expect to be sitting unusually close to the TV.”

The Seiki is currently the only widely available Ultra HD set in this price and size range. Sony is introducing a 55″ Ultra HD set for around $5,000, but that’s still well beyond the price range of comparable HDTVs.

Given the lack of content and the high price point, CR says consumers will be better served to just watch HD content on a 1080p TV, “as high-definition programs look better on these sets than they do on the Seiki.”