If you’ve been shopping for a new 4K TV to finally replace your aging Full HD model at home, you’ve probably noticed something on most 4K models — they’re all very dark. You’re not imagining it; 4K is darker than 1080p. But why does 4K look dark?
4K looks dark because the high pixel density blocks the backlight more than lower resolutions. Most TV and monitor screens use an LED backlight to illuminate the pixels that form the image. Since a 4K screen has a high pixel count, it’s hard for the backlight to illuminate the image effectively.
The rest of this article will explain why 4K and 4K HDR are so dark, whether 4K is darker than 1080p and Blu-ray, and why 4K movies often look washed out.
Also read: Is It Worth Getting A 4k TV?
4K Has High Pixel Density
As previously stated, 4K looks dark because the pixels obstruct the LED backlight. The backlight in your display illuminates the pixels, allowing you to see the image. A 4K screen has four times more pixels than 1080p, making it harder to illuminate the whole display.
4K can look super dark next to a 1080p and 720p screen if all other specs are the same. After all, there are four times as many pixels in the same size screen, but the backlight isn’t any stronger.
Additionally, if your new 4K TV or monitor has an HDR mode, it’ll be even darker. More on that later.
LCD/LED TVs use a series of LED lights as a backlight. These tiny but powerful LED lights have to shine through several layers of glass and film to create a vibrant image on the screen.
Pixel density affects how much light ends up on the final image. A high-resolution screen (e.g., 4K) crams significantly more pixels into the display than a standard HD screen.
The pixels block and absorb the light, resulting in a darker image. On the other hand, a 1080p HD screen will pass more light, so the image looks noticeably brighter.
It’s worth noting that not all screens use standard LED screens with backlights.
Most modern smartphones and even some high-end TVs and monitors often use OLED. Instead of a backlight, the pixels both illuminate and create the image that shows up on the screen.
However, OLED screens are significantly dimmer than LED displays. The resolution doesn’t really affect the brightness of OLED screens, though.
Why Is 4K HDR So Dark?
4K HDR is so dark because HDR is trying to achieve a higher contrast between dark and bright scenes. HDR stands for high dynamic range. Since HDR makes dark places look even darker, it tends to become too dark to see anything. Additionally, 4K is harder to illuminate than HD in general.
The whole purpose of HDR is to make movies, videos, and games appear more true-to-life. It gives the image more depth. With HDR enabled, caves actually look like dark, creepy caves, for instance.
Unfortunately, an inherent quality of HDR is that the overall image appears much darker than in SDR (standard dynamic range).
There are various standards for HDR, such as Dolby Vision and HDR10+. A screen must meet certain criteria to get certified. One of the criteria is the peak brightness, measured in nits.
If you’re looking for an HDR 4K TV, look for an HDR certificate.
Although the maximum brightness seems like a good spec to look at, it actually won’t tell you the average screen brightness.
Or you can forgo HDR altogether if you don’t want to watch movies where you can’t see anything half the time.
The image might look less impressive without HDR, but at least you’ll be able to see what’s going on.
Is 4K Darker Than HD?
4K is darker than HD. A 4K screen has four times as many pixels as a Full HD 1080p screen, making it harder for the backlight to illuminate the image. On the other hand, an HD screen can get very bright because the pixels aren’t as densely packed, allowing the backlight to shine through effectively.
If you want a sharp, crisp image with reasonable brightness levels, 4K is for you.
But if your living room gets hit by the afternoon sun and you don’t want to shut the blinds, an HD TV would be a better (and cheaper) fit.
I know a few people who complained that their brand-new 4K TV is much darker than the old one.
4K is fantastic for late-night Netflix binges. But even an average light bulb is bright enough to make the TV unusable.
Most HD screens on the market today can get extremely bright. So, you won’t have any trouble watching movies in the middle of the day if you want to.
Is 4K Darker Than Blu-Ray?
4K is darker than standard Blu-ray because Blu-ray is 1080p (Full HD). However, standard Blu-ray on a 4K TV won’t look any brighter than content in 4K if HDR is disabled.
If you can, always get 4K Blu-ray movies for your 4K TV.
The content will be optimized for 4K screens, so it’ll be much sharper and brighter than standard 1080p Blu-ray.
Regular Blu-ray with SDR won’t be as breathtaking, but it’s watchable. It won’t look any brighter, though.
Why Do 4K Movies Look Washed Out?
Some 4K movies look washed out because they haven’t been upscaled correctly by the film studio or the TV. A 4K screen has a significantly wider color gamut than HD. If a 4K movie is played back with an HD color gamut, it can appear washed out.
If you want to make a 4K movie look good on your 4K screen, increase the saturation levels in the settings.
Also, try restarting the display by turning it off and back on. Maybe it didn’t recognize that you’re watching content in 4K, so it used an HD color gamut instead.
4K screens often appear significantly dimmer than their HD counterparts. This is because a 4K display has a higher pixel density. The pixels block the TV’s backlight, so the image looks darker.
Additionally, HDR on a 4K TV can make everything look darker than it really is. Disabling HDR is an effective workaround.
- Cnet: FAQ: How LCD TV backlights work
- Wikipedia: OLED
- Trusted Reviews: OLED vs LED LCD: the best display tech for you
- Cnet: What is HDR for TVs, and how does it make the picture better?
- Samsung: What is a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc?
- Quora: Why do the colors look washed out when I switch to 4K on my TV?
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.