Updated October 13, 2014 to reflect changes in available 4K/UHD technology
4K or ultra high-definition (UHD) televisions offer four times the resolution of regular 1080p TVs, and these 8+ million pixel screens have quickly become the option of choice among home theater aficionados looking to futureproof their display investment.
Seiki Digital is a relative newcomer among LCD television manufacturers, but the company's 50 inch SE50UY04 4K Ultra HD TV has grabbed everyone's attention with its low price - the similar 55-inch version is $770! The Seiki SE50UY04 costs a fraction of the price of other 4K TVs, but is this 4K bargain worth it? I give it a qualified 'yes', but there are aspects of Seiki 4K Ultra HD's design that will influence your decision to add one to your AV arsenal or avoid it altogether.
The SE50UY04's rear port panel features three HDMI, one component video, and VGA inputs. Two USB ports support basic JPG/MP3 playback, and an RF input is ready for cordcutters looking to add an antenna for over-the-air (OTA) digital reception. For a value-priced TV, three HDMI ports and an HDMI cable included in the box are nice touches. The SE50UY04 lacks WiFi or a network connection for multimedia file streaming or app support, nor does it do 3D - more reasons that Seiki televisions are as attractively priced as they are.
The Seiki SE50UY04 has a screen resolution of 3840x2160 pixels and a 120Hz refresh rate. Keeping thing simple, the TV performs a 4x frame repeat with 30Hz input and 5x frame repeat with 24Hz input to reach 120Hz. Compared to interpolation techniques, frame repeating eliminates the soap opera effect (SOE) (aka "120Hz effect") that can result in unnaturally smooth looking video motion. However, the lack of interpolation hardware reduces motion resolution compared to LCD TVs with this feature enabled. The SE50UY04 also accepted 4096x2160 input at up to 30Hz (with some scaling on the sides) as confirmed by the DVDO AVLabs TPG.
Sources of 4K video remain scarce and quality varies wildly - read my article How to Watch 4K for the latest update on this subject. PCs equipped with modern AMD and Nvidia desktop graphics cards can output 4K via a single HDMI connection, but the SE50UY04 tops out at 4K30 (30Hz) input making it more suited for video and workstation use and less ideal for high framerate 4K PC video gaming. If you are thinking of adding something like a Sony FMP-X10 4K Ultra HD Media Player to this 4K Seiki, it won't work. 4K source devices like the FMP-X10 require HDCP v2.2 and the SE50UY04 doesn't have it. However, 4K upscaling Blu-ray players will work just fine.
Calibration enthusiasts will find the TV's hidden service menu a minefield: enter this menu by pressing Menu on the remote followed by 0000 (four zeros). Beware the service menu's factory reset option will also wipe out the factory grayscale calibration. As with any trip into a TV's service menu, I'm obligated to remind you to take lots of pictures and notes before touching anything!
In the lab, the Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV revealed a decent factory grayscale calibration with the TV's Movie picture preset enabled. Grayscale error measurements recorded using CalMAN 5 calibration software revealed the Seiki had a good average delta-E of 1.97. Grayscale errors less than 3.0 are considered below the "just noticeable" threshold and indicate decent color consistency from light-to-dark shades.
Until a recent firmware update (since removed) that fixed the issue, the Seiki SE50UY04 overscanned all HD formats by about 2% resulting in softened picture detail. Feeding the TV a 4K signal eliminated overscan as did forcing 720p/1080p refresh rates above 60Hz: 1080p at 120Hz from a PC looked especially promising on the Seiki (think PC gaming!). Video processing 1080i into 1080p proved mediocre with film-sourced (24 frames-per-second) material, but most connected devices will provide progressive scan output helping mitigate this issue.
With 4K source material, the Seiki SE50UY04's picture looks damn good - all of those extra pixels in the video signal and screen go a long ways toward making the TV appear window-like! Reducing the TV's sharpness setting from its mid-point default to zero removed the last traces of moiré and artificial edge-enhancements in 4K resolution test patterns. As expected, DVD and Blu-ray movies ran though a 4K upconverting disc player looked about as good on the SE50UY04 as they did when fed to a 1080p TV.
To buy or not to buy
The Seiki SE50UY04 4K Ultra HD TV is one of the least expensive 4K screens ever made, and it has some significant long-term limitations. Feeding this TV at its native resolution produces impressive visuals, but its 30Hz refresh rate limit with 4K resolutions simply isn't fast enough to keep the on-screen action smooth with 60fps games. Some PC users may find the Seiki 4K Ultra HDTV an ideal 1080p 120Hz display, or as a seriously spacious 2D desktop workspace. And, if a 50-inch or 55-inch 4K desktop display is too large, Seiki Digital has a 39-inch version for you to consider. For value-conscious shoppers looking for a 4K screen with HDMI v2.0 ports and HDCP v2.2 support, Seiki Digital has announced an upcoming pro line of 4K TVs that looks to fill the shortcomings of its current ultra high-definition offerings.