A relative newcomer in the LCD television space has started shipping a new edge-lit model that features 3840-by-2160 pixels (aka 4K resolution) spread across a 50-inch display. The Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV packs four-times as many pixels into its picture compared to a regular 1080p resolution TV, and all of those 8-million pixels can be fed via a single HDMI connection. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the SE50UY04 is its sub-$500 online price - a fraction of the price of the other 4K screens that are now trickling onto store shelves.
Is this 4K bargain worth it? I give it a qualified 'yes', but there are some aspects of Seiki's design that will influence your decision to add one to your A/V arsenal.
Inputs are located on the rear of the set and include three HDMI, one component video, and a USB port for basic JPG/MP3 playback. For a value-priced 4K television, I was pleased to see a HDMI cable included in the box - a nice touch. Note the SE50UY04's lack of a network connection - one reason Seiki televisions are attractively priced is that they do away with "premium" HDTV features like 3D and app support.
Sources of 4K video remain scarce and quality varies wildly - YouTube has a few 4K clips ready to stream to anyone with the available bandwidth and hardware. PCs equipped with the latest AMD and Nvidia desktop graphics cards can also experience 4K output via a single HDMI connection. 4K movies are coming soon...Sony recently announced a 4K Media Player, but it has been reported that this product will only work with Sony 4K televisions. And, as was the case with viewing DVD movies on an HDTV, the latest generation of Blu-ray players are incorporating 4K upconversion. It may be sometime before we have a 4K broadcast television standard, but new compression technologies like H.265 are enabling 4K video transmission in the same space as a regular HD channel.
In the lab, the Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV revealed a decent factory grayscale calibration with the TV's Movie picture preset enabled. Note the delta-E average of 1.97 as indicated in the CalMAN 5 screenshot below - all grayscale errors were below the maximum acceptable value of 3 indicating decent color consistency from light-to-dark shades.
Video scaling was the Seiki SE50UY04's weakness: all 720p60 and 1080p60 sources were overscanned by about 2% resulting in softened picture details [this has been corrected with an updated firmware file that can be manually applied to the TV]. The TV's aspect ratio adjustment has no preset for removing this unacceptable display condition. Interestingly, feeding the TV a 4K signal eliminated overscan as did forcing 720p/1080p refresh rates above 60Hz: 1080p @ 120Hz looked especially promising on the Seiki although I'm not aware of anything besides a PC that provides a 1080p video signal via HDMI beyond a 60Hz refresh rate. Upconversion from 1080i to 1080p was mediocre, but most connected devices will provide progressive scan output helping mitigate this issue.
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). The service menu's overscan controls didn't have the intended affect, and it appears a factory reset option also wipes out the factory grayscale calibration. As with any trip into a TV's service menu, I'm obligated to warn you to take lots of pictures and notes before you touch anything!
With 4K source material, the Seiki SE50UY04 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 my 4K resolution test patterns. One thing to keep in mind about current 4K TVs is that the input tops out at 30Hz. Refresh rates faster than 30Hz at 4K resolution will require new chipsets to handle the increased bandwidth - not a simple upgrade or something that can be done with new firmware. In the case of the SE50UY04, it appears to perform a simple 4x frame repeat with 30Hz input and 5x frame repeat with 24Hz input eliminating the "120Hz effect" that produces unnaturally smooth camera motions in feature films that were originally captured at 24 frames per second.
The bottom line on the Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV is that it is the current price leader for a 50-inch 4K screen. 4K early-adopters that can feed the TV its native resolution will see this Seiki at its best. PC gamers may desire a 4K playspace, but the 30Hz refresh rate limit simply isn't fast enough to keep the on-screen action smooth although it's fine as a seriously spacious desktop work environment. And, if a 50-inch desktop display is too much, Seiki Digital has mentioned they plan to ship a 39-inch 4K screen later this year.