Lights, camera, action! How to set up your new 4K TV

Class is in session: Intro to 4K 

*Taps ruler on desk* Today we are going to learn about high dynamic range theory and the evolution of pixels. Just kidding! With 4K TVs set to be one of the most popular gifts of the season, there’s bound to be a lot of happy faces — followed by confused ones — when it comes to getting this new tech set up.

But don’t let your new smart TV outsmart you. Even if you’ve never hooked up as much as a toaster before, we can walk you through the process. This straightforward guide is going to break down how to set up a 4K TV so you can get picture-perfect quality on your new TV without all the technical jargon. 

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Lesson one: Know the basics 

Ready to get this show on the road? First things first: we all like intuitive tech. We can agree it’s great to just turn on a new device and mess around with it until you get the hang of how it works. And you can certainly do this to some extent with a new TV. But 4K TVs also come with a ton of cool features you won’t want to miss but are not always so obvious. 

Scan the manual

So, before diving into how to set up a 4K TV, start with the basics. You don’t need to read the instructions cover-to-cover (though that certainly can’t hurt). Just take five minutes to look over the table of contents to get an overview of the system. See if there is any “before you get started” advice particular to your specific 4K TV make and model. 

Done with that? Great. Now you have an idea of the scope of your 4K TV’s potential. Because without getting familiar with your TV’s capabilities, you’re essentially purchasing a plane ticket without knowing your destination. Or in a certain family member of mine’s case, having a Samsung 4K TV for over a year before realizing the remote control understands voice commands. 

Get your cables

You are going to need something to connect the TV to your receiver. If you have a cable box, DVR, Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick or Apple TV, you will want an HDMI cable. These cables are typically sold separately from the TV set, so make sure you have these beforehand. 

Several versions of HDMI cables exist on the market today. The tricky thing is, they all kind of look alike. If you have an older HDMI cable laying around, the good news is, it will probably still work with your 4K TV. The bad news is that using an older version may limit your TV’s functionality. 

You see, as newer versions of HDMI cables were released, they became able to transmit more specific data with each newer model. HDMI version 1.4 was released in 2009, and we are currently on version 2.1, with at least three models released in the interim. What type of data might you be missing out on? Features you probably want if you’re investing in a 4K TV, such as sharper picture quality and faster transfer speed (useful for streaming). 

If you do not have a cable box, i.e. you plan to only use a digital antenna or stream all 4K content, you can plug the TV directly into your coaxial cable outlet.

Lesson one in review

Rather have the CliffsNotes version instead? Try this YouTube video.

Lesson two: 4K settings 

Phew, now that we got our homework out of the way, time to dive into the fun stuff. There’s a lot of chatter on the internet about calibrating your TV to get the best screen image. In reality, most TVs come with presets that are perfectly functional for the average home viewer. For pickier spectators, switching between image modes is accessed from the menu via the remote control.

Dolby vs. HDR

TVs will typically tout either Dolby or HDR as a selling point. HDR (also called HDR10, to signify the current iteration) stands for high-dynamic range, and essentially means that you will see a broader range of colors on your screen. Both Dolby and HDR are quality viewing formats, the difference is that “HDR10 is an open-standard and non-proprietary while Dolby Vision requires license and fee from Dolby,” according to Display Ninja. All of which is a fancy way of saying “Kleenex” versus the generic “tissue.”

Picture quality settings

TV brands use different monikers, but typically there is a mode for movies/cinema, gaming or standard TV viewing. Alternatively, some TV makers label these presets as natural, artificial or darkroom light. 

Word of advice, try different settings and select what looks best to you. Even if the online experts recommend a specific mode for each type of programming, remember, you are the ultimate decider. 

It’s really worth experimenting to see what works best for you. For gamers, use the gaming mode if its available — you’ll find response rates improve, and some TVs will even automatically switch to this setting when you turn on your console. 

Lesson three: Additional features

You probably have other external devices to connect to your 4K TV too, such as:

Soundbars, speakers and most streaming devices will typically be connected with an HDMI cable as well. Again, make sure you have the correct HDMI cable to hook up your accessories. Gaming consoles can be finicky because to work at full potential, they need to be plugged into the HDMI port that supports their features. So make sure to try multiple ports or check your TV manual to select the correct one. 

Finding 4K content

Once you’re good to go and learned how to set up a 4K TV, you can kick back and start enjoying it. More 4K content is appearing every week. Check out our quick guide on which services offer 4K content. Find even more movies, shows and sports in 4K here

Putting your TV on the wall

You will need a few common tools if you will be mounting your TV to the wall. Similar to hanging a picture, you will need a level, drill and a stud finder to hang your TV mount. If you will be using a TV stand, you shouldn’t need any tools. If you want to mount your TV, remember sometimes the best option is to delegate a task to someone else. If you aren’t too confident in your DIY skills, can’t lift a heavy TV or just don’t have the time, here are some resources to help you.

TV wall-mounting and set up services:

  • Amazon: Plans vary, depending on the size of the TV
  • Honorable Mention: Target: While they don’t have on-site installation service, they do offer a free hotline where a representative will walk you through the setup process

Most services require you to provide your own TV mount and hardware. Delivery fees vary. And remember, most states have restrictions on where or how to dispose of electronics. Check out this page to see the rules in your state.

Now that you know how to set up a 4K TV, are you looking for a better internet connection to support your 4K craving? Learn more about internet speeds and plans in our Resource Center.