Around twenty years ago, a new wave of TV innovation hit the market. It was HD, high-definition TV, and it was awesome. The enhanced resolution paved the way for bigger screens, DVD players and seemingly endless crystal-clear content.
Since HD became mainstream, there hasn’t been a major change in how we watch TV until now. Sure, 3D TV had people talking for a while, but as digitaltrends.com announced a couple years ago, 3D TV is dead. The new TV trend, and one that looks like it is definitely going to stick around, is 4K.
What is 4K TV?
Like HD, 4K TV is a serious upgrade in TV resolution. Also known as “Ultra-HD,” 4K TV features 4 times the number of pixels as HDTV. Where full HD resolution sports an already impressive 1,920 x 1,080 pixel display, 4K boasts a 3,840 x 2,160 pixel display. The result is a clearer, sharper image and deeper, bolder colors.
How can I watch 4K TV?
Similar to the rollout of HDTVs and high-definition content, you’ll need a few things to achieve that higher state of resolution. Most importantly, you need a 4K TV, then a source for 4K content and possibly a streaming device with 4K capabilities. Luckily, as this new TV technology becomes more popular, 4K TVs are finally dropping in price, TV providers are offering more 4K content and many new streaming devices support 4K.
1. Upgrade to a 4K TV
Initially high-priced and hard to find, 4K TVs are now available virtually everywhere you’d buy electronics. Plus, thanks to 4K’s increasing popularity and buy-in from major manufacturers like Sony, LG, Samsung and Vizio, prices for new 4K TVs are much more reasonable than in previous years.
An upgrade to a 4K TV might also include an upgrade in TV size. Our eyes aren’t capable of noticing the differences between HD and 4K on smaller TV screens, so including 4K resolution on a smaller TV is virtually pointless. Therefore, most TV manufacturers sell 4K TVs ranging from 43” to 80”. Keep that in mind if you’re shopping for a new TV.
Once you’ve got that new 4K TV, or if you already have one, you’ll find a few options for viewing 4K content.
2. Get a service that offers 4K content
Here’s a full list of providers that offer 4K TV content, including the types of content offered and the starting monthly price for service.
|Provider||Service type||4K content||Monthly price starting at|
|Amazon Prime||Streaming||Select original series||$12.99/mo.*|
|DIRECTV||Satellite TV||3 full-time 4K channels, select On Demand titles||$35/mo.*|
|DISH||Satellite TV||Select On Demand titles, streaming platforms accessible via Hopper3 device||$69.99/mo.*|
|FandangoNOW||Streaming||Select 4K movies for purchase or rent||Price varies by title|
|iTunes||Streaming||Select 4K movies for purchase or rent||Price varies by title|
|Netflix||Streaming||Select original series||$16/mo.*|
|Xfinity||Cable||Select On Demand titles, streaming platforms accessible via X1 device||$19.99/mo.*|
|YouTube||Streaming||Content varies||Free, or $10/mo.* for YouTube Red|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. Speeds may vary. As of 1/21/19.
TV providers and services that do not currently support 4K content include:
- AT&T U-verse
- Frontier FiOS TV
- HBO Go
- PlayStation Vue
- Verizon Fios TV
3. Upgrade your TV equipment, if necessary
Even if you have a 4K TV and a TV service that offers 4K content, you might still need equipment that supports 4K to view it.
TV providers DIRECTV, DISH and Xfinity have specific receivers for 4K content. If you already have one of these services, you may need to upgrade your receiver to one that supports 4K. Or, if you are shopping for new TV service, ask about 4K receivers when you place your order.
If you want to stream 4K content you may be able to do so from built-in apps on your smart TV. Otherwise, you’ll need a compatible 4K streaming device. Such devices include:
- 4K Roku
- Amazon Fire
- Apple TV 4K
- Google Chromecast Ultra
- PlayStation 4 Pro
Additionally, some Blu-Ray players support 4K and will play 4K Blu-Ray movies. 4K Blu-Ray movies are available at most electronic stores, and Redbox currently offers 4K Blu-Ray movies for rent starting at $2.50/night. Not all Blu-Ray players support 4K, so make sure the one you have or want to purchase does if you want to use it to watch 4K movies.
4. Upgrade your internet, if necessary
Streaming 4K content requires a lot of broadband, considerably more than most other online activities. Therefore, to stream 4K TV content, without tons of buffering, you’ll need a fast internet connection, preferably one with high monthly data allowances or no data caps at all.
The FCC recommends internet speeds of 25 Mbps or higher for streaming 4K. Keep in mind that there are many factors that can affect internet speeds, so internet plans with advertised speeds higher than 25 are best for streaming 4K content.
Answers to common 4K TV questions
What are TV pixels?
Pixels are tiny dots that collectively make up your TV screen image. The more pixels a TV screen has, the finer detail a TV screen can produce. The number of pixels determines a screen’s resolution. Here are the pixel ratios for common TV resolutions:
- Standard definition (SD) – 704 x 480
- High definition (HD) – 1,280 x 720
- Full HD – 1,920 x 1,080
- 4K (Ultra HD) – 3,840 x 2,160
What can I watch in 4K?
There isn’t a lot of 4K content available yet, but rest assured more is coming. Currently, no TV providers with the exception of DIRECTV offer live 4K content. Aside from DIRECTV’s live 4K content, you can enjoy movies, original series, nature scenes, select On Demand shows and even video games in 4K resolution from a variety of sources.
What channels are 4K on DIRECTV?
DIRECTV has 3 full-time 4K channels. DIRECTV 4K on channel 104 features a variety of 4K content, including nature shows and original content from the AUDIENCE® Network. DIRECTV CINEMA® on channel 105 has 4K movies available for rent. DIRECTV Live on channel 106 hosts select sporting and entertainment 4K broadcasts.
What is HDR? Is it 4K?
HDR, or High-Dynamic Range, is a term you might hear along with 4K and Ultra-HD. While both involve picture and clarity, they are a bit different. 4K is essentially just more pixels, HDR is an upgrade to what those pixels can do. According to businessinsider.com, HDR boosts a display’s contrast ratio, allowing for finer detail between light and dark colors. For the optimal TV experience, choose a TV that supports 4K and HDR.
How much are 4K TVs?
Pricing varies by manufacturer, screen size and sales events, but new 4K TVs can range from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Prices for 4K TVs have dropped considerably in recent years, but they have now somewhat leveled off. Don’t hold out too long for a 4K TV with the expectation that there will be dramatic price drops anytime soon.
Do I need a special HDMI cable for 4K TV?
If you purchased your HDMI cables within the last decade, probably not. Forbes.com reports that High-Speed HDMI cables, which support 4K performance, were introduced in 2009, so don’t feel like you have to run out and purchase HDMI cables specifically for 4K. Those new “4K HDMI cables” are likely just a higher-priced version of what you already have.
Is 4K worth it?
Yes. As 4K continues to grow in popularity, more 4K TV broadcasts, 4K streaming services, movies and video games will undoubtedly become available. 4K is here to stay, and 4K TVs and content will likely soon be as commonplace as HD TVs and channels.