How and why to stream TV in 4K

Many TVs bought in the last few years include the option to view video programming in 4K. While it’s often a big selling point, most people don’t use 4K on a regular basis — if at all.

This guide can help you determine if 4K will work with your system. If you need help, feel free to reach out to Streaming Installers.

Here are the main reasons 4K isn’t viewed much.

  1. Most regular programming is not available in 4K. The high-resolution video is typically limited to big sporting events and movies on streaming services. And when 4K is available, the regular HD alternative is viewed much, much more often.
  2. In terms of picture quality, you will only notice a significant difference on HDTVs larger than 65″.
  3. Producing TV shows in 4K takes more time to edit and much more storage space.
  4. 4K video uses a lot more bandwidth when streaming. While typical HD programming uses about 1-2 GB/hour, 4K programming uses about 7 GB/hour. Nearly everyone has an Internet plan with a data cap, and using 4K all the time would definitely put you over your data limit. If you want background on this, we’ve covered it before.
  5. As of today, there are no TV stations broadcasting in 4K. That will come with the eventual conversion to ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGen TV). When that’s about to happen, you’ll hear all about it!
  6. Cable and satellite services don’t offer 4K as a part of any regular package. However, you can find limited 4K content on Comcast, DirectTV, and DISH.

So why would you want to watch TV in 4K?

If you have a big 4K HDR TV and have a subscription to a streaming service (covered below), 4K programming can be pretty awesome. Compared to regular HD, you’ll get a sharper image, deeper blacks, less pixelization, and smoother motion. It’s actually pretty amazing.

Here’s how to make it happen …

  1. Use the right connection
  2. Make sure your device supports 4K
  3. Find a 4K streaming service
  4. Find 4K content
  5. Check that 4K is being delivered

Use the right connection

The first thing to check is your TV. If it’s 4K compatible, the packaging and instruction manual certainly highlighted it. You’ll also find options in the TV settings.

If it is 4K compatible, you’ll want to use the best HDMI port on the TV. This is usually labeled HDMI-ARC. Some HDMI connections won’t support 4K video, so you may have to experiment.

The same goes for audio. Though we’re not covering Dolby Atmos in this guide, you’ll want to use an HDMI cable for the audio to get this high-end feature because an optical cable or 3.5 mm audio output won’t supply enough bandwidth.

Make sure your device supports 4K

If you use your 4K HDR TV’s built-in apps to stream video, you’re probably good to stream 4K that way. Your smart TV’s software should allow it to play 4K content.

For those of you who use an external device like Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick, or Apple TV, you’ll need to check if it handles 4K. The original packaging probably mentioned 4K. In recent years, these popular devices support 4K: Roku Streaming Stick +, Roku Ultra, Roky Express 4K+, Fire TV Stick 4K, Chromecast with Google TV, and Apple TV 4K. If in doubt, browse through the settings or Google search your model.

Find a 4K streaming service

The program description indicates this program is available in 4K.

Nearly all of the popular streaming services support 4K video through some plan, and will almost always label content that’s available in 4K. As of August 2021, these streaming services support 4K.

  • YouTube TV – supports 4K content through its 4K Plus add-on
  • YouTube – supports 4K content
  • Hulu – supports 4K content for on-demand video
  • Netflix – 4K available on the Premium plan
  • Amazon Prime – supports 4K content
  • Disney+ – supports 4K content
  • HBO Max – supports 4K content
  • Apple TV+ – supports 4K content
  • Paramount+ – supports 4K content on Premium plan
  • Fubo TV – supports 4K content

If you just want to demo 4K content on your TV, there are apps you can download to your device or TV that play 4K videos. Note, these videos are typically videos of nature. In the app store for your device or TV, search for “4K.”

Find 4K content

It’s important to remember even though you’ve gotten this far, not all programs are available in 4K. When browsing for content, you’ll want to look at the program description to find icons for 4K, or other similar variations such as HDR, Ultra HDR, and Dolby Vision.

To speed up this process, a website called HDReport details which programs offer 4K and the like.

Again, if you just want to test out 4K content on your TV, you can download dedicated apps to your device to play 4K videos. Note, these videos are typically videos of nature scenes, not scripted programs. In the app store for your device or TV, search for “4K.”

Check that 4K is being delivered

The Roku on this TV is auto-detecting the available outputs and finding the highest setting possible is 1080p, not 4K.

As mentioned at the beginning, on TVs that are smaller than 65″ it’s difficult to see the visual difference of 4K programming. The trained eye may see the difference, but the casual viewer won’t notice much of a change.

In any case, there will be some settings on your TV that help confirm the display of 4K video. Typically you can press the Info button on your remote to display information about the video.

Another way to check is through your connected device. They all work a little differently, but basically, you go to Settings > Display. Look for an item called Video Resolution or Format.

Still need help?

Getting 4K video to work can be a bit complicated, as you can see from all the steps in this guide. If you are looking for more help, Streaming Installers is here to help.

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Take the first step to a better TV experience. Pick a convenient day and time from the Streaming Installers calendar.