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What do you need for 4K TV?

4K Ultra HD TV: What it is and how to get it

In this article: we'll discuss what "4K" means and answer a few common questions about getting started with 4K Ultra HD content.

Along the way we'll provide some key tips to help you get the most out of 4K.

Let's start by covering the basics. 4K gets its name from the number of lines of horizontal resolution in Ultra High Definition (UHD), which is roughly 4,000.

So, what makes 4K worth the investment? A higher resolution means there are more pixels making up your picture, and more pixels equal a greater level of detail. 4K offers four times the resolution of Full HD 1080p — an impressive 8 million pixels altogether. It's easy to spot the added depth and clarity in a side-by-side comparison. Who doesn't want a smoother, sharper picture?

Because a 4K TV has such a high resolution, you can also comfortably sit closer and get more out of a bigger screen. There are so many pixels on a 4K Ultra HD TV, you have to be standing right next to the screen to see their structure. Sitting at the right distance from a big, sharp 4K makes for a much more immersive viewing experience. See our article on TV sizes and viewing distance for specific recommendations.

It's also important to note that most 4K Ultra HD TVs offer powerful picture processing and upscaling. Which means that even when you're viewing 1080p content, it looks better than ever.

So, how do I know I'm watching 4K? You'll need to make sure you have both a device capable of displaying 4K resolution, like a 4K Ultra HD TV, and that the content you're actually playing is 4K-compatible as well.

What can I watch 4K on?

First things first, you'll need something that can display Ultra HD. For most of us, that means picking up a new TV, but you can also go with a projector and matching screen. 4K-compatible devices also commonly support HDR, which improves on the quality you're already getting with 4K.

Simple and clean: 4K UHD TV

4K Ultra HD TVs come in a wide variety of sizes, making it easy to find one that fits your space. They're also more affordable than they've ever been, lowering the barrier of entry for a stellar picture.

samsung q60t 4k tv with soundbar

A 4K UHD TV is easy to set up and delivers crisp 4K visuals to your entertainment space.

Our TV Buying Guide can help you find the right model for you. You can also check out our list of the Best TVs we currently offer. If you've ever been curious how a modern flat-panel 4K TV works, check out our What's inside your 4K TV? video.

Bring the experience of the theaters home with a 4K projector

The closest you can get to replicating the experience of sitting in a movie theater at home is by combining a 4K Ultra HD projector with a 4K-rated screen. With a projector, your picture can get way bigger than most TVs, while being just as sharp. Few things can match the cinematic experience of a home theater with 4K video projected onto a massive 120" screen.

hisense projector and screen

The Hisense 100L9G-CINE100A ultra short throw 4K projector fits right under a custom-matched screen included right in the same box.

Our article on how to choose a home theater projector and our projector screen buying guide can help you pair up a winning combo to bring your entertainment room to life.

How does HDR improve 4K?

High Dynamic Range (HDR) uses metadata encoded in your content to reproduce a wider difference between your brightest whites and darkest blacks. This extended range benefits more than just your contrast. It also helps your colors pop for a picture that's richer and more lifelike. Simply put, HDR makes your 4K content look even better.

without HDR

with HDR

The expanded color and contrast of High Dynamic Range (HDR) brings out the best in 4K content.

HDR is the standard for 4K Blu-ray discs, but you can also find HDR-encoded content on streaming services like Netflix. Support for HDR is included with most new 4K Ultra HD TVs and 4K projectors. This includes enhanced formats like Dolby Vision, which adjust your picture on a scene-by-scene basis for the greatest accuracy currently available.

For the full details on how HDR works, see our HDR article.

Where can I find 4K content?

You're in luck. As 4K has increased in popularity, it's gotten easier to get ahold of 4K content. It's now the standard. There are several ways you can get native 4K content: streaming services, Blu-ray, cable/satellite, and over-the-air broadcasts (in select areas). And don't forget next-gen gaming consoles, which let you both watch and play content in 4K!

How to stream 4K

Streaming is the main way most of us consume media these days. Millions of people are already subscribed to services like Netflix® and Disney+ that offer loads of 4K content, from movies and original series to documentaries. Keep in mind that streaming in 4K requires high-speed internet service. We recommend at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) or more if possible. Check out our 6 tips to solve Netflix streaming problems for more guidance.

netflix home screen

You can access a ton of 4K UHD content directly from your Smart TV with streaming services like Netflix.

Fortunately, most 4K UHD TVs are also "smart" TVs with built-in apps for popular streaming services. That means you don't need an external source to access 4K. Just turn on the TV and use the remote to navigate to your favorite app.

If your TV doesn't have all the apps you're looking for, you can also pick up a media player like a Roku or Apple TV. These are a popular solution with our customers because they're simple to use and have a wide range of streaming options.

We've collected a list of common streaming services that offer 4K below. Keep in mind that these services may require a premium subscription to access content in 4K or offer titles for purchase or rental on-demand.

As you can see, there are a plethora of options. It's harder to pick a service than it is to find 4K at this point. If you're like me, you'll end up with a wide net to catch all the coolest new content. (I use Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max, and YouTube. It adds up quick!)

Blu-ray: the best way to watch 4K

Since streaming is so easy nowadays, you might wonder, is 4K Blu-ray worth it? Absolutely. In fact, we think it's currently the best way to watch 4K. A Blu-ray disc has a way higher bit rate than any current streamed 4K source. That extra data delivers higher contrast and a wider color range, especially with HDR.

sony blueray 4k

Most 4K Blu-ray discs are HDR-encoded, making a 4K UHD Blu-ray player a sure-fire way to get the most out of your 4K setup.

Several streaming services now offer some HDR-encoded content, but it's the standard for 4K Blu-ray discs. HDR can bring your picture to life with vivid, lifelike color and contrast. It makes a big difference. We'll chat more about HDR later in this article.

You can also find Ultra HD Blu-ray discs in big box stores all around the country now. There are hundreds of Blu-ray titles available. Excited about a new movie coming out? Chances are you'll be able to find it in 4K. Much like Smart TVs, Ultra HD Blu-ray players often come with built-in streaming apps, too. It's the best of both worlds.

Our list of the Best Blu-ray players will help you find a player that works for you. And if you're looking for a top-notch 4K experience, check out our article on the Best 4K Blu-ray movies currently available.

4K on cable and satellite

Some cable and satellite providers have started offering live or on-demand 4K content. This means you can purchase 4K titles or view channels that broadcast in 4K. These services generally require additional equipment (like a set-top box or satellite dish) and a subscription with a timed contract.

Here's a quick list of the current major providers that offer 4K:

Upgrading to 4K services is a no-brainer if you're already subscribed to a cable or satellite provider and own a 4K Ultra HD TV. You've already got your foot in the door, why not the get the full benefit of your TV, right?

4K over the air

ASTC 3.0 allows channels to broadcast in 4K and is available in a growing number of areas. If you have a 4K TV with an ATSC 3.0 tuner you can pick these channels up. This lets you access Ultra HD content over-the-air for free. Head over to the ATSC's website to see if 4K broadcasts are offered in your area.

This is already a common feature for 4K Ultra HD TVs and channels that broadcast in 4K will become more common as times goes on. If you live in proximity of a channel that does, there's no reason not to take advantage.

To ensure you're picking up your favorite local station clear as bell, it pays to pick up a TV antenna. Check out our TV antenna buying guide for tips on how to pick the right antenna for your needs. Head over to our ATSC 3.0 FAQ for more information about 4K over the air.

Next-gen gaming consoles support 4K, too!

Video gamers are in luck because next-generation gaming consoles like the Xbox Series X and the PS5 fully support 4K content with HDR. Both consoles can play 4K Blu-ray discs and have built-in streaming apps, just like a Smart TV.

playing-video-games-on-tv

With a next-gen console like the PlayStation 5 you can watch and play in crisp 4K UHD.

What cables do I need for 4K?

Getting 4K up and rolling requires all of your key components to be 4K-compatible, including the cables that connect them. If you have a 4K Blu-ray player and a 4K TV but you're using an old HDMI cable from your closet, chances are you're actually getting 1080p instead.

Any time you connect a 4K source, you'll need an Ultra HD compatible high-speed HDMI cable. This ensures your chain is 4K all the way through.

Check out our HDMI cables buying guide for tips on how to pick the right cables.

marisa with tvs

Product Advisors like Marisa receive training year-round so they can help you find the right gear for high-quality 4K viewing.

Get started today!

If you need help finding the right gear, don't hesitate to get in touch with one of our helpful Advisors. They'll make sure you're getting everything you need for the best 4K experience.

Once you've got your system, you'll want to double check your device's output or video settings to make sure you're actually getting 4K, too. Fortunately, we offer free lifetime tech support with every Crutchfield purchase.

Last updated 2/18/2022
  • preferred user from PITTSBURG

    Posted on 3/20/2017

    Very good article . I have a 2015 4K HDR Sony X850C Sony updated firmware with upgraded HDR processing , 100 NIT more brightness and Android 6 platform TV in here, with those upgrades it started coming into its own in Q4 2016 and is significantly better than when I bought it . That said I may be upgrading to a 2017 Sony X930E in this room that may be significantly better than the X850C and I already can see its significantly brighter. I may look at the Sony A1E OLED also even though it's more spendy than what I have in mind but I think the 9ZD is very spendy for an LCD although it may be a champion megawatt LCD direct lit FALD . Ofc I am wondering about the gap of the X850C to X900E and X900E to X930E . also

  • mike

    Posted on 2/6/2017

    I'll take my 1080 plasma 600hz over any 4K 120hz when watching fast moving programs such as sports. Clarity does win over when its 5 times slower.

  • Eddie from Laurens

    Posted on 10/20/2016

    It won't be long before we just put on VR head sets with surround sound and it wouldn't matter where you sit, as long as it is not behind the wheel. But it won't be in my life time, but your car will drive you and you just watch a movie on your VR. Can't get closer to the picture unless we get to the point where you have a WI/FI router in your head and you just close your eyes and get Ultra 4K running right thru your brain, and at that point the Gov will know everything about you, but probably not much more than they do now.

  • ADRinDC from BETHESDA

    Posted on 10/11/2016

    I was pretty skeptical when my installer recommended my new TV be 4K. My new screen is 55 inches and about 8-10 feet away. From everything I had read I wasn't sure (a) whether I'd notice; or (b) whether there's enough content. I'm glad I took his advice. It is definitely noticeable and it seems like new content is being made in 4K even if all the old stuff isn't in 4K. 4K TVs often "upscale" even non 4K content as well. Given the difference I noticed when watching 4K content, I'm pretty sure that it will quickly become the new 1080 in terms of being the normal standard of HD picture.

  • Paul from Yucaipa, CA

    Posted on 8/23/2016

    I don't know, the suggestion that a 4k TV is going to give you more definition or clarity than a modern 1080p/120 display is pretty thin. There is an increase on 4k resolution if you have a 4k source. But nobody broadcasts in that format and at present, there is no player that does either. For sure, when the 4k DVD player and software becomes a reality the results will be breathtaking, provide you want to go out and replace your whole collection. Broadcasters and cable providers have no plan at present to provide 4k content. If you just shucked out bread for a modern Vizio or better, you're already looking at great resolution. Watch any Olympics? How did they look? Still, if you're shopping for a new TV, 4k is certainly priced in a range that makes it worth considering. My next TV will be 4K, but I'm in no hurry at the moment.

  • J K

    Posted on 2/23/2016

    The main reason to "go 4K" is purely practical (economic) basically. New advanced features for picture quality overall generally won't be put on TVs that aren't being made in large numbers, so the only way to get any wow features will be to get a TV being made in large numbers. As more 4K are made, this will make them less expensive (as we've already been seeing happen) to a point where they will have more features and be less expensive than non-4K of similar size but lower (theoretically) quality, because of the inferior pixel density and lack of features. Content well that will fit whatever is the standard (prevalent) resolution at some point. The bottom line is it looks like 1080P products just won't have up to date image enhancing technologies, which will put them more and more at a disadvantage as time goes on. Although for the foreseeable future, that might make existing models a great buy as new and used ones are put on the market to make way for 4K. The writing is on the wall, and the odds of this all falling apart and going backwards seems pretty slim.

  • Joshua from Wasilla

    Posted on 2/21/2016

    I feel like I am being conned into buying a Betamax because the picture is so much better than VHS and don't worry there will be content its a superior format. I bought a VHS because all the content was VHS. I also just bought a 1080 65" for the same reason. There is no $K content.

  • Alex from San Francisco, CA

    Posted on 2/15/2016

    What bothers me, and has since over-the-air (OTA) TV went digital, is the compression used on video streams that causes noticeable artifact in almost any moving or panned image. The closer you sit to the TV the more noticeable it is. Sit close to your 1080p TV and wait for an image that has (nearly) nothing moving--the picture looks wonderful! Incredible! Spectacular! Now, switch to an action movie, or nearly any sports program (excluding golf, of course) and suddenly the spectacular TV picture is now ruined by all of the blocky-abstracts that show as soon as something large moves. I imagine that 4K will be even more heavily compressed when broadcast than 1080 or even 720 is, which will make for some truly expensive, awful entertainment (especially sports, except golf).

  • Ken

    Posted on 1/10/2016

    It seems so strange to be talking about 4K. Most cable companies are only capable of providing 720. It would make more sense for all involved to get together and settle on common goals and broadcast standards for the consumer.

  • Stig O'Tracy from Birmingham UK

    Posted on 1/8/2016

    You'd have to be out of your mind. The storage and bandwidth requirements for 4k are outrageous, and there's no way I'm paying even 1 penny to watch the crap shows that they list in the article.

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