Skip Navigation

What do you need for 4K TV?

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

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

More from Steve Kindig

our sales advisor, Marshall, with a new 4K HDR TV, and a small "portable" tube TV

TV technology sure has come a long way since the days of tube TVs. The latest 4K TVs offer dramatic picture quality improvements.

In a Nutshell

4K Ultra HD TVs have four times the picture detail of 1080p HDTVs. A 4K picture has greater clarity and depth than an HD picture, but you may need to get a larger screen, or sit closer, to see all the added detail.

4K TVs come in screen sizes ranging from 40" to 85". If you want an even bigger screen, consider a 4K projector and 4K-rated screen.

4K enhances more than picture detail. Nearly all 4K TVs also support HDR (High Dynamic Range), which can show a wider range of contrast and color, giving images more pop.

Virtually all 4K TVs are smart TVs, with built-in web apps for streaming services like Netflix®, Amazon Instant Video, and Vudu. These services offer a growing selection of TV shows and movies in 4K. You may need to upgrade your internet service and/or router to stream 4K.

Other 4K sources include 4K Blu-ray players, select satellite TV receivers from DIRECTV® and DISH®, and the latest streaming media players from Roku, Apple®, and TiVo®. You can't get over-the-air 4K TV broadcasts yet, but they may begin sometime in 2018.

All the extra picture data in 4K signals places new demands on associated equipment. You may need to upgrade your A/V receiver, as well as your HDMI cables.

Full Story

4K Ultra High Definition TVs have four times the picture resolution of regular “full HD" 1080p TVs, and can display much more detail. Ultra HD TVs are often referred to as “4K" TVs, because they have a horizontal resolution of around 4,000 pixels.

You've probably seen a movie in 4K without even realizing it — 40% of movie theaters use 4K digital projectors to display Hollywood’s latest hits with maximum detail and depth.

Now, imagine how lifelike watching at home would be with that many pixels on a 40" - 85" TV screen instead of a 30-foot theater screen. Or, if you want the most theater-like experience at home, combine a 4K Ultra HD projector and 4K-rated screen.

More pixels = more picture detail

Whether it's a TV, a tablet, or a smartphone, the more pixels a screen has, the more seamless and detailed the picture will look. The ideal is a screen where the "pixel structure" is invisible.

You already find that on high-end tablets and phones like those with Apple's "Retina" display. 4K Ultra High Definition models take television a giant step in that direction — you have to stand right next to an Ultra HD TV to notice any pixels at all.

1080 image

4K image

4K Ultra HD TVs have four times as many pixels as a 1080p HDTV, for a picture that's incredibly clear, detailed, and lifelike.

A 4K TV's higher resolution means you can sit much closer to the screen without seeing the pixel structure. Sitting closer — or getting a bigger screen — also adds to the sense of immersion. See our article on TV sizes and viewing distance for specific recommendations.

Another 4K TV picture quality advantage: HDR (High Dynamic Range)

Many people think that 4K is just about picture detail, but there's much more to it. Nearly all 4K TVs from major brands support a technology called HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR allows TVs to reproduce a wider range of white to black. This not only improves the all-important picture contrast, but also gives colors more pop.

To get the full scoop on HDR, see our HDR article.

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

Virtually all new 4K TVs support HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR allows a TV to display wider contrast and color range, for a more vivid picture when watching HDR-encoded content.

"Where can I find 4K content to watch?"

Start with the TV's built-in 4K streaming apps

Millions of people subscribe to Netflix® and/or Amazon Prime Instant Video, and both services produce most of their original TV series in 4K. These two services provide a great low-cost introduction to 4K viewing that requires no additional components. 4K streaming does require reasonably fast Internet service — TV makers recommend at least 20Mbps.

Netflix Screen Image

Netflix offers several of its highly-rated original series in 4K, as well as a few movies.

Netflix's large selection of 4K content includes original series, like Bloodline, Dear White People, Longmire, Marvel's Jessica Jones, Ozark, Stranger Things, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. You can also watch other high-quality 4K TV fare such as the complete Breaking Bad series, and Better Call Saul.

Some of Netflix's 4K content also has HDR: Friends from College, GLOW, Marvel's Daredevil, Santa Clarita Diet, and a few others.

What you'll need: a 2014 or newer 4K Ultra HD TV with HEVC decoding and a Netflix app, plus a Netflix 4K streaming subscription (currently $12.99/mo.). The Netflix app is included on most 4K TVs, but if you'd rather use an outboard media streamer, you can go with one of the 4K-compatible Roku models, the Apple TV 4K, TiVo's Bolt DVRs, and the latest version of Amazon's Fire TV.

Amazon Prime Instant Video in Ultra HD

Amazon

If you're already an Amazon Prime member, you probably know that one of the perks is Amazon's Prime video streaming service, which includes a significant amount of 4K content. It's a terrific bonus — free access to some great content, including Amazon's impressive lineup of original TV series.

Most of these shows are in 4K, like The Man In the High Castle, Transparent, and Alpha House. A few shows, like Mozart In the Jungle and Bosch, also get the enhanced quality of High Dynamic Range (HDR), if your 4K TV has the necessary decoding capability. Amazon also has some 4K movies in their Prime catalog, like Hitch, Manchester by the Sea, and The Lost City of Z.

What you'll need: a 2014 or newer 4K Ultra HD TV with HEVC decoding and an Amazon app, an Amazon Prime subscription (currently $99/year). Outboard media streamers that can deliver Amazon 4K content include the 4K-compatible Roku models, the Apple TV 4K, and the latest version of Amazon's Fire TV. (Even if you're not an Amazon Prime member, you may still be able to rent or purchase 4K movies.)

There are also pay-per-view streaming sites with 4K content, like Vudu and UltraFlix™. Not all 4K TVs include built-in apps for these services, so if you're comparing TV models it's worth spending a few minutes to find out which services are supported.

YouTube has an eclectic and growing library of millions of 4K video clips. While you probably won't find your favorite movie or TV show, there are a few concerts in 4K, as well as some amazing nature documentary footage. 

4K Blu-ray players

Samsung UBD-M9500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player

Like 4K Ultra HD TVs, Ultra HD Blu-ray players support resolutions up to 3840 x 2160 pixels. And because Ultra HD Blu-ray discs can hold a lot more data than standard Blu-rays, the picture can have not only more detail, but also higher contrast and a wider color range.

Most (but not all) 4K Blu-ray players include two HDMI outputs. You'll be able to run one HDMI cable directly to your 4K TV for video, and another one to your receiver for audio. Your 4K TV will need to have at least one of the latest HDMI 2.0 connections with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, but if you run a separate HDMI for audio, your receiver won't.

For the most complete and up to date info on 4K content options, read our 4K content article.

Sony's 4K X-reality Pro upconversion

How will my current video sources look on a 4K TV?

Don't worry if you don't have access to any 4K video sources right away. All 4K TVs include built-in 4K upconversion, also called "upscaling," which takes the video signals from your Blu-ray or DVD player, satellite or cable TV box, or game console, and makes them fill the 4-times greater pixel count of the 4K screen.

Without upconversion, a 1080p Blu-ray signal would appear as a small rectangular image at the center of the screen, with black bars on all sides. While upconverted 4K isn't the same as true 4K, video processing has improved dramatically in recent years, so that non-4K video sources can look surprisingly good. Blu-ray, in particular, looks terrific on a 4K TV.

Want more information or advice?

If you’d like more information or some help picking out the right 4K TV for your setup, give one of our advisors a call at 1-888-955-6000.

Last updated 10/27/2017
  • Daniel Roth from 61060

    Posted on 5/11/2015

    will these TV's show 3-D movies? My blu ray DVD shows 3-D DVD's

  • bailey from dallas

    Posted on 5/11/2015

    they only clear with blue ray or dvd player , cable,and dish have not gotton 4k uhd yet

  • dwayne from VA

    Posted on 5/12/2015

    No more. I'm tired of upgrading everything!

  • Robert from L.A.

    Posted on 5/24/2015

    No mention of Ultraflix?!? They have the largest 4K content of all!

  • Jack from MIRAMAR, FL.

    Posted on 5/26/2015

    Frankly you'll never slow the tide but if consumers are purposely slow to adopt 4K then manufacturers may learn the endless format changes are not really helping and in fact making consumers feel played. We don't have 4x the bandwidth with our ISP's, I don't want to use 4x the disk space, can't we just settle with HD for a little bit before the push for 4K? Frankly it's a game that we have to choose to stop playing...

  • David Bickel from United States, MN

    Posted on 5/28/2015

    Our TV is also has regular stuff and 3d as well.

  • thomas nichols from wharton wv.25208

    Posted on 6/8/2015

    When is 4k coming to direct TV. And dish .

  • Max Slugger from Illinois

    Posted on 7/8/2015

    Wow - those 4K images on my monitor are way better than any thing else I've seen on my 1080p monitor. Boy technology has come a long way.

  • Dan mccoy from Santa fe, nm

    Posted on 7/29/2015

    You might mention apples 5k computer that plays 4k and the images are stunning with netflix 4k movies

  • chester f everett from United States

    Posted on 8/10/2015

    keep me informed

  • dan mccoy from santa fe nm

    Posted on 8/27/2015

    no where is anyone mentioning the imac 5k computer that streams 4k very well and the images are fantastic to watch.

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/28/2015

    Thanks for the head's up Dan! I haven't seen that yet.

  • freddy from turnhout Belgium

    Posted on 9/15/2015

    In the sony and Samsung and other labs they are busy with 8K and 16K were will it ends ... Our eyes can not handle that much (sorry for bad english) They improve but we can not keep buying a tv each year or 2

  • Mo from Seattle

    Posted on 9/24/2015

    Freddy from Belgium is correct... This new 4K technology is truly awesome.. But until more content is produced in 4K. It's pointless right now. Just like 240hz/60fps TV's.. Even at 25 years of age, the human eye can only detect so much of horizontal pixels per screen. Now if we had a bird of prey set of eyes (owls,eagles)... Then we can clearly tell the mass difference of 1920p vs 3840p... This new 8K & 16K testing in labs wont be sold for commercial use.

  • Glenn from Arlington,VA

    Posted on 10/11/2015

    it's interesting how fast prices are dropping on these units though. That's quite encouraging. I think a curved 65" tv will be my next upgrade. The problem is that the manufacturers are jamming 3D into most of their offerings even though it's essentially a failed experiment. I'd rather save several hundred bucks and get a set without 3D.

  • Ron from Toledo, OH

    Posted on 10/16/2015

    how far into future will it be that tv networks get into 4k video? we don't watch movies from dvd, blueray nor any streaming. apparently streaming is becoming more main stream but doesn't carry live network tv as i understand it

  • Bill Howsley from Dallas

    Posted on 11/1/2015

    How many nature shows can we watch? When will the previous commentors and the Silent Majority demand better content? We watch only sports on our hdtvs at our house.

  • Chris from South Jordan

    Posted on 11/10/2015

    I've compared 4K movies with the same content scaled to 1080P on the same 55" brand of monitor side by side simultaneously, and it is not that much of a difference. In fact to me the 4K display made the movie effects look "fake" since there was so much detail, and I actually thought the 1080P looked more pleasing. This demo was not at a retail store by the way. I didn't expect this, but I do think that 4K will be great on bigger displays like projectors. Assuming of course that there is enough 4K content to be had!

  • Tom P. from Morgantown

    Posted on 12/1/2015

    A recent Wall St J article suggested that the next significant improvement in TVs will be High Dynamic Range (of the color spectrum, which is apparently now somewhat compressed except in OLED and some very new expensive sets). Crutchfield: Do you have any comments on that?

  • ByteMe from Agrabah

    Posted on 1/7/2016

    As of January 2016, there is not ANY 4K content available on blu-ray. 8K is twice the hoax as 4K. The Ultra HD blu-ray standard was finalized recently. Will you pay $30 for a movie that wasn't SHOT in 4K, but re-mastered/up-converted to 4K?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

Great Gear Giveaway

THE

GREAT GEAR GIVEAWAY

Ask an expert advisor

No pressure, no commission — just lots of good advice from our highly trained staff.