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Your Guide to Watching 4K HD 2020

Are you fuzzy on how to watch 4K HD TV? We can clear things up.

Bottom line

If you just got a 4K HDTV (lucky you!) or are considering buying one, you’re probably feeling a little skeptical. Is there really enough 4K HD programming available to make it worth the investment? A year or two ago, the answer would’ve been an emphatic “no”—but times have changed.

4K Screen Technology

4K technology is out of beta and now comes standard on most new TV equipment, so content providers, cable companies, and streaming services are following suit. We’re seeing lots of 4K HD content cropping up from multiple services on every level.

While it’s still far from ubiquitous, 4K HD programming is definitely available. We’ve compiled a list of what you can use to take that dazzling new 4K HD TV for a spin.

How to Watch in 4K

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SourceTypeCostType of ContentRequired
Amazon Prime4K streaming service/rentals$119.00/yr. for Prime membershipSome Amazon Original Series are in 4K HDCompatible 4K TV, 4K Roku, Amazon Fire, or Chromecast Ultra
DISH4K satellite service$59.99–$89.99/mo.Most 4K is through Netflix integration or on demandHopper 3, compatible 4K TV
DIRECTV4K satellite service $59.99–$134.99/mo.DIRECTV does have a dedicated 4K channelGenie HR 54, compatible 4K TV
Fandango Now4K streaming rentalsRentals: $6.00

Purchases: $20.00–$25.00
Merged with M-GO; movies onlyCompatible 4K TV, 4K Roku
Hulu4K streaming serviceStarts at $5.99/mo.Several major Hulu Original series are available in 4KPlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One S, compatible 4K TV
iTunes4K streaming and rentalsVaries with titleiTunes automatically upgrades your purchases to 4K; check your library to see if you have any availableApple TV 4K, compatible 4K TV
Netflix4K streaming service$15.99/mo.Many big-name Netflix Originals are in 4K HDCompatible 4K TV, 4K Roku, Amazon Fire, or Chromecast Ultra
PlayStation 4 Pro4K gaming system$319.00 Games, movies, and more; does not support Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray however; includes HDRCompatible 4K TV
UltraFlix4K streaming rentals$1.00–$10.00 per rentalLargest 4K HD library available, including movies, concerts, and documentariesCompatible 4K TV, 4K Roku, Amazon Fire, or Chromecast Ultra
Ultra HD Blu-ray player4K physical movie player$75.00–$400.00Primarily movies; Amazon alone has nearly 2,000 titles listed as Blu-ray Ultra HD 4KCompatible 4K TV
VUDU4K streaming purchases and rentalsRentals: $4–$8

Purchases: $5–$30
Movies; HDR with Dolby Vision availableLG 4K TV, 4K Roku, VIZIO 4K TV
Xbox One S4K gaming system$149–$299.00 Games, movies, and more; Xbox also incorporates HDR technologyCompatible 4K TV
Xfinity4K cable service$59.99–$84.99/mo.On-demand titles through NBCUniversal 4K-capable X1 DVR, compatible 4K TV
YouTube/YouTube Premium4K movie streamingYoutube: Free

YouTube Premium: $7–$18.00/mo.
Mostly free demos and nature shortsCompatible 4K TV, 4K Roku, Amazon Fire, or Chromecast Ultra

Data effective as of 12/17/19. All sources of 4K TV require a device capable of displaying 4K content to get the 4K experience.

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4K TV Frequently Asked Questions

 

Is 4K TV worth it?

In a word: yes! At this point, 4K is not going anywhere—the technology is only progressing. In fact, it’s possible to watch 8K on YouTube now. Additionally, 4K programming is becoming more readily available, and TVs are getting both bigger and cheaper. It’s never been a better time to go 4K. That said, you do need the right equipment. Look at our 4K TV Buyers Guide to see our recommended 4K TVs.

Wait—my TV says 4K Ultra HD or UHD. Are those the same as 4K?

Technically, 4K is the terminology for the cinema standard, and Ultra HD is meant to be the consumer-facing term. But 4K has gained more traction in everyday use, so the two are often used interchangeably. However, there is actually a small difference in resolution.

  • 4K Resolution: 4096 x 2160
  • Ultra HD Resolution: 3840 X 2160

If your TV says 4K Ultra HD, it meets both of these standards for resolution. That’s all you really need to know, but if you want to learn more about 4K technology and Ultra HD, TechRadar has an excellent guide.

What are the 4K streaming requirements?

To watch 4K content, you’ll need four things: a 4K TV, a 4K streaming box or TV service, a 4K compatible HDMI cable, and-if streaming-plenty of internet speed. We’ll cover each of these a bit more below.

1. 4K TV

This might be a little obvious, but if you want to watch TV in 4K, you’re going to need a TV that can display a 4K picture. The good news with 4K TVs is that they’re backward compatible, meaning you can watch regular resolution stuff on them too; but after spoiling yourself with incredible 4K movies, you might notice old shows don’t look as nice.

Not sure which TV to buy? We’ve got you covered. Check out our 4K TV Buyer’s Guide and select the TV that meets your needs off our recommended list.

2. 4K Streaming Box or Service

Beautiful pictures and advanced technology are great, but it doesn’t really matter if there’s nothing to watch. In some cases, you can connect content directly to your 4K TV (think Sony Ultra), but most of the time you’ll need to use a box of some sort. The Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire, or Chromecast Ultra manage streaming services that offer 4K content like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and more. Even if you have DISH or DIRECTV, you’ll need their advanced DVR equipment (Hopper 3 or Genie HR-54) to view 4K properly.

Make sure you get the best deal on your HDTV service! Check out our complete guide to find the best package for you.

3. 4K Compatible HDMI Cable

There is some debate about whether this is really necessary, but the majority of TV manufacturers recommend an advanced HDMI cable optimized to handle Ultra HD content. The good news is that the ones you have are likely already 4K capable, so there’s no need to run out and buy one immediately.

4. Plenty of Internet Speed

Streaming in 4K eats up even more bandwidth than HD, so you’ll need to make sure your internet speeds will support all that streaming. How much speed do you really need? Well, it depends on the number of devices you have and what else you use the internet for. To get our best recommendation for internet speeds that’ll satisfy your connected household, check your speed with the tool below.

Does any streaming service offer 4K?

Streaming is one of the easiest ways to get your hands on great 4K movies and shows. Amazon Prime Video, Fandango, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, UltraFlix, VUDU, and YouTube are all great places to stream 4K TV and movies.

As long as you’re conscious of your internet data allowance, we say stream 4K to your heart’s delight!

4 Reasons to Invest in 4K Now

Is now the time to invest in 4K? Absolutely. In fact, it’s never been a better time to own a 4K TV. 4K resolution is incredible, especially on large TVs (where you’ll notice the difference the most). And the prices are falling as technology becomes more mainstream and content moves to 4K. Let’s dive into more reasons why 4K is an investment you need to make.

1. The Resolution Is Incredible

While standard HD has 1920 x 1080 pixels, 4K Ultra HD has a minimum of 3840 × 2160 pixels.

It’s hard to appreciate just how big a 4K picture is when looking at numbers, so let’s spell it out: resolution is the concentration of pixels on a screen, and 4K technology has eight million pixels—that’s four times as many as regular HD. When you get up close and personal, you’ll see every flicker of light and line on a face—it’s incredible. At a distance, the difference isn’t always discernible to the naked eye, unless you have a huge screen.

2. It Gives You a Reason to Buy a Huge TV
The onset of 4K is finally your excuse to get an enormous TV. For 4K viewing, experts generally recommend a 60″ screen for a mere 5′ viewing distance. Yep, that’s huge. Before you let a TV that big get settled, find out if your TV is positioned the correct distance for optimal viewing.

3. Prices are Falling
For a long time, 4K and Ultra HDTVs weren’t affordable. That’s changing now that the technology has moved off the bleeding edge of beta and into your living room. As you’ll see in our 4K TV Buyers Guide, you can get a decent 4K TV for under $1,000.00. Not only that but also the size of the TV you can get for your money has increased significantly.

4. More 4K Content Is Available
The 4K content library is finally filling up with not just recent movie titles but also TV shows and other programming as well. In fact, in 2018 several major sporting events were broadcast in 4K for the first time, including the Winter Olympics, Wimbledon, and the World Cup. This may finally be the push 4K needs to move mainstream.

More Details on How to Watch in 4K

Amazon Prime Logo

Amazon Prime | Streaming Service
Cost: $119.00/yr. for Prime membership

Prime membership looks like a hefty price tag, but once you understand the perks and benefits, you’ll be sold. One of the enticing membership features is access to the Prime video library, which includes quite a few 4K HD titles. Amazon also features tons of 4K Ultra HD titles for purchase.

DIRECTV Logo

DIRECTV | Satellite Provider
Cost: $59.99–$134.99/mo.

DIRECTV became the first provider to offer 4K HD, and everyone else has been racing to catch up ever since. The satellite company is also the first provider to have a dedicated all 4K HD channel—although you’ll need the latest Genie (HR-54) to fully appreciate it.

DIRECTV’s 4K Channels:

  • Channel 104: 24/7 mix of 4K content
  • Channel 105: Pay Per View 4K movies
  • Channel 106: Live events in 4K
Dish Logo

DISH | Satellite Provider
Cost: $59.00–$89.99/mo.

DISH is known as the technology leader in the cable and satellite industry, but it’s been a little slow on the uptake with 4K HD in comparison to its competitor DIRECTV. While the Hopper 3 is 4K compatible, most of the Ultra HD content is available on demand or from the Netflix app, which is integrated into the Hopper 3.

Fandango Now | Streaming Rental
Cost: $6.00 per rental/$20.00–$25.00 per purchase

M-GO and Fandango have merged to create Fandango Now, a streaming rental service that offers movie titles in 4K. There are dozens to choose from for rent or purchase, and the app is available on most streaming boxes like the Roku 4, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast Ultra.

Hulu Logo

HuluStreaming Service
Cost: Starts at $5.99/mo.

Hulu is one of Netflix’s main competitors. Hulu started offering 4K streaming at the end of 2016, but the rollout has been fairly slow, especially when it comes to compatible devices. Users still need a PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One S to stream the service in 4K. Viewers can catch Spectre in Ultra HD, as well as Hulu’s Original Series, like The Path and The Handmaid’s Tale.

iTunes
Cost: Varies by title

Yes, Apple has finally joined the 4K revolution. iTunes content is now available in 4K and HDR. The best part is that existing HD content you’ve purchased is automatically upgraded on compatible devices. Look for the 4K or HDR symbols next to titles when searching to verify they’re available in 4K resolution—and make sure your Apple TV supports 4K. There’s a specific model you need—aptly called Apple TV 4K.

NetflixStreaming Service
Cost: $15.99/mo.

Netflix is your best bet for a variety of 4K HD content at a budget price. However, you’ll have to invest in a compatible streaming box if your cable or satellite TV service doesn’t integrate Netflix. But it’ll be worth it: many of Netflix’s original series are available in 4K HD, including classics like Daredevil, Sense 8, and Jessica Jones.

PlayStation 4 Pro | Gaming System
Cost: $319.00

The newest iteration of the PlayStation may not be a Blu-ray player, but it does have one thing going for it: access to Sony’s 4K HD content. You can purchase and download 4K movies and other content with the PS4 Pro, which—similar to the Xbox One S—uses HDR technology to bring spectacular graphics to life.

UltraFlix | Streaming Rental
Cost: $1.00–$10.00 per rental

This streaming app allows you to rent quite a few 4K HD titles. In fact, it boasts the largest library of 4K HD content available. The downside is they aren’t available for purchase just yet. But if you’re looking to peruse and be impressed, UltraFlix’s app is on the Roku 4, Amazon Fire, and the Chromecast Ultra.

Ultra HD Blu-ray | Blu-ray Player
Cost: $75.00–$400.00

Most of the big-name electronics brands make a 4K Ultra HD Player, so if you’re a movie buff who enjoys having a collection of DVDs on display, go for it. Just keep in mind that if you do more than watch movies, you might get more mileage out of a gaming system like the Xbox One S, which will let you watch Ultra HD Blu-ray DVDs and play video games.

VUDU | Streaming Rentals
Cost: $4–$8 per rental/$5–$30 per purchase

You’ll need a Roku 4 to get the content, but VUDU offers a growing number of 4K HD movies and other titles. And if you have a compatible TV, you can watch a few of them in HDR with Dolby Vision, which is considered the peak of color performance and dynamic, rich display.

Xbox One S | Gaming System
Cost: $149–$299.00

Xbox One S incorporates HDR technology, which stands for High Dynamic Range and enables better color contrast and display. Many TV manufacturers and industry experts believe HDR is more important for realistic picture and detail than 4K resolution. And—unlike the PlayStation 4 Pro—Xbox One S will play Ultra HD Blu-ray movies, making it a more versatile entertainment system.

Xfinity Logo

Xfinity | Cable Provider
Cost: $59.99–$84.99/month

Xfinity has finally released its 4K-compatible X1 DVR, so customers with a 4K TV can finally get content easily with the provider. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of content available yet—the 2018 Winter Olympics were available in 4K, and customers can use the built-in Netflix app to watch Netflix in 4K. But that’s about as far as the content goes, though we expect more to come as the new X1 boxes roll out to customers.

YouTube | Streaming Site
Cost: YouTube is free; YouTube Premium is $7–$18/mo.

YouTube doesn’t have much feature-length content in 4K HD, but what it does have is free content, and that makes all the difference. If you’re just looking to show off your new screen, bring up YouTube on your Smart 4K HDTV and you’ll have access to an astonishing library of demos and shorts, most of which will look more real than the view outside your window.

Is HBO Now Available in 4K?

HBO NOW is not available in 4K, and the company has been oddly silent about its plans for the future. For now, all we get is a “coming soon” message. Stay tuned for more on this one.

Now that you have some great HD content to watch, make sure you get the best sound quality to go with it! Check out our guide to the best sound systems.

And stay tuned for future updates. Until then, check out our resources and equipment guides for more advice on all things 4K HD.

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