Home 4K Ultra HD TV: How It Works And What You’ll Need To Watch It

4K Ultra HD TV: How It Works And What You’ll Need To Watch It

Just a few short months ago, you’d have been stupid—or at least carelessly wealthy—to buy an Ultra HD TV, or 4K television. There were so few 4K videos available that it was nearly impossible to justify sticker prices of $2000 or more.

See also: 4K Ultra HD TV: What You Can Watch Right Now

That’s all changed, and amazingly quickly, too. Over the past few months, 4K prices have fallen, while a bunch of streaming services have begun racing to bring even sharper video to our living rooms. 

See also: 4K In 2014: Will YouTube, Netflix Bring Ultra HD Into Mainstream?

With all that in mind, I took the plunge and bought a 4K TV. And in the process, I’ve learned a lot about the technology and the products—including some speed bumps that could get in the way. 

The Devil’s In The Details

When it comes to video, technical details can drastically affect what you see.

Nitpicky readers will note that 4K and UHD aren’t exactly the same thing. “4K” refers to a production and cinema standard; UHD or Ultra HD is essentially a marketing term that denotes the display or broadcast standard. But since marketers and consumers use them interchangeably, I’ll do the same.

They both apply to display technologies that can handle a native resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. Compare that to HD video, like 720p (1280 × 720) and 1080p (1920 × 1080), and you can easily see the difference. Think of it as video that bathes much larger screens with incredibly crisp details.

If you think that’s pixel-dense, wait until you get a load of 8K televisions. Of course, given how long 4K took to appeal to mainstream consumers, we’re likely years away from worrying about that. 

Is Your Broadband Up To Speed?

All the fine detail in 4K has one immediately obvious consequence. Those video files can be up to four times larger than HD video files.

So storing those files takes up a lot of room, and streaming them requires serious bandwidth. Most people’s broadband service tops out at 15 to 20Mbps, but 4K streaming demands a stable connection at speeds of 25Mbps or higher. Anything less, and the freezes and buffering could drive you mad.

Another crucial note: encoding. Older UHD or 4K TVs don’t play well with newer streaming services. That matters, especially if retailers try to push remaining stock by slashing prices on older models.

For instance, Netflix supports the newer High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC), also known as H.265. The good news is that the compression basically tightens up those videos, allowing the company to stream them over the Internet using the smallest amount of bandwidth possible. The bad news is that it won’t work with just any 4K television. The same goes for Amazon’s new UHD streaming service.

When in doubt, check the video sources’ support pages. They often list the specific models of TVs supported. That should eliminate your need to fuss with technical matters. 

But if you’ve got the broadband speed and a fairly recent UHD television, you’re ready to start watching. So head over here for sources, so you can start streaming up a 4K storm. 

Photo by Vix_B; screen resolution graphic courtesy of Sony; broadband photo by Sean MacEntee

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