Anyone who visits an electronics store knows that 4K televisions are the standard these days. Logical, because they are affordable and offer razor-sharp image quality. Still, playing 4K images involves more than just purchasing a capable television. For example, where do you find suitable video content and how do you then play these streams or files?
Manufacturers use several names to indicate the resolution of their televisions, namely 4K, ultra hd, uhd and 2160p. They actually all mean the same thing, namely a screen resolution of 3840 × 2160 pixels. In fact, the name 4K for this is incorrect, since this term was originally intended as a cinema standard with a corresponding resolution of 4096 × 2160 pixels. Because the incorrect use of 4K by manufacturers has become commonplace, we usually also use this term in Computer!Totaal. Incidentally, 4K is the successor to Full HD with exactly four times as many pixels. How do you best play videos in this sky-high resolution?
01 Screen diagonal
Watching in 4K only makes sense if the screen size is large enough. If you go for a small size television, then the difference with full HD is hardly noticeable. In short, you need a television with a screen of at least 55 inches (140 cm) to fully enjoy 4K images. Also take into account a relatively short viewing distance in order to perceive sufficient details. To do this, use the following rule of thumb: multiply the screen diagonal in centimeters by a factor of 0.8 to determine the ideal viewing distance. For a 55-inch television that is 140 times 0.8, because it comes down to 112 centimeters. A viewing distance of slightly more than one meter is of course not realistic in practice. You can increase the distance to a maximum of about three meters, although the level of detail decreases gradually. If you want to enjoy 4K images optimally, it is best to purchase a very large picture tube. In this way you increase the ideal viewing distance and the number of perceptible details increases.
02 Smart environment
The shortest route to play 4K images is via the smart environment of your television. Nowadays you can add all kinds of applications to almost every modern television, for example to stream movies and watch TV programs. Some of these apps support the display of 4K images under certain conditions. It is preferable to connect the smart TV to the Internet via a network cable and rather not use a wireless network signal. Streaming 4K images consumes quite a bit of bandwidth, so a wired connection is preferred. This way you avoid stuttering in the image. 4K streams from Netflix use about 25 Mbit/s bandwidth, so that is no problem for most fixed network connections. In addition to Netflix, the apps from YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and Videoland also support the display of 4K content. Unfortunately, Videoland's 4K offering is limited to certain Samsung televisions. Amazon Prime Video requires a recent TV from Samsung, Sony or LG.
03 Netflix app
Netflix is a forerunner in the field of 4K video content in the film industry. The American company has been recording self-produced films, series and documentaries in 4K since 2014. There is now a wide range of more than 150 titles. Well-known series such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Narcos can be viewed in high resolution. Such titles are also known as Netflix Originals. In addition, the multinational also purchases 4K content from other film companies, such as Breaking Bad and The Blacklist. The vast majority of televisions with a screen of 3840 × 2160 pixels display Netflix in 4K. Only first-time 4K TV buyers may have a problem. Certain devices lack the necessary h.265/hevc codec to play the images in the highest resolution. Sometimes manufacturers solve this problem by making a firmware update available. Search within the Netflix app of your smart TV for the search terms 4K, UltraHD or uhd to find suitable titles. Recent smart TVs usually have a separate row of 4K titles. Here is the term Ultra HD 4K mention. Do you have a Netflix Premium subscription (see box) and are you unable to play 4K streams? The playback settings may not be correct. Surf here and make sure that the data usage per screen is set to Automatically or High. Confirm with Save.
If you want to stream movies and series in 4K from the Netflix servers, you need a Premium account. You pay 13.99 euros per month for this. The good thing is that the Premium subscription allows four simultaneous streams. Ideal for large families. Surf here to view and possibly change your current subscription.
04 YouTube app
YouTube uses a different codec to play 4K images than Netflix, namely vp9. Almost all smart TVs sold after 2015 can play these videos with the available app within the smart environment. Do not expect full series and films in the highest resolution on YouTube. You will come across vlogs, nature videos, music clips and movie trailers in 3840 × 2160 pixels. In that case you will find a 4K logo somewhere around the title. Use 4K and uhd as keywords to find suitable videos. Do you like to check the actual playback settings of the YouTube app? On most smart TVs, you navigate to More options / Statistics for nerds, then the current resolution and refresh rate appear.
05 Media player
The first generation of 4K televisions is now about five years old. Although major parties such as Netflix and YouTube support their applications for smart TVs for a long period of time, there is also a chance that video apps will no longer function (properly) after a while. This may also be due to a lack of firmware support from the television manufacturer. In that case, a 4K media player offers a solution. Elsewhere in this issue you can read an extensive test of such devices. Unlike smart TVs, a media player can also play all kinds of native 4K files due to broad file support. Think, for example, of illegal copies on download networks and homemade films. Some media players have their own hard drive, sometimes you connect an external storage carrier with media files via USB. Provided the home network offers sufficient bandwidth, you can also stream 4K movies to the media player over a wired network. Handy when your film collection is centrally stored on a NAS or PC. Be careful with Android-based media players. While these devices are technically capable of playing 4K streams, they often don't have a Netflix license. As a result, the Netflix app is stuck at a resolution of 720p. Some media players with an excellent smart environment for 4K video content are Apple TV 4K, Google Chromecast Ultra and Nvidia Shield TV.
06 Blu-ray player
If you do not have the ambition to play your own 4K files, you can also purchase a so-called uhd-blu-ray player instead of a media player. This allows you to play 4K Blu-rays. More and more manufacturers are bringing suitable players onto the market, such as Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Favorable, because this reduces purchase prices. If you look carefully, you will find a suitable player from around 150 euros. Interestingly, most Blu-ray players also have a smart environment, so you can play 4K content via the apps from Netflix and YouTube.
07 Buying 4K Movies
In addition to the offer on streaming platforms and illegal download networks, you can of course also buy 4K films. After all, more and more production companies are recording new films and series in high resolution. If you have a suitable UHD Blu-ray player, then purchasing 4K Blu-rays is of course a must. Instead of the well-known blue boxes, you can recognize these titles by a black color. In most stores, 4K Blu-rays are sold separately and cost more than regular Blu-rays. The offer is growing steadily. For example, online store Bol.com currently has almost five hundred titles in its range. A plus is that 4K Blu-rays do not contain a region code, so you can also order these discs from international (web) stores without any problems. The legal streaming offer of individual 4K films is unfortunately substandard. Only Apple offers a place in the iTunes Store where you can rent or buy high-resolution titles. You can recognize these films by the 4K logo. Incidentally, you do need a suitable Apple device for this, for example an Apple TV 4K or recent iPad Pro. Since the American group only makes 4K films available as a stream, the internet speed must also be high enough. This is certainly a problem with wireless devices.
08 Game consoles
There are currently three game consoles that can play 4K content, namely the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S or X. Compared to media players, there are limitations, because these devices do not play all local media files in the highest resolution. It works fine for playing 4K images via the apps from Netflix and YouTube. A missed opportunity is that the present Blu-ray player of the PlayStation 4 Pro cannot display 4K discs. The Xbox One S/X does have a suitable blu-ray player on board.
KPN 4K subscription
The availability of 4K television broadcasting is still in its infancy. Fortunately, there are already developments. KPN offers a music, sports and nature channel in a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. With the most expensive Internet and TV subscription (71.50 euros per month) you will receive two 4K receivers. This also allows you to stream Netflix content in the highest resolution.
09 Connect correctly
It is important for a correct 4K display to connect a media player, Blu-ray player or game console correctly. For optimal transfer of image and sound, you use HDMI cables. In an ideal scenario, you connect the playback device directly to a receiver or soundbar via HDMI. The audio device then transfers the 4K images to the smart TV with a second HDMI cable, while the sound is passed on to the connected speakers. The condition is that this receiver or soundbar is capable enough to transmit 4K images. That requires at least an hdmi1.4 port. HDMI 2.0 is ideal for the best image quality, as it allows transfer of high refresh rate images and HDR videos. If your receiver or soundbar is a few years old, then this audio device probably does not transmit 4K images. In that case, you connect the media player, Blu-ray player or game console directly to the 4K television via an HDMI cable. Some Blu-ray players have two HDMI outputs, so you can lay an HDMI cable to the receiver or soundbar for sound transmission. On the back of the player, the term 'audio only' or 'for audio' is usually stated at one HDMI output. On a media player or game console, you can alternatively use the optical or coaxial s/pdif output, although this digital connection does not transmit surround formats to the amplifier except for dts and dolby digital. The use of s/pdif is also an excellent solution in case the receiver or soundbar does not contain an HDMI connection.
10 Arc Connection
In the case of a traditional home cinema setup, all audiovisual sources are connected to a receiver or soundbar, such as a Blu-ray player and a game console. This receiver or soundbar transmits the image to the television via HDMI and processes the audio transfer by itself. When using a smart environment, the smart TV itself is the audiovisual source. Of course you also want to play the sound from the Netflix or YouTube app via the amplifier and connected speakers. This can be done, for example, by laying an optical S/PDIF cable from the 4K television to the receiver or soundbar. There is also a more elegant method that does not require an extra cord. After all, the amplifier is already connected to the television via HDMI to transmit the image. You can send the sound back to the audio device via the same cable, if desired. This technique is called arc (audio return channel), where it is a condition that both the smart TV and amplifier support this protocol. Arc must also be activated in the settings of both devices.