Everything you need to know about 4K

Credit: LG

While high-definition and full high-definition content is still the most widespread form of video content available, 4K content is quickly gaining popularity as more and more consumers upgrade to TVs capable of supporting the format.

What is 4K?

4K is a relatively-new standard for video content that outputs at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. Essentially, each frame of 4K movie contains approximately four times the detail found in the FHD or HD version of that movie.

Credit: Sony

Importantly, you’ll need a 4K TV to watch 4K video content. You can't just watch it on your old HD TV. You'll need to upgrade.

Is 4K the same as HDR?

No. HDR is a separate standard that spins-off of 4K resolution that deals with how wide the color-gamut of the display output is.

For more in this, read our feature on Everything You Need To Know About HDR TVs.

Can HD content be upscaled to 4K?

Credit: Samsung

Yes. However, not without some loss in quality.

Most modern 4K TVs support native upscaling - automatically resizing HD and FHD quality content to suit the larger resolution. Non-4K content will generally look better on a 4K TV than a HD one - but not as good as properly mastered 4K content will.

It’s for this reason that most film distributors are currently re-releasing older films in 4K.

Where can I get 4K content?

Credit: Apple

There are two main ways to get 4K content. The first and easiest way is to buy physical 4K Blu-Rays via retail chains like JB Hi-Fi or online through channels like Amazon. While the initial crop of 4K Blu-Ray content was limited to one or two of the major studios, most major Hollywood releases nowadays tend to get a 4K release including films like Ready Player One, Red Sparrow and Avengers: Infinity War.

Bear in mind that, if you're looking to watch 4K Blu-Ray content, you’ll need also need to invest in 4K Blu-Ray player and a 4K-ready HDMI 2.0 cable.

The other place you’ll be able to find 4K content is through digital distribution channels like iTunes and the Google Play Movies store. Unfortunately for Australian audiences, only select studios are currently offering 4K content through these channels at the time of writing.

Foxtel also recently launched their first 4K channel. This channel will offers 4K sport, documentaries, concerts and more. Foxtel say that, over the next 12 months, they'll continue to expand the selection of unique 4K. In addition to a 4K TV, you'll need an active Foxtel subscription and the company's new iQ4 set top box if you want to tune in.

Can I stream 4K content on a streaming service like Netflix?

Credit: Netflix

That’s the other major source for 4K content at the moment. Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime all support 4K content for most of their original series and some licensed content.

If you’re looking to watch something like Marvel’s Luke Cage, American Gods or Wolf Creek in 4K, you’ll be in luck.

If you’re hoping to bingeing your way through some 4K episodes of How I Met Your Mother or Party Down, you’ll likely be out of it.

Of course, in order for you to access any of that content, you’ll need adequate bandwidth. For Netflix users, this translates to the following:

  • 0.5 Megabits per second - Required broadband connection speed

  • 1.5 Megabits per second - Recommended broadband connection speed

  • 3.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for SD quality

  • 5.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for HD quality

  • 25 Megabits per second - Recommended for Ultra HD quality

Select original streaming content on these platforms has also been graded to make use of HDR standards like HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

Can I play video games in 4K?

Credit: Ubisoft

4K gaming is supported by both Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro and Microsoft’s Xbox One X and Xbox One S.

However, it’s worth noting that, only the Xbox One X and Xbox One S supports physical 4K Blu-ray discs.

As for PC gaming, 4K gaming is technically possible with the right monitor and the right game - but it’s often a far more technically intensive experience than is usually worth the trouble.

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Fergus Halliday
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