So You Got A 4K UHD TV? Our 5 Step Guide To Getting The Most From It
Stephan Jukic – January 04, 2019
The Holidays are over, some of the best electronics deals of the year have also passed with them and maybe if you were a bit lucky, you’ve now got yourself a brand new 4K HDR TV that somebody gifted or you bought. This is great! If you use the TV right and it’s one of the better models (budget or premium because both exist) you can keep it for years and get awesome home theater performance even as new technologies come out.
However, before you sit everyone down before the new set in the living room and kick off your next Netflix binge in 4K with HDR, there are a few extra things you can easily do first to make that new television function at its absolute possible best for any kind of content you can throw at it (and especially ultra HD programming with high dynamic range built into it).
So here are some essential steps to take, though they’re all purely optional and best of all, some of them are also completely free. You can of course also just watch the TV right out of the box and it might be okay that way too, but we really do recommend following through with at least a couple of these.
Our main TVs Page offers our 2018/2019 rankings of the absolute best 4K UHD HDR options, categorized by budget.
Placing Your 4K TV
This sort of seems like a no-brainer, one of those things nobody needs any advice on, but there is actually a funny bit of detail to it. Placing a new 4K TV, and especially one that’s going to be the home entertainment centerpiece of your entire home instead of just a new studio or bedroom TV, is a crucial task. You have to take into account viewing angles, distances, lighting and though this is all simple stuff, it has a major effect on viewing experience.
The basics here are that first of all, your new TV should be placed so that the maximum number of seats (sofas, love seats etc) are as close as possible to the front of the TV instead of off to one angle. Even if these sears have to be a bit further away than recommended, in-front placement is ideal. The reason for this is that most LCD 4K TVs today come with Vertical Alignment screen technology, meaning that their rectangular pixels align vertically. This is superb for deep blacks and strong contrast but it also means poor picture quality when such a TV is viewed from off center. IPS 4K TVs (mainly made by LG, for their LCD TVs, and Sony for some of its XBR-Series models) and OLED 4K TVs don’t have this problem and conserve high picture quality even at extreme angles.
Secondly, your 4K TV should compete as little as possible with sources of external lighting and sunlight in particular. Today’s HDR 4K TVs and especially any premium UHD TV from 2018 or 2017 offer such high picture brightness that they hold their own quite well against indirect sunlight or nearby windows and lamps but not even the best TV will deliver ideal picture clarity if its screen is being hit by or competing against direct sunlight.
As for viewing distances, a good rule of thumb is that a 50-55 inch 4K TV can be comfortably viewed from roughly 8 to 10 feet away, while each additional 10 inches of display size let you place it a further 3 or 4 feet away without feeling like it’s too far removed from your viewing area.
On a final note for this section, bear in mind that pretty much all 4K TVs sold today can also be wall-mounted with VESA brackets, so if there’s no space along your furniture tops in the living room for the TV, you can just plant it against the wall. This is a particularly good idea for 4K TVs with slightly wobbly integrated stands (and there are some like this, particularly cheaper models).
Setup and Connectivity Details
Aside from considerations of lighting, viewing angle and viewing distance affecting how well your 4K TV displays content, you should also take into account connectivity logistics. In other words, TV placement should also be ideal for the sake of direct access to WiFi signal strength and connectivity to TV antennas or Ethernet cables. If this means adjusting where you place yur modem in your house, that’s probably better than having to shift the TV to a crappy position in your living room, studio or den but the key thing to keep in mind is that WiFi signals should reach the television as directly and with as few physical obstructions as possible and for maximally consistent connectivity, you should simply hook the 4K HDR TV up to your router or modem’s Ethernet connection with a short distance between the two if possible. This is particularly crucial if your home internet connection is only just above the 20 to 25 consistent Mbps necessary for streaming of 4K UHD HDR content. In this case, WiFi might deliver a signal that sometimes drops too much while Ethernet connectivity will do this much less.
Remember that modern smart TVs of all kinds live and die by access to internet-streamed content from all the numerous apps they have on them. This applies especially to 4K UHD and HDR content, which is much more common on streaming service sources than any broadcast TV provider. Thus if you want to enjoy the best of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or Vudu in ultra HD, you need to keep those 20 to 25 or more Mbps flowing to your TV consistently.
External media sources like 4K Blu-ray players and VOD movie boxes deliver content to your TV via HDMI so they should be okay even with weak internet connectivity but if these external devices get their own 4K content from streaming media apps, the same internet access considerations for WiFi and Ethernet apply to them just as they would to your television. This of course means that if for some reason your TV can’t easily be placed for maximal internet access, a work-around option is to use an external streaming media platform for as your smart TV app interface and place that external device closer to better WiFi or Ethernet connectivity, then run an HDMI cable to your TV itself for a consistent signal strength. (We’ll cover media device options even more a bit further down in this post).
As for the HDMI cables themselves, we cover these in complete detail here in this post but to summarize here, almost any HDMI cable labeled “High Speed” and if possible with a “Premium Certified” logo plastered to its packaging will be perfectly fine for all 4K UHD HDR content of any kind from any media source. These can be bought generically from brands like Amazon Basic or Monoprice without costing more than a few bucks for at least 6 feet of cable (more than enough for most TVs). You DO NOT need to spend a fortune on HDMI cables that promise any additional “special” 4K features besides those with the above labels. Some manufacturers sell these for much higher prices but their hype is completely irrelevant for 4K HDR picture quality.
Finally, bear in mind as well that while all 4K TVs now come with 4K HDR-capable HDMI connection ports (HDMI 2.0a standard), some TVs don’t have this feature in all of their 3 or 4 HDMI ports. In many models only a couple of the connectivity slots for HDMI will offer this kind of support. The others will be of the older HDMI 1.4 variety, which does not support HDR or 4K at more than 30fps. Make sure you’re connecting your external HDMI-linked media devices for 4K video to one of your TVs more advanced HDMI ports.
Internet Speed and Entertainment Options
The above of course also means we have to mention an obvious related point for actually getting 4K resolution in video on your new 4K TV: You will absolutely need at least 20 to 25 consistent Mbps of broadband speed to make it work from any streaming source like Netflix, Amazon and etc. So upgrade your internet if it’s not up to par and if for some reason you can’t in your area, well there are always VOD (downloaded movie) set-top box options or 4K Blu-ray players as options for 4K home entertainment, as we mentioned above.
All 4K Blu-ray movies come with HDR formatting as well and the selection of available titles available from retailers like Best Buy and Amazon is now remarkably extensive, with well over 250 different movies, show series box sets and documentaries and so forth to choose from. Streaming media without enough internet speed for 4K resolution will also automatically upscale on your 4K TV so that it looks sharper than it would on a normal HDTV. This feature of 4K TVs isn’t simple hype either by the way. It really does work and the difference in quality is visible to the naked eye.
Calibration and Settings
Now that you’ve got your TV fully installed, ideally placed and hokked up to the internet or external media devices for the best you can get in 4K HDR entertainment options, you need to make sure that it’s outputting picture quality at its best possible levels. This will probably mean doing a bit of manual TV calibration depending on your preferences. Sony’s new Master Sereis A9F and Z9F 4K HDR TVs come with pre-calibrated picture settings that are designed to be as close to “production ideal” as possible but that cool little manufacturer feature doesn’t apply to most other 4K TV units from any major brand. Thus:
You can do things quickly by going into your TVs menu settings for picture modes (different models and smart TV platform will have these labeled differently) and changing around color temperature, contrast, peak brightness, motion handling and other specs until the content you view most often looks as good as it can to you. This is something that you can do manually or you can also go online and see the “ideal” calibration settings for your specific 4K TV. Another, even more precise calibration option is to get a disk like the “Disney WOW: World of Wonder” DVD. No, we’re not kidding, it consists of numerous specific images and color/contrast test patterns designed to let you calibrate your TV professionally based on how your adjustments affect them.
We should also mention motion handling and interpolation here: Almost all 4K TVs come with some sort of motion interpolation technology that speeds up the speed and smoothness of content. This is technology might be called “Motionflow” (Sony) or “AutoMotion Plus” (Samsung) or “TruMotion” (LG) depending on your TV brand but in all cases, one thing it does create is a strange sort of overly clear movement handling that’s called the “soap opera effect” due to its distortions of normal cinematic frame rate flow. Some people don’t mind or even love how this looks, others hate it. You decide and know that it can be turned off or on by reducing or increasing your motion interpolation setting in your TV, respectively.
Media Device Options
Moving back to media devices, we mention them because not all native smart TV platforms are equal in their access to content or the quality of their user interface. If this is the case with your particular new 4K ultra HD TV, it’s no problem at all since you can just plug in an external streaming media player like the Amazon Fire, the Roku Premium, Ultra or other Roku 4K HDR devices, or something a bit pricier and fancier like Apple TV 4K, with its access to the giant iTunes ultra HD movie library. All of these cost money but they offer a whole new level of smart functionality and app access that can be used on top of what your TV offers by itself. They all connect via HDMI so bear in mind our points above on HDMI connectivity.
In our comprehensive Devices page, we cover the whole range of today’s diverse media streaming devices, from cheap little 4K streaming sticks like the Roku Streaming Stick + to the pricey Apple TV 4K or even satellite 4K broadcast set-top DVRs.
Making Your Audio Awesome
Finally, we need to mention audio. Your 4K HDR TV will likely have modestly decent native sound power for really basic casual TV watching and late night movies but some budget models don’t even quite deliver what we’d call decent audio. Furthermore, though claims that no 4K TV ever delivers good audio are badly exaggerated, the internal audio of any 4K TV (even expensive ultra-premium models) is never truly excellent in our experience. Thus if you do really need some more serious auditory kick for your favorite action movies, music or sportscasts, we’d recommend getting an external sound bar or speaker system. Lots of options are available and even very affordable ones will really move the quality of your audio up several notches.
If you are going for a sound bar, one of our most absolutely highly recommended options is the VIZIO SB3621n-F8M 36″ 2.1 Channel sound bar system linked to below. It’s by far the cheapest really excellent 4K TV audio package we know of right now.