New 4K HDR TV? What You Need To Know About Streaming Bandwidth & Content Alternatives
Stephan Jukic – December 15, 2017
Actual native 4K TV content for 4K ultra HD TVs can come from many sources, both digital and physical. In addition to this, the vast array of regular HD or even 720p or lower resolution content you view on a relatively high quality modern 4K HDR TV will indeed look at least a bit better on your new set due to upscaling technologies and a generally superior user-friendly design. However, the real value in and main reason for anyone wanting a 4K TV is so that they can enjoy the cheapest, most diverse and quickly accessible native ultra HD video on it as soon as they get that sucker into the living room. This of course means streaming media, and that in turn means a certain minimum of internet bandwidth.
So How Much Bandwidth Do I need for 4K?
Getting that cheap, diverse and instantly available accessible 4K content mentioned above of course invariably means hooking yourself up to the broad range of streaming content applications that your TV will almost certainly come with right out of the box. The same streaming media apps and others can also be found as an integrated part of any external, additional streaming media gadgets you have and can connect to your TV for an alternative smart TV interface (check out our in-depth guide to these 4k streaming devices here). Streaming ultra HD video from these applications, which include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu and many, many other potential entertainment sources, means having plenty of bandwidth, because 4K resolution definitely needs it to work.
How much bandwidth? Well, while conventional 1080p HD video sources can stream smoothly with a reliably constant broadband speed of well below 8Mps (megabits per second), 4K ultra HD video needs at least 20 at a bare minimum. Different streaming services offer slightly different recommendations but for safety’s safe, the bottom line is 20Mbps. Amazon claims that as little as 15Mbps is needed while Netflix recommends a constant minimal internet connection speed of 25Mbps. Other sources of live 4K UHD content such as sportscast providers might need even more at 30Mbps or higher.
Basically, your best bet will be the largest reasonably priced internet connection speed you can get your hands on with a baseline minimum of 25Mbps or more. Even if 4K streaming requires a little less than this, you also need to bear in mind other broadband-consuming devices in your home and the simple fact that both WiFi and internet connection speed in general can suffer slight to moderate bandwidth drop-offs from their stated speeds. Because of this, out of a 25Mbps connection, actual practical connectivity could possibly sink to as low as 2/3 of what it’s supposed to deliver.
Thus, for ideal 4K streaming connectivity that delivers consistently smooth native ultra HD picture quality, we ourselves would suggest getting an ISP package which offers at least 50Mps for some genuine reliability. If you’re one of those people who’s lucky enough to live in a place with ultra-high-speed fiber internet services that offer 500Mbps or even 1Gbps of affordable connectivity, even better! Those will absolutely be awesome for even the most intense 4K media streaming you can cram through them and more power to you.
What about the HDR part of streamed 4K content you ask? Well, since we’ve already mentioned it, it’s worth mentioning that HDR isn’t the problem when it comes to broadband connectivity requirements. It’s the 4K resolution that carries the major load, with high dynamic range mastering included as a minor add-on that takes up very little bandwidth. Thus, as long as you have a 4K TV with the ability to display the high dynamic range color and contrast that are baked into the ultra HD video sources you’re paying for, you’ll get your HDR as long as you have enough internet connectivity to get 4K video in the first place.
No Access To High-Speed Internet Connectivity?
Obviously enough, not everyone has the option of simply calling up their local ISP and forking over the cash for a high-speed plan that offers a minimum of 25Mbps. In the U.S.A, it’s estimated that roughly 10% of Americans can’t access what is now classified by the Federal Communications Commission as broadband internet at 25Mbps. This is nearly 34 million people and some of our readers might number among that percentage of the population. If we consider international internet access, the numbers of people without broadband connectivity become even more dismal overall. So what about all the 4K TV owners in these parts of the U.S and the world?
Well there are alternatives available, at least a few of them in fact.
First, you have 4K ultra HD Blu-ray discs. These offer an ultra HD/HDR visual experience that’s arguably even better than what you’d get from any streaming service since it doesn’t suffer from any streaming connectivity issues or the same level of data compression that streamed 4K media has to go through to be sent. Furthermore, because 4K Blu-rays aren’t coded to specific geographical regions in the way that DVDs and older HD Blu-rays are, any 4K Blu-ray disc bought from any source can be viewed on any 4K disc player anywhere in the world.
Of course, if you want to enjoy 4K Blu-ray from your TV, you’ll need to spend a bit extra on a 4K Blu-ray player but the good news here is that these have become cheaper than ever, with some models selling for just $200 and game consoles like the Xbox One S and One X offering integrated 4K Blu-ray disc players while also giving you an awesome gaming experience as a bonus. Currently, Amazon and other online retailers are selling a constantly growing selection of nearly 300 different ultra HD Blu-ray titles and it will only get bigger from here, so there’s no shortage of cool entertainment to keep you buy via this medium.
Cable, Satellite & VOD
Beyond 4K Blu-ray, there’s also cable/satellite 4K content to consider. This won’t be available everywhere but some providers are delivering a pretty decent selection of live sportscasts, movies and other programming through their satellite broadcasting services via set-top DVRs. In the U.S two of the most notable services with this option are DirecTV, Dish and Comcast, through its Xfinity service. They’re all worth a look if you can get them in your particular region. Dish and Comcast even offer streaming apps like Netflix via their DVRs, meaning that you can possibly get the same extensive 4K content as the streaming web version of the app offers via an alternative route. These services offer both VOD movies and satellite/cable streamed entertainment channels.
Another 4K content option for 4K TV owners who don’t have a powerful enough internet connection for ultra HD streaming but do have enough internet connectivity for decent download speeds are downloadable 4K ultra HD content and Video On Demand services. These include Sony PlayStation Video, Vudu and several others including iTunes 4K (if you own an Apple TV 4K set-top box). Via these services, you can download your 4K ultra HD HDR movies and though you’ll need to wait a while to see those huge downloads complete, no 25Mbps+ internet connectivity is required. We should however note that if you’re downloading 4K ultra HD movies, you’ll need a storage device for keeping them hooked up to your 4K TV since an average UHD movie file takes up a whopping 40GB.
Also Read: Our 4K UHD Movies page, where a complete listing of all currently Available 4K UHD content
Broadcast TV? Not Yet
As for Broadcast TV, it’s still almost strictly limited to HD transmissions even though the FCC under Ajit Pai has fairly recently voted to allow broadcasters in the U.S to start beaming out 4K HDR signals through the newly developed ATSC 3.0 standard. However, current 4K TV models don’t have tuners with this standard integrated into them anyhow so for regular broadcast 4K TV entertainment, we’re still out of luck, though 2018 is looking promising.
What About Upscaling?
On a final note, we also mention that most non-4K content upscales quite nicely on any decent 4K HDR TV available today. This doesn’t always apply perfectly to older or badly formatted broadcasts and content sources but your average HD video feed from any source will look great on your native 4K ultra HD televsion’s screen and be nicely improved by the generally higher levels of peak brightness and deeper, richer black levels that 4K TVs tend to offer over their HD cousins. So even if you’re completely out of luck for any sources of true, native 4K ultra HD entertainment, not all is lost for your TV.