While 4K content has been out for a while, we're only just now seeing a big shift to 4K as more and more consumers upgrade to TVs capable of supporting the format. If you haven't already upgraded to 4K, now is a good time because it's currently very affordable to do so. You will also notice a substantially better picture quality than viewing a High-Definition (HD) or Full High-Definition (FHD) TV.
What is 4K?
4K is a 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.
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 colour-gamut of the display output is.
For more on this, read our feature on Everything You Need To Know About HDR TVs.
Can HD content be upscaled to 4K?
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?
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, EZYDVD, 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 Mortal Combat, Godzilla, Red Sparrow and Avengers: Infinity War.
You can also now buy classic films that have been remastered in 4K, including oldies like: Psycho and The Wizard of Oz and more recent films like, Gladiator, Back To The Future Trilogy and Inception.
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 has 4K channels, including a 4K Ultra HD movie channel and a 4K Ultra HD sports channel. To view the Foxtel 4K content, you'll need a 4K TV, active Foxtel subscription and the company's new iQ4 set top box.
Can I stream 4K content on a streaming service like 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 The Witcher, Marvel's Daredevil, The Crown or Wolf Creek in 4K, you’ll be in luck.
If you’re hoping to binge 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?
4K gaming is supported by Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation 5, Microsoft’s Xbox One X, Xbox One S and Xbox Series X consoles.
However, it’s worth noting that, only the standard PlayStation 5, Xbox One X, Xbox One S and Xbox Series X support physical 4K Blu-ray discs.
Rumours are currently rife that we will soon see a Nintendo Switch 2 that supports 4K gameplay, yet nothing concrete has yet been confirmed.
As for PC, 4K gaming is taking off rapidly with 4K monitors now easy to find and also highly affordable. There are many games now available that support 4K, including titles like Metro Exodus, Metal Gear Solid V and Battlefield 1.
Once again, you will need the correct hardware. As well as a 4K monitor, you will need a graphics card that can support 4K gameplay. The newer and more powerful your graphics card, the better.
Optimally, you will want to have an Nvidia RTX 30 Series or AMD Radeon RX6000 Series graphics card installed, since these are the newest and most optimised graphics cards for 4K gaming. However, you could also get away with an older graphics card as long as it isn't too underpowered. We wouldn't recommend anything older or less powerful than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti or RTX 2070 Ti, or AMD's Radeon RX 5700 XT.
You'll also want nothing less powerful than an Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 processor to make 4K gaming on your PC worthwhile.
This article was updated by Dominic Bayley, July 2021.