How to watch 4K content on your TV right now
IF YOU'VE bought a new TV recently, or plan to in the near future, there's a good chance that it will come with an ultra high definition screen, whether you want it to or not.
This is because the world’s LCD display manufacturers have switched production to the new standard almost as quickly and unconditionally as they abandoned cathode ray tubes a decade ago. Soon, only the very cheapest supermarket TVs will have just “regular” HD screens.
But an ultra-HD display, also known as UHD and 4K, is pointless unless you can watch TV shows or movies that have been shot in that format. There are no plans at the moment for UHD channels on Freeview, and Sky’s 4K packages cost a minimum of £32 a month. But your options no longer begin and end with the aerial or dish on your roof: here are five other ways to get 4K content onto your screen…
Built-in apps: Nearly all UHD sets have smart apps which pull in content from the internet, and some of it (admittedly, not much) is free. YouTube has a dedicated section for 4K videos - mostly music promos, travelogues and the like - which is ideal for dipping your toe in the water and for testing the speed of your wi-fi connection - it it’s not up to streaming these, there’s no point in paying for anything more.
Netflix: Your TV will almost certainly have an app for the world’s most popular video-on-demand service, and Netflix has plenty of content in 4K - even if some of it is just “upscaled” regular HD programming. You will need a premium account, which costs around £9 a month - though you can cancel and reinstate it whenever you like. An added bonus is that three other people can use the account simultaneously, on different screens.
Google Chromecast: If the apps on your 4K TV are too restrictive, the third generation of Google’s portable streaming stick will upgrade it to all the current services for £69. The Chomecast Ultra sits, like its predecessors, discretely at the back of your TV and plugs into a spare HDMI socket. It’s powered via USB, either from the mains or a spare socket on your TV, and connects to your broadband network wirelessly or with a cable. The Chromecast can also mirror to your TV whatever is on your phone, so it’s a convenient way of showing your family the photos you’ve just taken.
Blu-ray discs: An external player has long been the “normal” way to get extra content onto your TV, but the latest generation of discs is a minefield. The terms “mastered in 4K” and “upscaled” generally mean that the content isn’t “native” 4K at all - and as your UHD TV will be capable of upscaling by itself, you should be wary of buying such a box specially for the purpose. Upscaling players can be had for less than £100, but true UHD Blu-rays are at least three times as much.
Games console: The new Xbox One S console from Microsoft costs £250 and includes a 4K Blu-ray player as standard, so even if you don’t play games, it’s a credible alternative to a standalone player.
Whichever avenue you choose, it’s hard to avoid buying yet more hardware to get the best from your new screen - and that may be the best clue yet as to why those display manufacturers are so keen for us to have them.