The most popular form of content delivery these days is streaming services. Yep, movie theaters are out (thanks, pandemic), and watching Hollywood content on your massive TV at home is in. But while most streaming services have historically offered high-definition 1080p content, now the norm is quickly becoming 4K. But just what is 4K streaming? Read on…
What Is 4K?
4K refers to media that, roughly, has around 4,000 rows of pixels on a screen–such as a television screen. Those rows, which run vertically down a screen are combined with the columns that run horizontally across a screen, and together they give that agrees its resolution.
For example: a 1080p HD TV will have 1920 columns of pixels running horizontally across its screen and 1080 rows of pixels running vertically down its screen, giving the TV a resolution of 1080×1920.
4K TV has almost four times the rows of pixels, hence the name “4K”. But it’s important to keep in mind that 4K is a marketing phrase, not an exact technical spec. Why? Because there are generally two types of 4K screens: Cinema 4K and Consumer 4K.
Cinema 4K is the type of screen most theaters will have. It has a resolution of 4096 x 2160, or just over four thousand rows of pixels. Consumer 4K, on the other hand, is the type of screen home televisions have. They have a resolution of 3840 x 2160, or just under four thousand rows of pixels. In other words, that’s why “4K” is simply a marketing term. It’s an estimation or rounding of the rows of pixels a screen has–not an exact technical spec.
But simplifying things, just understand that 4K video has, roughly, four times the amount of pixels than high definition 1080p video has. In other words, the video quality is, technically, four times sharper. Given that, it’s no wonder why most streaming services are offering 4K content.
And yep, there is something beyond 4K, if you were wondering. It’s 8K–but it’s pretty much pointless.
Which Streaming Services Offer 4K Streaming?
Most major streaming services offer 4K content. And the amount of 4K content those streaming services offer grows every week as back-catalog content gets updated from 1080p to 4K by the studios or production companies that own the content.
Right now, these are the major streaming services that offer 4K streaming:
Again, keep in mind that not all of the service’s content will be available in 4K. The newest content (that which was produced in the last few years) will likely be 4K, but older titles and series may take a while before they are updated to 4K.
Does 4K Streaming Cost More?
Yes and no. That is, most streaming services offer you 4K content, if it is available, at no other cost than your monthly subscription fee. Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, HBO Max, and Hulu all offer 4K content at no additional cost.
The one exception is Netflix. The company does offer 4K content, however, in order to access it, you need to subscribe to its Premium plan. Yeah, in 2021 this just makes Netflix seem greedy. When all its competitors throw in 4K content for free, it’s baffling that Netflix charges extra for it.
Do I Need Special Equipment To Stream In 4K?
But even if you have a streaming service that offers 4K, you will still need the proper equipment to actually view 4K content. Specifically, you need a digital media player that supports 4K streams and a television with a 4K screen to watch 4K content.
If you only have a digital media player that supports 1080p, it won’t be possible to watch content in 4K via it. Likewise, if your TV is only 1080p, you won’t see the increased sharpness 4K content provides.
That means if you want to stream 4K, you’ll need to have a 4K smart television (one that has built-in streaming apps) or a 4K television and a 4K digital media player. 4K digital media players include the Apple TV 4K, Roku Premiere, Amazon Fire Stick 4K, and Chromecast with Google TV.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is 4k streaming worth it?
4K is technically better than 1080p (or normal “high-definition). If you have a 4K TV, you might as well watch 4K content on it. However, some people say they can’t see any difference between 1080p and 4K, so your milage may vary.
Q: What is difference between Smart TV and 4k?
A smart TV refers to an internet-connected TV that has built-in apps like Netflix or Apple TV Plus. 4K refers to the quality of video content. Most smart TVs are 4K TVs too (that is an internet-connected TV that can display 4K content).
Q: What is the difference between HD and 4k?
4K has four times as many pixels at HD (otherwise known as 1080p) video. Here’s how both break down:
- 1080p HD: 1920 x 1080 resolution with a total of a little over 2 million pixels.
- 4K: 3840 x 2160 resolution with a total of a little over 8.2 million pixels.
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.