The complete guide to 4K streaming

The latest and best way to watch TV is with 4K streaming, or ultra-high-definition (UHD). But you can’t just watch 4K anywhere — there are a select few requirements you need to meet first. Plus, you need to be signed up for a service that actually offers 4K content. Find everything you need to know about how to get 4K content, where, and which devices will work with 4K.

What is 4K resolution and why would I want it?

The question on everyone’s mind is, what is 4K and is it even worth it? Well, 4K resolution is top tier viewing quality. It uses more pixels to fit the frame of the screen, so pictures and videos appear much larger. This also means that 4K is perfectly designed for the big screen, including large home smart TVs.

In comparison to high definition (HD), which uses a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel display, 4K (or UHD) offers 3,840 x 2,160. The more pixels available, the better the picture quality will be. This means that images and videos don’t need to be stretched to fit your 50″ (or more!) smart TV. It also means that you see a much crisper and more vibrant picture that’s bolder in color, even between black and white contrast. 

Lower-quality videos, such as those in standard definition (SD), often look widened on big screens, which makes them appear pixelated or fuzzy. The overall quality of the picture can be much poorer, too — think less vibrancy, detail, and definition.

It’s not possible to stream 4K everywhere, though. First, you need a device that supports 4K viewing, such as a smart 4K TV. You also need to be signed up for a streaming service that offers 4K content — usually, this includes only a small percentage of the overall library. Make sure you check your subscription, too, because some services like Netflix charge more for 4K movies and TV shows. Other platforms like Hulu only let you stream in 4K if you have one of the few compatible devices — you can see which ones in our review of Hulu’s 4K offering.

Finally, you need a fast internet connection. Even if you meet all the other criteria, 4K viewing isn’t possible without a steady internet speed. Most services require 25 Mbps or higher for 4K streaming if there are multiple people in your household watching in 4K at the same time. If it’s just you, speeds of 15-16 Mbps are usually OK.

What types of 4K devices can I stream with?

You can only start streaming in 4K if you have a compatible device. This includes the following:

  • TVs
  • Streaming devices
  • Gaming consoles

However, within each category, there are only a select number of devices that support UHD viewing. Here’s what you need to know about how to get 4K on your device.

TVs

You can get 4K TVs almost anywhere. As you’d expect, they’re typically much more expensive than HD TVs, and they’re usually much bigger. Most 4K TVs range anywhere from 43″ to 80″ to make the most of the larger pixels available. Providers like LG, Samsung, Sony, TOSHIBA, and Vizio all have a wide range of 4K TVs. 

Choosing a 4K TV is a great idea if you’re not a huge fan of streaming devices, and don’t want to bother with boxes and sticks that need to be installed. A 4K TV comes ready to go, so you can start streaming UHD titles the minute you sign up for your chosen streaming platform.

Streaming devices

Certain streaming devices also offer 4K streaming, as long as they’re compatible with your 4K TV. A lot of streaming platforms require you to have one of these devices to actually watch any of their 4K content. Hulu, for example, only lets you stream 4K titles if you’ve got one of the five devices on the list.

Some of the most popular 4K streaming devices include Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Cube, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV 4K (needs to be 5th generation or newer), Chromecast Ultra, and the Roku Streaming Stick+.

While streaming devices might be more fiddly to set up than a 4K TV, you get other benefits included, such as free on-demand content — this is in addition to the titles you get with whichever streaming platform you choose. With Amazon products, you also get the luxury of Alexa and Echo integration, which includes voice-controlled remotes to make finding TV shows and movies even easier.

Gaming consoles

Pairing certain games consoles with a 4K compatible TV also means you can stream in 4K. There are only a select few game consoles that offer this functionality, though. This includes Google Stadia, PlayStation 4 Pro, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X.

How to watch 4K movies and TV shows

If you’ve got the 4K TV and minimum required internet speed, you can then sign up for a streaming service that supports 4K viewing. Only certain streaming platforms offer 4K, and you’ll need to bear in mind that you might require another streaming device to watch 4K titles. 

Here are the streaming platforms that currently offer 4K streaming, plus a breakdown of monthly costs.

Streaming serviceBest forStarting monthly subscription priceAvg. 4K rental costsFree trial length
Amazon Prime VideoBinge-worthy original shows$12.99/mo.$7.99 – $25.9930 days
Disney+Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic titles$6.99/mo.Included in monthly cost7 days
HuluNetwork TV programming$5.99/mo.Included in monthly cost30 days
NetflixOriginal TV shows and movies$8.99/mo.$17.99/mo.N/A
StarzStarz original TV shows$8.99/mo.Included in monthly cost7 days
VuduMovie and TV show rentals with no subscriptionRentals only$14.99 – $19.99/mo.None
YouTube TVLive TV with a small selection of 4K titles$64.99/mo.Included in monthly cost7 days

Other ways to stream 4K content

You can also get 4K content through other avenues, including cable and satellite providers. This includes providers such as DIRECTV, DISH, and Xfinity. Prices for these services typically range from $30/mo. to $95/mo., and sometimes even more. 

With both of these options, you can enjoy live TV channels as well as plenty of on-demand TV shows and movies. However, cable and satellite might not be best suited to cord cutters that don’t want to commit and prefer to test and try out different platforms. 

It’s worth mentioning that you can integrate some streaming platforms with cable or satellite, as long as you choose the right one. With Xfinity for example, you can integrate Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube TV for even more 4K content and choice.

The final cut

If you want a cinema-like feel from your couch, 4K definitely delivers just that. The advanced picture quality comes at a price, though, and it’s not as easy as just picking a 4K movie. You need to make sure you upgrade your gaming console, streaming device, or TV first. Even if you pay the higher cost of a 4K device, you then need to make sure your internet speed is at least 15-16 Mbps, and that you sign up for a 4K streaming platform.

Thankfully, there are plenty of streaming options out there, but they can come with hidden costs that you need to watch out for. Some services like Netflix charge you a higher monthly cost to stream 4K content, while others such as Hulu require specific devices which means an extra expense. Make sure you weigh up the pros and cons of each before you decide which is right for you. And if you live in an area with poor internet service, don’t bother. Even if you hit every other requirement, you won’t be able to stream in 4K regardless.