There’s never been a better time to buy a 4K TV. Prices continue to fall even as screen sizes and smart TV features continue to increase. But now that the price of 4K TVs is within reach of almost everyone who wants one, will you really be able to enjoy all the extra detail and picture quality that 4K brings? The answer, sadly, is not as often as you’d expect, and not without some additional investment on top of the cost of the TV.
Modern 4K TVs are packed with a number of impressive technologies that can make picture quality amazing, no matter what you’re watching. With upscaling powered by complex algorithms and often aided by AI, watching an old DVD on a 4K TV will also look far better than an HDTV from 10 years ago. But to really get the best possible results, you need access to native 4K content, preferably with some flavor of HDR, like Dolby Vision, HDR10, or HDR10+.
The good news is that virtually every streaming service can now offer you a variety of TV shows and movies in 4K HDR, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Max, Disney+, Apple TV+ – the list goes on. The bad news is that we’re starting to charge extra for these services if you want to watch at 4K resolution.
Technically, Netflix has always done this. The only way to relax on Netflix and 4K/HDR/Dolby Atmos is to sign up for the company’s most expensive premium plan at $23 per month. Max (the service formerly known as HBO Max) used to include 4K/Dolby Atmos streams in its $16 per month ad-free tier. But starting December 5, 2023, those subscribers will have to pay $20 per month for the service’s Ultimate ad-free plan if they want to maintain access to this high-quality content. YouTube TV charges $10 per month in addition to its regular subscription price if you want to access its 4K content, while Paramount+ requires you to purchase its Paramount+ with Showtime plan ( You will have to purchase it at double the price of its standard plan. And Dolby Atmos.
It’s true that so far, this pay-to-play strategy has only taken hold on the two major VOD streaming services, but it’s worth keeping in mind that between Netflix and Max alone, we have a combined 348 million subscriptions worldwide. Talking about. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the cost of accessing 4K content is really only part of the equation. You’ll also need an Internet connection that’s capable of streaming that extra resolution.
We’re still trying to figure out why, but each streaming service has its own ideas about how much speed you’ll need. On the low end, Netflix says 15Mbps will do, though Disney, Apple, Paramount, and Google all require 25Mbps – and Max wants you to have at least 50Mbps.
Getting that bandwidth can be surprisingly difficult. “Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claims most Americans have access to a connection of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload,” BroadbandNow editor-in-chief Tyler Cooper told . Claims are exaggerated. In [our] In the most recent audit, we found that 42 million Americans do not have access to meeting connections up to the 25 Mbps limit.
If you’re lucky enough to join the group of Americans who live in an area that’s served by some version of high-speed Internet, you probably have all the bandwidth you need. According to Cooper, eighty percent of us who have access to high-speed broadband have subscribed to speeds over 200 Mbps.
And, yet, that service isn’t cheap. According to a survey by Forbes, you’re paying about $50 per month for 25 Mbps service. But given that this speed is the minimum for a single 4K stream, you’ve probably subscribed to a much faster package. The same survey revealed that the average price for 1,000 Mbps – also known as gigabit – is $90 per month.
There was a time when it seemed like free, over-the-air TV broadcasting might be the solution for those who wanted to get 4K at a reasonable price. ATSC 3.0, otherwise known as NextGen TV, has been touting its technological benefits for years, including pristine quality 4K resolution, HDR, and advanced surround sound. But as far as picture quality is concerned, the rollout of ATSC 3.0 has been a complete disappointment so far.
None of the 121 stations currently broadcasting using the ATSC 3.0 format are broadcasting in 4K and there appears to be no timeline for the change.
There’s no question, now is a good time to buy a 4K TV. Just make sure you have some money set aside to pay for some 4K content, otherwise you won’t get the improvement in picture quality you thought you were paying for.