There's a lot of baloney about 4K out there.
If you walk into any TV electronics stores nowadays, it’s all mostly 4K and smart TV’s. The 4K video shown on the store TV’s are slick but try asking the sales person how to get the 4K content and the answer isn't very satisfying. "It’s future proofing" and "4K content is coming soon" and point to examples of how you can get 4K content today.
Now that 4K TV's prices are much more affordable, the next time a person buys a TV, it's likely that TV is going to be 4K, expecting that great experience that they had when they first played a 1080p Blu-Ray on a stunning 1080p TV. Despite the slow start, 1080p Blu-Ray and cheap 1080p TV's helped propel both markets in the 2000's. Do you remember Blockbusters?
But just as Blu-ray supplanted DVD technology, consumers in 2010's have embraced watching content through online streaming. Various companies from NetFlix to YouTube to UltraFlix have already started 4K streaming. What could be better than just plugging your new 4K TV to the Internet and enjoying 4K content instantly. If only it was that easy.
To enjoy 4K content from NetFlix, most people will need to pay a lot per month to get the >20 Mbs download speeds needed for 4K content. I remember when people started turning off their expensive cable service to get on demand, good enough quality video from NetFlix. If you want to upgrade your Internet speeds to support 4K, don't be surprised if your monthly bill starts to remind you of what you had been paying before for cable.
I first tried out the NetFlix 4K service on an AT&T U-verse connection that couldn't support more than 15 Mbs. Not surprisingly, none of the 4K streams from NetFlix could do better than 1080p.
I then moved to another location that was also AT&T U-verse based that could support >20 Mbs. As you can see from below, the video starts off at 480p and then progressively upgrades to 720p. 1080p, and then finally 2160p.
This entire process to upgrade your resolution to 4K takes a while and sometimes you feel like NetFlix is really struggling to get enough bandwidth to go from 1080p to 2160p.
Even after you finally get to 4K resolution, something funny happens. The movies just don't look crisp on 4K and sometimes even worse compared to playing a movie on good ol' 1080p Blu-ray. It turns out that the compression companies are using now to squeeze all that 4K content into your relatively tiny Internet bandwidth creates images that while "4K" have lost their original crispness and sometimes even slightly distorted with artifacts.
Another problem with streaming services is that they are only as good as the Internet connection. At times the AT&T U-verse bandwidth would drop under 10 Mbs (the connection below shows 7.13 Mbs) and the resolution would drop back down to 1080p.
Once the connection improves (in this case 28.42 Mbs), the resolution goes back to 4K. The AT&T U-verse connection used was part of their fastest Max Turbo Internet plan. Be warned, even if you decide to pay so much for their fastest Internet packages, AT&T will not guarantee what levels of bandwidth consistency or latency you will get from them. Of course, AT&T probably prefers that you pay for their TV service rather than hog up bandwidth by streaming 4K NetFlix so they don't have a lot of incentive trying to delivery consistent 4K online streaming service.
Even using the fastest U-verse Internet plan available, other steaming media services were inconsistent with the resolution they were streaming at.
Amazon Prime also has 4K content like Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street but it could never go beyond 1080p.
YouTube had similar problems with their 4K content getting only up to 720p (click here to find out more).
There is also a new service UltraFlix that promises 4K streaming content.
UltraFlix has a wider range of 4K content than other streaming providers and the resolution automatically goes to 4K rather than trying to negotiate up from 480p.
While the UltraFlix 4K delivery experience was better than the other streaming service providers, the small 4K library and the lack of crispness due to image compression makes it a limited option for someone wanting to see great 4K content on their TV.
Ok, so let's say you didn't want to deal with getting your expectations dashed through streaming video, and wanted real Blu-ray like content that you could use to show off your new 4K TV to your friends. Well unfortunately while Blu-ray has a spec to support 4K, first products 4K Blu-ray products won't appear until 2016 and it's not clear how many studios will jump on this bandwagon.
Seeing that people aren't going to buy a lot of 4K TV's if there isn't any 4K content, Sony has also come out with a 4K Ultra HD Media Player that is supposed to work with all 4K TV's. While this is a good option if you have a Sony 4K TV and ok with buying a limited number expensive 4K movies (when there are no other 4K sources available, you get desperate), trying to get this 4K Ultra HD Media Player to work properly with other popular 4K TV's like Vizio's M-Series 4K Ultra HD Smart TV is a problem.
Downloading 4K content to a USB drive and sticking that drive into your 4K TV doesn't work that well either. Most 4K TV's don't support the file and video codec formats to play this 4K content.
Samsung did partner up with DirecTV to provide 4K content from satellite into your home. You can also get a 4K set-top box from DirecTV but you need to make sure that box will be able to work with whatever 4K TV you have purchased.
There is another option to play 4K content. Many Mac's and PC's can already support 4K content although only at 30 hz. To get 60 hz and above, you need to get a graphics card like the NVidia GeForce GTX 960 that uses HDMI 2.0 to support 4K at 60 hz and above. You can typically download a lot more software on a PC to deal with different 4K file formats and codecs. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to download a lot of 4K at 60 hz content right now.
Alternatively, you can try to purchase the Sony 4K Ultra HD camcorder to create your own content, but that only goes up to 4K 30 hz. The only way to record 4K content at 60 hz right now is to purchase very professional grade cameras (like these here from Sony) which doesn't make sense for the majority of us.
So while TV makers would love to sell you 4K TV's in 2015, be careful to temper your expectations and double check to make sure your 4K media sources can actually work with your 4K TV's.
I must admit though. Once you start seeing how good videos and text can look on 4K, it's hard to go back. So the industry better get its act together on providing a better 4K experience to consumers or else there will be a lot of disappointment. We don't want another repeat of what happened with 3D.