The law of diminishing returns applies to ever-improving picture quality.
In the days when black and white television was the norm, colour footage represented a dramatic improvement in viewer enjoyment and image representation.
The same was true of the switch from standard definition to HD – especially when watching sporting events, where pixelated figures suddenly morphed into well-defined athletes.
Yet could you really tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p, or between a 4K broadcast and an 8K one?
Over the last decade, 4K output has been sold as the future of broadcasting, yet 8K TVs are already on sale in the UK, and 16K versions have been debuted at tech shows.
If you’re buying a new TV in the January sales, it’s worth considering how much 4K content is available to determine if it’s worth upgrading to a compatible screen.
(While any TV larger than 43 inches is almost certainly going to be 4K, screens this size may not be, and smaller displays probably aren’t for cost reasons).
How much 4K content is available on TV?
The BBC was an early adopter of 4K technology with the Blue Planet series, back in 2016, but it’s since fallen behind in terms of its investment in this medium.
Some modern shows are recorded and broadcast in this format, also known as Ultra HD, such as Red Rose and Inside Man.
It’s worth noting that due to broadcast regulations, you’re more likely to find 4K BBC content on streaming platforms or Blu-ray discs than on the BBC channels themselves.
The newly launched ITVX streaming service has no 4K content on it, while Freeview doesn’t have the bandwidth required to broadcast in this quality.
You’ll search in vain for 4K content on either Channel 4 or Channel 5 – the Channel 4 website doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of 4K as a broadcast medium.
What about streaming services?
There’s richer choice here, with Netflix spearheading the introduction of 4K content as the norm rather than the exception.
You can easily search for Ultra HD content through the platform by searching for either that term (written as one word) or 4K.
However, there are two issues to beware of on any of today’s myriad streaming services:
- Not all episodes may be available in 4K – later series might have been recorded using 4K cameras where earlier ones were ‘only’ filmed in HD.
- It takes roughly four times as much data to transmit content in 4K as HD, which means you’ll need a minimum 15Mbps download connection speed – and ideally much more.
Other streaming platforms don’t make it as easy to find 4K content. For instance, The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime is in 4K, but it’s not grouped together in a dedicated category.
The same is true of Disney+. Around ten per cent of their output is in Ultra HD, including Pixar and Marvel movies, but it isn’t searchable or signposted clearly.
If content is available at a lower resolution, you should easily be able to select it. In Disney+, you’d go to Profile > Settings > App Settings > Video Playback > Mobile Data Usage.
YouTube is the world’s second biggest search engine (behind parent company Google), and they have all sorts of 4K content, though it’s not listed as a category.
In fact, it only became freely available in late October, having previously been restricted to a short-lived and unpopular premium membership service.
From remastered Bon Jovi videos to 11 hours of winter scenes overlaid by the sort of ambient music you’d hear in a spa, Ultra HD content is available – but again, it’s not advertised.
There’s no 4K section on the YouTube website, and nor is there on Vimeo. You’re reliant on individual contributors recording in that standard prior to uploading it.
Other 4K content can be found on file sharing platforms like Pexels and relaxation websites such as Nature Relax TV, but there are no dedicated 4K streaming services.
To find suitably high-definition content, you’ll need to (a) search for it via Google or Bing and (b) hope it’s available.