A cautionary tale for those thinking about investing in 4k hardware at the moment or in the near future ...
Over the last few years I've all but given up on "live" tv - anything broadcast on terrestrial television channels at set times (bar watching live sports), but, at the same time, I have begun to watch more and more streaming content on the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime etc, as well as setting up my own media sever via Plex.
As I've been watching more and more movies and binge-watching tv series, I thought about updating my 2-3 year old 42" LG HD tv. It was a basic model, but had served me very well and worked well for normal tv usage and for content via my Apple TV. I thought that as I was using the tv (and services) more, it would probably be worth investing in a slightly better tv - this would not only future-proof me for quite some time, but also allow me to watch the latest and greatest shows and movies in glorious 4k - the new format that all the streaming services are regularly promoting.
After debating tvs for a while, I spotted a model that was on sale (being a 2016 model). A local ISP was advertising it with 25% off it's original price. A quick search online and I actually found it on sale elsewhere with a slightly better 35% off. With the sale price and added bonus of interest free credit, I decided to take the plunge and ended up with a Samsung UE65KU6175 - a curved, 65" 4k/UHD tv.
Initially, even highly-compressed 4k videos on YouTube looked great, with the HDR adding sharper colours and lighting ... as well as all of those extra pixels!
I then started to look at my own set up and how best to get the most from the tv ... and this is where I started to find that options and quality really are still limited and not as quite widespread or as good as tv manufacturers would have you think.
- Online content. YouTube massively compresses 4k content, so anything except those super bright '4k nature' or '4k timelapse' videos doesn't look all that great. The 4k content on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video is again compressed (although not quite as much as YouTube) and I don't see a massive difference compared to the same content in 1080p (normal HD).
- Terrestrial/satellite/cable tv content. Broadcasters here in Finland have only recently started to offer HD content and channels, let alone 4k! Although, something to note if you have a sports package from Viasat - Viasat actually offer a UHD channel for football, but this channel is not offered by ISPs when they resell the packages. If you buy direct from Viasat, the sports package will cost you approx €50 a month and I believe hardware and installation comes free (with a 2 year contract). I'll be leaving DNA (my tv package provider) as soon as I can get some technical details confirmed by Viasat. Options in the UK (and other locations) are a bit more varied with the likes of Sky Q.
- Apple TV. Well, the latest Apple TV doesn't support 4k, although there are signs that the next revision (hopefully later this year) will.
- Plex. I added a lot of UHD content to my Plex media server thinking this would be the best and easiest way to watch 4k stuff on the tv (as the tv has it's own native Plex app built in). Nope. Files are transcoded on my MacBook Pro and sent to the tv, but the tv itself has problems processing the large amounts of data it receives, resulting in buffering every 20 seconds or so, and, in a lot of cases, just freezing and crashing.
- USB. The tv comes with a number of inputs, including two USB ports. I took my external hard-drive which holds all my Plex files and plugged it directly in to the tv. I'm not 100% sure if the content is playing at full resolution via USB (I'm still waiting for Samsung to reply to query), but things looked good. But issues occurred when the files being played had multiple audio tracks - the tv defaults to the first one and there's no option to select which audio track to play. I did actually try to manually remove the other audio and subtitle tracks and re-encode the movie(s), but this led to file corruptions/crashes.
- Xbox One S. I also recently bought a new Xbox. The drive in the Xbox One S is actually a UHD Blu-ray player, but, while I haven't actually tested it properly myself, I can't find a single decent review of the player itself - they all seem to echo this one.
- UHD Blu-ray and other options. An option, but having invested in all of these other things, I'm reluctant to invest in a nice Blu-ray player and the physical media, especially when we'll hopefully see a 4k Apple TV in the coming months (which would mean better support for Plex and 4k iTunes content). This also goes for all of those other streaming options such as those from Roku, Amazon and Nvidia etc - just more inputs when I'm trying to reduce the number of options I have to choose from and have connected to the tv just to watch something.
If you've purchased a 4k tv recently and have a great solution, idea, app, or piece of hardware that you recommend for managing and streaming 4k content, please let me know in the comments below!
Since I wrote the above piece a few more options have become available - once of which I've just subscribed to!
Firstly, we now have the Apple TV 4K (along with the other streaming sticks/boxes), which I have purchased. While the roll-out of 4K/HDR content on iTunes Movies is slow (at least in Finland), it's underway, and any existing HD content will be automatically upgraded to 4K/HDR for free. I've even begun transitioning my media library over from Plex to legit, paid for, copies on iTunes!
In wanting to cut the cord, I was tempted by Telia's new Telia TV app on the Apple TV. All of your subscribed content directly via the one app. But this content is only in HD (and I'd guess limited to 720p in most cases) and no current or planed support for 4K content.
I only subscribe to a tv package (with DNA) so as to watch Premier League an Champions League football. The rights and broadcasts come from Viasat and I pay DNA to subscribe to this.
Viasat do now offer 4K (UHD) content though and there are a couple of ways of getting this.
- Direct from Viasat. This costs approx €50 per month - this includes the cost of the football package and the cost of the receiver box and satellite. The satellite is small (approx 12") and some buildings already have them installed. Unfortunately, my building wouldn't let me, so this wasn't an option. If you sign a 24 month contract, the installation of the satellite is free (at the time of typing this) and there's a €49 up-front payment for the UHD-receiver.
- Via DNA. DNA are currently trialling Viasat's 4K (UHD) channel and offer it as part of their tv packages. This is what I signed up for. I currently pay approx €39 for a 100mbs internet connection (with extra 4G services). By adding €5 a month to this, I get a 200mbs connection, a tv hub (receiver) and the UHD channel added to my existing tv package.
So while it's still slow-going, options are now starting to become more widely available here in Finland. If you're an early adopter, there are lots of new services and Hardware to try out. But, for the average consumer, we're still a way off having a 4K in the home as standard.