The ability to watch more for less money isn’t the only advantage of cord-cutting.
While traditional television has been slow to embrace 4K HDR, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have been doing so for years, allowing you to watch the higher-resolution video with more color detail. They’ve also been progressively adding Dolby Atmos support, which is an object-based surround sound format that adds audio height cues to movie and TV program soundtracks. All of this means you may get more of the movie theatre experience without ever leaving your couch (much to the dismay of some folks in Hollywood).
Even if you buy a high-end 4K HDR TV and an Atmos soundbar (or a full-fledged home-theater audio system), that doesn’t mean you’ll be watching TV in those formats. To get the best picture and sound quality, you’ll need to connect your devices in certain ways, use certain streaming services, and watch certain material. Here’s a list of things to look for to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth:
Step 1: Check your connections
You’re in good condition, at least in terms of video, if all you have is a 4K HDR-compatible smart TV with nothing else connected to it. Simply utilize the built-in software on your smart TV to play 4K material, and it should work as long as you have a fast enough broadband connection. (I’ll get to those content sources later.)
When you connect external streaming players to your TV, the problem becomes more complicated because each link in the chain must now support 4K HDR. For example, a 4K-compatible streaming player like Roku’s Express 4K+ or Amazon’s Fire TV Sticks 4K is required.
If you wish to use an external streaming player with your 4K HDR TV, be sure it also supports 4K (like the Roku Express 4K+).
Because some HDMI inputs may not support 4K or the color depth required for HDR, you should connect these devices to your TV’s finest HDMI input. (This is especially true for Dolby Vision HDR-enabled devices, which require a 12-bit color depth.) For more information, look at the labels on your HDMI ports or consult your TV’s manual.
Because Dolby Atmos doesn’t operate over an optical cable or a 3.5mm audio output (such connections simply don’t have enough bandwidth to handle the data), you’ll need a suitable soundbar or receiver connected to your TV’s HDMI-ARC slot. You’ll need a soundbar or receiver with its own 4K-capable HDMI input if your HDMI-ARC slot is also the one that gives the best video quality. When you connect your streaming device to that input, your soundbar or receiver will send the video to your TV via the same connection that handles the audio.
Step 2: Use 4K-friendly streaming services
You’ll still need streaming services that support these formats even if you have a 4K HDR TV, compatible streaming device, and Atmos audio system. As of August 2021, these are the ones that do:
- Netflix’s $18-per-month Premium plans include 4K, HDR, and Atmos support.
- Amazon Prime: 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos are all supported.
- Hulu: 4K video on demand is supported by Hulu.
- YouTube: 4K and HDR video are supported.
- Disney+: 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos are all supported.
- HBO Max: On its ad-free subscriptions, it supports 4K and HDR, as well as Atmos on some devices.
- Apple TV+: 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos support
- On its $10-per-month Premium package, Paramount+ supports 4K and HDR.
- Epix Now: Apple TV and Roku devices now support 4K.
- For some events, FuboTV supports 4K and HDR.
Step 3: Find some 4K content
Even if you use the services listed above, you won’t get the highest visual and audio quality because most streaming services only have a portion of their movies and shows available in 4K. Only a limited percentage of devices support HDR, Dolby Atmos, and advanced HDR formats like Dolby Vision and HDR10+. That means you’ll have to check each program to determine if it supports the higher-fidelity files.
When you scroll through the main menus of Netflix and Amazon Prime, you’ll find symbols for Ultra HD, HDR, Dolby Vision, and Atmos. Other providers, such as Disney+, Hulu, and HBO Max, require you to first choose a program to see what formats are provided.
If everything is set up correctly, you should notice 4K, HDR, and Atmos content indicators.
You can also lookup 4K streaming possibilities on the internet. On Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Paramount+, the website HDReport has done an excellent job of displaying which movies and shows are available in 4K, HDR, and Atmos.
If there are no signs for 4K, HDR, or Atmos when you select a supported program, it’s likely that something is wrong with your setup. Check the steps above again, or see the other troubleshooting tips below.
Step 4: Confirm 4K playback
Aside from using your eyes and ears, the easiest method to double-check whether you’re receiving the finest video and audio quality is to look at the specs on your TV or soundbar.
When this Vizio TV outputs video in Dolby Vision HDR, it plainly indicates such. On some TVs, you may be able to check which image mode is being used by pressing the info button on the remote. This will indicate whether the TV is in 4K, HDR10, HDR10+, or Dolby Vision mode. Similarly, certain soundbars and receivers will display the audio format they’re utilizing, so keep an eye out for an “Atmos” indicator once playing begins.
If you’re still having issues, double-check your streaming device’s settings to ensure it can display video in 4K resolution:
- Go to Roku’s Settings > Display Type.
- Apple TV Look under “Format” and “Audio Format” in Settings > Video and Audio.
- Fire TV: Go to Settings > Display & Sounds > Display, then select “Video Resolution” from the drop-down menu.
- Google TV and Chromecast: Check “Resolution” and “Dynamic range & Color format” under Settings > Display & Sound.
- Android TV (Android TV): Go to Settings > Device Preferences > Screen Resolution, then select “Display Mode” from the drop-down menu.