Can a TV’s Built-in Apps Stream True 4K?

Q My LG OLED TV is connected to Apple TV 4K and Amazon Fire TV boxes. Both stream 4K video from Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other apps. I also have a fast fiber-optic internet connection from AT&T and the boxes are connected to my router via Ethernet. It appears that I am getting the best-quality 4K video that these boxes can deliver and see no performance issues at all when watching TV and movies. My brother, on the other hand, uses his LG LCD TV’s built-in apps to stream video. Here’s my question: Can a TV’s built-in apps stream true 4K, or is it a lower resolution video format that the TV just upconverts to 4K? Also, would streaming via Wi-Fi instead of a hardwired Ethernet connection lower video resolution? —Cliff Parrish, via email

A The built-in apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and YouTube on most Ultra HDTVs are indeed capable of streaming 4K resolution video along with HDR10 and, in some cases, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ high dynamic range. And by 4K I mean real 4K, not upconverted 1080p HD video. It’s easy to verify the resolution of movies and other content offered by streaming services. With Netflix, for example, a program page will provide tags indicating HD, Ultra HD/4K, or Dolby Vision status. For Amazon, 4K content is labeled as 4K/UHD, and Vudu clearly lists programs as being Dolby Vision, 4K/HDR (HDR10), or HDX (1080p). If your TV’s built-in apps aren’t capable of supporting 4K/HDR streaming, relevant tags (Dolby Vision, for example) won’t be listed on the program’s info page.

Though streaming via Wi-Fi shouldn’t have an effect on video resolution, whether it does or not will depend on the robustness of your home’s internet connection and wireless network. Netflix, for example, specifies a 25 megabits per second connection speed to stream Ultra HD. (You’ll also need to upgrade to a $16/month Netflix Premium plan.) And while the service tier you have with your ISP may support that, using an older router (802.11g, for example) will reduce the connection speed of networked devices such as a TV to below that threshold. For optimal streaming quality, you’ll want to use the most current and best Wi-Fi router you can afford. New models also support dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) connections, have increased transmission range, and are designed to support simultaneous streaming to multiple devices in the home. With one of these in place, you should have no issue streaming 4K over Wi-Fi to a TV.

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alchav21's picture

I know with the robust WiFi Routers now available Streaming Video connected to them should have no problems, but I still think Hard Wired Ethernet will provide full Bandwidth and the best consistent Signal. Especially going forward to utilize all the Bandwidth of your connection.

jeffhenning's picture

My situation: I have a 6+ year-old Samsung set that was the best 46", 1080 TV ever made at the time. Netflix worked flawlessly for years, but in the last year I started running into problems with frequent audio drop outs though the picture looked pretty good. These were happening about every 10 to 15 minutes with a duration around 1 second and were becoming quite annoying.

What I did:

• First, I did some experimentation using WiFi from the router that's about 8 feet above TV on the first floor, but nothing improved.

• Next, I swapped out the old Cat5 ethernet cable for a new Cat8. The drop outs happened with less frequency, but still happened.

• I could have tried using my old Oppo BDP-103 for streaming, but given that it's about the same vintage as the TV, I'm dubious that the results would be better.

• Knowing that HEV codecs require a lot of processing power to look their best, I decided to get a Nvidia Shield Pro media hub

• I completed my theater ethernet with a new switch & Cat8 patch cables as well

I have no doubt that the new TV's can play 4K. The little Shield Pro has no problem playing properly encoded HEV streaming content with a clarity that I've only seen on Blu-rays. "Versailles" on Netflix looks fantastic. The details of the palace decor is stunning (the program is a historically inaccurate soap opera, but a guilty pleasure).

So my take aways:

• A good hard wire will always outperform WiFi. My experiences with streaming 1080p video make me skeptical that 4K can be done well using WiFi.

• High Efficiency Video codecs require an incredible amount of processing power for optimal performance. Judging from what my fairly new, cheap TV's and my old, expensive TV have shown in their rendering abilities, the less powerful the processor, the worse the picture since they will dump data (detail) to preserve the frame rate.

• The more powerful the video processor, the more responsive the streaming channel will be. Movies will start almost immediately and at their highest quality. Also, scrolling through content will work much smoother.

• Netflix has HEV compression perfected. Amazon, eh, not so much. Amazon's latest content has lots of subtle compression artifacts that look rather strange when you get close to the screen. I'm hard pressed to find anything like them watching Netflix.

I think it behooves S&V to give this last several items greater study since it's squarely in your purview.

Homer Teatro's picture

The article says Netflix says you need an internet connection speed of 25 Mbps. This is not what you NEED, this is THE LOWEST SPEED NETFLIX RECOMMENDS. You will get the MOST compressed video and the MOST compressed audio if you have no better than 25 Mbps anywhere in the signal path to your TV. To get the best quality audio and video from streaming services that offer UHD (come on, UHD is easy and 4K is inaccurate, so maybe stop with the 4K, anyway...)I don't know what the max data-rate is that they will send. If we knew that, there could be some sort of "you need at least XX Mbps for maximum video and audio quality" statement, but I don't see the services mentioning how to get the BEST they offer. Streaming services typically begin by testing your connection speed. When this is going on, you will see horrific video resolution when you first start a program and over a couple of minutes, the picture will bet better and better as the streaming service tests your connection to see how fast you can accept data. Once you reach the max quality (least additional compression compared to the source) the streaming service will send, the images will stop looking better. By the way, the phase when they test your connection speed should be a one- or two-time thing for each streaming service. Once they confirm your connection speed, they typically store it somewhere and if you have a fast connection speed, additional programs are sent in high-res automatically so you don't keep getting the ugly low-res thing at the beginning of streaming content.