How to buy a 4K HDR TV: What you need to know

Buying a new TV can be a little mystifying, with different technologies, logos and, sometimes, confusing messages on what to look for.

That's why we've put together some simple tips, tricks and things to consider when considering your next TV purchase. Hopefully, these will help with the process.

Buying a 4K TV: Resolution

A 4K television is so called because it has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, creating an extremely sharp, detailed picture - especially when compared to a 1080p Full HD set.

A 1920 x 1080 TV is capable of displaying just over 2 million pixels, while a 4K Ultra HD set has almost 8.3 million pixels to play with. That is a staggering and impressive difference when it comes to detail and sharpness on a screen.

It's a much greater jump in resolution than when switching from HD (720p) to Full HD (1080p), which was roughly twice as many pixels. Ultra HD (2160p) is four times Full HD.

Most 4K HDR TVs also have excellent upscaling technology built-in, so make even conventional HD broadcasts and Blu-rays look better.

Buying a 4K TV: HDR and Dolby Vision

High dynamic range technology, otherwise known as HDR, increases the depth of an image and presents more accurate colours than on previous TVs. This is because a HDR TV is capable of deep, controlled black levels while displaying brighter areas of a picture more vividly than ever before.

It means that you will see more detail in dark areas of an image, but without washing out the deep black zones. And white areas on a screen will be bright and natural.

A wider colour gamut, which allows the TV to display more variants of red, blue and green than ever before, ensures objects on screen look more like they would when viewed with the native eye.

There are several HDR standards of note that have different levels of colour and contrast accuracy.

HDR10 is the standard form of HDR, which uses a specific setting for a whole film or TV show. HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) is similar, but is the standard adopted by the TV industry (as seen on some BBC iPlayer programming, Sky Q and BT TV).

HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are both a step-up from standard HDR as, instead of use one setting for an entire movie, they can adapt the picture settings by scene to give you an even more accurate image experience.

That's why it is good to look out for support for all of the standards - although you might find you can have HDR10+ or Dolby Vision, not both.

For example, Samsung favours HDR10+ while LG sticks with Dolby Vision. Some TV manufacturers, such as Philips, do include support for both, though.

Buying a 4K TV: OLED or LED?

There are commonly two types of television you can buy, with one costing significantly more than the other.

OLED is perhaps the most premium display technology currently available. It doesn't require a backlight so can be built into the thinnest form factors. And, as each pixel is self-illuminated, you can get stunningly deep, involving black levels in darker areas of a picture.

In contrast, LED TVs are generally capable of higher brightness as they have the added benefit of light behind the pixels to make them shine more ferociously.

Mini LED takes the LED format further by included 1,000s of dimmable bulbs behind the LCD panel. This allows for greater contrast as the bulbs can be switched on and off in small zones.

To be honest, the biggest choice between the technologies will come down to your budget. OLED TVs are traditionally much pricier than their LED equivalents, at all screen sizes. The prices will drop over time, as the technology is used in more sets, but LED televisions offer a great alternative and can also provide stunning images, especially for the price.

In the past, OLED TV technology was harder to manufacture at smaller screen sizes, although we have recently seen some OLED ranges starting at 42-inches.

Buying a 4K TV: HDMI 2.0, HDMI 2.1, HDCP 2.2 and HDMI ARC/eARC

All external 4K content sources, including 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players, games consoles, and media streamers like the Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV 4K require HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection at the very least, otherwise the TV cannot playback 4K HDR content.

A further standard now being adopted by most new 4K HDR TVs is HDMI 2.1. It has more bandwidth than the previous HDMI standard so can carry even more information that could be needed further down the line.

For example, if you want to play games in 120 frames-per-second on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S, you will need at least one HDMI 2.1 connection. While HDMI 2.0 is fine for 4K HDR video at up to 60fps (or 8K video at 30fps), it is not possible to transmit a 120fps (120Hz) 4K signal through the older standard.

A HDMI 2.1 connection is also necessary to work with HDMI eARC (rather than HDMI ARC on previous generation ports). This effectively enables a TV to send more than standard 5.1 surround sound to a compatible speaker system, soundbar or AV receiver.

This includes Dolby Atmos audio, which many TVs now claim to support. You will need a HDMI eARC supporting port on the TV and connected speaker to play the Dolby Atmos sound channels effectively.

Basically, look for HDMI 2.1 ports on your next TV purchase. It's also worth looking out to see if the set supports variable refresh rates and low latency mode, as these are important to gamers too.

Buying a 4K TV: Content

Although upscaling your existing Blu-rays and normal TV broadcasts makes the pictures look better on a 4K telly, it isn't until you've seen native Ultra HD content that you realise the potential of the format.

There are several ways you can get 4K HDR video to view.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Apple TV+ each offer a decent amount of 4K HDR/Dolby Vision movies and shows, to stream through your new TV without the need for a separate set-top-box. YouTube too offers 4K HDR video. Even BBC iPlayer offers some content in HDR (using the HLG format). Make sure all of these apps (and several others) are available on the set directly.

There are several 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players on the market, with plenty of good quality discs to buy through multiple retailers. You'll need a HDMI 2.0 input with HDCP 2.2, at least, as detailed above, but 4K HDR Blu-ray images are the best you can possibly get right now. They look stunning and many are also available with Dolby Vision these days too.

Paid TV services, such as those from Sky, BT and Virgin Media offer 4K television broadcasts, for sport, TV shows and movies. They also carry many shows or live events in HDR too. And, the 4K Apple TV set-top-box is another great way to get 4K HDR/Dolby Vision programmes and films onto your TV.

In terms of games, the latest consoles are capable of 4K HDR gaming and, in most cases, play 4K Blu-rays too (the Xbox Series S is an exception as it doesn't have a disc drive).

In short, there are plenty of ways to watch and enjoy 4K HDR content, you just need a compatible television.

Buying a 4K TV: Smart TV and Freeview Play

Smart TVs have been around for many years now. A Smart TV is one that can hook up to the internet, through a wired or wireless connection, and offers multiple services, such as TV and movie streaming, games and other information apps.

Different manufacturers tend to have different Smart TV platforms, such as Android TV, as found on Sony and Philips sets, and webOS, found on LG TVs. They tend to offer many applications, much like those on your phone or tablet, mainly to provide films and the like to watch on demand.

Services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ will provide catch-up and on demand shows and movies at the touch of a button on your remote control.

In the UK, many TVs also come with Freeview Play, which means that shows on a large selection of digital TV channels can be caught up with by simply clicking on their retrospective listing in the electronic programme guide. Hit a show broadcast a couple of days ago on BBC One, for example, and the iPlayer app with automatically open and play it without you needing to do anything else.

Buying a 4K TV: Design and sound

An important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect to consider when choosing a TV is its overall design aesthetic - you need to weigh-up how it will look in your living room (or wherever you plan to put it). Whether you plan to wall-mount it or place it on a cabinet, or whatever screen size you choose, it has to look as good when switched off as when filling a room with exceptional images.

For us, that means a minimalist design is best - something that blends in rather than dominates a room. OLED TVs are especially good for this reason thanks to the technology being able to be built into a slimmer case.

Cable management on modern sets is also much better than ever before and is only really applicable when the TV is on the stand, and isn't really relevant when wall mounted.

One trade off for the slim, sleek design of a flatscreen TV can be audio performance. While the built in speakers are perfectly adequate for general TV viewing to be honest, if you want the best audio performance from your movies, games and TV shows, you should really match your new TV with a dedicated sound system, be that a soundbar or home cinema speaker set-up.

Some TVs come with a soundbar built into the design, or a separate unit.


Ultimately, the TV you go for has to match your own wants and desires, but we recommend that you also consider whether it is futureproof. Hopefully, we've addressed some of the main things you need to look out for above, in order to ensure it will be as relevant tomorrow as it is today.

Certainly, there has never been a better time to buy a television than now, with prices at an all-time low for incredible, immersive experiences we've never before seen.