Q. I saw a commercial that said you can watch channels in 4K with a TV antenna. Is that true? What shows are in 4K on an antenna? Do the networks like CBS have 4K with an antenna? — Jerry, Reston, Virginia.
Jerry, I have seen those same commercials advertising products that claim you can watch 4K programming if you install a TV antenna. But the reality is that you can not watch 4K with an antenna, or any device that delivers over-the-air (OTA) signals.
While you can get high-def signals using a TV antenna, you will not be able to watch a 4K broadcast that way. Unfortunately, Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC, nor their local affiliates, transmit 4K feeds.
The only way to watch 4K programming from the networks is via a specialty channel on a pay TV provider, such as DIRECTV, Dish or Comcast, or a streaming app such as Fox Sports. Using those formats, the networks occasionally broadcast a sporting event in 4K, such as this year’s Super Bowl.
Why don’t the networks offer 4K broadcasts over-the-air?
Money. The networks, and their affiliates, spent a small fortune roughly 15 years to upgrade their local stations to High-Definition. However, it was worth it because so many consumers had purchased HDTVs, and were demanding shows in the format.
But there’s been no evidence of a similar call for 4K programming. While a rapidly growing number of Americans own 4K sets, it seems that most of them are content to watch high-def shows and movies on them.
There could be many reasons for this, but the difference in picture quality between 4K and HD is relatively small compared to the difference between HD and standard-definition. Viewers really, really wanted HD because it was so much better than SD.
Final note: As a few readers have pointed out, some local stations this year are expected to roll out a new broadcast standard called ATSC 3.0 which will support 4K programming. However, like most new TV technologies, you will need new equipment to take advantage, such as a new ATSC 3.0 compatible tuner or a new TV with a 3.0 tuner inside. (Your current antenna should be compatible so long as you get the new tuner.)
Plus, it’s unclear how much programming will be available in 4K, or when 4K will be available. In the initial test markets for 3.0, stations are still doing simulcasts of existing 720p HD or 1080i HD broadcasts, suggesting there’s little urgency to go to 4K. Broadcasts seem more interested in other 3.0 features such as emergency alerts and multiple channel feeds.
Jerry, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann