Do I Need a 4K Receiver for My 4K TV?

You’ve just bought a brand-new 4K TV, and you want to enjoy some 4K content, but your AV receiver is almost 10 years old and doesn’t support 4K pass-through. What to do? Should you buy a new 4K receiver, or is there some workaround that can help you save money and still enjoy 4K content on your new TV? Is there a win-win solution that doesn’t cost much? That’s exactly what you are going to find out if you keep reading this article.

We’ll start with some basic explanations and then offer you a few solutions for different scenarios. If you just want a short answer, scroll down to the last section before the conclusion.

Terminology Explained

Even though it sounds like you’ve said everything when you say 4K UHD TV, there’s so much more to 4K-ready equipment than you can imagine. With today’s TVs, displays, AVRs, and other video equipment, it’s not all about resolution. It’s also about supported HDR standards, HDMI version, and HDCP compliance. 

For example, if all of your equipment is 4K, but you are using old standard-speed HDMI cables, you won’t get 4K. Instead, you will get 1080i or 1080p. Or, if you are using HDMI 1.4 cable and the source device (gaming console, Blu-ray player) is sending 4K/60fps video, the cable will be able to pass only 4K/30fps (which is fine for movies, but not for gaming).

TV Resolution – 720p, 1080p, 4K, 8K

Display resolution (TV resolution) represents the width and height dimensions of a display expressed in pixels. It is basically the number of pixels in each dimension. When two displays have the same size but different resolutions, the one with higher resolution will deliver a sharper, less pixelated image.

TV displays evolved over time, especially in the last 10 years, and the max supported display resolutions went quickly from HDTV (720p, 1080i, 1080p) to 4K TV and, since recently, even 8K TV.

Most of today’s digital video content is either 720p or, more often, 1080p. The amount of content in 4K is growing, and it’s becoming more and more popular, especially when it comes to streaming platforms (YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.) and movies (Blu-ray). The number of 4K TV channels is still very limited. 

At the moment, there’s a limited number of 8K TVs as well as AV receivers with 8K pass-through, but there’s no content in 8K. 

Here’re the exact width/height dimensions for the most common resolutions:

720p – 1280×720

1080p – 1920×1080

4K/4K UHD – 3840×2160

4K DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) – 4096×2160

8K – 7680 × 4320

As you can see, compared to 1080p, 4K doubles the number of pixels in each dimension, which means that, in total, you get 4 times as many pixels.

Almost all the new video equipment that is being produced today (TVs, Blu-ray players, AVRs, gaming consoles, etc. supports 4K. 

HDR Standards – HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HLG

4K TVs and other video equipment feature many other technologies that are equally important for the overall image quality. One of the most important technologies are HDR standards. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Older HDTVs supported SDR standards (SDR – Standard Dynamic Range). 

HDR imaging makes the image more lifelike by revealing more details in the shadowy areas of the image and in blown-out bright areas. HDR-enabled display basically gives you a much higher contrast, more colors, and a more vivid image.

HDR VS SDR

HDR VS SDR (Source – LG)

Four display characteristics are defined by the HDR standard – luminance, dynamic range, color space (aka gamut), and bit depth. Together, these 4 characteristics make HDR video more lifelike than SDR video. 

Luminance describes how much light a display emits (it’s a measure of brightness). HDR displays are significantly brighter than SDR. 

Dynamic range is basically the contrast. It describes the difference between the darkest and brightest parts of a scene.  Compared to SDR, HDR has a much higher dynamic range, which results in more subtle detail when it comes to shadows and highlights

Color space or gamut is the range of colors a TV can produce. Most SDR videos and most of today’s digital video content uses Rec.709 (aka sRGB), while modern displays support Rec.2020 and DCI-P3 (Standard for Apple displays). 

You can see the difference between Rec. 709 (sRGB) and Rec. 2020 (source – BENQ)

Bit depth is the fourth characteristic. It describes the amount of data used to describe the brightness and color. SDR content was 8bit (256 values), while HDR uses 10bits of data for each channel, which expands the possible range of values up to 1024. So, 4x more data is used to describe each pixel on an HDR display.

There are four commonly used High-Dynamic-Range standards – HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and HLG (Hybrid-Log-Gamma). We are not going to discuss the working principles of each technology – we will just give you the basic info. 

HDR10 is the oldest standard, and it can be found on all HDR-enabled displays. HDR10+ is an upgraded version of HDR10, and it uses dynamic metadata to improve the color depth and overall image quality on a scene-by-scene or even frame-by-frame basis. Both HDR and HDR10+ are royalty-free, which makes them more popular and more common than Dolby Vision. What’s not so great about HDR10 and HDR10+ is that, because they are free, the rules for certification are not extremely rigid, which means that the quality of HDR-enabled displays/TVs varies.

HDR standard

Dolby Vision, on the other hand, is developed by Dolby, and it’s controlled by Dolby. When a TV/display manufacturer applies for Dolby Vision, Dolby will work with them to make a product that accurately renders and produces Dolby Vision video content. 

HLG (Hybrid-Log-Gamma) is the last HDR standard, and it’s somewhat different from the previous three. It was developed by the British BBC and Japanese NHK television networks to deliver HDR content via broadcast. So, the difference between the previous three and this one is in the broadcast part (the previous three are not designed for broadcasts). HLG also supports 10bit video and Wide Color Gamut (WCG). 

So, now that you have some basic info about HDR, let’s see where can you find HDR content. Popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer a lot of 4K HDR content. Most of the Amazon content uses HDR10+, while some movies and TV shows are in Dolby Vision. Netflix, on the other hand, has most of the content in Dolby Vision. Hulu, unfortunately, doesn’t offer HDR content. 

We can’t really establish any rules when it comes to Blu-ray. Some studios will include every HDR format on the same disc, while others will include only HDR10+ or only Dolby Vision. In any case, the supported HDR formats and max resolution are always listed on the Blu-ray cover, so you can buy those that are compatible with your equipment. 

HDMI (HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, HDMI 2.1)

Without going into detail, here’re the things you must know about HDMI versions and HDMI cables.

The first HDMI version that supported 4K resolution was HDMI 1.4. However, it only supported 4K at 30fps. HDMI 2.0 supports 4K/60fps, while the latest HDMI 2.1 supports 4K/120fps and even 8K/60fps. So, for the best experience, look for devices and cables that feature the latest two versions (2.0 and 2.1). 

Furthermore, you have to pay attention to the HDMI cables. There are four kinds – standard, high-speed, premium-high-speed, and ultra-high-speed. The first type that supports 4K are high-speed cables (but only at 30fps). 

Ideally, you should be looking for a premium-high-speed cable (4K UHD at 60fps and support for HDR content) or ultra-high-speed HDMI cable (4K/120fps or 8K/60fps with support for HDR content).

HDCP (HDCP 1.4, HDCP 2.2, HDCP 2.3)

HDCP stands for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection. It is basically just a piece of software that serves as copy protection and prevents devices that are not HDCP-compliant to receive content. HDCP used to cause some problems in the past (HDCP errors) – older receivers were not able to decode HDCP 2.2 content.

The most important thing to know when it comes to HDCP-protected video content is that all of the elements in your AV chain have to be HDCP compliant. AV chain represents all the equipment that you use to watch digital video content. So, if you have a Blu-ray player connected to your AVR, your AVR connected to your TV, and you want to watch a Blu-ray movie with HDCP 2.2 protection (which is pretty much every Blu-ray disc nowadays), all three devices in your AV chain (Blu-ray player, AVR, TV) have to be HDCP 2.2 compliant. 

If your AVR, for example, has only 3 HDCP 2.2 compliant HDMI input ports (look at the image below), and if you, instead of using one of those three, use one of the HDMI inputs that are not HDCP 2.2 compliant to connect your Blu-ray player, you will get a blank screen. It doesn’t matter if your TV and your Blu-ray player are both HDCP 2.2 compliant. 

Yamaha RX-V779

Yamaha RX-V779 has only three HDCP 2.2 compliant HDMI inputs (inputs 4 and 5 are not HDCP 2.2 compliant)

This should not be a problem with newer equipment since all HDMI ports on most of today’s receivers, TVs, and Blu-ray players are HDCP 2.2 compliant or even HDCP 2.3 compliant (the latest equipment with HDMI 2.1 ports).

Onkyo and Denon

Most of today’s digital content and most of the video equipment is HDCP 2.2 compliant. HDCP 2.3 is the latest version, and it was introduced after the introduction of HDMI 2.1, but it’s not relevant yet (there is no content with HDCP 2.3 encryption).


Note: HDCP applies only to movies and TV shows. The gaming industry doesn’t use HDCP protection. So, in case you want to connect a PS or Xbox to a 4K display that is not HDCP compliant, you don’t have to worry. 


Why Are All the Previously Explained Terms Important?

Well, all the previously explained terms are interconnected. For example, sending video in 4K resolution from a source device to your TV was only possible after the introduction of HDMI 1.4 because 4K video needed greater bandwidth. And, even with the introduction of HDMI 1.4, it was only possible to send 4K at 30fps. Further development of HDMI enabled transmission of 4K video at 60fps (HDMI 2.0) and even 4K at 120fps or 8K at 60fps (HDMI 2.1).

The development of HDMI also enabled the implementation of HDR (with the HDMI 2.0a) and HLG (HDMI 2.0b).

Finally, the introduction of HDCP copy protection also coincides with the introduction of new HDMI versions. HDCP 1.4 was designed for the protection of content in full HD (1080p), and it was introduced right after the introduction of HDMI 1.4. HDCP 2.2 was designed for the protection of 4K content and its introduction coincided with the introduction of HDMI 2.0. The latest HDCP 2.3 was designed for the protection of 8K content and it was introduced right after HDMI 2.1. 

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So, as you can see, all these things are related – HDMI, 4K, HDR, HDCP. And, even though they are not the same things and can exist independently, if you buy one of the latest 4K UHD TVs, they will have HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.1 ports, they will support HDR and HLG, and they will be HDCP 2.2 compliant. The same applies to AV receivers, Blu-ray players, and other video sources. However, since these features are not inseparable, you can buy a 4K UHD TV or a receiver with a 4K pass-through that doesn’t support Dolby Vision (Only HDR10 or HDR10+). This is one of the things you should pay attention to when buying 4K equipment.

Can You Really See the Difference Between 1080p and 4K?

Resolution is not the only thing that determines video quality. Depending on the other factors like HDR support, video bitrate, frame rate, and of course, screen size, it may be really hard to notice the difference between 4K and 1080p video.

For example, it’s harder to notice the difference when watching content on a smaller screen (like 40″ and smaller) and if the only difference between two videos is in the resolution (when both videos are in HDR and have the same frame rate).

Also, videos with a lot of motion may even look better in 1080p at 60fps than in 4K at 30fps. When the camera is moving quickly, the difference between 1080p and 4K is not really obvious, even if the frame rates are the same. 

So, even though 4K gives you a much sharper image (more pixels) than 1080p, it’s not the only thing that matters. It’s also about the ”quality of the pixels” (HDR), frame rate, and screen size. 

You can watch the video below and try to guess which part was recorded in 720p, which one is 1080p, and which one is 4K.

When it comes to larger screens (50″+ or 75″+), the difference becomes more noticeable, but even then, a well-rendered 1080p video with HDR is very much watchable. 

What Do I Need to Watch Content in 4K HDR on My 4K HDR TV?

We have already discussed this in one of the previous sections, so we will just do a quick recap. All of your equipment, starting from the actual Blu-ray disc to your TV, have to be compatible. They all have to support the same resolution, the same HDR standards, and the same HDCP version.

If only one piece of the puzzle is missing, you won’t get the best possible quality. If the Blu-ray disc is not 4K HDR, it doesn’t matter if all the equipment supports 4K HDR. If the Blu-ray disc is in 4K HDR, and your Blu-ray player supports 4K HDR, and your TV supports 4K HDR, but your receiver doesn’t support 4K HDR (only 4K at 30fps without HDR), you won’t get the best possible quality. 

All the equipment in your AV chain has to support the same features in order to watch content in 4K HDR. 

What to Do If My Receiver Doesn’t Support 4K Pass-Through?

The Best Solution

The ideal solution would be to upgrade your system, sell your old receiver, and buy a new one that supports 4K, HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HLG, and all the other standards. Unfortunately, this is also the most expensive solution, even if you get a good price for your old receiver. 

If you’re not ready to buy a new receiver, then you can try a few things. 

Workarounds

Check if some of the ports on your receiver are HDCP 2.2 compliant

If you have an older receiver, there’s a chance that some of the HDMI ports on it are HDCP 2.2 compliant, and some are not. If your source (like a Blu-ray player) is connected to a non-compliant HDMI port, you won’t be able to watch the content at all and you may think that your receiver doesn’t support 4K, when in fact, you just have to use one of the HDCP 2.2 compliant ports. 

Stream 4K content through the preinstalled app on your TV

If your receiver doesn’t support 4K at all, you could try this solution. Have in mind that this only applies to streaming platforms (like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc.) and not to external sources. Since your new TV supports 4K and it probably comes with some streaming apps preinstalled, stream all the content from the built-in app and use HDMI ARC connection to send audio from your TV to the receiver (and the receiver will then send the audio to your home theater speakers).

Or, if you are using a Fire TV stick or Roku streaming stick, connect it directly to your TV. That way, you will bypass the receiver.

Blu-ray players with two HDMI outputs

This one is also a viable solution if you have an older receiver without 4K support. Some Blu-ray players may have two HDMI output ports – one that sends HDMI video and audio and the other the sends only audio. 

If you have a Blu-ray player with two HDMI outputs, you can connect the HDMI video/audio port directly to one of the inputs on your TV and connect the HDMI AUDIO OUT port to one of the HDMI inputs on your receiver. If your TV is connected to the receiver via HDMI ARC, then you don’t even need to connect the Blu-ray player to your receiver. 

HDMI switches

HDMI switches and HDMI audio extractors

In case your receiver doesn’t support 4K pass-through, but you still need it for your home theater speaker system, and your TV doesn’t have enough inputs for all the 4K sources you want to connect, you can use either an HDMI switch or HDMI audio extractor that supports 4K/60Hz. If your TV has an HDMI ARC IN port and your receiver has HDMI ARC OUT, then you can use an HDMI switch. Connect your sources to the inputs on the switch, connect the HDMI OUT on the switch to the HDMI IN on your TV, and use HDMI ARC to send audio to your receiver.

If your receiver doesn’t have HDMI ARC OUT, you can use an HDMI audio extractor with the right number of HDMI inputs. Connect the sources to the extractor, connect the HDMI OUT on the extractor to the HDMI IN on the TV, and then use either HDMI Audio only or optical OUT on your extractor to connect the extractor to the receiver. 

Audio Extractor

Conclusion

To sum up – the answer to the question from the title is NO. You don’t have to buy a new 4K receiver for your 4K TV. Naturally, that would be the most elegant solution, but if you don’t have the money for a new receiver, or if you simply don’t want to throw away a perfectly functional old AVR, you have at least a few workarounds that you can try. Hopefully, some of the suggested solutions will work for you.


FAQs

Q: Do I need a 4K box for my 4K TV?

A: It’s best if all the sources connected to your TV support the same resolution and other features as your TV. This applies to receivers, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, TV boxes, and all the other sources. That way, you will get the best possible video quality in every scenario.

Q: Do all receivers support 4K?

A: Well, most new receivers (probably all) support 4K and are compliant with HDCP 2.2. Most of them also support HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and HLG. Some even support 8K and HDCP 2.3. Old receivers, however, may not support 4K or may have limited support for 4K. Some of them support only 4K at 30fps, and some support 4K at 60fps but not on all HDMI ports.

Q: Is 4K pass-through necessary?

A: If you have 4K video sources connected to your AVR and you want to watch 4K content, then yes – a 4K pass-through is necessary.

Q: Why my 4K TV doesn’t look like 4K?

A: If you’re playing content from a source that is not 4K, or if the video settings on those sources are set at a lower resolution, you won’t get a 4K image on your TV/display.

Q: How does 1080p look on 4K TV?

A: It actually doesn’t look that bad, especially on a medium-size TV (50″ or smaller) and if the video content has a high frame rate and features HDR. The difference becomes more noticeable as the display size increases. 

Q: What is 4K Ultra HD pass-through?

A: A receiver that supports 4K ultra HD pass-through has HDMI inputs and outputs that are HDCP 2.2 compliant and that enable 4K signals coming from 4K video sources to pass through and reach your 4K TV without any quality loss. 

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