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Can You Watch 4K Without a 4K TV? (Updated 2023 Guide)

4K Without A 4K TV

4K videos are now part of the craze. 

And really, this isn’t that surprising. Because higher resolution means a better watching experience. 

However, most people still have 1080p TVs at home. 

And if you’re wondering if you can use yours to play 4K videos…

Continue reading to find out: 

  • What happens when you play 4K on a 1080p TV.
  • 3 factors that make 4K displays better than 1080p. 
  • 3 cons of 4K TVs you might want to consider before buying 1. 
  • And this is just the beginning… 

Can you watch 4K without a 4K TV?

You can watch 4K without a 4K TV. However, this process will reduce the 4K display to the TV’s maximum resolution. That’s because 4K videos need more than 8 million pixels to be displayed. And 1080p screens only have 2.07 million pixels in them. 

What happens if I play 4K on a 1080p TV?

If you play 4K on a 1080p TV, the video gets compressed to a 1080p resolution. 

“What do you mean by that?” 

To start, let me explain what a pixel on your TV screen is because I’ll mention this a lot. 

Now, the word “pixel” comes from the term “picture element.” 

Note: Pix- from the picture. And -el from the element

And it’s known as the smallest unit of a digital image on your screen.

Now, you can think of 1 pixel as 1 puzzle piece of an image. 

Because all the pixels on your TV bind together to produce the picture necessary. 

See, the more pixel your TV has, the better video it can display. 

With that said, the main difference between 4K and 1080p is the number of their pixels. 

Bear in mind that 1080p TVs have 1920 x 1080 pixels. And this totals to about 2.07 million.

That’s a lot, isn’t it? 

But really, this is nothing compared to the 8.3 million pixels on 4K displays. Because they have a resolution of 2160 x 3840. 

Now, I keep mentioning pixels, don’t I?


Fun fact: The “p” in 720p or 1080p doesn’t stand for pixels. 

See, it stands for the word progressive in “progressive scanning.” 

Or the number of horizontal lines your TV scans through every cycle. 

With that said, 4K displays can also be called 2160p. Because that’s the number of horizontal pixels on 4K TVs.  

Fortunately, though, even if there’s a huge difference between the 2 types of display…

You can still play 4K videos on 1080p TVs

That’s thanks to downsampling.

What’s that, you ask?

See, downsampling is also known as decimation or compression

And it’s a digital process responsible for…

Resizing displays that are bigger than your TV’s pixel count. So that higher-resolution pictures can still fit on the screen.

You can compare downsampling to zooming in and out of an image. 

For example, you have a smaller screen…

With that, you’d have to zoom out to fit a bigger picture, right?

And that’s similar to what downsampling does to your videos and images.

See, it scales down the higher-resolution videos so you can view the whole picture on a screen. 

But of course, this process doesn’t come without any downsides. 

And if you’re wondering what those are…

Here are the downsides of downsampling (in comparison to the original 4K videos): 

  • There’ll be fewer details. 
  • You’ll see less-realistic colors. 
  • Your videos will be less-sharp. 

As you can see, downsampled 4K pictures have a lower quality than the original 4K version. 

But the good thing is…

Compared to 1080p videos, downsampled 4K files still look better.

“What do you mean?” 

See, videos shot in 4K capture more details than videos shot in 1080p. 

So even if your TV downsamples 4K videos to a 1920 x 1080 resolution…

The picture quality will still be higher than the videos shot initially on 1080p.

With that said, if you can choose between playing a 4K video or 1080p…

Choose the former option even if you don’t have a 4K TV. 

That’s because even if they’ll display the same number of pixels on your screen…

A downsampled 4K video still exceeds the quality of 1 that originally had a 1080p resolution.

How much better is 4K compared to 1080p TVs?

4K is better than 1080p TVs because they have: 

  • Higher resolution. 
  • Closer viewing distance. 
  • Better color and vibrance. 

And here’s a more in-depth explanation of the following: 

3 factors that make 4K better than 1080p TVs

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

You’ve most likely seen this HDR acronym somewhere. 

But let me guess. You don’t exactly know what it means. 

Well, I don’t blame you. 

I only figured out what it meant when I bought a new 4K TV. 

But really, this term isn’t that complicated.

See, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. 

And this feature improves the colors and luminance of your TV.

With that said, it’s worth noting that most 4K displays have this. 

While the majority of 1080p TVs don’t have this setting. 

So if you’re someone who loves vivid colors…

Then 4K TVs will be much better for you than those in 1080p. 

On top of that, the shadows and highlights of 4K TVs also stand out more with HDR. 

So they’re also a better option if you don’t like faded picture displays. 


Of course, 4K TVs have higher resolutions.

But really, how does this affect your streaming experience?

To answer that, having a higher resolution means seeing more details on your screen. And you’ll also get clearer and sharper images.

So if you’re attentive to even the smallest details of your display… 

Then 4K TVs will fit your lifestyle like a glove.

Viewing distance

Viewing Distance

Since 4K TVs have almost 4x the resolution of 1080p displays… 

That means you can enjoy watching your TV while sitting closer to it. 

See, with 1080p displays…

Sitting too close to your TV will let you visibly notice the pixels on your screen. 

That’s because 1080p has fewer pixels than 4K. And as a result, these pixels are bigger.

However, with 4K displays, you can sit twice as close to your TV (About 1-1.5x the diagonal length of your screen).

And still, you won’t be able to see any pixelation on your TV’s picture display. 

Are 4K TVs worth it?

4K TVs are worth it if you want to upgrade your TV. 

As you read in the previous section, 4K TVs have many advantages over 1080p ones. 

And well, if you’re thinking…

“Are there even any contents available for 4K display?” 

The answer is a resounding yes.

See, streaming platforms are all jumping into the 4K bandwagon. And that includes: 

  • Hulu.
  • Netflix.
  • Amazon Prime. 

So you don’t need to worry about being stuck to watching 1080p videos even with a 4K screen.

On top of that, satellite-based providers or channels are also keeping up with this craze.

So really…

It won’t be too long for most of the content online to be available in 4K. 

Now, it’s also worth noting that even entry-level 4K TVs will already be “smart.” 

So you don’t need to buy a separate external device to access streaming apps with them. 

“But what about the downsides?”

I’m glad you asked. Because realistically, upgrading to 4K isn’t all about the pros. 

With that said, since I’ve already talked about how a 4K TV is better than a 1080p 1 earlier…

It’s now time to talk about the… 

Cons of getting a 4K TV (compared to those in 1080p):

It’s more expensive

In general, 4K models cost more than 1080p TVs with similar sizes and specs. 

See, the cheapest entry point of 1080p TVs only costs $150.

But the cheapest 4K TVs are already priced at $280. 

Now you might think… 

“$130 isn’t a lot of difference.” 

But as mentioned earlier, that’s only for the cheapest models.

See, once you go to the mid to high price points of smart TVs…

4K models are generally at least $300 more expensive than the regular 1080p ones. 

And if you think about it…

You can even buy a new TCL or Hisense TV with that price difference alone. 

So while 4K TVs do have a lot of improvements on their display…

They can also sometimes cause your wallet dismay. 

4K videos use more bandwidth

Now, this is a disadvantage that I can never leave out.

Because tell you what…

When I started watching videos on my 4K TV, my Wifi started slowing down.

And no, this isn’t because 4K TVs disrupt your router signals or anything.

It’s because to load 4K videos…

Your TV needs to use more of your Wifi’s bandwidth. 

Let me give you an example. 

See, a 1-hour long 1080p Youtube video uses 1.65 GB of data.

While on the other hand, a 4K video of the same length uses 2.75 GB. 

That’s at least 1 GB of data in just a 1-hour video.

So if you’re using a limited Wifi plan or have a slow internet connection…

Really, you won’t be able to enjoy the advantages of 4K TVs even if you have 1. 

You might also want to know: 5 Reasons Why Your Smart TV Is Slow + Instant Fixes

Bigger screen size

If you want a small TV for your minimalist room…

Then, unfortunately, 4K TVs aren’t for you.

See, the starting length for 4K display TVs is 40-inches. 

That’s because you can only see the difference between 4K and 1080p on bigger screens.

So honestly, if you’re more comfortable with smaller screens (less than 50 inches)…

Just stick to the HD TVs. Because they’ll be a practical choice. 

“But I don’t know how big my TV should be.”

In that case, I recommend watching this video to know the best TV size for your room: 

With all of that said, while a 4K TV is generally worth it if you want to upgrade your TV…

You should ensure that it fits your wants and needs before buying 1. 

And the easiest way to do that is to balance the… 

Pros and cons of 4K TVs in comparison to HD (1080p) TVs:

Better resolutionMore expensive
Closer viewing distanceUnavailable in smaller sizes
High Dynamic Range (HDR)Will use more Wifi bandwidth

So compare the factors in this chart to know if getting a 4K is worth it for you