A 4K Setup On Budget That Works

4K content is becoming increasingly popular and it offers a great watching experience within the comforts of home. Many leading streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon are offering 4K content now making it easier to find such content. However, to fully enjoy the 4K content, you must also have a setup that can work with it. Now, if you have one of the latest TV and home theater equipment chances are good that you can watch 4K content without much hassle. But, if you happen to have a home theater setup, which is partly 4K capable (mainly the TV only), I will cover a few options in this article to show how you can have an awesome 4K setup without shelling out a lot of money. In addition, we will also cover how to make this setup work with a universal remote. Before we begin, I will clarify that there are many ways to do such setups. I am only covering the options based on my experience. Please evaluate based on your needs.

For the purpose of this article, we will consider a setup that already has the following.

  • A 4K TV with optical output (need not be a smart TV)
  • A 5.1 surround sound system with optical input (or at least, a decent 2.1 sound system)
  • An Internet connection that supports 4K streaming (typically, 25 Mbps or more)
  • Optionally, an A/V receiver (often used to connect the various home theater components like the TV, set-top box, gaming console, media center devices, audio system, etc.)

Equipment and Budget

Note: The prices shown are based on data at the time of writing this article. Taxes and shipping are not included in these and actual cost may vary.

ItemUnit PriceQtyTotal
Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote$49.991$49.99
Inteset IReTV USB IR Receiver & USB Y Cable for F-TV$22.951$22.95
Total$72.94

Note: The product links are affiliate links and we do earn a commission on purchases made through these at no additional cost to you.

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HDCP 2.2 Is Required For 4K Streaming

Before we look into our setup options, let us cover briefly an important aspect of the 4K setup. In order to stream 4K content, you will require your setup to be HDCP 2.2 compatible. What does that mean? In simple words, HDCP 2.2 (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is a copy protection technology designed to avoid illegal copying of 4K content. It uses a secure mechanism to get content from the source to the display. And, more importantly, if any component in the 4K setup chain is not HDCP 2.2 compatible, 4K streaming will not work. Yes, read that again. Even if you have a 4K TV, a 4K receiver, it does not mean you are watching 4K content! That is, it is not sufficient for the component to be 4K compatible, it should also support HDCP 2.2. In fact, I happen to own a 4K A/V receiver, which is not HDCP 2.2 compatible. So, if I connect any equipment through this receiver the best I can get while streaming is 1080p. When you have a component in the chain that does not support HDCP 2.2, you may either get an error message or in some cases the setup may end up using 1080p.

Another point to understand about HDCP 2.2 is it is not backward compatible with previous versions and it often requires hardware upgrade (not firmware upgrade). So, if you have a component in your setup that does not support it, chances are high that you will need to replace it or look at alternate ways of doing the setup, which we will cover.

As far as the HDMI cable is concerned, usually the bare minimum HDMI 1.4 should be just fine for streaming content like movies. And, you do not typically need to buy the expensive ones.

In the rest of this article, 4K Compatible is synonymous with HDCP 2.2 support.

4K Setup With All Existing Components 4K Compatible

This is a fairly straightforward setup. All you need is a 4K streaming device. If you have a smart TV, chances are good that you will find an app for the 4K streaming vendor and you are all set. But, if you do not have a smart TV or you find the app to be insufficient for your needs, you can use one of the following streaming devices.

  • Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
  • Roku Premiere

Note: You can also buy the more expensive versions of the above. But, I am recommending these to keep the budget low, yet not compromise on the quality of the experience.

Now connect the streaming device to the TV (or the A/V receiver), power it up and you are all set.

4K Setup With 4K TV But 4K Incompatible A/V Receiver

If you have a home theater setup, which is a few years old, chances are that part of your setup is not 4K compatible. Like in my scenario, I have an A/V receiver, which does not support HDCP 2.2. So, instead of spending money on another receiver, I chose to use the following for 4K streaming setup.

  • Connect the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K streaming device to TV’s HDCP 2.2 compatible port. For some TVs, it may explicitly mention that and for some, it may be the MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) port. The Fire Stick also comes with an HDMI extender to make it easy to connect to the port.
  • Connect the Optical Out of TV to the A/V receiver. We will not be using TV’s speakers. Instead, we will configure TV settings to output sound to the external speakers.
  • Keep the Fire Stick settings for Video and Audio to Auto so that it can do the best possible configuration.

That’s it! The setup can now stream 4K content.

How To Verify The Content Is Being Streamed In 4K?

For Fire Stick, this is quite easy. When the content is being streamed in 4K, you should see Ultra HD in its information. Note that it may take some time for the correct stream type to show up and you may see HD initially.

How To Use Universal Remote With Fire Stick?

If you are like me, you do not want to keep switching remotes. A universal remote like the Logitech Harmony family makes it extremely easy to operate multiple devices with a single remote. You can turn on multiple devices, switch to the required port on TV and your A/V receiver, all with a simple push of a button. If you have a Harmony-hub based remote it can manage the Fire Stick. However, you cannot control the Fire Stick from a typical IR (Infrared) universal remote. In this case, you will need to add an IR receiver to use the remote with the Fire Stick. The good news is there are cheap IR receivers available (like the Inteset IR Receiver shown here), that can be a good fit and are fairly easy to set up. Following are the key connections.

  • Connect the Y cable into the Fire Stick’s micro USB port.
  • Connect the IR Receiver USB cable into the Y cable’s USB port.
  • Connect the Fire Stick power cable into the Y cable’s micro USB port.

Now, you should be able to configure the universal remote to use the IR Receiver to control the Fire Stick. For Logitech Harmony use the following settings for the Inteset IR Receiver.

  • For device use Xbox 360. You can name the device per your choice, such as Fire Stick.
  • Create an activity (such as Watch Streaming) that uses the TV, the A/V Receiver (if any) and the above IR Receiver device.
  • I noticed that the Play/Pause buttons do not work with the Prime Video app. But, you can use the Ok button for this.
  • You can also use the following custom button mapping for an enhanced experience.
    • Remote Exit and Back buttons mapped to the IR Receiver Y button
    • Remote Menu and Info buttons mapped to the IR Receiver Guide button

Once you sync the remote, you should be able to manage the device using your Logitech remote.

Enjoy your 4K Setup!
– Nitin

 

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