Ultra HD (4K) programmes on BBC iPlayer are still few and far between, but some new major streaming devices have finally gotten 4K compatibility on iPlayer – meaning the content that IS available in 4K / HDR will now be available in more homes.
Among the newly supported devices – Amazon’s new Fire TV 4K Max stick (the Firesticks have been absent from this list for a long time – see more details below), Sky’s new streaming TV – Sky Glass, and the brand new Roku Streaming Stick 4K.
It’s not all good news, though – as iPlayer 4K support is still missing from Sky Glass’ complementary device – the Puck – as well as most other Fire TV devices.
4K (also known as Ultra HD) gives you four times the details over Full HD (1080p), with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, compared to 1,920 x 1,080 on Full HD.
HDR (“High Dynamic Range”) helps improve the contrast rates, making the picture more accurate. It also provides a larger colour palette and more colour shades.
The BBC has been running a trial of streaming 4K content on iPlayer since 2016, when Planet Earth was streamed in UHD and HDR on supported devices.
This year, several programmes were added to the list of 4K content available on iPlayer, including the New Year’s special of Doctor Who, two major live sporting events – UEFA Euro 2020 and Wimbledon 2021, and several much-talked-about programmes, such as Vigil and Ridley Road.
However, if you want to watch 4K / HDR content on BBC iPlayer, you need two components: A 4K/HDR TV, and a streaming device that’s been approved by the BBC for Ultra HD on iPlayer (which could also be the TV itself – if it’s a supported ‘smart’ one).
BBC iPlayer 4K On The Fire TV 4K Max
Amazon’s Fire TV devices are among the most popular streamers in the UK. However, for a long time, most of them were incompatible with BBC iPlayer’s 4K content.
The only Fire TV devices that were compatible with the BBC’s 4K, were the Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd generation), an old Firestick model from 2017, and several TV sets that have Fire TV built-in (you can see the full list here).
“We have unfortunately had to disable this content as the device was displaying problems that prevented users enjoying the full UHD experience
Apparently, many Fire TV 4K users were seeing “a large BBC logo flash across the screen” when watching 4K content on iPlayer, and issues with colour rendition and incorrect frame rates were also identified.
At the time (December 9, 2019), the BBC said it informed Amazon of these issues, and the two were working on a fix. Now, almost two years later, we were told by the BBC that the two companies are STILL working together on this…
But there’s some good news: A couple of months ago, Amazon launched the new Fire TV 4K Max (see our review) – an updated streaming stick that has a more powerful processor and a few additional upgrades over the older 4K Stick.
While I was reviewing the device, I noticed that BBC iPlayer 4K/UHD content was finally available on it.
I confirmed this with the BBC, and was told the 4K Max stick is indeed officially supported for 4K content now (although it hasn’t been added to the list on the BBC’s website yet).
BBC iPlayer 4K On Sky Glass
Sky Q customers have long been disappointed with Sky’s flagship device not being supported for Ultra HD on BBC iPlayer.
While that remains the case for now, customers who are considering Sky’s new streaming TV – Sky Glass – would be happy to hear that it DOES finally support UHD on iPlayer, as confirmed to us by the BBC.
With Sky Glass’ 4K display being one of its major selling points, that’s good news.
However, some Sky Glass early adopters were disappointed to discover that the Sky Puck does NOT support 4K on iPlayer at this time.
The Sky Puck is Sky’s solution for Sky Glass owners who want to be able to stream content in other rooms. It’s basically a mini 4K streaming device that requires £10/month for Sky’s “Whole Home” add-on, as well as a one-off cost of £50 for the device itself.
So while the Puck does support 4K content on other services (such as Netflix or some of Sky’s own channels), it’s apparently still not compatible with BBC iPlayer’s 4K content.
BBC iPlayer On Roku Streaming Stick 4K
And finally, there’s also some good news for Roku users.
BBC iPlayer 4K support on Roku’s streaming devices has been kind of hit and miss: some devices (like the now-discontinued Roku Premiere) were supported, while others, like the Roku Streaming Stick+ were not.
However, the brand new Roku Streaming Stick 4K, which is an updated version of the Stick+, does finally support 4K on BBC iPlayer.