Following the removal of Ultra HD (4K) content from BBC iPlayer during the lockdown (to preserve bandwidth), two popular programmes were recently brought back into the 4K trial, and another popular series – His Dark Materials – was added to the trial as well.
BBC iPlayer has had “trials” of 4K content since 2016, when Planet Earth was streamed in UHD and HDR on supported devices.
Since then, more programmes have been added to the trial (and then removed) from time to time, including Blue Planet II, Dynasties and Planet Earth II.
4K (also known as Ultra HD) gives you four times the details over Full HD, with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, compared to 1,920 x 1,080 on Full HD.
HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range”. It’s a technology that helps improve the contrast rates between whites and blacks, making the picture more accurate. Additionally, it provides a larger colour palette and more colour shades.
4K (and HDR) content is becoming more and more common these days – many of the programmes and movies on Netflix already support it (as long as you have the right subscription tier), and Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ also have a growing selection.
Things haven’t been as good on BBC iPlayer, with 4K content only being added as part of an ongoing trial. In recent years, in addition to the odd series, the BBC also streamed live 4K coverage from Wimbledon 2018 and 2019, the 2019 FA Cup final and semi-final matches, and all FIFA World Cup 2018 matches.
Last year, two popular BBC programmes were streamed on iPlayer in 4K: Dracula and Seven Worlds, One Planet.
When the lockdown started, however, the 4K trial was stopped temporarily, as a “precautionary measure”, in order to ease strain on the broadband networks in the UK (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ similarly reduced video quality in Europe, for the same reason).
Recently, however, the BBC brought their 4K trial back with these two programmes, as well as adding another long-requested programme to the 4K mix – His Dark Materials.
Dracula is a three-part series from the makers of Sherlock. It follows Claes Bang as the Count in a witty and fresh retelling of the famous story.
Seven Worlds, One Planet is a spectacular nature series where David Attenborough reveals “the mind-blowing marvels of our seven continents”.
And His Dark Materials is an adaptation of the fantasy novels by Philip Pullman, which follow the life of a young girl in an alternate world where all humans have animal companions called daemons – manifestations of the human soul.
Programmes are often removed from the BBC iPlayer 4K trial without notice – so hurry up and watch them, if you’re interested.
How Can I Watch 4K (UHD) Content On BBC iPlayer?
1. You need to make sure you have a TV that supports 4K, and is supported by BBC iPlayer, as well as a compatible 4K streaming device (or a Smart TV).
At the moment, the 4K trial is supported on most of the popular 4K streaming devices and TVs – The Amazon Fire TV 4K line, the Roku 4K devices, Freeview Play 4K boxes like the Manhattan T3-R, Smart TVs by Samsung, LG, Hisense, Panasonic and many others. You can find the full list of supported 4K devices here.
However, for now, the 4K trial is NOT supported on smartphones, PCs or on the Chromecast Ultra.
2. Then, you need a suitable broadband connection (4K streaming consumes a lot of bandwidth). The BBC recommends an internet connection speed of 24MBit/s for the full 4K experience (3840 pixels), or 12MBit/s for a lower (2560 pixels) resolution.
3. On BBC iPlayer, you need to set the video quality to “Best”. When 4K content is available, it will be used automatically – otherwise, Best Quality will stream Full HD content:
- Go to BBC iPlayer’s “Settings”
- Select “Video Quality”
- Choose “Best Quality”
4. Look for content with the UHD icon. At the moment, as mentioned, only Dracula, Seven Worlds, One Planet and His Dark Materials are available.