Doctor Who Finally Getting 4K HDR Treatment On BBC iPlayer

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With most international streaming services having wide 4K / HDR support, the BBC is still lagging behind. However, there’s some good news this month: the Doctor Who new year’s special will be available in Ultra HD – Read ahead on how to watch it.

As was the case last year, the Christmas special of Doctor Who – Revolution of the Daleks will be shown on New Year’s Day – January 1, 2021 – at 6:45pm on BBC One, and on-demand on BBC iPlayer.

The festive special, starring Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, will see the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack.

Doctor Who john barrowman captain jack
Photo: BBC

It will also feature the Doctor’s current companions, Yaz, Ryan and Graham, with this being the last episode for Bradley Walsh (Graham) and Tosin Cole (Ryan).

And of course, the nation’s favourite villains – the Daleks – are also back, with a new look.

4K ON BBC iPlayer

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. Additionally, it provides a larger colour palette and more colour shades.

4K TV screen sizes

BBC iPlayer has had “trials” of 4K content since 2016, when Planet Earth was streamed in UHD and HDR on supported devices. 

This year, a few programmes were added to the list of 4K content available on iPlayer – though very few and far between, with it still being called “a trial”.

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks In 4K: How to Watch

Some of the past Doctor Who specials were available in 4K / HDR on other formats – such as Blu-ray, but never on BBC iPlayer – which is finally changing.

This year, Revolution of the Daleks will finally be available in 4K / HDR – as long as you’re watching it on BBC iPlayer (either live or later, on-demand). 

First, you need a TV that supports 4K, as well as a 4K streaming device (such as the Roku Streaming Stick+) – see the BBC’s list of supported 4K devices here.

Unlike most streaming services that support the HDR10 standard, BBC iPlayer uses the HLG standard of HDR – so you need to make sure your TV supports that standard as well (otherwise you will just get 4K – without the full HDR experience).

Then, on BBC iPlayer, you need to make sure you have the right “Video Quality” setting:

  • Go to BBC iPlayer’s “Settings”
  • Select “Video Quality”
  • Choose “Best Quality”

BBC iPlayer video quality selection

Remember, you also need a speedy broadband connection that can handle 4K streaming – The BBC recommends a connection speed of 24MBit/s for the full 4K experience (3840 pixels), or 12MBit/s for a lower (2560 pixels) resolution. 

Finally, once you start watching Revolution of the Daleks, you will be prompted to switch to the 4K version by pressing the Red Button on your remote (or an equivalent method, depending on the streaming device you’re using).

If you watch the on-demand (and not live) version, it will presumably use the 4K from the get-go – assuming your equipment supports it. 

In addition, at the end of this month, Doctor Who will be leaving Netflix UK – so BBC iPlayer will be the only place to stream it, for now.

More 4K Content On BBC iPlayer

In the coming days, the BBC will add a few more programmes to their 4K/HDR “trial”, in addition to the Doctor Who special:

  • The Queen’s Christmas Speech (from December 25, 3PM)
  • Black Narcissus: A drama mini-series based on the 1939 novel (from December 27)
  • Perfect Planet – A new nature series from Sir David Attenborough (from January 3)

We’re hoping 2021 will finally be the year when the BBC starts streaming regular 4K content, as rival services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video have gained a major lead in that area.

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