Why Can’t My TV Stream 4K Video from YouTube?

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Q I recently watched a video labeled “4K” using my Panasonic Ultra HDTV’s built-in YouTube app. When I paused the video, I noticed an icon next to the playback controls that said "Stats for Nerds." Clicking on the icon, I discovered that, while the video was originally shot in 4K, it wasn’t playing back at that resolution. Why does YouTube claim to have 4K content when their system doesn’t play the videos in 4K? —Wayne Mathews, Stone Mountain, GA

A The issue you’re having isn’t with YouTube. Videos tagged with a “4K” icon on YouTube are produced and encoded at 4K/Ultra HD resolution. YouTube even offers high dynamic range content. The problem is that not all playback devices, Ultra HDTVs included, can stream and play 4K content from YouTube at full resolution.

What’s going on? The limitation is due to insufficient hardware support for VP9, the proprietary video coding format developed by YouTube-owner Google specifically to handle Ultra HD video. I, too, have had issues with Ultra HDTVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray players failing to display YouTube videos at 4K resolution when using the built-in app. My Roku 4 streamer (now unavailable) provides the proper support, however, so when I check out 4K clips from the Roku’s YouTube app, the Stats for Nerds window lets me know that the content is indeed being displayed at 3840 x 2160p resolution.

Are there any current TVs that deliver YouTube 4K/HDR? Recent Samsung and LG Ultra HDTVs, as well as new Sony models coming out in 2017 can handle the format. The Roku Ultra, Chromecast Ultra, Amazon Fire TV, and nVidia shield streaming boxes are also YouTube 4K-capable. And while the Ultra HD Blu-ray players I’ve seen so far have all failed to measure up, LG’s new UP970 and Philips’ forthcoming BDP7502 will reportedly be compatible.