Can an antenna be “4K Ultra HD Ready?”

Yes… and no.

4K is the new buzzword in television. It’s a level of quality that’s four times better than HD. You may have seen 4K televisions in your local stores, may even have seen a demonstration or heard that Netflix has a very limited amount of 4K content available. This may lead you to wonder if you should be considering 4K when you’re shopping for an antenna.

What you need to know is simple: Your antenna doesn’t care if you’re watching 4K or HD or digital. An antenna made in 1960 will work just fine for digital TV, even though digital TV wasn’t even a thought back then. It will also work just fine for 4K. In fact, the antennas they made back then to get channels 2-83 are even a bit of overkill. Today you really only need to get channels 7-59, and in some areas only channels 14-59. That’s the reason that antennas have gotten smaller in recent years; it’s because in most cases they don’t need to pull in as many channels.

So to be clear, there’s nothing that would make an antenna better or worse for digital, 4K, or HD for that matter. But really that’s not the disappointing part.

The disappointing part is that there is not any 4K television to watch, at least not over the air. And even more disappointing, there might never be. There have been some very limited tests in other countries and two tests that we know of here in the US, but the ATSC 3.0 standard required for 4K transmissions isn’t even being considered seriously right now. If it is considered, then it’s possible — possible, not definite — that there could be 4K broadcasting within a decade or so. Put it this way: the first HDTV broadcast in the US was in 1996 and it took about eleven years for most content to go HD. That was aided by a government rule change requiring broadcasters to go digital. Such a rule change never took place before and it’s not likely to take place again.

So yeah, I’m saying what you think I’m saying: it’s possible there may never be 4K television broadcast over the air. If there is, it will probably be done using existing broadcast frequencies, so you could technically say that any antenna that receives existing broadcasts will receive 4K ones, if they ever show up. Now, it’s possible that 4K will be broadcast using cell phone frequencies or something else. Anything’s possible at this point. It’s even possible that somehow someone will invent a way to put a 4K signal and an HD signal on the same frequency so that the HDTV will use the HD signal and the 4KTV will use the 4K signal, sort of how it used to work with black-and-white televisions. Never say never, but that would be a real long shot and require technologies we haven’t invented yet. So, once again, it’s a long way off.

So generally I tend to advise people to be futureproof but in this case I’m just not sure that it’s really necessary. Buy the antenna that suits you today and don’t worry so much about 4K.