Do Soundbars Need To Be 4K Compatible?

Bose soundbar top best recommended 4k tv speaker gizbuyer guide

If you’re a fan of high-quality audio-visual setups, then you’re probably already eyeing a soundbar as an addition to your home theater system. It’s understandable. They’re sleek looking, offer up good sound quality, and don’t take up much space. But, the question of 4K comes into play….

Do soundbars need to be 4K compatible? While many new types of AV tech have to be made compatible with 4K definition, soundbars don’t need to be 4K compatible. Since they’re simple playback devices, they don’t need to have any special compatibility added to them. 

Most AV geeks can get a little concerned about getting a 4K setup and a soundbar together. Those who want to learn more about their options and the mechanics of using a soundbar should check out this article.

Do Soundbars Need To Be 4K Compatible?

4k soundbar speaker home theater setup

Much like other forms of sound playback, the soundbars you see lining store shelves do not need to have any special modifications to work with a 4K, ultra-high-definition system. Even if you own a soundbar that was made before the invention of 4K, you can still use it for your new 4K system without any issues. 

Does 4K Have Any Effect On Sound Quality?

The real importance of 4K is about the quality of the visuals, not the sound. That said, many companies make an effort to create better sound, too.

What About 4K Encryption Compatibility?

If you’ve heard about 4K encryption, it’s easy to see why you might be concerned about your soundbar’s ability to perform. HDCP (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) 2.2 compatibility is meant to act as a lock for 4K visual quality. 

It’s an encryption code, and as long as your television is 4K-compatible, you have a source that’s unlocked. If your soundbar isn’t 4K-compatible, you can just plug it directly into the TV (rather than the video source) to bypass encryption.

Can Soundbars Be 4K-Compatible?

Though they don’t have to be specifically made compatible with 4K, many manufacturers are now working on models that make it easier to access 4K quality. There are two main types of “upgrades” when it comes to 4K sound quality: pass-through and upscaling.

Both are designed to make it easier for viewers to experience high-quality sound without the chance of having hiccups. By that virtue, soundbars with those qualities are considered to be the most legitimately 4K-compatible choices on the market.

How Do Soundbars Work Without 4K Compatibility?

external sound speakers for gaming projector playstation

When it comes to the term “4K Compatible,” it’s important to understand what that means. 4K is a definition that is known for having a resolution around 4000 pixels. It doesn’t have a specific definition for sound quality. However, most companies make a point of sharpening sound as an add-on to 4K.

When it comes to soundbars, the casual term of “4K compatibility” means that you will be able to have your equipment modify the sound for a sharper, crisper definition. A typical soundbar is made to play back audio, often directly from the television. 

If you have a soundbar that doesn’t have specialized 4K modifications, Your soundbar isn’t going to be processing anything or changing anything in the sound. It just plays the signals your TV sends. 

What Is Soundbar Pass-Through?

If you have a soundbar that has 4K pass-through, congratulations, you’re the owner of what might just be the most 4K-friendly type of soundbar on the market. Soundbar pass-through technology gives you the ability to have HDCP 2.2 compatibility. 

With this tech, the signals from your 4K definition box will pass-through from the video source to the soundbar without any reduction in quality whatsoever. It also helps you bypass the encryption that comes with most Blu-ray DVD movies and streaming services. This means you don’t have to hook up the TV to your soundbar.

What Is 4K Upscaling On A Soundbar?

Let’s say that you have a movie that you love watching, but there isn’t a 4K version on the market. You want that high definition quality, though! If you have 4K upscaling, you will be able to get the kind of definition you’d expect from a modern movie without the original movie having that high quality. 

As the name suggests, soundbars that have 4K upscaling can take a lower definition movie and scale up the quality until it sounds like a standard 4K movie—or pretty darn close to it. 

Which Upgrade Is Better: Pass-Through or Upscaling? 

This all depends on what you want to do with your soundbar. Here’s what you should consider when picking a soundbar upgrade:

  • Pass-through just allows you to hook up your soundbar to the video source directly, rather than the 4K TV. If you just want to get a convenient hookup or keep your 4K sound extra-crisp, this is a good choice. 
  • Upscaling is designed to raise the quality of an old school movie to 4K levels. If you watch a lot of old movies, then getting upscaling makes sense. This is particularly true if you’re an audiophile. 
  • If you aren’t picky and want to have a picture on the screen followed by decent sound, pick a standard soundbar. Since you can just plug in most soundbars into a TV and get the sound quality you want, there might not be any reason to pay extra money for an upgrade.

What Do I Need In Order To Enjoy A 4K Soundbar?

4k soundbar speaker for hd tv
source: Bose

Having a soundbar alone isn’t enough to make it possible to have 4K sound. You’re going to need other supplies in order to get that real-life sound and video. Here’s what you will need, at the very least:

  • A Soundbar. This goes without saying, but for the sake of keeping this article fully complete, we’re adding it to the checklist anyway, like this soundbar from Bose that I personally own and delivers natural, crisp and clear sound.
  • A 4K-Compatible Television. Your television has to be compatible with 4K technology in order for you to access 4K. If you don’t have a 4K TV, you need to buy one before you get a 4K-compatible soundbar.
  • The Video Source. Much like the TV, the video source also has to be capable of offering up 4K quality. Otherwise, you won’t get better quality and will have spent a serious amount of money.
  • HDMI Cables. To connect everything together, you’re going to need some HDMI cables. How many you will need will depend on your overall setup and whether you chose to get a pass-through soundbar. Be sure to purchase a quality cable from a trusted reputable manufacturer, like this one from Monster, so that there isn’t any visual or audio distortion between your 4K TV and soundbar. 

Is Installing A 4K-Friendly Soundbar Any Different From Installing A Regular Soundbar?

In terms of installation, you won’t see a difference between a 4K upscaling soundbar and a regular soundbar in many cases. The only soundbars that will have a slightly different installation route are pass-through soundbars that can be directly hooked into a video source instead of a TV.

The Low-Down On 4K Soundbar Compatibility

Though there’s a serious push among audio engineers to improve sound quality and make soundbars more 4K-accessible, you don’t need to have a specially-engineered soundbar to play sound on a 4K movie. 

What you get out of your soundbar shopping experience varies based on what you want your 4K to do. You should make an effort to consider how much detail you need out fo the sound you’re getting. 

Since standard soundbars are designed to offer pure playback, 4K is kind of a moot point if you are just concerned about being able to hear any sound whatsoever. However, if you want unusually sharp sound or just want to revitalize an old movie’s soundtrack, getting upscaling might be a good choice. 



John Hammer

Hi i'm John Hammer, Founder and Author of Gizbuyer Guide. Ever since the original Xbox, PlayStation, and iPhone I've purchased and worked on all kinds of consumer tech products, gaming gadgets and operating system softwares. To this day my curiosity has never left, and my aim is to guide and share my knowledge on technology as I continue to experience the latest of the consumer electronics industry.

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