If you're in the market for a soundbar, you're no doubt comparing a lot of specs and trying to figure out not just what you want, but what you need. One specification in particular is a bit confusing: some soundbars offer "4K", but that's a video spec, not audio. So what does this mean, and do you need a 4k soundbar?
A "4K soundbar" has 4k HDMI video pass-through, meaning you can run your media device to the soundbar first, then connect the soundbar to the TV, without losing video resolution along the way.
But why exactly should you care? And what are the implications of this feature? Keep reading to find out more details, and determine if this is something you need or not.
As you already know a soundbar is not going to improve image quality, and so it's confusing to see an image quality specification (4K refers to image resolution) in a soundbar specification. What a soundbar advertising "4k pass-through" as a feature really means is that it has both HDMI in and HDMI out, meaning you can route any video feed, including 4k ones, through the soundbar to the Television.
So, it's clear that 4k pass-through can give you both stunning audio and video with fewer and more simplified cable connections since it allows "daisy-chaining" of your hardware. You can connect a video source or gaming console to the soundbar first, and then connected the soundbar to your Television.
Even though soundbars don’t need to be 4K compatible, a pass-through can be convenient. You can connect other 4K devices to the soundbar and watch the visuals on your 4K T.V. Games will be brighter, clearer, and more vivid. Movies and T.V. shows will sound and look amazing, with less of a chance of the video and audio getting out of sync or stuttering.
While a 4K soundbar doesn’t dramatically affect the sound quality or video quality the same way a receiver would (as we explained in our guide), it can enhance your home theater experience by minimizing the number of connection cables you need running around, and also ensuring that audio and video are better synchronized. By using this feature as well as HDMI-ARC (which we have more info on here), you can really improve your system.
Most newer models come with one automatically, but this is not always true for older soundbars. How do you know if your soundbar is 4k passthrough compatible, though?
There are a couple of ways to figure out if the soundbar is 4K passthrough compatible. There should be an input that allows video to be transmitted in and another to send it out. If the soundbar doesn't accept video in, it's not 4k pass-through compatible.
Don’t worry if your soundbar isn’t 4K compatible, you do have options that include buying one that is. There are several great 4K soundbars on the market that can help you turn your home into a theatre experience, like the JBL Bar 5.1 4K Ultra HD 5.1-Channel Soundbar (on Amazon) or the Bose Soundbar 700 (also on Amazon), which both have 4k pass-through.
But before you rush to buy something new, let's shift gears a little and address some new questions you might have.
Purchasing a soundbar is an investment in a home entertainment system. Before you spend money on one, it’s best to have all of the information. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about 4K pass-through soundbars.
Whether or not you need a 4K pass-through on the soundbar often depends on your set-up. IF you want to connect 4K devices to the soundbar, it will need a pass-through. Remember, soundbars are for audio only. To transmit video there must be a pass-through.
AN HDMI cable is the best option since it does send a higher quality audio signal, but it’s not necessary if you don’t have one. Soundbars can be connected to a T.V. via optical, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, along with old audio cables. Once again the only difference is audio quality. If you want to do 4K pass-through, though, HDMI is required.
We have a complete article specifically explaining why soundbars have HDMI inputs and outputs.
There are only a few reasons why a soundbar wouldn’t connect to a T.V. The first reason is the age of your television. Some older models don’t come with inputs for HDMI, Bluetooth, or optical cables. This is necessary to connect the soundbar.
Another reason is that your soundbar is a generation or so ahead of your T.V. This means that the soundbar isn’t compatible with the format on the T.V. or vice-versa. In most cases, by the time you’re ready to add a soundbar, your T.V. will be compatible.
If you are worried about compatibility, there are a few ways you can make sure that the soundbar will work with your television. First look at your owner’s manual, if you still have it. The “specifications” section will have a listing of all inputs. Don’t worry if the manual is lost, you can also check the back of the T.V. for an HDMI or optical cable output. If it has at least one, your T.V. will work with a soundbar.
Audiophiles typically look at these numbers. A 2.1 soundbar means that it has 2 tweeters and one subwoofer. This is the most common type of soundbar, and the most affordable. If your soundbar is more for listening to music than movies, you’ll want to pay a little more for one with additional tweeters.
You can find 5.1 soundbars that will make you feel like you’re at a concert when your listening to your favorite bands. For a truly remarkable audio experience, you can find 7.1.4 soundbars. The last number “4” refers to how many of the speakers are elevated. This helps to push the audio out at varying heights for an amazing surround sound. The only downside is that the number of speakers also reflects the price.
If you have a 4K TV and a soundbar without video output, it might be time to upgrade. However, if you have enough inputs on your T.V. or don’t mind switching out devices as needed, you can get by with just an audio soundbar.
You don’t necessarily need a 4K soundbar unless it’s the only way you can connect your devices. It won’t improve audio quality any more than one without 4K. However, if you do get one for connection reasons, make sure that it has a 4K pass-through. That way you’ll be able to transmit images to your 4K T.V.
And most importantly, you rush out to buy a new 4K soundbar, make sure that it’s compatible with your T.V. The last thing you want to do is spend money on a soundbar you’ll only have to return.