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Why Does My Cable Look So Bad on a 4K TV?

Why Does My Cable Look So Bad on a 4K TV?

Buying a 4K TV after spending years with a 1080p TV is exciting. You’ve been sold on the idea of watching everything in crystal clear Ultra-HD, and you can’t wait to sink into your favorite TV show. 

However, if you have cable, it might not be as simple as plugging your cable box into the 4K TV and pressing the power button. Sometimes, the image on the screen may not live up to your expectations. 

Here’s everything you need to know about why your cable looks terrible on a 4K TV. 

You Might Have the Wrong Cable

Not all cable is 4K. Cable is a relatively old technology, so it’s not surprising that it hasn’t fully caught up to the resolution standards of today. You may either have an older cable box or a cable plan. 

4K HDMI Cable for Laptop, Monitor, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, TV

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Some older cable boxes aren’t able to play or process 4K video, so you will have to talk to your provider and see what options there are. 

Cable providers are under a lot of pressure to provide as many channels as possible. To do so, they use lower encoding bitrates. “Bitrate is the amount of data encoded for a unit of time.

The lower the bitrate, the lower the quality and resolution. Streaming services usually don’t compromise on bitrate to fit more content into their library, whereas it’s common for cable providers to do so. 

It’s always important to check what the bitrate your cable is playing at. Sometimes, the number of channels means that the overall quality of the programs is lower. 

Upgrading Your Cable 

Have a look at what package you have with your cable provider. As newer and better resolutions have come out, cable providers found an opportunity to profit off customer’s expectations of high-resolution video.

4K High Speed HDMI 2.0 Cables

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Upgrading your cable might be as easy as calling them and getting a quote. Usually, if you already have cable, it shouldn’t be too expensive to upgrade to 4K. You might even decide to change providers altogether. 

You Might be Watching a Low-Resolution Show

Bad video resolution isn’t entirely the cable companies fault.

Most television shows on cable TV aren’t made to be watched in 4K. They are usually only available in 1080p or 720p. After all, most people who use cable (ages 45 to 64) probably aren’t concerned about watching high-resolution TV shows.

Man watching TV with washed out color  

The age of the TV show will also determine its resolution. Older shows made before the popularization of 4K resolution will not be available. 

Streaming services like Netflix recognize how important watching content in 4K is, whereas cable TV doesn’t prioritize resolution as much. 

You’re Using an Old HDMI Cable

A cable box is plugged into the TV with an HDMI cable. While it’s unlikely that the HDMI cable is the root cause of your lower-than-average resolution, it is worth checking. 

4K High Speed HDMI 2.0 Cable

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You should only be using high-speed or ultra high-speed HDMI cables.

This will ensure that the quality of the video and audio is consistently high throughout your viewing experience. HDMI cables are affordable and readily available, so finding one that suits your needs is easy. 

When looking for HDMI generations, you want 2.0 or higher. Most cables are clearly labeled with this information. 

The Cable Signal Might be Weak

Having the best possible cable signal is another way to ensure you’re doing everything you can to enjoy content at the highest resolution possible. 

HDMI cable and electrical signal

With many providers, you can go to the diagnostics screen and check the “OOB Status.” The quality of your signal should be clearly labeled there. It will tell you in clear words how strong your signal is. Getting to the diagnostics screen may vary depending on your provider. 

Comcast, for example, opens up the diagnostics screen when you power off the cable box then press “OK/Select” immediately afterwards. Check your cable box manual to find the best way for you to look at the diagnostics. 

4K TVs Highlight Lower Resolutions 

There are a lot of perks to having a 4K TV, especially a big TV. 


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However, the reality is that once you get used to the crisp images that 4K streaming services and TVs provide, it makes regular cable look terrible. Shows that probably looked super clear a few years ago appear pixelated or a little grainy.

They haven’t changed at all — your expectations have. 

A larger TV further highlights the quality of content. Before, the slight graininess of a show or movie on a tiny TV screen was overlooked easily. Now, it’s difficult to ignore any flaw or out-of-place pixel. 


It’s easy to get caught up in the incredible world of 4K TVs when shopping around. They only display incredibly high-quality images and videos on them, and don’t bother to mention that they won’t turn all content 4K. 

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to buy a 4K TV, think about what TV shows on cable are even available in 4K. Chances are, you may not even benefit from upgrading. You should also look into what cable package you have and if your provider offers any upgrade deals. 

Have you managed to find a lot of 4K programs on your cable service? Do you think buying a 4K TV is worth it?

Let us know in the comments below! 

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