If you’ve recently bought a 4K Ultra HD television, or you’re thinking about scooping one up for the holidays, you will inevitably find yourself on the hunt for 4K Ultra HD content to enjoy (read: show off) in all of its sweet, eye-popping pixel glory.
We’ve got good and bad news for you: The good news is that the 4K Ultra HD content pipeline has transitioned from a trickle to a steady flow, and in a few months, it’s going to be more like a rushing river. The bad news is that, for now, some of these sources will be exclusive to certain TV brands. (Spoiler: You’re best off if you bought a Sony or Samsung.)
To save you some hassle, we’ve compiled all current and forthcoming 4K Ultra HD content sources into one place, with details on how much it’s going to cost you, and when you can expect more.
Requirements: Recommended Internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher, newer Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, or Vizio 4K UHD TV
The constant innovator, Netflix was one of the first services to stream 4K UHD content, taking flight with its original series House of Cards Season 2 in 4K UHD in April 2014. Content is pretty light at this point, mostly consisting of a few nature movies, series like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and The Blacklist, as well as a few notable movies including Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Jerry Maguire.
Cost: Free with $99 per year Prime Membership, plus select titles for purchase starting at $20
Requirements: Select Samsung, LG, or Sony 4K UHD TVs, with Vizio’s P-series on the way
Amazon’s new 4K UHD service was originally slated for an October 2014 release date, but showed up as an early Christmas gift in December instead. One of the most anticipated services in the genre, the service premiered on select Samsung, LG, and Sony 4K UHD TVs, with the promise of more 4K UHD TVs to be added next year. Amazon’s touted “free” service launches with 4K UHD versions of some of its original content, including season 2 of Alpha House, Transparent, and the concert Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek Live!
Other originals, including Mozart In the Jungle, Bosch, Hand of God, The After, and Red Oaks will show up in 4K UHD later in 2015, as will the company’s entire list of new pilots. A few movies, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hitch, and Philedelphia have also gone 4K on Prime. As for the not-so-free selections, Amazon will be selling a number of titles starting at $20, including Elyisium, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, and several others.
Cost: $4 to $11 per TV episode for purchase, $8 per movie for 24-hour rental, $30 to $35 for purchase
Requirements: newer 4K UHD TV with HDCP 2.2 copyright protection, and a Sony FMP-X10 4K UHD media player ($700)
Sony blazed the trail with 4K content, and since the megacorp is able to handle the programming from acorn to oak, it offers more sheer volume than any other major service. And while the latest streaming device to proffer Sony’s wares was originally proprietary, updates have opened the system to allow users of a variety of 4K UHD TVs to use it, though reviews for the device have been lukewarm thus far. The VOD service allows downloading for purchase and rental of around 200 movies and TV shows on the media player, which hosts a 1TB internal hard drive. Movies typically take up around 40GB of space, and though renting will save a lot of room, many titles are only available for purchase. Highlights include series like Breaking Bad, and a long list of movies including The Amazing Spider Man, Moneyball, Evil Dead (2013), Godzilla (1998), Hancock, Pineapple Express, and many more.
Cost: Varies by title, approx. $7 for rental, and $20 to $25 for purchase.
Requirements: Select Samsung 4K UHD TVs
One of the freshest new services in the game, M-Go’s VOD service launched its new 4K library in an exclusive partnership with Samsung November 12. The service will begin with a modest offering of titles, including Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Giver, Power, Ghost in the Shell and Limitless. M-Go has promised its service will ramp up with new titles each week, pushing towards 100 or so in the near future.
Cost: Not yet disclosed
Requirements: Samsung 4K UHD TVs, and DirecTV’s Genie HD DVR (model 530 and up)
Pioneering the first 4K UHD service for any cable or satellite provider, DirecTV set up shop to deliver a handful of VOD movies in 4K UHD on November 13, 2014. Marquee titles at launch include Star Trek (2009) and Transformers: Age of Extinction, along with several nature documentaries, and some older movies like Forest Gump, and Amistad. While the service is a milestone for the genre, it’s really just a first step for DirecTV, which plans on offering a handful of live 4K UHD channels in the near future, slated for 2015, or early 2016.
Cost: Free to Xfinity TV customers
Requirements: Samsung 4K UHD TVs at launch
On the heels of DirecTV’s November launch of select VOD content, Comcast has finally premiered its own 4K service, launching December 18, 2014. As for now, there are only limited titles available, all of which fall under the umbrella of Comcast subsidiary NBC Universal. Programming available at launch include current season episodes of NBC’s Chicago Fire, and USA Network’s Suits, and Covert Affairs. The service will also air the new season of NBC’s Parks and Recreation in 4K UHD, which premieres in February.
While the VOD app is a good start, perhaps more intriguing is Comcast’s announcement of the forthcoming Xfinity X1 set-top box that will “deliver 4K content,” presumably setting up the future launch of live 4K UHD channels, which DirecTV has promised are in the works.
Requirements: Recommended Internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher, computer with 4K support
While this service is technically live, we haven’t heard of the built-in YouTube app on any 4K TVs actually supporting it yet, so you’ll need a fairly high-horsepower computer for playback. YouTube uses its own codec for 4K compression called VP9, which will likely be adopted by more manufacturers in the future, but it’s still essentially untested right now. Content is also very limited for the time being, comprising only a few clips.
Around the corner
Requirements: Recommended Internet speed of 6 Mbps or higher, any 4K UHD TV paired with its Nuvola NP-1 streaming player ($300), or Vizio P-Series and select Sony 4K UHD TVS
Nanotech’s Ultraflix is shrouded in mystery right now, and though it claims to be offered in newer Sony TVs, we searched Sony’s flagship X950B for the app to no avail. The company has also announced the launch of Ultraflix on all Samsung 4K UHD TVs, with a representative telling us it will be coming in the next few weeks. The service is currently available in Nanotech’s Nuvola NP-1 streaming box ($300) as well, theoretically allowing it to stream 4K UHD content to any 4K UHD TV, which is a big deal. If you can track it down, Ultraflix hosts hundreds of hours of 4K nature documentaries, including 40 titles originally created for IMAX, dozens of concerts, videos from acts like AC/DC and Madonna, and hundreds of hours of sci-fi, action comedy, and drama. Still, until we get eyes on the app ourselves, we’ll keep it in the “coming soon” pile.
Requirements: Yet-to-be developed 4K Blu-ray player
Once dismissed as obsolete in the streaming age, according to recent statements from the Blu-ray Disc Association, the 4K Blu-ray is on its way, and aims to be a very big part of the future of the new resolution. The Association claims 4K UHD Blu-rays will offer fewer artifacts than highly compressed 4K UHD streams, as well as a higher dynamic range, and even a more expansive color spectrum of over twice what is offered now, to grow with the 4K UHD TVs of tomorrow. No firm launch date has been announced, but licensing for the new technology is slated for spring of 2015. And while today’s Blu-ray discs will be used initially, you’ll unfortunately have to buy a new 4K UHD Blu-ray player to play the new content. Welcome to technology.
That’s the extent of our list for now. The list may be meager at present, but as 4K UHD technology picks up steam, services and content will begin to grow at an exponential rate. As the content goes, so will this guide, so be sure and check back with us regularly for new updates to find out where to get your 4K UHD fix.