If you recently bought a 4K Ultra HD television — or you’re thinking about scooping one up soon — you will inevitably find yourself on the hunt for 4K UHD content to enjoy (read: show it off) in all of its sweet, eye-popping glory.
We’ve got a classic mix of good and bad news for you. The good news is the 4K Ultra HD content pipeline has transitioned from a trickle to a steady flow, and in the next couple of years, 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 or streaming devices. There is also the issue of HDR (high dynamic range), which offers greater color depth and epic contrast, but isn’t supported via every source. Still, most sources have opened up considerably since launch, making this a great time to consider going all-in on 4K Ultra HD.
To save you some hassle, we’ve compiled all current and forthcoming 4K Ultra HD content sources into one place with details on pricing, popular titles, and when to expect more.
Ultra HD Blu-ray
Cost: Ultra HD Blu-ray players run $400 to $800
Requirements: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player and compatible 4K Ultra HD TV
A hard-copy format once dismissed as obsolete in the streaming age, Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and their corresponding players aim to be a very big part of the future of Ultra HD. The platform promises fewer artifacts than highly-compressed 4K streams, and brings along HDR functionality and a more expansive color spectrum to grow with the 4K Ultra HD TVs of tomorrow.
Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs are now available for purchase at many popular electronics stores, with players from Samsung, Philips, and Panasonic available now, and players from Sony and Oppo coming soon. You can find a list of Ultra HD Blu-ray titles here and learn more about 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here.
Cost: $12 per month
Requirements: Recommended internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher; compatible hardware includes most major smart TV manufacturers, including Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Vizio, Philips, and Hisense 4K Ultra HD TVs, or a compatible 4K Ultra HD TV connected to any of the recent 4K-capable Roku models, Amazon Fire TV, or Chromecast Ultra, among others.
The constant innovator, Netflix was one of the first services to stream 4K Ultra HD content, taking flight with the second season of its original series House of Cards. Since then, content has started slow but is constantly growing — especially since all of the service’s major original series are now being shot in 4K. Series such as House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and The Blacklist have been joined by a steady wave of original series in 4K, like Stranger Things, as well as HDR-enabled titles such as Marco Polo and Marvel’s Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones.
For eye-candy background, the service also hosts some pretty epic nature docs from the Moving Art series, such as Underwater, Waterfalls, and Forests. Movie choices are still rather light, but include Netflix-helmed offerings such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny and the documentary Keith Richards: Under the Influence.
Cost: Included with a $99 per year Prime Membership, plus select titles for rental and purchase priced around $20 to $30
Requirements: Select Samsung, LG, Sony, Vizio, and Panasonic 4K Ultra HD TVs, as well as compatible 4K Ultra HD TVs connected to 4K-capable Roku models and (of course) the new Amazon Fire TV set-top box.
Amazon’s 4K Ultra HD service was originally slated for release in October 2014, but the service took its time and showed up as an early Christmas gift in December of 2014. Amazon’s free service — which comes with a Prime subscription — launched with 4K Ultra HD versions of some of its original series, and has since expanded to include Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, Red Oaks, and The Man in the High Castle, as well as the company’s entire list of new pilots.
Amazon also has a rotating selection of 4K Ultra HD movies as part of its Prime collection, but depending on when you look, there might not be much of anything available. As for the not-so-free selections, Amazon sells a number of 4K Ultra HD titles starting at around $20, including newer titles such Ghostbusters (2016), The Revenant, and Star Trek: Beyond — all of which also feature HDR — as well as older titles like The Fifth Element and Air Force One.
Amazon also streams some of its own series, including Mozart in the Jungle and Red Oaks, in HDR. So far, the feature tends to suffer heavily from compression artifacts in our experience, even at relatively high bandwidth speeds.
Cost: $10 for rental, $25 for purchase
Requirements: Recommended internet speed of 10 – 11 Mbps, newer Vizio, Roku, or LG TV or 4K-enabled Roku model or Nvidia Shield TV and HDCP 2.2 compatible 4K Ultra HD TV.
Rental/downloading service Vudu (acquired by Walmart in 2010) has been quietly working its way into the 4K Ultra HD conversation. While the service’s Ultra HD option (called HDX) is still highly limited when it comes to compatible devices, the service made waves in November 2015 for releasing 12 movies exclusively for the Vudu channel on the Roku 4, including options such as San Andreas, Man of Steel, both of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies, Magic Mike XXL, The Lego Movie, and more. Recent 4K additions include Star Trek: Beyond, The Legend of Tarzan, and Warcraft.
HDR streaming via Dolby Vision is also available if you’re using a TV in the recent Vizio Reference Series, or the latest Vizio Smartcast M-Series or P-Series. Certain LG OLED and UHD TV models also support HDR streaming, though whether this is possible with the recent HDR-capable Roku models has yet to be confirmed by Vudu. Certain titles are also available with Dolby Atmos 3D surround sound for those who happen to have a Atmos-capable A/V receiver or sound bar.
Requirements: Recommended internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher; newer Ultra HD TVs with Android TV OS (Sony, Philips, Sharp) along with newer Samsung and LG TVs. The newest, 4K-capable Roku models, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield TV, and Chromecast Ultra also support YouTube in 4K. Keep in mind that the number of TVs that support YouTube’s brand of 4K is still in flux — just because there’s a YouTube app doesn’t mean it’ll be in 4K — so check with retailers before making a purchase.
YouTube’s 4K content uses the VP9 compression codec — as opposed to the more commonly-used HEVC (H.265) codec — which helps the platform serve up high-quality, 4K Ultra HD video at up to 60 frames per second. Thanks in large part to its massive army of video contributors and a barrage of 4K cameras now on the market, YouTube has quickly become one of the best sources for 4K Ultra HD content. You won’t find a big catalog of films or series, but those looking for some brilliant scenes to show off their TV’s mad 4K Ultra HD skills will find them here, with everything from nature videos to high-flying stunts. And perhaps best of all, most of it is free.
Cost: $1 to $10 per rental
Requirements: Recommended minimum download speed of 6 Mbps or higher; apps for select Samsung, Hisense, Vizio, and Sony Bravia Ultra HD TVs, or compatible Ultra HD TV and a 4K-capable Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Nvidia Shield TV streaming box. So many options now make Nanotech’s $300 Nuvola NP-1 streaming player a less appealing outboard choice for the service.
As the self-proclaimed largest 4K Ultra HD library of streaming content available, 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 all for rental in 48-hour blocks. Featured Hollywood movies include The Wolf of Wall Street, Star Trek: Into Darkness, World War Z, and Transformers: Age of Extinction, as well as old favorites such as Rocky, Rain Man, Fargo, and RoboCop, among others.
Cost: Average of $4 to $11 per TV episode for purchase, $8 per movie for 24-hour rental, $30 to $35 for purchase
Requirements: Sony Ultra HD TV, or newer 4K Ultra HD TV (with HDCP 2.2 copyright protection) and a Sony FMP-X10 4K Ultra HD media player ($500 to 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 marquee service. And while Sony’s media player was originally proprietary, updates have opened it up to allow a variety of 4K Ultra HD TVs to support it, though reviews for the device have been less-than-kind, and it’s getting a little long in the tooth.
Sony’s VOD service allows the 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. Frankly, streaming 4K from other services is a much more convenient option. On the other hand, downloading will result in slightly higher video quality. Highlights for the service include series like Fear the Walking Dead, and a list of around 200 movies including newer releases such The Martian, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Star Trek: Beyond. The list also includes older titles like Godzilla (1998), Hancock, Pineapple Express, and many more.
Sony’s Ultra streaming service
Cost: $30 per movie purchase, no rentals available
Requirements: 2015 or 2016 Sony 4K Ultra HD TV powered by Google’s Android TV system.
At first glance, Sony’s new streaming service, Ultra, looks a lot like the company’s previous 4K Ultra HD service which debuted in 2013, Video Unlimited (now called Playstation Video). However, there are some major differences. First of all, Ultra is a streaming service as opposed to a downloading service, meaning your movies will live in the cloud, not on your device. That’s probably a good thing, however, considering how large 4K titles are (around 40GBs or more) as well as the poor reviews of Sony’s ill-fated FMP-X10 4K Ultra HD media player. However, that also means you’ll need to stick with a new Sony TV to use Ultra.
Another important distinction is that Ultra titles are only available for purchase only, and are priced at a whopping $30. On the bright side (literally), many titles will support HDR, allowing HDR-compatible TVs to display a wider color gamut and improved contrast between dark and bright scenes. However, since Ultra is streaming only, it remains to be seen if artifacts will arise due to internet bandwidth issues. Ultra only carries Sony Pictures titles at the moment, including newer movies like Ghostbusters (2016) and older hits like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and, well, Ghostbusters (1984). Sony movies in users’ UltraViolet catalogs can also be streamed on Ultra, and Sony will even let users upgrade Sony UltraViolet titles to 4K “for a special discounted price.” HDR is the big seller here, but for now, Ultra is one of the more restrictive (and expensive) services on the list.
Cost: Approximately $7 per rental (varies by title), and $20 to $25 for purchase
Requirements: Recommended minimum 10 Mbps download speeds; select Samsung 4K Ultra HD TVs and SUHD TVs, or 4K-capable Roku models
This spot was originally occupied by M-Go’s VOD service, which launched its 4K library in an exclusive partnership with Samsung in November of 2014. The service began with a modest offering of titles, including Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Limitless.
In March, M-Go joined the Fandango family, and was replaced by FandangoNOW. Despite the different name, the features that customers of M-Go had grown used to made it over to the newly-branded service intact. Two different methods of 4K viewing are available to customers: 4K streaming, and 4K downloads for owners of select Samsung UHD and SUHD TVs with VIDITY-enabled storage devices.
Recent films such as Warcraft, Lucy, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War are available via streaming, while a larger number of VIDITY titles are available for purchase in 4K. These include The Martian, Deadpool, Independence Day: Resurgence, and X-Men: Apocalypse.
Requirements: Chromecast Ultra or other 4K-capable device that features the Google Play Movies & TV app
At its recent “Made by Google” event, Google unveiled a 4K and HDR-ready version of its Chromecast, known as the Chromecast Ultra. While the device will support some of the previously-mentioned services out of the box, the company also announced that it would be bringing 4K content to the Google Play Store. Many of the movies and TV shows found across several of the services above are also available via Google’s service, but how many of those will be available in 4K remains to be seen.
Since Google’s announcement was more focused on the new Chromecast Ultra hardware than the services powering it, the company didn’t share any details regarding the pricing or bandwidth requirements. We’ll know more when 4K content comes to the store and the new Chromecast model launches in November.
Cost: $4 to $16 per 4K Ultra HD title on demand, live channel requires DirecTV Ultimate or Premier package
Requirements: On-demand: Manufacturer-certified DirecTV 4K Ready TV (or standard 4K TV and 4K Genie Mini) and DirecTV’s Genie HD DVR (model 530 and up), Live: previous requirements plus the latest Genie HD DVR (HR54)
Pioneering the first 4K Ultra HD service for any cable or satellite provider, DirecTV set up shop to deliver a handful of VOD movies in 4K in November of 2014. Top launch titles included 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 was really just a first step for DirecTV. The service delivered its first live 4K channel with The Masters golf major, in April. The channel will now offer other live programming, and there are plans to offer a handful of new live 4K Ultra HD channels — including more live sports — in the near future.
Cost: $8 per 4K Ultra HD title on demand, live packages start from $40
Requirements: Dish Hopper 3, 4K Joey (optional add-on for more than one TV) and compatible 4K TV , Dish Network programming package
With the introduction of its Hopper 3 hardware and 4K Joey earlier this year, Dish joined DirecTV in offering 4K content both live and on demand. As long as you’ve got the equipment, live 4K programming is available on any channel that offers 4K, though that is an admittedly small list at this point. As more channels add 4K programming, you’ll be able to access it as long as the channel is in your programming package. A fair number of movies are available in 4K on demand as well, at a price of $8 per rental, compared to $3 for standard definition and $7 for high definition.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in 4K via Dish’s live or on-demand offerings, the company’s hardware also supports Netflix streaming in 4K, though you’ll need a Netflix subscription in order to access it.
Cost: Free to Xfinity TV customers
Requirements: Samsung 4K Ultra HD TVs
On the heels of DirecTV’s November launch of select content, Comcast premiered its own 4K service in December of 2014 via a streaming app. For now, there are only limited titles available, most of which fall under the umbrella of Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal’s library. Programming available at launch included current season episodes of NBC’s Chicago Fire, along with USA Network’s Suits and Covert Affairs. The service also aired the final season of NBC’s Parks and Recreation in 4K Ultra HD.
While the VOD app is a good start, perhaps more intriguing is Comcast’s 4K Ultra HD set top box — called the Xi4, according to Multichannel News. The device will deliver 4K content via the X1 platform, presumably setting up the future launch of live 4K Ultra HD channels. Future iterations, including the Xi5, are said to be readying HDR delivery as well. Originally slated to launch before the end of 2015, the Xi4 box has yet to materialize, so we’ll have to wait and see just how and where the nascent system will roll out when it finally launches.