If you 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 UHD content to enjoy (read: show 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. Still, most sources have opened up considerably since launch, making this a great time to consider going all-in on 4K Ultra HD.
Related: 4K Ultra HD TV buying guide
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.
Requirements: Recommended Internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher; compatible hardware includes most major TV manufacturers, including Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Vizio, Phillips, Toshiba or Hisense 4K Ultra HD TVs, or compatible 4K Ultra HD TV connected to Roku 4 or Amazon Fire TV streaming boxes
The constant innovator, Netflix was one of the first services to stream 4K Ultra HD content, taking flight with its original series House of Cards Season 2 in April 2014. Content has started slow but is constantly growing — especially since all of the service’s major original series are being shot in 4K. Series like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and The Blacklist have been joined by a steady wave of original series like Bloodline, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Sense 8 among others.
For eye-candy background, the service also hosts some pretty epic nature docs from the Moving Art series like Underwater, Waterfalls, and Forests. Movie choices are still slim pickings, including Hitch (why, Netflix?), The Patriot, Jerry Maguire, and the Netflix documentary Keith Richards: Under the Influence.
Cost: Free with $99 per year Prime Membership, plus select titles for rental and purchase priced around $20-30
Requirements: Select Samsung, LG, Sony, Vizio, and Panasonic 4K Ultra HD TVs, as well as compatible 4K Ultra HD TVs connected to the Roku 4 and (of course) the new Amazon Fire TV
Amazon’s 4K Ultra HD service was originally slated for an October 2014 release date, but showed up as an early Christmas gift last December instead. Amazon’s free service (with Prime subscription) launched with 4K Ultra HD versions of some of its original series, and has expanded to include Alpha House (season 2), 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 limited selection of 4K Ultra HD movies as part of its Prime collection, including a few nature films, as well as titles like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hitch, Jerry Maguire (déjà vus, right?) and even a 3 hour 4K Ultra HD fireplace video for the holidays. As for the not-so-free selections, Amazon sells a number of 4K Ultra HD titles starting at around $20, including Bad Boys (I, and II), Fury, Elysium, and The Fifth Element.
Finally, Amazon also now streams a short selection of 4K Ultra HD series with high dynamic range (HDR), including Mozart in the Jungle and Red Oaks. So far the feature, which is designed to deliver epic contrast, tends to suffer heavily from compression artifacts in our experience, even at relatively high bandwidth speeds. The jury’s still out on how long it will be until HDR streaming is worth getting excited about.
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 ($500-700)
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 the device that proffers Sony’s wares was originally proprietary, updates have opened the media player to allow a variety of 4K Ultra HD TVs to support it, though reviews for the device have been less-than-kind thus far.
Sony’s 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. Frankly, streaming 4K from other services is a much more convenient option. On the other hand, downloading should result in higher video quality for the average Internet connection. Highlights for the service include series like Breaking Bad, and a list of around 200 movies including The Amazing Spider Man, Moneyball, Evil Dead (2013), Godzilla (1998), Hancock, Pineapple Express, and many more.
Cost: Approx. $7 for 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
M-Go’s VOD service launched its new 4K library in an exclusive partnership with Samsung November 12 of 2014. The service began with a modest offering of titles, including Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and Limitless. Since then the service has ramped up slowly towards a few dozen titles, including How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar 3, and Robert Dinero’s The Family, among others. The pickings are slim for major titles, but the service is a welcome addition to the fold for the Samsung faithful.
Cost: $4 to $16 per 4K Ultra HD title on demand, forthcoming live channel pricing unknown
Requirements: Samsung 4K Ultra HD TVs and DirecTV’s Genie HD DVR (model 530 and up)
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 on November 13, 2014. Top titles at launch 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’s really just a first step for DirecTV, which plans on offering a handful of live 4K Ultra HD channels — including live sports — now slated for early 2016.
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, launching December 18, 2014 via a streaming app. As for now, there are only limited titles available, most falling under the umbrella of Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal. 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 promised 4K Ultra HD set top box (called the Xi4, according to Multichannel News) that 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. 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 rollout when it finally launches.
Requirements: Recommended Internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher; newer Ultra HD TVs with Android TV OS (Sony, Phillips, Sharp) along with newer Samsung and LG TVs. (Note: 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 purchasing.)
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 fps playback, for a silky smooth ride. 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 online, including everything from nature videos to high-flying daredevil stunts in sparkling Ultra HD. 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. And perhaps best of all, it’s all 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 Roku 4, which makes Nanotech’s $300 Nuvola NP-1 streaming player a much less appealing outboard option
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 Terminator Genisys, Star Trek (2009), World War Z, and Transformers Dark Side of the Moon, as well as old favorites like Rocky, Rain Man, Fargo, and RoboCop, among others.
Cost: $10 for rental, $25 for purchase
Requirements: Recommended Internet speed of 10-11 Mbps, newer Vizio P-series, M-series, or D-series 4K Ultra HD TV, or Roku 4 and 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 lately. 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 new Roku 4, including options like San Andreas, Man of Steel, both of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies, Magic Mike XXL, The Lego Movie, and more. The service also supports streaming of content with both HDR, and Dolby Atmos surround sound — the first of its kind to do so. However, those features are currently limited to an even smaller selection of supported devices, requiring an Atmos-capable sound system, and a very pricey Vizio Reference Series TV.
Cost: Expected $1,500-2,000
Requirements: 4K Blu-ray player (currently unavailable in the U.S.) and compatible 4K Ultra HD TV
Riding in a hard-copy format once dismissed as obsolete in the streaming age, 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays and their corresponding players are on the way, aiming to be a very big part of the future of Ultra HD. The platform will offer fewer artifacts than highly-compressed 4K streams, as well as bringing quality HDR functionality to equipped TVs, and an even more expansive color spectrum to grow with the 4K Ultra HD TVs of tomorrow.
No firm launch date has been announced for discs or players in the U.S., but the technology is expected to arrive early in 2016. And, yes, you will need to buy new discs and a new player to play them.
That’s the extent of our list for now. As 4K Ultra HD 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 Ultra HD fix.