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Look out Netflix: Amazon rolls out free 4K UHD streaming

Alpha House John Goodman
You can now watch John Goodman wolf down pizza and beer in gleaming 4K UHD for free in Amazon's original series Alpha House, but the stuff you actually want to watch will cost you. Image used with permission by copyright holder
And then there were two. Amazon joined Netflix today as the second major subscription streaming service to jump into the 4K game, announcing the launch of its much-anticipated new 4K UHD streaming service this morning.

As expected, the service begins with a whisper, rather than a roar, with a conservative selection of Amazon’s series originals, including the second season of Alpha House, the new hit show Transparent, the children’s show Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street, as well as the BBC thriller, Orphan Black. 

To add to the pile, Amazon will also feature 4K UHD versions of its upcoming originals, including Mozart in the Jungle, Bosch, Hand of God, The After, and Red Oaks, which will premiere later this year, and into the new year year, as well as the service’s current crop of new pilots, including Cocked, Down Dog, Mad Dogs, Man in the Castle, Point of Honor, Salem Rogers, and The New Yorker Presents. Like Netflix, Amazon also has a small selection of 4K UHD movies in its arsenal, including the visually stunning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, along with some more puzzling choices to showcase the uber-resolution like Hitch, Philedelphia, and Funny Girl.

In addition, Amazon will be offering a live concert in collaboration with LG, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek LIVE!, a taped live performance now available for instant streaming.

Unlike Netflix, which charges new subscribers $3 more for its 4K UHD content, much of Amazon’s new eye-popping offerings are available to Prime members with 4K UHD TVs via its Instant video service at no additional cost, something Amazon hopes will give it a leg up in the battle for streaming supremacy. Netflix is currently the leader in online streaming by a long mile, outpacing both Amazon and Hulu several times over.

Amazon appears to be looking to the future in hopes that it will grow along a similar path as 4K UHD, steadily infiltrating living rooms as viewers slowly replace their HD models with 4K UHD TVs.

“We want to deliver the best entertainment experience, and offering Ultra HD movies and TV shows raises the bar on quality and innovation that customers have come to expect from Amazon,” said Michael Paull, Amazon’s VP of Digital Video. “We’re also excited that Ultra HD is the latest benefit of the Amazon Prime membership, giving members instant access to great movies and TV shows in a premium picture resolution at no additional cost.”

Except that’s not entirely true. It turns out, Amazon isn’t the fully fledged 4K philanthropist we’d hoped it would be. The service is holding the best, most desirable 4K UHD titles hostage: To get the good stuff, you’ll have to buy it and store it in Amazon’s cloud, with prices on 4K titles “starting at” $20. This is an interesting tactic, as Netflix offers no 4K title ownership option, and while Sony does, it requires that you own its FMP-x10 media box, and use its storage, limiting the number of titles that can be kept to the amount of Terabytes available.

This is the End
This is the End in UHD will run you at least $20. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Titles in 4K UHD you won’t get as part of your Prime membership include American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Elysium, Godzilla, Hancock, Moneyball, The Mask of Zorro, The Monuments Men, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (the Toby Maguire films), The Da Vinci Code, The Patriot, Think Like a Man Too, This Is the End, the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and “many more.”

Hardware required to take Amazon’s new 4K UHD ride includes select UHD TVs exclusively from LG, Samsung, and Sony right now. The company claims it will be adding more members to its 4K UHD TV family next year. You can find out more about Amazon’s new service at a special page hosted on the site, and you can also signup for a free trial of Prime to check the service out for yourself.

There’s no doubt that 4K UHD is growing at a snail’s pace, especially arduous for those who bought into the new resolution early. Still, today’s announcement marks a turning point for the new era of Ultra High definition, adding to the handful of lesser known services currently offering 4K UHD content like M-Go, Sony’s proprietary Video Unlimited service, and of course, the newly sprouted 4K UHD offerings from satellite provider DirecTV.

It’s still an HD world out there, but 4K UHD is on the move. Stay with us as we continue to track down every viable source available to help you get your 4K fix.

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Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
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