If you recently bought a 4K Ultra HD television — or you’re thinking about scooping one up — you’ll find yourself on the hunt for the best 4K content to enjoy (and 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 few 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, and content is still limited. There is also the factor 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 major 4K Ultra HD content sources in one place, with details on pricing, popular titles, and when to expect more.
Ultra HD Blu-ray
Cost: Ultra HD Blu-ray players run $200 or more; Ultra HD Blu-rays average $14 to $30 per movie.
Requirements: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, discs, 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 HDR10 support and a more expansive color spectrum to grow with the 4K Ultra HD TVs of tomorrow.
Ultra HD Blu-ray players from Sony, Oppo, Samsung, Philips, and Panasonic, as well as discs, are now available for purchase at many popular electronics stores and online. The Xbox One S is also a capable 4K Blu-ray player, and it’s capable of HDR to boot. Here’s a list of Ultra HD Blu-ray titles, as well as more information about 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Cost: $14 per month for Premium plan, includes Ultra HD content.
Requirements: Recommended internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher; select 4K Ultra HD TVs from manufacturers including Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Vizio, Philips, and Hisense; 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.
Netflix, a constant innovator, was one of the first services to stream 4K Ultra HD content, which took flight with the second season of its original series House of Cards. Since then, content has been constantly growing — all of the service’s major original series are now being shot in 4K, and some in HDR, including its many Marvel series. Netflix is also continuously adding new 4K films and breathtaking nature docs to its library. You can check out our picks for the best movies and TV shows on Netflix (though not all will be in 4K or HDR).
Cost: Included with a $99 per year or $10 per month Prime Membership; select titles for rental start at $8, and titles for purchase range from $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, Nvidia Shield TV streamer, Apple TV 4K, and (of course) Amazon Fire TV streaming devices.
Amazon’s “free” service — which comes with a Prime subscription — launched with 4K Ultra HD versions of some of its original series like Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent and has since expanded to include most of its original series, as well as a high number of other television series and films. Amazon also streams many of its original series in HDR.
The service also has a rotating selection of 4K Ultra HD movies as part of its Prime collection, meaning the exact number of specific titles available will vary from month to month. As for the not-so-free selections, Amazon sells a number of 4K Ultra HD titles starting at around $20.
Cost: starting at $3 for rentals, $20 for purchases.
Requirements: Apple TV 4K ($180) connected to a 4K UHD TV.
Following the release of the Apple TV 4K, iTunes has begun adding a selection of 4K and HDR content to its store. These titles are available to purchase or rent. Finding content in the iTunes store is easy — icons will flag the content as 4K, HDR, and/or Dolby Vision (Dolby’s proprietary HDR format). One perk of iTunes is that the 4K versions of titles cost the same as the HD versions, which is drastically cheaper than most other services.
Cost: $10 for rental, $20 to $30 for purchase.
Requirements: Recommended internet speed of 10 to 11 Mbps; Vizio, Roku, or LG 4K TVs, 4K-enabled Roku devices or Nvidia Shield TV device paired with compatible 4K Ultra HD TV.
Movie rental/downloading service Vudu has been quietly working its way into the 4K Ultra HD conversation. The service has slowly expanded its number of supported devices and is constantly adding more. Vudu’s library is continually updated with many of the latest UHD movie releases, and it’s now one of the better services for finding UHD films to show off your 4K TV’s capabilities.
Cost: Free; $10/month for YouTube Red subscription; $2 to $15 for film rentals/purchases.
Requirements: Recommended internet speed of 25 Mbps or higher; Ultra HD TVs with Android TV OS and select Samsung and LG TVs; or 4K-capable Roku models, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield TV, or Chromecast Ultra hooked up to a 4K TV. 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 — everything from nature videos to high-flying stunts. And perhaps best of all, most of it is free — such as the popular HDR Channel. If you’re interested in an ad-free experience, a $10 monthly subscription to YouTube Red will remove ads and grant you access to several exclusive series.
Cost: $1 to $10 per rental.
Requirements: Recommended minimum download speed of 10 Mbps or higher; app available on select Samsung, Hisense, Vizio, and Sony Bravia Ultra HD TVs, 4K-capable Roku models, Amazon Fire TV, or Nvidia Shield TV streaming box.
As the self-proclaimed host of the largest 4K Ultra HD library of streaming content available, Ultraflix hosts several hundreds of hours of 4K nature documentaries (including multiple titles originally created for IMAX), dozens of concerts, videos from musical acts, and hundreds of hours of sci-fi, action, comedy, and drama all for rental in 48-hour blocks.
Cost: Starting at $2 for TV episode rentals, $8 per movie for 24-hour rental, and $15 to $35 for purchases.
Requirements: Sony Ultra HD TV, or 4K Ultra HD TV with HDCP 2.2 copyright protection and a PlayStation 4 Pro for 4K Ultra HD playback (though other Sony devices are supported, they do not have 4K playback). or a Sony FMP-X10 4K Ultra HD media player ($500 to 700).
Sony blazed the trail with 4K content, and since the megacorporation is able to handle the programming from acorn to oak, it offers more sheer volume than any other marquee service. Sony’s video on demand (VOD) service allows the purchase and rental of around 200 movies and TV shows. 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.
While Sony’s FMP-X10 media player is no longer proprietary, reviews for the device have been less than kind and it’s getting a little long in the tooth. Luckily, the 4K-enabled PlayStation 4 Pro console supports 4K media playback, and has access to the PlayStation Video store, allowing you to game and watch movies and TV shows in 4K.
Sony’s Ultra streaming service
Cost: $30 per movie purchase, rentals are $8 for 48 hours when available.
Requirements: Select Sony Bravia 4K Ultra HD TVs powered by Google’s Android TV OS.
At first glance, Sony’s exclusive streaming service, Ultra, looks a lot like the company’s other 4K Ultra HD service described above. However, there are some major differences. First of all, Ultra is a streaming service as opposed to a downloading service, meaning your purchased movies will live in the cloud, not on your device. That has its advantages considering how large 4K titles are (around 40GBs or more). However, to use Ultra, you’ll need to stick with a newer Sony TV. Sony announced it would also make Ultra available for PC streaming on machines running Intel’s 7th-generation chip sometime in 2017, but we’ve yet to confirm the support has launched.
Another important distinction between Ultra and Playstation Video is that, until recently, Ultra titles were only available for purchase, though rumor has it the service has since opened for rentals. Many titles support HDR, but selections are effectively limited to Sony Pictures movies and TV shows. Sony films on your UltraViolet catalog can also be streamed on Ultra, and Sony will even let users upgrade Sony UltraViolet titles to 4K “for a special discounted price.” But frankly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find virtually anyone using Ultra, as its many restrictions make it one of the least enticing services on the list, and one of the least battle-tested.
Cost: Rental start at $5 (varies by title), and $20 to $25 for purchase.
Requirements: Recommended minimum 10 Mbps download speeds; select Ultra HD TVs, PC, or 4K-capable Roku models hooked up to 4K Ultra HD TV.
This service was originally known has M-Go, before Fandango purchased and rebranded it. Two different methods of 4K viewing are available to customers: 4K streaming, and 4K downloads for owners of select Samsung 4K Ultra HD TVs with VIDITY-enabled storage devices.
Cost: $5 rentals, $20 to $30 for purchase.
Requirements: 20 Mbps internet connection; Chromecast Ultra, Nvidia Shield, or 4K-capable Roku model connected to a 4K TV, among other Google devices.
Google has its own 4K streaming device, the Chromecast Ultra. While the device will support some of the previously mentioned services out of the box, the Google Play Store has a selection of 4K movies available for rental or purchase. This service isn’t just relegated to the Chromecast Ultra, however. Any 4K capable device that supports Google Play — such as the Roku Ultra or Nvidia Shield — can access these movies via the Google Play app.
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.
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 2014. Top launch titles included Star Trek (2009) and Transformers: Age of Extinction, along with several nature documentaries and some older movies like Forrest Gump and Amistad. The channel now offers live programming on a limited, event-based schedule, and there are plans to offer a handful of new live 4K Ultra HD channels — including more live sports — in the future, though just when remains a mystery.
Cost: $8 per 4K Ultra HD title on demand, live packages start at $40.
Requirements: Dish Hopper 3, 4K Joey (optional add-on for more than one TV) and compatible 4K Ultra HD TV, Dish Network programming package.
With the introduction of its Hopper 3 hardware and 4K Joey, 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 theoretically 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.
Comcast premiered its own 4K service in December 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. While the VOD app is a good start, customers have been eagerly awaiting the launch of a promised 4K set-top box. Despite being slated for a 2015 release, the box has yet to appear on the market.
Price: About $20 to $60 per game, plus fees for additional content and premium online services.
While there’s plenty to watch from the above services and platforms, it’s not the only form of entertainment your 4K TV can enhance. For the gaming crowd out there, there are now two 4K- and HDR-compatible consoles on the market: the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X. While which one you go with will largely come down to what games you like to play and where your friends play, both are a marked visual upgrade over their 1080p HD counterparts.
It’s also worth mentioning that while the PS4 Pro supports 4K games, it doesn’t support UHD Blu Rays, while the Xbox One X and Xbox One S do (the Xbox One S will upscale from 1080). All PS4 consoles — Pro or otherwise — support HDR, along with the Xbox One S and Xbox One X. Be sure to check out our guides for how to enable HDR for both the Xbox One X, and PS4 family of consoles.
Updated: Updating pricing for Netflix and other platforms; added iTunes and gaming content sections.
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