With 4K UHD TV prices at all-time lows, more of us now either own, or intend to get, a 4K set in the near future. Because most programming still isn't transmitted in 4K, you might be wondering where you can find content that can take full advantage of your TV's higher-resolution screen.
There are a growing number of options. In terms of pure picture quality, you can't do better than one of the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players that are now on the market. But not everyone wants to rent or buy physical discs—or shell out $200 to $400 on a new 4K player.
Satellite TV providers DirecTV, now owned by AT&T, and Dish Network both offer a limited amount of 4K programming to their subscribers. DirecTV has been the more aggressive of the two. It now has three UHD channels in its lineup, and some 4K broadcasts of sporting events, most recently a few NBA games. But you need satellite reception for these services.
For most of us, that makes streaming UHD content from an online service the easiest way to get higher-quality 4K content into our homes.
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The good news is that there are a growing number of options for streaming. The major subscription services, including Amazon and Netflix, already have a decent amount of 4K content in their libraries, and they're shooting most or all of their original series in 4K. Just this month Hulu joined the 4K club, with a limited selection of UHD content, mainly some original shows and James Bond movies. There are also several pay-per-view services that let you rent or buy 4K movies and shows.
Many of these programs also support high dynamic range, or HDR, a technology that allows for more contrast between bright and dark areas of the picture. That brings greater realism, detail, and vibrancy to many scenes when played on TVs that can display it.
Here are more details on streaming 4K movies and TV shows:
Amazon Prime, $99 per year
You can find a good selection of 4K movies and shows on both the subscription-based Amazon Prime video service and Amazon Instant Video, the company's à la carte pay-per-view service.
The good news for Amazon Prime subscribers is that, unlike Netflix, Amazon doesn't levy an extra charge to get 4K quality. You can find 4K shows in a dedicated menu section of the service, provided you have a 4K TV with the Amazon app. Just scroll down the selections until you see "Prime Ultra-HD TV" or "Ultra-HD Movies."
Amazon is filming its original content—shows such as "Mozart in the Jungle," "Transparent," and "Alpha House"—in 4K, so we expect the roster of 4K titles to grow. Like Netflix, Amazon supports both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats. (Yes, this is the tech industry, so there are overlapping formats to wade through.)
FandangoNow, $7 rental, up to $25 for purchase
This service was called M-Go before being acquired by Fandango. You can rent movies for streaming or buy them as a download on some Samsung 4K TVs and storage devices that work with Vidity, a new 4K download service.
You can also stream 4K movies, and a few TV shows, on LG and Samsung smart 4K TVs, and Roku 4 streaming players. You have more 4K choices if you're willing to buy titles, which include "The Martian," "Deadpool," and "Kingsman: The Secret Service."
Netflix, $12 per month
To get 4K movies and shows, you'll have to pony up a bit more money—$12 per month—for the top-tier four-screen plan, which includes UHD titles. Netflix was one of the early adopters of 4K content, and its roster of UHD content is growing. Like Amazon, Netflix is committed to filming all of its original series in 4K, and it has also moved fairly aggressively into the world of HDR. Earlier this year Netflix told us it would have 600 hours of 4K content—150 hours of it in HDR—by the end of the year. The service supports both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats; if you have a TV that supports HDR, the HDR and Dolby Vision logos appear next to the title's description. You can search for "4K" or "UHD," or scroll down for a selection of 4K content. Original shows include "House of Cards," "Jessica Jones," and "Marco Polo." The latter show just got canceled, but you can still watch "The OA," "Daredevil," and "The Ridiculous 6" in 4K with HDR.
Sony Ultra, $30 for purchases
Sony’s 4K streaming service, which supports HDR10, has about 100 films and TV shows in 4K. There are no rentals, only purchases, and movies cost about $30 each. Sony says about half of its titles have HDR, and that all Sony Pictures 4K and 4K HDR (HDR10) titles will be available through Ultra. Sony Ultra operates out of the company's sonypicturesstore.com website.
UltraFlix, free to $10 per title
Parent company Nanotech says it wants UltraFlix to be the "Netflix of 4K," because it's focusing almost exclusively on 4K content. According to the company, it offers more than 600 hours of 4K UHD content, including movies, TV shows, IMAX releases, concert videos, documentaries, and other special event videos. The company has a deal with Paramount Pictures to bring hundreds of movies from that studio—some remastered for 4K—into the service. Rentals cost anywhere from $1 to $10, with a 48-hour viewing window. The company also claims UltraFlix offers about 100 hours of free content.
Vudu, $10 rental, up to $25 for purchases
Vudu's claim to fame is early support for Dolby Vision HDR, plus Dolby Atmos sound. But right now its 4K HDR service is limited only to certain LG and Vizio 4K UHD TV lines, though its non-HDR 4K service is also available on 4K Roku TVs and 4K-enabled Roku, Chromecast, and Nvidia Shield streaming players. If you own a compatible system, the good news is that Vudu has a great selection of top current titles, such as "Suicide Squad," "The Secret Life of Pets," and "Mad Max: Fury Road." Unlike Netflix, Vudu is a pay-per-view service for rentals and purchases rather than a monthly subscription service. Thus, you can usually rent 4K movies for $10, or buy them outright for $25.
YouTube, free with ads
YouTube has been in the 4K game longer than anyone, but that's largely thanks to user-generated content. Unlike most other streaming services, which support the HEVC video codec, your TV will need to support VP9, the Google-developed codec used by YouTube. Fortunately, most newer smart TVs do. YouTube is a free, ad-supported service that has a ton of 4K videos, and even a smattering of 8K content (don’t ask). Not surprisingly, YouTube is heavier on user-generated content than blockbuster movies and TV shows, but then again, it’s free. Just last month YouTube added support for HDR, and earlier this year it launched YouTube Red, an ad-free subscription service that costs $10 per month.
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