4K content: What's out there?
How to get 4K movies and TV shows
Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."
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If you own a 4K Ultra HD TV, or are shopping for one, you're probably wondering where you can find 4K content to watch. The selection is still limited, but it's growing rapidly, and there are several ways to get it. Read on to find out what's out there now and what's coming down the road.
We'll mostly be talking about streaming video services, and to watch 4K video that way requires fairly fast internet service — at least 20Mbps. And we'd also recommend getting a good wireless router.
But for 4K TV owners who want to really see what their TVs can do, we'll lead off with the undisputed top dog of 4K video: Ultra HD Blu-ray.
The Oppo UDP-203 is our best-selling Ultra HD Blu-ray player. It's incredibly well built, with a sturdy precision disc drive that plays nearly any type of video or audio disc.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Like 4K Ultra HD TVs, Ultra HD Blu-ray supports resolutions up to 3840 x 2160 pixels — four times the detail of 1080p HD. And because Ultra HD Blu-ray discs can hold so much more data than standard Blu-rays, the picture can also have higher contrast and a wider color range, especially discs with HDR (High Dynamic Range). Ultra HD Blu-ray delivers the best picture quality that's ever been available for home viewing.
Most (but not all) Ultra HD Blu-ray players have two HDMI outputs, so people with A/V receivers that are a few years old won't need to replace them. They'll be able to run one HDMI cable directly to the TV for video, and another one to the receiver for audio. So, your 4K TV needs to have at least one of the latest HDMI 2.0 connections with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, but your receiver doesn't.
Microsoft's Xbox One X and Xbox One S game consoles can also play Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.
As of 11/10/17, the number of released and "coming soon" Ultra HD Blu-ray titles is around 250, with prices typically in the $15-$30 range. It's going to take a while to build up a large catalog of Ultra HD Blu-ray titles, but in the meantime, there's plenty of 4K Ultra HD content available from streaming sources.
Netflix offers loads of terrific 4K content including TV series, movies, and documentaries.
Netflix is the most popular streaming video service and offers dozens of TV series, movies, and documentaries in 4K, and some are HDR-enhanced. To get a feel for what's available, check this list of 4K titles on Netflix.
What you'll need: a 4K Ultra HD TV with the Netflix app, plus a Netflix 4K streaming subscription (currently $12.99/mo.). Virtually all 4K TVs include the Netflix app, but if you'd rather use an outboard device, some good 4K-capable options include these Roku and Apple media streamers, as well as TiVo's Bolt DVRs.
Amazon Prime Instant Video
If you're already an Amazon Prime member, you know that one of the perks is Amazon's Prime video streaming service, which includes a significant amount of 4K content, some encoded with HDR. It's a terrific bonus — free access to some great content, including Amazon's award-winning original TV series.
Here's an up-to-date list of 4K titles on Amazon.
What you'll need: a 4K Ultra HD TV with the Amazon app and an Amazon Prime subscription (currently $99/year). Nearly all 4K TVs include the Amazon app, but if you'd rather use an outboard device, some good 4K-capable options include these Roku and Apple media streamers. (Even if you're not an Amazon Prime member, you may still be able to rent or purchase 4K movies.)
This service specializes in pay-per-view movies. Some titles are available at 4K resolution, and a few offer High Dynamic Range (HDR) video and Dolby Atmos audio, if you have a cutting-edge home theater setup that supports those technologies. You can rent for $10 per title, or buy for $25 to $30. Find more info at the Vudu website.
What you'll need: a 4K Ultra HD TV that supports Vudu 4K streaming, like these 2017 Samsung models, or these 2017 LG models. Some media streamers also support Vudu 4K streaming, including these Roku models.
UltraFlix claims to offer the world's largest library of streaming 4K Ultra HD content, including movies, documentaries, concerts, and TV series — over 600 hours' worth of mostly older titles. UltraFlix is primarily a video-on-demand service, with rentals costing between $1 and $10, although there is some free content. Find more info at the UltraFlix website.
FandangoNOW™ (formerly M-GO)
FandangoNOW offers both streaming and downloading of 4K Ultra HD content. If you want to enjoy the expanded contrast and color of HDR video, you can download (as opposed to stream) titles from FandangoNOW and watch them on an HDR-capable 4K TV. Find more info at FandangoNOW's website.
What you'll need: a Samsung or LG 4K Ultra HD TV. FandangoNOW's 4K content can also be accessed via a Roku 4 streamer. For downloading, you'll also need a VIDITY™-enabled storage device that connects to the USB 3.0 port on your TV or streamer.
YouTube has an eclectic and growing library of millions of free 4K video clips. While you probably won't find your favorite movie or TV show, there are some great-looking concerts from the likes of Wilco, U2, and the Avett Brothers. There is also plenty of more conventional 4K eye candy, including some amazing nature documentaries.
If you own an Apple TV 4K, you can use it to download TV shows and movies in 4K from Apple's iTunes Store. Many titles offer HDR, as well. You can choose to buy or rent titles.
Other 4K video options
If you already get satellite or cable TV service, here are a couple of 4K video options that may interest you. DirecTV's 4K Ultra HD service offers a limited selection of 4K movies available on a pay-per-view basis.
In order to use the service, you not only need to be a DirecTV subscriber, but must also have DirecTV's Genie whole house HD DVR, along with a DirecTV-ready Ultra HD TV, like the latest models from Samsung and Sony.
There are no over-the-air 4K broadcasts happening yet, but the final details of the next-generation TV broadcasting system — called ATSC 3.0 — are nearing completion. We may see the launch of 4K broadcasts sometime in 2018.
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