If you’ve spent the extra money for a 4K TV, monitor, or laptop, you’d probably like to have something to watch on it. Unfortunately, several years after the first sets came to the market, we’re still severely lacking in actual sources for ultra-high-def video content. Options are limited: as of early 2017, here are the online and pay TV services that offer 4K content.
4K Ultra HD Blu-Rays
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Much like 1080p, the best quality 4K content you can get is physical media. Right now, there’s only one real option: Ultra HD Blu-ray. You’ll need both a 4K Blu-ray player and a 4K Blu-ray disc movie to enjoy it.
When it comes to PCs, Pioneer has started shipping the first PC Blu-ray drives compatible with the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec, and version 16 of Cyberlink PowerDVD can handle playback on monitors that support the resolution. At the time of writing, there are no laptops with Ultra HD Blu-ray drives.
On the Web
Streaming isn’t as high quality as Blu-ray discs, but some streaming services do offer 4K—both on the web or via set-top boxes. Keep in mind that you’ll need a reliable Internet connection of at least 20 megabits per second to stream it. Some services require even faster connections.
Google has been surprisingly forward-looking when it comes to ultra-high-def video. Since 2010, YouTube users have been able to upload files with a maximum resolution of 4096×3072 (at 4:3 aspect ratio—more commonly 4K videos are 3840×2160). Starting in 2015, video uploaders have even been able to post content at an astonishing 8K resolution. All that’s necessary to view it is a standard web browser and a screen capable of displaying it, but there’s very little commercial content available on YouTube as a platform.
Vimeo is an open platform similar to YouTube, but focused more on professional video. Content hosted or embedded with Vimeo has a maximum resolution of 4K at 60 FPS, but like YouTube, it’s almost zero broadcast-ready commercial content. Because of the paid tiers for storage and posting, there’s a lot of semi-professional video from independent filmmakers and videographers.
Netflix offers a selection of its catalog (mostly its high-profile series like Daredevil and House of Cards) in 4K. Unfortunately the support is limited to compatible smart TVs, consoles, and the set-top boxes listed on this page. (They include the Chromecast Ultra, Roku 4, Xbox One S, PlayStation 4 Pro, NVIDIA SHIELD, and quite a few others.)
Sadly, most browsers will not stream Netflix in 4K—Microsoft Edge is the one exception, and only if you have a Kaby Lake CPU. Also, in order to access 4K resolutions on any platform, Netflix subscribers need to pay extra for the Family Plan (which also supports streaming to four devices at once) at $12 a month.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s digital video service includes some 4K content at the moment. In addition to the latest version of the Fire TV set-top box, 4K TV models from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio feature built-in Amazon Prime apps for streaming 4K movies and TV. Unlike Netflix, there’s no extra charge for Prime users to access 4K content.
Vudu now offers a selection of 4K movies to rent and buy in 4K, mostly recent releases. Viewers need either a 4K smart TV with a compatible VUDU app (LG and Vizio models only at the moment) or a Roku 4, Roku-powered 4K TV, NVIDIA SHIELD, Chromecast Ultra, or Xbox One S.
As of early 2017, only a small selection of Hulu’s original show content is offered in 4K, along with more than 20 James Bond movies. The only devices compatible with Hulu’s 4K content are the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S.
Ultraflix claims that it has “the world’s largest selection of 4K content,” but that apparently means a relatively meager 600-hour selection. However, UltraFlix includes live concerts and classic movies that aren’t available on other platforms. Movies are rental only. Apps are available on Samsung, Vizio, Hisense, and Sony TVs, along with Roku and the NVIDIA SHIELD.
As both a media production company and a hardware manufacturer, Sony has a vested interest in 4K video. The company hosts its own store with 4K movies to buy and rent, but the app is only available on compatible Sony-branded Smart TVs at the moment. Oddly, it isn’t available on the PlayStation 4 Pro (though that seems like a natural upgrade for the future).
Fandango’s selection of online rentals includes a few select 4K videos, but at the moment it’s less than fifty movies and only compatible with Samsung-branded 4K TVs. Fandango titles have to be downloaded (not streamed) to VIDITY-compatible storage, a relatively obscure standard. Despite downloading to USB-based storage, the videos cannot be played back on PCs.
While some larger providers in the US, UK, and Canada are starting to offer reliable 4K content in both scheduled channels and on demand, the vast majority of pay TV content remains in regular 1080p high definition. However, cable and satellite providers have a major advantage over web services: access to live sports.
DirecTV offers three dedicated 4K channels, which include a rolling selection of 4K movies, documentaries, and sporting events. In addition, the satellite provider offers some recent theatrical releases as 4K on-demand rentals. Customers need a compatible Genie cable box and also a subscription to either the Ultimate or Premiere packages, the most expensive offered.
At the moment DISH offers no dedicated 4K channels, though its Hopper 3 cable box is capable of outputting 4K content from Netflix. Occasional preview content, like Planet Earth 2, has been offered in the past.
As of early 2017, Comcast only offers a small selection of content via the “Ultra HD Sampler” app on Samsung and LG Smart TVs.
Rogers has a single 4K preview channel (999) that shows a rolling selection of movies and TV shows. Some NHL and MLB games are available in 4K on Sportsnet. 4K television requires a NextBox 4K cable box.
Bell Fibe TV (Canada)
Bell has a small selection of local basketball, hockey, and soccer in 4K, as well as on-demand movies and a single dedicated 4K channel. Customers need the 4K Whole Home PVR to view compatible content.
BT Sport (United Kingdom)
British Telecom offers a BT Sport package that broadcasts some soccer games in 4K. Access requires a compatible Ultra HD set-top box and the Total Entertainment package. The set-top box is also compatible with Netflix 4K.
It’s surprising how little 4K video there is given how long 4K TVs have been around, and that’s why we haven’t recommend buying a 4K TV for the past few years. But with services finally starting to catch up, 4K Blu-Ray finally coming around, and HDR being the next big thing, 4K is finally starting to go somewhere.
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