Be sure to visit IGN Tech for all the latest comprehensive hands-on reviews and best-of roundups.
Maybe you have an PS4 Pro, or you ordered an Xbox One X, or perhaps you just bought a sweet 4K TV and are ready to fire up some righteous, high-resolution content. We hear you, and we're here to help. 4K content is indeed glorious, offering four times the number of pixels as 1080p, and if you've made the plunge you're going to want to reap the rewards. But the truth is, it can be a little hard to know where to stream 4K content, and what you need to view 4K Blu-Rays.
Over the last few years there has been a large influx of 4K (also called Ultra HD or UHD) displays that are consistently getting cheaper. But a 4K display or 4K TV is only half of the equation if you want to enjoy an epic 4K experience. Source material has been a bit slow to arrive, but distribution companies, streaming services, and game studios are now ramping up their offerings. Here’s where you can find all the content your resolution-loving heart desires.
It has now been over two years since I’ve bought a physical disc for a movie, television show, or video game. With the speed of internet connections, the size of hard drives, and the original content available online, the need to go to the store for a new release is dwindling. And now a lot of that online content is available in 4K. But the amount provided by each service can vary dramatically. Let's take a look:
Streaming and Netflix are almost synonymous at this point. With its constantly updated selection of movies, television and original content there’s a mind boggling amount of material at your fingertips. And the amount of 4K content is pretty good. The main draw of 4K on Netflix is the company's original programming. All of its shows since 2014 have been shot in 4K, including favorites like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things. Netflix also has broadcast TV favorites like Breaking Bad and The Blacklist, as well as a bunch of documentaries, comedy specials, and movies. In order to access the 4K Ultra HD library though, you’ll need to be subscribed to their Premium tier for $13.99 a month. This also gets you 4-screen simultaneous viewing.
Amazon Prime Video
It’s only a matter of time before everything on the planet is owned and distributed by Amazon. But in comparison to Netflix, the breadth of content included with a subscription is more limited. At the time of publish, there are around 50 studio movies, such as Spectre and Ex Machina, original programming shows and some beautiful video of scenic vistas and shots from space. If you have an existing Prime membership they’re worth checking out. Prime is available for $99 annually or $10.99 a month and comes with benefits such as free shipping on Amazon orders. There is also a video-only option, Prime Video, for $8.99 a month. There is a hefty amount of movies and a handful of broadcast shows you can rent or buy that are not included in a Prime membership. Most rentals are $5.99 and most purchases are $19.99.
Hulu rolled out its 4K service at the end of 2016 with a handful of offerings, but its selection is still kind of limited. The Handmaid’s Tale, 11.22.63, and other original programming is available as well as the Bond films, but we’re still waiting for a significant growth to its 4k library. Hulu’s monthly subscription price is $11.99.
Unlike the services above, VUDU doesn’t have a subscription model. Instead you’re able to rent or buy the movies without any future commitment. Which movies are available to rent, buy, or both varies from title to title as does the resolution format. Some will allow you to buy the movie in UHD, but not rent, and some you might not be able to rent at all. There are over 100 individual titles available as well as some movie bundles (the Bourne series, for instance). UHD rental prices start at $3.99 and they have occasional deals.
YouTube currently offers about 70 movies in 4k resolution.
There is huge potential for 4K material on YouTube since anyone can upload what they have filmed. The problem is anyone can upload what they have filmed, so quality 4K could be more difficult to come by. Basic YouTube is free, as revenue is generated by ads that play before videos. YouTube Red is a $9.99 subscription service that gets rid of the ads, includes free music streaming, and allows access to a bunch of original programming, although it isn’t UHD quality. Much like VUDU, YouTube has a selection of over 70 movies – including blockbusters like Wonder Woman – that can be rented or purchased in 4K. YouTube Red is not necessary to rent or purchase the movies.
UltraFlix only offers 4K content. The catch is it has different grades of 4K depending on the source material. Silver is 4K converted from an HD master, Gold is 4K from older material that was shot on film, and Platinum is content that was shot in 4K originally. There are over 600 hours of 4K content in total, with around 100 of those hours available at no charge. For the rest of the content they currently only have a 48-hour rental policy. Pricing is between $2 and $10 per title, and is dependent on how recently the title was released.
Formerly M-Go, FandangoNOW is another rental/purchase site. It has over 200 titles and prices vary depending on the title from a $5.99 rental to a $29.99 purchase. It also have a VIP program where you can collect points to use for discounts.
If your TV or streaming box supports the Google Play app there are over 90 movies available for rent or purchase, depending on the title. Prices for rentals are $4.99 and purchases can go up to $29.99.
When the Apple TV 4K was released in September, Apple began adding 4K content to iTunes. But unlike other movie purchase services, the 4K version of a movie costs the same as the HD version in order to get more people to upgrade. And if you already own the HD version of a movie that is now released in UHD, you get the UHD version for free. Note that you can only stream 4K movies; no downloads are allowed.
DirecTV has been in the 4K business for a few years now and has a robust collection of OnDemand offerings that’s constantly changing. They also have two dedicated 4K channels (104 and 106) that show documentaries, original programming, and travel shows. Where they separate themselves from the streaming services mentioned above is in their broadcast of live sporting events (on channel 106). These include select UFC fights, MLB, NBA, English Premier League, and College Football games. Packages start at $50 per month before fees.
DISH has movies available OnDemand and sports through Pay-Per-View channels. To boost its 4K catalogue, the DVR is integrated with a Netflix app so you’re able to access the entire Netflix library. But a Netflix subscription is not included with the DISH packages that start at $50 a month before the cost of the DVR rental and other fees.
If you want the best video and audio quality, discs are still king. Even with a fast internet connection there can still be issues with artifacts due to the amount of information that needs to be streamed to your source. For game consoles, that source will have to be Microsoft. The Xbox One S and Xbox One X play 4K Blu-rays (though black levels appear to be elevated at launch for the X, which Microsoft will patch shortly) and support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X bitstreams.
Sadly Playstation users are out of luck. The PS4 Pro supports 4K streaming and gaming, but lacks a 4K Blu-ray drive. All of the consoles only have a single HDMI out. So if you’re using an AVR for sound decoding, you’ll need to make sure it supports 4K. Many UHD Blu-ray discs are also coming with HDR support, and getting any 4K HDR content with anything better than a stereo audio signal is not currently possible. And there’s still something special to holding a movie disc in your hand. At least to frosted-tip me.
Image credit: Microsoft
Up until November 7, 2017 the only option for true 4K gaming on consoles was the PS4 Pro. The Xbox One S supports 4K streaming and playback of UHD Blu-rays, but its 4K gaming content is all upsampled from lower resolutions. It looks beautiful, but it isn’t a true 4K image from creation to display. With the release of the Xbox One X, Microsoft now has a console that will play games designed to display a native 4K image. These games are badged with a “4K Ultra HD” icon.
There’s also “Xbox One X Enhanced” games that take advantage of the X’s processing power. Some of these games can be patched to provide true 4K resolutions, but it’s game-dependent. The Playstation 4 Pro has a similar icon system. Native 4K games are listed with a “4K Pro” icon. Games with the moniker that has an arrow pointing to a 4K icon only upscale lower resolutions and are not native 4K.
And of course, 4K gaming on PC has been getting more and more accessible for several years now. 1080 Ti GPUs can push 4K pixels without breaking a sweat, and eve the cheaper 1070 Ti does a decent job.