Where Can I Watch 4K UHD Right Now?

Don't let your new 4K UHD TV go to waste.

Daredevil
Netflix
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If you’re going to be buying a new TV soon - at least if it’s a pretty big one - chances are that it’s going to have a 4K UHD resolution. This means it will have four times as many pixels as the high-definition TVs that have dominated the TV marketplace for the past decade or so. (An in-depth look at 4K TV technology can be found here.)

I’ve tested enough 4K TVs already to know that it’s a brilliant technology, taking picture quality to whole new levels of sharpness and detail - especially when it’s combined with new high dynamic range imaging technology.

There is, though, a significant hurdle to 4K UHD taking over the home entertainment world: a lack of native 4K UHD content. Despite it now being two years since the first 4K UHD TVs went on sale, the amount of native 4K UHD content available to consumers is still disappointingly limited and hard to track down. It is there, though, if you know where to look for it and, for the most part, don’t mind paying for it.

The Big Two

The two most important sources of 4K UHD content are the Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant video streaming services. Netflix got the 4K UHD streaming ball rolling first last February when it launched the second series of House Of Cards in the higher resolution format. Amazon followed suit in December 2014 with a fairly strong mix of film and TV show content.

Since these early days both streaming services have added numerous films and TV shows to their 4K UHD offering - though not as much, perhaps, as 4K fans would have hoped.

Among the 4K UHD highlights on Netflix are all three series of House Of Cards, Daredevil, Jessica Jones the first season of Better Call Saul, all seasons of Breaking Bad, and a limited series of movies that includes Jerry Maguire, Ghostbusters, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Amazon also has Better Call Saul, along with a few TV shows that include Transparent, Alpha House, Bosch, The Man In The High CastleGortimer Gibbons’ Life On Normal Street, and the BBC’s Orphan Black.

It has more films than Netflix right now, including Crouching Tiger again, Moneyball, Captain Phillips, The Mask Of Zorro, Godzilla, The Da Vinci Code, and the two Amazing Spider-Man films.

Of course, if you want to access these two 4K UHD platforms you’re going to have to subscribe to them. This works out at $12 a month for Netflix (versus $9 for a normal HD subscription), meaning you’re looking at paying a third more for the right to watch 4K UHD streams. Amazon, on the other hand, includes some of its 4K UHD footage - including all the TV series - in its normal $99 a year Prime subscription. Many of the Amazon 4K UHD films, though, are only available on a purchase basis for around $20 a pop.

Broadband Blues

Please note, too, that as well as being willing to pay for Netflix and Amazon’s 4K UHD services there’s also a potential technical hurdle to overcome: your broadband speed. Netflix states a required broadband speed of 25Mbps and Amazon suggests 15Mbps if you want to receive their 4K streams.

That’s not all. At the time of writing only one external set-top box, the Sony FMP-X10 (covered later), provides access to Netflix 4K UHD service, while there are no external boxes for Amazon 4K streams.

This means that most people will only be able to get Netflix and Amazon’s 4K UHD services through apps built into their TVs. The latest 4K TVs from Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and LG should all work fine - though if you’re thinking of buying a second-hand TV bear in mind that many older UHD TVs will not support 4K UHD streaming.

UltraFlix

A more niche source of streamed 4K is UltraFlix. Although UltraFlix did recently bag the exclusive streaming rights to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar blockbuster, it generally has lower-profile content than Netflix and Amazon; B-movies, concerts, documentaries and so on.

It does, though, claim up to 600 hours of 4K UHD footage in total, and reckons you ‘only’ need around 8Mbps of broadband speed to enjoy its 4K UHD content.

UltraFlix 4K apps are available on the latest Samsung, Vizio, Sony and Hi-Sense 4K TVs in the US, and you can also access the service through a $300 Nuvola NP-1 set-top box.

UltraFlix provides around 100 hours of free 4K content, though the majority of its 4K wares are available on a pay-per-rent basis, with multiple pricing tiers dependent on the profile of the content. You could find yourself paying up to $9.99 for a high-profile 4K UHD studio production.

It’s worth adding that UltraFlix is contemplating various other payment methods, including subscriptions and pay-to-buy models.

M-Go and Comcast

Other smaller sources of streamed 4K UHD content are M-Go and Comcast XFinity. Both of these are currently only available on Samsung UHD TVs in the US (though Comcast is launching a set-top box later this year), and both currently only have pretty limited amounts of 4K UHD content available. In M-Go’s case while there are a few TV shows it’s mostly back catalog films such as Die Hard, Jingle All The Way, The Wolverine and Sin City. You can rent titles from $6, or buy them from around $20.

One interesting feature of M-Go is that if you have one of Samsung’s UHD Video Packs - which we’ll be covering later - you can choose to download the M-Go films to watch rather than streaming them live. This is a great option if your broadband connection isn’t the best.

The Comcast 4K UHD service is mostly a mix of TV shows - including Outlander, Chicago Fire, Suits, Power and SyFy’s Defiance - and documentary content created originally for the IMAX big-screen experience. All the 4K UHD content is made available at no extra cost to Comcast Xfinity customers with a suitable subscription package.

Satellite broadcaster DirecTV, meanwhile, also offers a limited on-demand 4K element to its service. To receive it you will need a DirecTV subscription, a Genie HD DVR and a Samsung UHD TV - though it’s expected that other brands will also adopt DirectTV support this year.

The on-demand 4K UHD content varies in price between $4 and $16, and comprises, for now, a pretty small selection of films from Paramount and K2 Communications. These include Forrest Gump, the 2009 Star Trek movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Ultimate Wave Tahiti, Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, The Terminal and Amistad.

Sony and Samsung HDD Solutions

The last two relatively easy to access sources of 4K UHD content are both external hard disk storage solutions. First up is the Samsung UHD Video Pack. Initially provided in 2014 free to buyers of certain Samsung UHD TVs, the Video Pack carried a selection of UHD movies piped into the TV via its USB ports. The Pack can now also be bought separately for $300 but it only works with Samsung UHD TVs.

The Pack contains five films: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, World War Z, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Night At The Museum, and The Counselor. Plus there are numerous other lower-profile contents including a trio of full-length documentaries.

it seems likely that Samsung will introduce a new UHD Video Pack to accompany its 2015 range, but details of this aren’t available at the time of writing.

A more flexible but also much more expensive solution is the Sony FMP-X10 set top box. Retailing for around $700, Sony’s box provides access to both Netflix’s 4K UHD service and Sony’s own Video Unlimited platform - a platform which, in America at least, provides access to around 200 4K UHD TV shows and films.

Its 1TB memory should be enough to hold around 20 UHD movies at a time, and you can download them on either a rental or purchase basis for prices starting from $8 and a rather eye-watering $30 respectively.

Among the 4K UHD titles available on Sony’s box are Captain Phillips, Elysium, Breaking Bad, American Hustle, The Black List, Better Call Saul, Daredevil and The Amazing Spider Man films. But the combination of Netflix and Video Unlimited really does mean this list barely scratches the surface of what the X10 could deliver.

The X10 was originally released as an exclusive addition for Sony 4K UHD TVs, though it is now able to work with any brand of 4K UHD TV so long as that TV supports the HDMI 2.0 connection standard and the latest HDCP 2.2 anti-piracy system.

That’s pretty much it for now. The only other 4K UHD sources worth mentioning are Youtube and Vimeo, which both carry a little 4K content some 2015 TVs will let you play through their built-in apps.

Ultra HD Blu-ray

The newest kid on the 4K content block is the new Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format. Although it's taken at least a year longer to get here than it probably should have, you can now buy an Ultra HD player from Samsung, the K8500. Panasonic and Sony have also announced their intention to launch players in the next few months.

On the software side, a number of studios including Fox, Sony and Warners are supporting the format, and between them are claiming they'll have more than 100 titles available to buy before the end of 2016.

Some think Ultra HD Blu-ray may struggle to find a market in these streaming-obsessed times, but it's expected that Ultra HD Blu-ray discs - which also support High Dynamic Range picture quality - will deliver the best 4K picture quality you'll be able to see. Plus, of course, they will be the only 4K option for people who don't have super-fast broadband.