The bleeding-edge of technology can be a lonely place. The soldiers in this battle carry immensely powerful tech, but commonly lack the ammunition needed to reach its full potential. Nowhere has this been more apparent over the past 2 years than the 4K space.
4K viewing is the future. The evidence supporting this conclusion is confirmed every time you see the dazzling resolution quadruple the number of pixels on screen. The detail, depth, and color resolution are enhanced to provide an unparalleled sense of realism and life.
While 4K brings the quality, content providers have been slow to latch on. This is no cause for concern, but simply the natural process of a new technology with a tiny base of first-adopters. Once the market expands, and cheaper versions of the 4K experience enter the fray, the content providers will be right there salivating.
Even so, a savvy 4K owner can find more than enough content to satisfy their craving for the best our global technology sector can provide. Let’s go over some of the current options available to consumers.
Keep in mind that right now 4K HDTV sets are only available from LG, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Vizio, HiSense and Toshiba. If you are holding off on buying one of these TVs because you are waiting for more content to be made available, you should know that they will upscale 1080P content to 4K by interpolating the missing pixels. Of course, native 4K content will always look better than upscaled content, but it shouldn’t hold you back on making a purchase. However, make sure you get one that supports HDMI 2.0 with HCDP 2.2, to allow for movies that are filmed in the high-frame-rate of 60 fps to play back at the same speed instead of 30 fps on HDMI 1.4. HDCP is the technology that protects movies from being copied.
Some of the manufacturers, such as Sony and Samsung, are providing 4K content to go along with their HDTVs.
Sony HDTVs come packaged with a 4K Ultra HD Media Player, a 1 terabyte hard drive (can be purchased separately for $485 on Amazon). With the unit you can access content from their Video Unlimited 4K service for rental or purchase (around 200 movies currently), stream Netflix 4K, and store 4K movies from your camcorder onto the device.
Samsung includes the 4K Ultra HD Video Pack with their 4K TVs, which comes preloaded with 10 movies and 30 documentaries, such as Star Trek and Life of Pi, onto a 1 terabyte external hard drive called VIDITY. Although 4K content is preloaded, you have to purchase the licenses to play it. VIDITY can only be played back on Samsung-compatible HDTVs currently, with a USB 3.0 port.
Samsung also offers a pay-as-you-go service called M-Go for renting and buying movies (4K/UHD titles are for purchase only) for playback on certain brands of HDTVs, using Roku or Chromecast sticks, monitors and mobile devices.
The King of the Stream, Netflix, is a paragon of high resolution and has made certain to provide their customer-base with a number of 4K offerings on their site. Almost all of their original content is available in 4K, including:
- House of Cards
- Marco Polo
- Knight of Sidonia
- Chef’s Table
- Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp
Netflix also provides 4K for some of the biggest non-original shows, including Breaking Bad.The list of supported shows will continue growing at a rapid clip, so stock up on snacks for some binge sessions. However, to watch 4K/UHD on Netflix you need to be subscribed to its highest-priced plan at $11.99/month.
Amazon Prime also offers some 4K content, most of which is their own slate of in-house productions including Extant, Transparent, and Alpha House, as well as 4K movies from Lawrence of Arabia and American Hustle to Hugo and The Amazing Spiderman 2. Amazon Prime members ($99/year + tax) can stream in 4K through the Amazon Instant Video app on 4K TVs. You actually can’t see what 4K content they have by logging into a Prime account online; it can only be done on the TV by selecting the “Watch Ultra HD” category on the Amazon Instant Video app’s homepage.
There are also stand-alone movie rental services, like NanoTech Entertainment’s UltraFlix, the want-to-be Netflix for 4K (good luck with that!) that claims it has all the 4K content that’s available, around 500 hours. For a one-time fee of $1.99 to $3.99 for third-tier content such as upconverted 1080p and older movies, all the way up to $9.99 for a native 4K movie, users can watch movies on an HDTV app (on certain TV models) or on a computer or mobile device. Titles include movies like Interstellar and Fargo, as well as, documentaries like Springsteen & I and Animalopolis.
Hulu and Google/YouTube are two other providers currently streaming 4K content. Google has gone so far as to create a video compression format called VP9 to compress 4K streaming on YouTube, which will compete with – and likely be replaced by – the HEVC / H.265 standard. Both standards are included in the new HDTVs.
4K streams from Netflix, Amazon Prime and the others mentioned, won’t work at all unless your ISP can give you a consistent connectivity of at least 20Mbps. If you can’t afford a plan to support that download speed, you may be interested in the 4K Blu-Rays that are just about ready to roll-out for the 2015 holidays. Once these discs are released, anyone with a 4K television set will be able to take advantage of native 3840×2160 resolutions, 60 frames per second, high dynamic range (HDR) color, and advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, without the hassle of downloading or streaming.
Service providers such as Comcast, DirecTV and Dish Network are also trying to elbow their way into the 4K content space.
Comcast is getting ready to push their XFINITY platform Xi4 set-top box to be released later this year, which will play IMAX movies and current shows from USA (Suits), Syfy, and Starz. There will be no additional charge on top of your current cable package. So far, they offer a highly limited selection of NBC shows and they promise to add a lot more 4K content this year.
DirecTV customers who lease their Genie HD DVR drive (currently $190 on Amazon) and have a Samsung 4K TV have access to around 20 4K movies to rent. DirecTV service is promising to add other HDTV brands in the near future and have launched a 4K satellite in late 2014 as part of plans to launch a massive broadcast 4K transmission service.
Dish Network is launching the 4K Joey set-top box later this year to connect to their Hopper entertainment hub for 4K satellite programming and DVR services, as well as, music streaming.
Bonus Round: Gaming
Technophiles also tend to be gamers as well, and 4K is making its way into graphics displays in a powerful way. One standout is the Samsung U28E590D, a 4K/60Hz monitor with HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort. The 60Hz refresh rate allows it to run the latest games like BioShock: Infinite, Metro:Last Light, Tomb Raider, and Counter-Strike, without delay so their amazing visuals truly shine.
This is only the Beginning
While the offerings are technically sparse at the moment, there are still thousands of hours of 4K content at your fingertips. But once the format goes mainstream and lowers in price for the general public, it is truly off to the races. Until then, if you have a 4K HDTV you can enjoy your ivory tower of technological superiority while the rest of us toil in the dark ages of 1080P.