Your Guide to Ultra HD Streaming

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Your Guide to Ultra HD Streaming


netflix-uhd-logo-thumb.jpgYou've made the jump to an Ultra HD 4K TV, perhaps one with High Dynamic Range technology. Now comes the big question: what UHD content is available to watch?

Well, Ultra HD Blu-ray has arrived, and you can check out our reviews of some of the new players here. Prices currently range from about $200 to $700 for the player, and the number of UHD BD discs is growing every day. Of course, some people (not us, mind you) have already declared the disc format to be dead and have no desire to add another disc player to their system. For them, Kaleidescape's Strato 4K server might be an option, as you can download uncompressed UHD movies with HDR and full-resolution audio from the company's Movie Store.

If you're a cable/satellite customer, providers like Dish Network, DirecTV, and Comcast offer 4K-friendly set-top boxes, through which you can view 4K on-demand content and the occasional live special-event 4K broadcast.

For many new UHD TV owners, though, the primary UHD source will be a streaming video platform. A number of streaming services offer UHD content, and some of it is even available in HDR. These apps are available directly in many smart 4K TVs, as well as in standalone 4K players from Roku, Amazon, NVIDIA, Xbox, and more. I'm not going to devote a lot of words here to discuss the quality differences between streaming and discs. Suffice to say, we think Ultra HD Blu-ray provides a superior experience in both the audio and video realms; streaming quality will be largely dependent on the speed and reliability of your broadband connection.

Below is a rundown of some of the major video streaming services that deliver 4K content. This list is certainly not exhaustive; I've chosen to focus on major services that provide movie and TV content in 4K. YouTube didn't make my official list because the majority of its 4K content is user-generated video clips, not studio films and TV shows. But I will point out that, over the past couple of months, YouTube has added support for HDR playback and live 4K streaming, so it's definitely a worthy destination to view some cool 4K video content.

Netflix
Netflix is probably the most ubiquitous UHD streaming service right now. Most every new UHD smart TV and player sports the Netflix UHD app. To watch UHD content, you must subscribe to the top-tier $12.99/month plan and make sure your streaming quality is set to High or Auto. Netflix recommends a broadband speed of at least 25 Mbps to stream UHD.

Most of Netflix's original series and movies are offered in Ultra HD, as well as some non-Netflix-produced movies and TV shows. When you log in to your Netflix account on a compatible UHD-capable device, the first row of content options should be "UltraHD 4K," and you'll see lots of TV shows, comedy specials, and some (but not a ton of) movies.

Netflix offers HDR content in both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats. To see a list of UHD content with HDR, you can just type HDR into the Netflix search tool. As I write this, 18 titles pop up when I perform this search, including Marco Polo, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, and The Do Over.

Amazon-Prime-UHD.jpgAmazon Video
Amazon Video offers access to UHD content as part of its $99/year Prime subscription service, and you can purchase some non-Prime TV shows and movies, as well. The company recommends an Internet speed of at least 15 Mbps. Amazon buries its Ultra HD content a lot farther down on its category pages than Netflix does; but, if you keep scrolling through the Movie and TV menus, you'll eventually see categories for Ultra HD Movies and TV Shows, with separate categories for Prime and content to be purchased. UHD movies generally cost between $25 and $30; a few are available to rent, but not many.

Amazon Video also supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but again the HDR content isn't as easy to find as typing "HDR" into the search tool. When browsing UHD movies and TV shows, you have to specifically look at the Info page for each title to see if it says HDR or Dolby Vision. Most of Amazon's HDR content comes in the form of its original TV programming like Sneaky Pete, The Man in the High Castle, Mozart in the Jungle, Goliath, and Transparent.

VUDU-UHD.jpgVUDU
The Walmart-owned VUDU pay-per-use service allows you to buy or, in some cases, rent UHD titles. VUDU recommends a broadband speed of at least 11 Mbps and currently has 81 titles available in UHD; you can check out the list here. To find UHD content in the VUDU app, you can navigate to "Collections" and look for the UHD Collection.

VUDU supports Dolby Vision but not HDR10. The Collections category also has a Dolby Vision/Dolby Atmos Collection that lists all the titles that offer these higher-quality video and audio options. If you want to know whether or not a particular movie has Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos, that info should be listed in both the Overview and More Info tabs for that film. Not every film that's offered in Dolby Vision comes with Dolby Atmos sound (some titles use Dolby Digital Plus instead).

The UHD version of VUDU isn't available on as many devices as Netflix or Amazon Video. Just because you own a UHD/HDR TV that has the VUDU app on it, doesn't guarantee the app supports UHD playback. My 2015 LG 65EF9500 4K OLED, for instance, has VUDU but does not support UHD/HDR playback; however, the 2016 LG smart UHD TVs do support it. VUDU provides a list of UHD-compatible devices here.

FandangoNOW.pngFandangoNow
Formerly M-GO, FandangoNow is another pay-per-use site where you can buy and rent movies and TV shows. The app is available through some smart TVs from Samsung, LG, and VIZIO, as well as Roku TVs and players, the Xbox One/S, and Chromecast (here's the list of compatible devices). Fandango recommends a speed of at least 10 Mbps for Ultra HD streaming.

In addition to its general streaming service, Fandango has a partnership with Samsung that allows you to download certain UHD titles directly from a Samsung smart TV to a VIDITY-enabled storage device. HDR is available with some VIDITY downloads, but not through the company's general streaming service.

For Roku owners, FandangoNow is directly integrated into the main menu. The Roku "Movie Store" and "TV Store" are driven by Fandango. Owners of the 4K-friendly Roku 4, Roku Ultra, and Roku TV will find 4K content in these sections. In fact, in the Movie Store, "4K Ultra HD" is the first category option, and it contains 89 movies for rent and/or purchase as I write this. The TV Store also has an Ultra HD category, but it only contained four shows, including STARZ's Power and Spartacus.

Likewise, through the non-Roku FandangoNow app, there are clear 4K categories in both the Movie and TV sections. Many movie titles include a DTS-HD audio soundtrack.

Google-Play-UHD.jpgGoogle Play Movies
Google Play Movies only recently joined the UHD streaming game, launching its first group of UHD titles in December. Right now the list stands at 136 titles. You can search "UHD" in the app to find content. Movies are available for purchase for $15 to $30, and some titles are available to rent. Google recommends a 15-Mbps broadband speed; the service doesn't support HDR playback at this time.

Google Play's UHD app is currently available on select Android TVs (right now, only from Sony), on the Xiaomi Mi Box 3 streaming media player, and through the Chromecast Ultra bridge connected to a 4K TV. More devices are reportedly coming soon.

UltraFlix-logo.jpgUltraFlix
UltraFlix is a pay-per-use site specifically for renting movies, and the app is available on many major streaming media players and smart TVs. Finding 4K content in the UltraFlix app is easy--because pretty much everything is 4K. The site is owned by Nanotech, one of the first companies to offer a 4K streaming player. The UltraFlix website says that it features over 600 hours of 4K content for a fee, plus 100 hours of free 4K content. A minimum broadband speed of 6 Mbps is recommended. You won't find many blockbuster new releases on UltraFlix, but it still offers a nice assortment of popular, recognizable films, as well as IMAX movies, concert videos, and more.

As best I can tell, UltraFlix does not currently offer HDR content. If it does, I sure couldn't find it. In general, the app is lean on technical details about each movie, and it's worth pointing out that it only supports stereo audio at this time.

Sony-ULTRA.pngSony Ultra 4K
Owners of newer Sony smart 4K TVs can access Sony's own Ultra 4K streaming service as part of the Sony Pictures Store, and Variety reports that the service will be available to PC users early this year. Right now, UHD movies (only those produced by Sony, naturally) are available for purchase, and many are available in HDR. The cost generally ranfes for $25.99 to $29.99. Rentals are reportedly coming soon. The service is compatible with the UltraViolet digital storage locker.

Additional Resources
Amazon Ultra HD Instant Video Service Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
Netflix Adds Offline Viewing Option at HomeTheaterReview.com.
10 Great Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs to Begin Your Collection at HomeTheaterReview.com.


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