Streaming content has become so easy, convenient, and available so its popularity has zoomed like a Hollywood blockbuster on a holiday weekend. Add to that the greater variety of content now available from multiple sources, and you can see why it is on the upswing. Manufacturers are helping the trend to continue to expand because the prices of 4K UHD TVs are cheaper than ever. With all these factors coming into play, it makes good sense to know which sites offer 4K and UHD streaming, what price they offer and what you’re likely to receive. Get some popcorn and let’s go to the movies.
First of all, what does 4K and UHD even mean? 4K is a tech standard for pro video production and cinema. UHD is a tech standard for consumer displays and broadcast TV. Both 4K and UHD relate to high pixel density video, but with a slight difference. A 4K image (4096 x 2160) has 256 more lines of vertical resolution than UHD (3840 x 2160). So each has a different native aspect ratio, meaning the relative dimension of the picture’s width versus the height.
The main advantage of a 4K and UHD television is that the images have more detail, depth, and handle color far better than their predecessors. The result for the viewer is a fully immersive cinematic experience every time you turn on your TV. “WOW” is the word most often heard. Streaming content online is one of the easiest ways to access 4K or UHD content, and it takes full advantage of your TV’s higher resolution. To keep up with the trends, more streaming sites are adding 4K content to their libraries, and the number of sites that offer streaming is also increasing. The cost of these sites varies. Some, like Amazon, have yearly subscriptions, while others offer rental and actual purchase of content. Here’s a breakdown of the best streaming sites for 4K and UHD content.
Amazon Prime $119 per year
Amazon Prime offers a wide selection of 4K movies and series, both through the subscription-based Amazon Prime video service and through Amazon Instant Video. Amazon does not charge extra for access to 4K quality. The options for UHD are under “Prime Ultra-HD TV” or “Ultra-HD Movies”. Amazon has also been filming its original content in 4K – which will continue to further expand their library.
FandangoNow, $7 rental, up to $25 for purchase
Previously called M-Go, the new acquisition by Fandango enables you to rent movies for streaming, or buy them as a download. This service is available for storage devices that work with Vidity, a new 4K download service, and for some Samsung 4K TVs. FandangoNow also allows the streaming of 4K movies and a few TV shows on LG and Samsung smart 4K TVs and on Roku 4 streaming players. You have more 4K choices if you buy the titles and their library is growing!
Netflix, $13.99 per month
Netflix grants access to UHD titles for their top-tier four-screen plan. Netflix was an early adopter of 4K content, and its extensive library continues to expand. Netflix reported it had 600 hours of 4K content by the end of 2016, 140 hours of which would be in HDR (High Dynamic Range). In 2017 Netflix watched over 1 billion hours of content per week! They also filmed all of their original series in 4K. The service supports both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats; if you have a TV that supports HDR, the HDR and Dolby Vision logos appear next to the title’s description. You can search for “4K” or “UHD” or scroll down for a selection of 4K content.
Sony Ultra, $30 for purchases
With over 100 films and shows in 4K for you to choose from, Sony’s 4K streaming service also supports HDR10. According to Sony, about half of its titles have HDR and all Sony Pictures’ 4K and HDR titles will available through the site. Sony Ultra operates out of the company’s sonypicturesstore.com website.
UltraFlix, $1 to $10 per title
With their focus almost entirely on 4K content, UltraFlix offers more than 600 hours of 4K UHD content, including movies, TV shows, IMAX releases, concert videos, documentaries, and other special event videos. UltraFlix also has a deal with Paramount Pictures to make available movies from the studio for customers, including remastered older movies. Rentals cost anywhere from $1 to $10, with a 48-hour viewing window. UltraFlix also offers about 100 hours of free content.
Vudu, $10 rental, up to $25 for purchases
Vudu piqued everyone’s interest by its early support for Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound. However, its 4K HDR service is limited to certain LG and Vizio 4K UHD TV lines, but its non-HDR 4K service is available on 4K Roku TVs, 4K-enabled Rokus, Chromecast, and Nvidia Shield streaming players. Vudu has a great selection of top current titles and, unlike Netflix, it is a pay-per-view service for rentals and purchases. Thus, you can usually rent 4K movies for $10 or buy them outright for $25.
YouTube, free with ads
YouTube has been offering 4K content longer than anyone, thanks to its massive user base and focus on allowing user-generated content. Unlike most other streaming services, which support the HEVC video codec, your TV will need to support VP9, the Google-developed codec used by YouTube. Fortunately, most new smart TVs do. YouTube is a free, ad-supported service that has a lot of 4K videos. It’s no surprise that YouTube is heavier on user-generated content than blockbuster movies and TV shows, but then again, it is free. In 2016 YouTube added support for HDR, and in 2016 it launched YouTube Red, an ad-free subscription service that costs $10 per month.
There is a lot of info here to consider. But it is easy to see how 4K video is on a fast track of growth. All of these services have plusses and minuses, one thing’s for sure, streaming 4K video brings a better version of Hollywood right into your home.