The second generation of Ultra HD TVs hit the shops earlier this year, meaning that not only is there some great deals on some really fantastic 4K beasts, but it’s not long until the next cohort come out. While the next generation TVs will undoubtedly be sleeker than ever, the range currently in stores are still pretty impressive, so there’s no need to wait. They sport new quantum dots and fancy acronyms such as HDR (high-dynamic range) and SUHD (Samsung hasn’t actually said what the S stands for, though our bets are on ‘Super’). Amazon Fire TV now also supports 4K playback.
So how do you get your 4K fix? We’ve put together a range of ways you use every one of those 8.2 million pixels on your 4K screen, to help you justify that huge dent in your overdraft.
How to stream 4K video on Netflix
For starters, you’ll need an Ultra HD (UHD) compatible TV. That really doesn’t mean spending a fortune these days, either, as several big-brand 4K TVs are now available from as little as £400. Factor in an £8.99-a-month Netflix subscription and 4K entertainment doesn’t have to cost big bucks.
You’ll be able to find a list of UHD-compatible TVs here, although not all first-gen UHD TVs which have Netflix built-in can handle the Netflix 4K codec and quietly downgrade it to 1080p. You can also use a heap of other devices when paired with a UHD TV, including Nvidia Shield, Roku 4, TiVo Bolt and the new version of Amazon Fire TV.
Buy a 4K TV now from Amazon
Next, you’ll need a plan that supports UHD – namely the ‘premium’ tier that costs £8.99 per month. Perhaps most importantly, Netflix recommend that you’ll need an internet connection of at least 25 Mbps.
If you’re used to Full HD, then Netflix’s 4K content will be a big improvement. If your broadband connection isn’t up to it, however, it may prove a frustrating experience: if your ISP isn’t up to scratch, the compression artefacts, dropouts and buffering will quickly make you wish you were watching a proper 4K Bluray disc instead. The final moan? It doesn’t help that Netflix pads out its 4K library with upscaled nature documentaries. Actual 4K content is still fairly few and far between.
The good news is that headline shows on Netflix such as House of Cards and Marco Polo really do look spectacular in UHD. Okay, it’s not the same leap in quality we saw from SD to Full HD, but on a big 2160p TV, or a projector, you’ll appreciate the extra pixels. (Note: 4K-skeptics may insist that they can’t see the difference – in truth, unless your screen is big enough and/or your eyesight keen enough, then you might not get the full benefit.)
How to find 4k Movies on Netflix?
Once you’ve set up everything you need to stream 4K content, finding the 4K movies on Netflix is easy. First, you might need to make sure that you update your Netflix app to the latest available version so that you don’t have any difficulty during the streaming.
Netflix is stepping up its 4K offering in the face of competition from Amazon Instant Video, a tempting alternative for those who don’t mind signing up to Amazon’s Prime delivery service.
Amazon has recently given the Fire TV a boost with 4K support thanks to High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). As the name suggests, HEVC is a highly efficient way of compressing and storing video. It’s so efficient, in fact, that it halves the amount of storage required compared with H.264, which is the current standard for HD video compression.
Audio buffs should take note, however, that both the Netflix and Amazon 4K streams are so data hungry that there’s no room for a high-res DTS Master Audio soundtrack to go with your UHD video. Dolby Digital 5.1 is the best you can hope for with the current streaming 4K formats.
Watch 4K Blu-ray on your TV
You might have already seen the somewhat confusing “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray releases floating around. They’re not native 4K films, but regular 1080p Blu-rays with one crucial difference: the film was shot on 4K cameras and then mastered, compressed and transferred onto disc in such a way that it (allegedly) upscales again more readily onto a 4K panel.
It sounds like an opportunistic marketing ploy, but take a look at Total Recall and you’ll be surprised at how well a regular Blu-ray player with 4K upscaling ability can perform. It’s not 4K, but it’s something very much like it. True 4K Blu-rays aren’t far behind, however.
Shop for 4K Bluray movies now at Amazon
The real 4K Blu-ray format, or UHD Blu-ray, is gathering pace in 2016 – and so starts the cycle of hardware and software upgrades on which the electronics industry has come to rely. Those who said Blu-ray would be the last optical disc format forgot that broadband speed doesn’t evolve as fast as data or memory, so be prepared to buy that Lord of the Rings boxset for a second time.
It may have taken a while for the film studios to catch up with the technology, but 4K HDR Blu-rays have started trickling into stores throughout 2016. Warner Bros is slated to release 35 4K Blu-ray movies by the end of the year, and there are a handful more coming from Fox and Sony.
Now, however, for the bad news. You’ll need to shell out for a new Blu-ray player if you want to play back the latest 4K discs in their full, pixel-perfect resolution. There are many exisiting players out there which claim to do ‘4K upscaling’ but this doesn’t mean they are actually capable of playing 4K discs – you’ll need to read the specifications very carefully. If it’s a player costing around £200 or less, then you can be sure it won’t be a genuine 4K player.
At the time of writing, there are only a handful of compatible players out there – one apiece from Samsung, Panasonic and Philips. And of course there’s also the forthcoming PS4 Neo, which I’ll talk more about later on. The standalone players right now are universally pricey, though, with the cheapest of the bunch starting around £350. If that hasn’t put you off, then click the link below to check out your options at Amazon.
Shop for 4K Bluray players now at Amazon
The new Blu-ray discs also add support for HDR content, and this stands to seriously improve the colour reproduction and dynamic range of the images we’ll see on-screen – brighter whites, darker shadows and a wider palette of colour will help make the absolute most of the display technology inside the new breed of 4K HDR-compatible TVs and projectors. That’s not all, however: the addition of support for 60fps frame rates will ensure that some Blu-rays look smoother than UHD streamed over a broadband connection – although the 60fps standard is more likely to be used for sports and documentaries than widely adopted for movies.
And although the Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks are already lossless, or uncompressed, they’ll be joined by support for DTS:X, which is a rival to Dolby’s top-flight Atmos surround sound tech. For those willing to upgrade to the latest Dolby Atmos and DTS:X home cinema receivers, and who have room for even more speakers in their living room, this is very good news indeed.
Shop for 4K Bluray movies now at Amazon
Sony PlayStation 4: Sony brings 4K to PS4 Neo
It would have been a masterful piece of forward planning by Sony if it turned out the original PS4 was really a trojan horse for 4K – the same trick worked brilliantly for DVD, Blu-ray and 3D after all. Sadly, no such firmware update has been forthcoming, despite the current specification making 4K video playback possible in theory. Instead, Sony will be releasing the upgraded PS4 Neo.
The PS4 Neo won’t replace the existing PS4. Instead, it’ll simply upgrade the core components of the PS4 to add support for the Playstation VR virtual-reality headset, 4K gaming and Blu-ray playback. The processor will be getting a speed bump, and the graphics chip will be upgraded to a customised version of AMD’s new Radeon RX480 chipset to provide extra 4K-processing grunt.
This may not sound like great news for existing PS4 owners, but everyone else should be optimistic. Given that standalone 4K Blu-ray players already cost upwards of £300, a PS4 Neo for around £500 could be a very, very tempting alternative.
Want to find out more about PS4 Neo? Click here to read our in-depth guide
What about 4K on broadcast TV? Sky Q is the answer
Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no 4K terrestrial channel in the UK and no definite sign there will be any time soon.
But there is hope, or at least there is if you’re willing to consider a subscription to the new Sky Q service. You can read Alphr’s review of Sky’s all-singing, all-dancing, 12-tuner Sky Q TV box, but suffice to say that it’s the most advanced home entertainment system currently going.
Yes, that’s right – Sky has leapt aboard the 4K bandwagon. Following a software update which is scheduled to roll out in 2016, the Sky Q Silver box will be ready to receive and record 4K TV and movies in addition to all its existing talents. Fibre broadband combines with multi-room, multi-device TV streaming and the ability to record four shows simultaneously while watching a fifth. Factor in the ability to add further Sky Q Mini boxes to provide multi-room and Wi-Fi boosting capabilities, and it’s a tantalising package for movie, sports and TV addicts.
As Sky has secured the broadcast rights to Sony’s entire 4K film catalogue, you can expect a pretty decent selection of Ultra HD movies to arrive very soon indeed. It’s not cheap, with the basic subscription package for the 4K-capable Sky Q box starting at £56 per month, but it’ll be a worthwhile investment for those of you with 4K-starved TVs sitting in your living room. Fancy seeing how much it would cost to upgrade to a Sky Q package? Click the link below and check it out for yourself.
Build your perfect Sky Q package now
4K gaming on your TV: Time for a graphics card upgrade
PC gamers are ahead of the herd as usual: it doesn’t ridiculous amounts to build a rig that can provide smooth 4K gameplay right now.
Be warned, though, that we’re talking about a lot of heavy data processing. Although Tomb Raider and GTA V look pretty impressive in UHD on a PC, you’ll need a potent graphics card to run top-tier games at 4K without struggling. If your PC struggles at Full HD resolutions with the detail settings maxed out, then 4K gaming will be enough to push it over the edge.
In reality, you probably need to have at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 – or AMD’s potent new Radeon RX480 – if you want to even dabble with gaming in 4K. And bear in mind that this won’t be enough to run games with all the visual eye candy cranked up to the max. If you want the best 4K gaming experience on PC, then you’ll need a high-end processor, oodles of RAM and a graphics card that costs north of £300 – or ideally a pair of graphics cards in SLI or CrossFire for the best results.
Then again, you could just shell out £600 on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080. If you’ve got the cash, it’d be rude not to.
Buy a 4K-capable graphics card now from Amazon
What about 4K on Apple TV?
Apple recently launched the latest version of the Apple TV alongside the updated iPhone 6s and the iPad Pro. Complete with a sleek new touch-sensitive remote, a growing library of games and baked-in Siri integration, the new Apple TV only omitted one thing – 4K video.
Yes, Apple’s reluctance to embrace 4K seems short-sighted. The latest Apple TV is the biggest overhaul the system has received since the last major overhaul three years ago. It would have been perfect for Ultra HD content – and don’t forget, the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are capable of recording 4K video. It would have made the perfect partner. But then again, it gives Apple the chance to release a 4K-capable Apple TV further down the line, so maybe it’s not such a strange move after all.
How to download 4K films to watch on your TV
If bandwidth is the limiting factor, and memory is cheap, downloading overnight would seem to be the logical answer. But where from? Sony is sitting on one of the largest catalogues of filmed-in-4K titles, but getting at them is the tricky bit. In the US, you can buy the Sony FMP-X10 media player for $699 and for $29.99 per movie you can download films such as American Hustle.
Samsung’s 4K download option, available through M-Go, is also US-only, so UK residents are invited to buy Samsung’s UHD Video Pack – a hard drive containing three films and some documentaries for £149. Yep, that’s £50 per movie and one of them is The Counselor, so only the desperate need apply.
YouTube has heaps of UHD content, from performing pets to blockbuster trailers, and with the right PC/Mac software, you can grab it, load it onto a USB stick and watch it on your UHD TV without paying a penny. The quality varies wildly, however – and who pays for trailers anyway?
The last recourse for watching 4K on your TV: Film it yourself
So it seems that if you want 4K now, you’re best bet is to do it yourself. Capturing 3,840 x 2,160-resolution images turns out to be quite easy, with plenty of camcorders, still cameras and even smartphones recording in 4K.
It’s the action-cam market that’s really running with this one, though. Or should that be skateboarding, skydiving and free running? Just look at all the 4K footage appearing on YouTube and GoPro’s own channel. So my answer is to go out there and make your own 4K films until Hollywood and the hardware manufacturers are ready to release UHD Blu-ray.
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