You’ve got your hands on a shiny new 4K television set, or a 4K computer monitor, or even a smartphone with a 4K screen... so where’s all the 4K content at? It can sometimes feel like its impossible to find good looking stuff for your brand new display. From the TV makers, to the set top box manufacturers, to the streamers, no one is making it super easy to find this stuff. But don’t worry, we’ve got some tips for making it a little simpler to find.
First some caveats. You’ll need to make sure both your display and your source are 4K ready. Most TVs now days, as well as some computer monitors and phones, are 4K out of the box. Sources—the set top box or app you play from—can be trickier. Most of the apps built into 4K smart TVs should be 4K ready, but double check with your manufacturer and the app maker to be sure.
For set top boxes it’s a good choice to double check with the manufacturer as well. You can get 4K streaming on devices from Roku, Apple, Nvidia, Microsoft, and Sony, but app makers—the Netflixes and Amazon Primes of the world—might not support 4K for your specific set top box. So always double and triple check. It’s annoying, but that’s what we’re stuck doing until these companies make it easier.
As for the apps themselves, even if the source and display you are using support 4K, the app might not support 4K for the content you want to watch. With the exception of one or two services, it actually a challenge to find content on these services that are specifically 4K ready. There’s a lot of 4K content—but you can’t usually search the term “4K” and expect all the 4K content to appear. Instead you’ll normally need to look for specific stuff you want to watch and check if its 4K-ready. The exception are films and TV shows developed for a specific platform (think stuff that’s Netflix or Amazon Prime exclusive). That stuff is always consistently 4K. It also typically supports HDR.
And if you want your content to look the most pristine, make sure that you’re not just using a display and source and app that support 4K, but that also support HDR, or High Dynamic Range, that display technology that improves colors and contrast and makes details easier to pick out in dark or light areas of the screen.
The services below all typically support two types of HDR. HDR10—which any display that supports HDR will support, and Dolby Vision, a fancier version of HDR intended to better adapt to your specific display using metadata. Think of HDR10 as de facto HDR, and Dolby Vision as a minor improvement that’s great if your set up can support it, but no massive loss if it can’t.
Okay does it all make a little more sense? If so you’re now ready to hunt for 4K stuff on your favorite services.
As you might expect, Netflix is one of the frontrunners when it comes to 4K and HDR content. Not all Netflix shows and movies are in 4K, but a lot of them are, especially the originals that Netflix produces itself: Run a search for “UltraHD” (the alternative label for 4K) to find matching material.
You do need to be on the Premium, Ultra HD Netflix plan to enjoy all of these films and shows at their best resolution. At the time of writing that’s going to set you back $14 a month, and you also get the option to watch Netflix on up to four devices at once.
Netflix also supports HDR—two types of HDR, in fact, with content supporting both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats. You’ll see a little HDR or VISION label alongside the titles when you find shows and movies that support HDR, and again you’re going to need the top Premium plan for this. A new Netflix Ultra tier is reportedly in testing but has yet to appear.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video is managing to keep pace with Netflix with some 4K and HDR streams of its own. If you pay your $13/month or $120/year entry fee, you’re part of the club: Like Netflix, not every title is in 4K or HDR format, but a growing number are (including the content made by Amazon itself).
Unfortunately there’s no easy way to see which titles have 4K or HDR available—you need to open them up individually and look for the labels by the titles (like Netflix, Amazon uses the “Ultra HD” or “UHD” label for 4K). Some devices will separate the 4K titles out into a separate category, but this isn’t visible on all platforms with an Amazon Prime Video app.
As for HDR, the two main HDR10 and Dolby Vision standards are supported, and as with 4K these are indicated with little labels alongside the titles of shows and movies. If you don’t see these labels on titles that definitely support them (try The Man in the High Castle), you might not be using a 4K HDR-compatible device.
YouTube/Google Play Movies & TV
4K and HDR is available across both YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV (these services are technically separate but have some overlap—your Movies & TV purchases are visible in YouTube, for example). In fact, YouTube resolutions go way above 4K already, though no one really has the hardware to make the most of it.
There’s now a fair amount of content in 4K (or UHD) and HDR (HDR10) on Google Play Movies & TV. For HDR to be supported, the title must be in 4K, but not all 4K movies and shows automatically have HDR enabled. You also need a compatible device to make the most of both 4K and HDR, and at the moment the list is rather short (but still growing).
The good news is that Google is upgrading HD content to 4K as production studios make it available, and you can jump straight to 4K movies by clicking here. When it comes to content on YouTube, meanwhile, click the Filter button after running a search to find the 4K and HDR options.
A growing amount of content is available in 4K on iTunes, as Apple slowly but surely upgrades its library of material. In fact 4K material has been around on iTunes since 2017, so Apple has been leading the way in this area for some time. It’ll even upgrade your older purchases for free, if better versions are now available.
HDR is supported as well, in both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision varieties. If you have a browse around the iTunes store, you’ll notice the 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision stickers on selected titles. Those these upgrades haven’t yet reached any of the television shows in Apple’s iTunes library—it’s movies only for now.
There’s also a 4K Movies link on the right-hand side of the Movies section of the iTunes Store you can use as a shortcut. Apple says whenever you buy a film in one of these upgraded formats, the right version for your selected device will be chosen.
Another place where you can pick up movies and shows in digital 4K format is Vudu—look for the UHD label when you’re browsing through titles, and make sure the UHD option is the one you pick when you’re buying or renting a title from the service (you pay per purchase here, rather than stumping up for a monthly subscription).
HDR is included with your 4K purchases, and both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are supported on compatible Ultra HD titles. Again, this should be indicated by labels on the actual movie listings—scroll right down to the bottom of a particular listing page to see all the technical details, including HDR and 4K (UHD) support.
To see a full list of the 4K titles currently available on Vudu, click here. As yet, 4K support hasn’t arrived for small screen shows, so you’re limited to movies for the time being—Vudu is promising more content will be “coming soon” to its library.
If you prefer your 4K content in a format that’s a little more physical and want the best possible version of the content, check out the growing range of 4K Blu-rays on the market. As long as you’ve got a 4K Blu-ray player on hand (the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X are two devices that qualify), and a 4K television set, you can watch movies at the best possible resolution.
You just need to run a search for 4K Blu-ray or “UHD Blu-ray” on your online retailer of choice—a smattering of TV shows such as Westworld are available, alongside new movies like Venom, and classic titles like Jurassic Park. Just make sure you’re selected the 4K Blu-ray rather than the standard disc.
HDR support is built into the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, so you get HDR included as well (usually HDR10 but occasionally Dolby Vision). Prices remain high as it’s still early days for the technology, but you do have the advantage of being able to have your movie and TV show collection on display on a shelf, and enjoy the best possible quality of your selected films—even better than via a service like Netflix or iTunes.