So Santa decided to upgrade your living room with a 4K TV. Now, you are wondering what you can watch.
You are likely not alone. By the rapidly approaching end of the year, more than three out of 10 U.S. homes (31 percent) are expected to have a 4K TV or 4K Ultra High Definition TV, according to the Consumer Technology Association, an industry trade group. That’s up from 16 percent last year. Next year, 4K UHD TVs will be in an estimated 41 percent of U.S. homes, CTA estimates.
4K TVs are a hit beyond the U.S., too. Worldwide sales of 4K TVs in 2018 are expected to hit 100 million, increasing to 230 million the number of 4K TVs in homes, according to research firm Digital Tech Consulting.
Consumers have taken to 4K UHD TVs, first introduced in the U.S. in 2012, in part because prices have fallen. The average 4K TV now costs less than $900, down from more than $4,000 five years ago, DTC says.
Lower prices are just one selling point. Bigger screens with sharper images and richer colors are benefits, too. 4K UHD TVs have four times as many pixels as HDTVs. Those additional pixels make bigger displays look better without degradation of the imagery.
Most 4K TVs can also handle High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, produced so that newer TVs can display more intense brights and darks, as well as more detail in shadows. An additional image upgrade that usually accompanies HDR is a wider color palette producing more precise and rich colors.
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You will pay a bit more for a 4K TV with HDR, but if you expect to spend a lot of time with your TV, that slightly higher expense will be worth it. (You can still get a 55-inch 4K TV with HDR for less than $500.)
Now, what to watch? Luckily there are several ways to get 4K video on your 4K TV.
• Blu-ray Disc players. The major electronics makers such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony all have brought to market 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc players that play special 4K UHD Blu-ray Discs, as well as regular Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and CDs. Player prices start at about $100.
Many experts consider 4K Blu-rays as the best medium for showcasing your 4K TV because of the disc-based medium’s quality. Several hundred 4K UHD discs are available to order on Amazon and BestBuy.com, with the latest releases including “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and “Venom.” Prices start about $20 and most also come with a standard Blu-ray Disc and a digital download code.
• Pay-TV providers. There’s no regular 4K broadcasts from major networks just yet. But among major providers, Comcast made Winter Olympics events and World Cup matches available in 4K in 2018 as the events played out and those can still be viewed on demand. X1 customers can also stream Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video in 4K, too, from their cable box.
Satellite services DirecTV and Dish Network – both of which also delivered Winter Olympics and World Cup action in 4K, offer pay-per-view movies in 4K, and each has at least one dedicated channel for other 4K content including live sports. DirecTV has two, one for ongoing 4K programming and another for live sports including regular NBA games and English Premier League soccer. Dish’s Hopper 3 HD DVR also has built-in Netflix 4K streaming.
• Streaming services. Netflix and Amazon have been among the leaders in 4K content, with Netflix making “House of Cards” and some other programs available in 4K in 2014. Now, Netflix has more than 100 original series and 100 original films and specials in 4K, DTC says. You will need a Netflix Premium subscription, which cost $13.99 monthly. Netflix also recommends broadband download speeds of 25 Megabits per second for streaming 4K video.
Amazon Prime Video has 70 original series and films in 4K and a library of almost 150,000 licensed movies and TV series, DTC says. Some of those are included in Amazon’s library of TV shows and movies as part of the $119 annual Amazon Prime membership as well as free shipping of purchases and other benefits. Others can be rented or purchased.
If you have a smart TV, apps such as Netflix and Amazon – and YouTube, which has a lot of 4K content – may be pre-installed. Your display may also have built-in WiFi, if so it’s ready to stream 4K.
Either way, you can connect a net streaming player such as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV device, Apple TV, Google Chromecast or NVIDIA Shield that supports 4K video as a way to get apps with 4K videos. Video game consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox One and PlayStation 4 also support 4K streaming apps.
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Several other lesser-known video apps can offer additional 4K options. The streaming service Vudu, which is owned by Walmart, has many 4K movies for rent, as well as thousands of HD movies free to watch with advertisements, too. Fandango Now and UltraFlix are also preinstalled on many new TVs or available as an app. Fandango Now has an extensive library of 4K movies to buy or rent, while UltraFlix has many 4K movies, concerts and documentaries for rent.
Live broadband-delivered subscription service fuboTV (starts at $44.99) also broadcasts live 4K sports events including college football and English Premier League soccer – the service provided World Cup matches and Major League Baseball games earlier this year.
Using Apple TV, you can watch 4K movies rented or purchased from Apple iTunes; Apple will soon have more than 400,000 4K movies available, DTC says. 4K movies cost the same to rent or buy as a high-def version; a rental of recent release “The Meg” costs $2.99.
Google Play has a full slate of 4K movies to rent or purchase. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” currently costs $7.99 to watch in 4K, while an HD version is $4.99.
There’s much more 4K streaming content than even a year ago, said Tom Campbell, chief technologist for L.A.-area retailer Video & Audio Center, which sold the first 4K TV in the U.S. in 2012. “It looks phenomenal, and there’s more to come,” he said.
Expect to see more live events offered in 4K, too, says DTC’s founder and chief analyst Myra Moore. “In 2018 we saw the Winter Olympics, World Cup, and MLB playoff games,” she said. “We’ll see more of this in 2019 as streaming services can’t deliver on the promise of high-quality live programming – especially sports.”
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider