(Pocket-lint) - Is 1080p no longer good enough for you?
Well, you're not alone. Consumers are eager to embrace 4K content, but the same can't be said for streaming services. Although the notion of high-definition television has been around for a few years, only a handful of internet companies have begun to stream content in 4K.
And most of them just launched their 4K libraries within the last year. If you're an early adopter who owns an UHDTV and all the necessary hardware, you're probably super excited to see services like Netflix and Amazon finally offer up 4K versions of your favourite films and TV shows.
So, to help you access ultra high-definition content straightaway, we've rounded up a list of the top places now offering 4K streams.
For those of you new to the game, we've also answered all your questions concerning what 4K actually is and why it's still hard to come by.
What are 4K streams?
First of all...the terms ultra high-definition television (UHDTV) and 4K resolution are synonymous.
They refer to a display device (example: television) or content (example: film) having four times the pixel density of 1080p. More specifically, the device or content must have a horizontal resolution of 3840 x 2160 (at a 16:9 or 1.78:1 aspect ratio) or 4096 x 2160 (at 19:10 or 1.9:1).
The TV industry has adopted UHDTV as its 4K standard, and UHDTV models are now becoming more affordable for consumers. Due to the fast adoption of 4K, video-streaming services have begun to offer 4K versions of films and TV shows in their catalogues. They're called 4K streams.
What do you need to watch 4K streams?
Simply put: You need all new hardware to watch 4K streams. That includes a 4K television or display that processes ultra HD content. You can now purchase a 2014 Ultra HD television from manufacturers like Sony, LG, Samsung, and Panasonic, in sizes ranging from 55 to 85-inches.
The HDMI standard that you're probably using right now is HDMI 1.4. But, in order to take advantage of Ultra HD’s higher frame rate, colour, and bit depth capabilities, HDMI 2.0 is required. Not to worry, though. You don’t need new cables. The ones you have now will work.
Your internet gear however might need to be updated. Your modem and router have to support a 25Mbps or faster downstream connection, because if they don't, expect your 4K streams through Netflix, for instance, to stutter or not work at all.
And finally, if you watch 4K streams on your TV through a media streamer or set-top box, you won’t be able to watch 4K content until your streaming hardware supports it as well. The third-generation Apple TV, for instance, only outputs video in Super HD, 1080p, or 720p.
Where can you watch 4K streams?
Netflix - Website
Access to Ultra HD through Netflix requires a platinum plan (costs $11.99 a month). With the pricier plan, customers can watch Ultra HD versions of specific content. In the US, for instance, the following is available in 4K: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Ghostbusters, Smurfs 2, etc.
Amazon - Website
Amazon now offers some of its streamed video content in 4K to Prime members (subscription plan costs $99 a year). In addition to shows like Alpha House and Transparent, the service offers Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga's Cheek to Cheek Live concert available in 4K resolution.
Unfortunately, 4K streams are limited to customers in the US. There is currently no word on whether it will launch in the UK. US viewers can also stream some movie content in 4K through Amazon Instant Video. Films include After Earth, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, etc.
Wuaki TV - Website
Starting 1 December, Wuaki.tv will offer 4K films. The UHD content will initially be available in Germany and France, with Italy to follow in the coming weeks. Wuaki.tv will also bring the 4K movies to the UK and Spain. Rentals on Wuaki.tv start from £2.49 per title.
YouTube - Website
Google-owned YouTube has offered support for videos shot in 4K since 2010. To view a resolution greater than 1080p, simply select "Original" in the quality pulldown menu from a 4K video. The playlist below, for instance, was created by a filmmaker with access to a 4K camera.
Sony’s Video Unlimited Service - Website
Sony was one of the first to offer 4K content, but you have to be locked into Sony's hardware to watch it. The VOD service allows you to purchase 4K content through its media player. Highlights include series like Breaking Bad, and a long list of movies including The Amazing Spider Man.
Apart from a Sony FMP-X1 4K UHD media player, you must have a Sony 4K UHD TV (2013 and up) to access 4K streams. As for the cost of context, expect to pay around $4 to $11 for a TV episode. Films cost about $8 for a 24-hour rental or $35 to purchase.
M-Go - Website
One of the newest VOD services available is M-Go, and it just launched a 4K library via an exclusive US-based partnership with Samsung. The service will begin with titles like Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Giver, and Power. You can expect up to 100 more titles by the end of 2014.
Due to the exclusive partnership with Samsung, 4K streaming through M-Go requires select Samsung 4K UHD TVs. The cost of said 4K content also varies by title, though it's approximately $7 for rental and $20 to $25 for purchase.
Vimeo - Website
This one's tricky. You can download 4K video files from Vimeo and watch them, as Vimeo announced that creators can finally allow people to download their 4K videos. A couple of Vimeo On Demand titles now available in 4K include Video Game High School and A Film About Coffee.
But here's the tricky part: Vimeo said it won't offer 4K streaming until broadband providers start supporting the "high speeds" required.
Why is it still hard to find 4K streams?
Just know that 4K frames contain four times the data of HD, making them four times bulkier than regular HD content in terms of raw file size. That makes 4K content hard to distribute. Broadcast TV and Blu-ray issues aside, there is one clear hurdle when it comes to 4K streaming: bandwidth.
Netflix, for instance, is considered the the biggest single driver of Internet bandwidth in North America. It accounted for 34.2 per cent of all downstream usage during primetime hours in the second half of 2014, up from 31.6 per cent in the second half of 2013, according to Variety.
Keep in mind that 4K content requires a 25Mbps or faster downstream internet connection (that's faster than most people have), and internet companies like Netflix are completely dependent on Internet Service Providers to get their services down the broadband pipe to you.
Internet Service Providers, such as Time Warner Cable, have therefore gone after Netflix for extra cash, forcing Netflix to charge customers more. A Netflix spokesperson told Variety that it had to change prices in response to increased costs of producing, acquiring, and distributing 4K content.
In other words: there's a vicious cash-grab cycle going on between internet service providers, internet companies, and you - and that's just one of the many reasons why 4K streams have become impractical or even unreasonable for some streaming services to consider offering.