4K TV has gone from being the future of TV to a firm reality. There's an ever increasing range of TVs on sale, with prices dropping at a healthy rate. And we can finally say that the amount of 4K content is on the rise, with Ultra HD Blu-rays arriving and BT and Sky getting in on the 4K action.

From our experience, Ultra HD can look incredible, delivering impressive detail and clarity. But when it comes to 4K video content, for a long time we struggled to find much more than promotional videos of flowers and cityscapes. That's certainly started to change...

Video-on-demand streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video all offer films and TV shows, some free, some paid-for. But the biggest news is that Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and players are here.

While the players were promised before the end of 2015, we had to wait until March 2016 to see the Panasonic DMP-UB900 in our test rooms. Since then, we've looked at the Samsung UBD-K8500, Panasonic DMP-UB700, and the Ultra HD Blu-ray player in Microsoft's new Xbox One S console. And Oppo's first Ultra HD Blu-ray player, the UDP-203 should hit the shelves soon. It never rains but it pours.

We're also seeing more Ultra HD Blu-ray discs going on sale in the UK - and not only the latest releases.

As for 4K broadcasts, BT was the first out of the blocks with its BT Sport Ultra HD channel, but Sky has since launched its own 4K channels on Sky Q. As well as sports such as  Premier League football and Formula One 2017 season, 4K coverage includes films such as Spectre and The Revenant, natural history programmes and documentaries, dramas such as The Young Pope and comedies such as The Trip to Spain

So, allow us to round up the different ways you can watch 4K content right now...

MORE: 4K Ultra HD TV - everything you need to know

How to watch 4K video on Netflix

Netflix was one of the first video-on-demand services to announce it would be supporting 4K streaming. It stuck to its promise, and in April 2014, it went live in the UK. But in order to access the content, you need to have the right kit.

To watch Netflix 4K online, your 4K TV will need to support the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding)/H.265 compression standard. The first generation of 4K TVs didn't support this, instead coming with the H.264 codec, which doesn't support most of the 4K content now available.

You'll also need to make sure your 4K TV (or other necessary kit) has an HDMI 2.0 connection that is HDCP 2.2 compliant. This ensures copy protection compliance for 4K content. 

If you have a non-compatible 4K TV, all is not lost - manufacturers can release software updates. Panasonic, for example, has released a software update for its AX802 series (you can read the What Hi-Fi? review of the 58in version) that means it can now stream Netflix in 4K.

Alternatively, you can connect a separate box, such as the Amazon Fire TV (2015), to your TV and stream Netflix, as well as Amazon Instant Video in 4K.

The simplest way to see if your set is compatible is to check it against this full list of Netflix 4K compatible TVs

You will also need to sign up to Netflix's 4K Ultra HD plan, which costs £8.99/month. This subscription plan comes with the added benefit of the user(s) being able to watch content on up to four screens at any one time, all from the one account. 

And finally, you need a solid Internet connection. Netflix recommends a speed of at least 25Mbps, but ideally higher, for streaming 4K video. 

Once you've ticked all those boxes, you're ready to start watching - but what content is out there? It's low on 4K movies but high(er) on 4K TV shows.

At first Netflix had only a few TV shows and some scenic footage to show in 4K. But the amount of content on offer has grown considerably and now includes 16 TV series including The CrownHouse of Cards, Breaking Bad, Marco Polo and Daredevil. There are also a few documentaries and a couple of Netflix original movies available. You can find a full list of what 4K content is live on Netflix here. 

How to watch 4K on Amazon

Amazon is also offering 4K content through its Prime Video streaming service. For those with Prime memberships, a range of Amazon Original TV shows are available at no extra cost.

You can watch 4K video through the Amazon Prime Video app on compatible TVs and the latest 4K Fire TV box. You can see a full list of Amazon Prime Video devices here - note this is a list of devices that are compatible with the movie streaming app as a whole and not necessarily 4K content.

The Amazon 4K service was initially available only on Sony 4K TVs, but the latest models from most of the major manufacturers should now come with the app pre-installed. If you have an older set you may need to perform a software update.

Amazon's service offers a good selection of 4K films and TV shows. You'll find TV shows, including many Amazon Originals shows such as The Grand TourAlpha House Season 2, Mad Dogs, Transparent and Red Oaks, all available in 4K and all included in the Prime price. Mozart in the Jungle, The Grand Tour and Red Oaks are also available to stream with High Dynamic Range (HDR). 

Films available to stream include The Amazing Spider-Man 2Moneyball and The Da Vinci Code - these are on a pay-as-you-go basis. Rental prices start at 99p, though £6.99 is more standard (not all films can be rented). To buy, you're looking at between £4.99 and £13.99.

How to watch 4K on YouTube

YouTube has been supporting 4K Ultra HD video since 2010, but as with the previous two services, there are requirements. YouTube Ultra HD videos don't use H.265 compression. Instead, they use another codec called VP9. The VP9 codec is royalty-free, meaning its adoption rate could potentially be higher, and it's said by some to be more efficient when it comes to streaming Ultra HD video.

So how do you watch 4K YouTube videos online? Google implemented the VP9 codec into its Chrome browser and YouTube back in 2013, so both have been able to support 4K streams for some time. If you search 4K content within YouTube right now, you'll be able to select 4K as a quality option on each video. 

But, as with HEVC/H.265, VP9 needs compatible hardware - i.e. a 4K screen - to watch.  Most PCs nowadays should support the VP9 codec, but it's something to keep an eye out for if you're buying a new one.

If you don't have a compatible display, the video will be downsampled to the maximum output of your monitor.

More after the break

Where else can you stream 4K video?

UltraFlix is a 4K streaming network from NanoTech, and has apps available on Samsung, Sony, Vizio, Sharp and Hisense TVsThe 4K UltraFlix Network App claims to offer the "world's largest library of 4K VOD content", including "hours of free content".

Content includes movies, concerts, documentaries, special events and even 40 made-for-IMAX theatrical titles. 

We were able to access the app through a 2016 Sony TV, but prices for content are in US dollars. We watched some free content but noticed it wanted to buffer quite a bit, even with an 18 mbps Internet connection.

However Ultraflix's claims of an extensive catalogue certainly hold true, so it's highly likely you'll find your favourite films through the service.

 

What about watching 4K TV broadcasts?

BT became the first broadcaster to bring an Ultra HD channel to the UK, with the launch of BT Sport Ultra HD. The channel launched in August 2015 and promised to show around one live Ultra HD event per week. 

The focus is primarily on football, but it has also shown other events including the MotoGP, NBA basketball and Aviva Premiership rugby.

The channel is supported by the majority of 4K TVs released in 2014/15, but you will need to subscribe to the Ultra HD package at £18/month, have an Infinity Fibre broadband connection and get the new BT Ultra HD box fitted. 

Sky claimed it would offer the "UK's most comprehensive Ultra High Definition service" through its Sky Q platform in summer 2016, and it's certainly stuck to that promise. Sky Q Ultra HD launched in August 2016, with a wide range of content available at no extra cost to Sky Q subscribers (provided you pay for the relevant TV package).

While football features heavily, there's also a load of movies, dramas and natural history programmes as well. Sky has also confirmed the 2017 F1 season will be broadcast in 4K.

MORE: Sky 4K Ultra HD hands-on review

You'll need a Sky Q 2TB box (known as the Sky Q Silver box when it launched), as well as a subscription to Sky Q Multiscreen. For those new to Sky, this will start at £32 a month, and doesn't include a subscription to Sky Sports or Sky Cinema.

While it is a huge step forward for 4K broadcasts, Sky's content won't come with the added benefit of High Dynamic Range (HDR). David Cameron, Sky's director of TV experience, said "HDR as a standard hasn't quite settled down yet. I think when it does, we'll look at moving forward."

The Sky Q 2TB box also upscales standard and high definition content to 2160p, 4K resolution.

What about 4K on the BBC or ITV? Despite some trials and filming some shows in 4K (including Planet Earth II), the BBC hasn't said when it will broadcast using the resolution. But it has said it will take an "internet first" approach, which suggests iPlayer could act as a testing ground for the technology before the broadcast standards are ready.

New specifications were recently added to the UHD standard, with UHD broadcasts supposedly ready to start in 2017. But don't hold your breath. Not so long ago, the BBC claimed it would aim to broadcast 4K as standard by 2016 - and look how that turned out.

MORE: 5 things we learned watching BT Sport Ultra HD

MORE: Sky Q - What is it? When can you get it?

What about 4K on PlayStation Video?

Sony has launched its own 4K Video On Demand service in the form of Video Unlimited 4K, which sat alongside its Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services. The service has since been rebranded as PlayStation Video.

The service includes 4K content, but only in the US. To access 4K content, you need one of Sony's 4K Media Players, such as the FMP-X1, or one of the selected US Sony 4K TVs. Films range from $7.99 for a 24-hour rental to $30 to buy. Sony says it has "no plans" to bring the 4K Media Player to the UK.

Sony's PS4 Pro is equipped for playing 4K games, but it doesn't have an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive. Microsoft's Xbox One S does, however, but it's not the best disc-spinner around. In our test, we found picture quality to be somewhat lacking.

Sony has also launched an Ultra app, which brings 4K videos to selected Sony Android 4K TVs. Again, it's in the US only for now.

How to watch 4K Blu-ray

For many, getting a broadband connection that's fast enough to support 4K streaming (realistically at the very least 30 Mbps) isn't possible right now. Therefore a better way to get 4K content into the home would be on a disc format.

The good news is Ultra HD Blu-ray is here. Discs that can handle resolutions up to 3840 x 2160 and up to 60fps can be classed as Ultra HD and the format also supports high dynamic range (HDR), higher frame rates (up to 60 frames per second) and object-based immersive sound, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

HDR pictures can be delivered in one of two ways: either using the BDA-developed “BD HDR” section of the new specification, or via compatible HDR formats such as Dolby Vision. Video is encoded under the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard, and uses 10-bit colour depth and the Rec. 2020 colour space.

You will, of course, need a new Ultra HD Blu-ray player to play the discs. We've tried a few, including the five-star Panasonic DMP-UB900.

Not convinced that UHD Blu-rays are the future? There's a strong argument that they're superior to 4K streaming...

MORE: Ultra HD Blu-ray - everything you need to know

Make your own 4K video

Still not satisfied? You could always create your own 4K Ultra HD content.

An increasing number of phones are now able to record 4K video, including the new iPhone SE, meaning you can make your own 4K movies in no time. And of course there are also plenty of 4K cameras.

It's one easy and cost-effective way to fill the 4K gap. Though we're guessing your masterpieces may not match the quality of House of Cards...

The 4K verdict

The growth of 4K content means the format is finally becoming a tempting proposition. 

The amount of content available to stream is increasing all the time and while it may rely on a high-speed internet connection, it offers the most extensive catalogue.

4K Blu-ray discs are now here too, and from what we've seen, they offer a superior performance to streaming. Rest assured, the trickle of available titles will soon become a flood.

As for 4K TV broadcasts, things are starting to move in the right direction. Now that Sky and BT are broadcasting in the format, interest is bound to catch on. The main obstacle is the cost. 4K TVs are becoming more affordable, but Sky and BT's services aren't cheap.

On the bright side, it's now more viable than ever to put a 4K TV in your home. And there's finally something to watch on it. 

Have we missed a 4K source off our list? Let us know in the comments below...

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