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The state of 4K across Google Play and YouTube

In our quest for seeing all the pixels we can for our favorite movies and TV shows, the standard we aim for right now is 4K, which is twice as high and twice as wide as 1080p. It'll still be years before a large portion of the populace has 4K TVs, and content providers are still getting the ball rolling on distributing 4K content. As 4K continues to permeate the digital entertainment space, let's take a look at how Google is handling 4K on its platforms.

Best 4K TVs under $700

Google Play Movies

Buy UHD now, because you can't upgrade later

As of the writing of this article, there are about 150 movies available for purchase in 4K, listed as UHD on Google Play. These movies are from a few different studios, though mostly Warner Brothers films. Even if you buy the film in UHD, you'll only be able to play it back in sweet 4K resolution on Chromecast Ultra and UHD-compatible Android TVs, along with set-top boxes like the NVIDIA Shield. Everywhere else, including on all phones, you play the 1080p version. It's also worth mentioning that High Dynamic Range (HDR) playback is available on Chromecast Ultra for UHD movies, but not on Android TV.

UHD films are usually $10-15 more expensive than HD copies of films, usually selling at $30, but there's no way to upgrade a purchase after you buy it, so if you think you're going to want that glorious UHD version once you buy that new 4K TV, buy it now. While Apple made waves with its promise to upgrade purchased films to UHD for free, Google has not made any such overtures yet. It's also worth remembering at the moment that there aren't a whole lot of UHD films out to upgrade you to right now.

This is a pain.

More UHD films will be coming to Google Play, but the real drawback here right now is that UHD copies are only available to watch on 4K Android TVs and Chromecast Ultra. What if you have a computer with a 4K screen? You'll have to look elsewhere, because Google won't play UHD on the Google Play website, and UHD purchases will play at up to 1080p on YouTube, whether on the desktop or on your phone. If you want to watch a purchased video in UHD on YouTube, you'll have to cast it to a Chromecast Ultra.

YouTube

YouTube is one of the easiest places to find 4K video, and you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it. YouTube supports 4K video on computers as well as on Chromecast Ultra, Android TV, and some higher resolution phones and tablets. From nature scenes to tech reviews to movie trailers, YouTube has content in almost every category that's 4K and ready for your screen except paid movies.

Watch Android Central in 4K

Android Central's videos are available in 4K on YouTube.

On Chromecast Ultra and UHD Android TVs, YouTube will default to 4K resolution if available. Elsewhere, you will often have to go into Settings on the video you're playing and select 4K. While there are currently settings to limit HD and UHD playback while on mobile data, there are no settings to have YouTube default to the highest resolution available. YouTube Red members can download videos for offline playback, but you cannot save YouTube videos for offline playback at 4K, only 720p and below. This may be out of consideration of how large 4K videos can get, even with optimized codecs.

Your turn

Do you have a 4K TV? Do you watch UHD videos on it, from Google Play or elsewhere? Let us know in the comments!

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

48 Comments
  • Theres 8K tv/monitors now
  • These will take quite a while before they become affordable and catch on.
  • And 4k TVs have been around since 2003. How long did it take most of us to buy one?
  • Nope. My TV isn't even full HD and I have no problem with the picture quality. I do not intend replacing it until it goes wrong.
  • I recently replaced my old 1080p TV with a 4K one (I wanted a larger screen, and difference between 1080p and 4K TVs at that size is like $200, so I figured why not), and watching 4K content is really not significantly better from across the room. That said, I don't have an HDR-compatible TV, so...
  • While I can easily see the difference between Full HD and 4k on my 4kTV, I can honestly say that HDR is the real game changer IMO, not the resolution. I was watching Planet Earth |I in 4k HDR the other day and quality was remarkable.
  • From what I've seen on display units in stores, I completely agree. Ah well, I'm not replacing this TV with an HDR one for years anyway. Maybe by the time I'm ready to replace it, there will be a new "game changer." :)
  • I think the biggest thing, is that I feel like I am leaving some quality on the table if I purchase a 4k movie in digital format. I can notice on my 50 inch screen a difference between a digital copy vs 4k bluray due to the compression.
  • Google really needs to get serious about 4K. Not being able to upgrade to 4K after buying HD is ridiculous. (Then again, so is SD still being available as a purchase option.) Pre-orders are always the HD version, and in fact, a lot of movies/TV shows are released in HD only, with the 4K versions coming weeks or months later, even though the UHD versions on Blu-Ray are available on release day. (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 STILL isn't available in 4K on GP!). Honestly, they could solve all of their problems by simply following Apple's lead, and auto-upgrading all HD purchases to 4K for free, and offering 4K at the same price as HD. Then... just get rid of the stupid SD option, and streamline the entire purchasing process.
  • Studios have a say in this. Disney is withholding 4K digital from companies specifically. (Apple doesn't have them either)
  • This is probably so they can release 4k movies "from the vault" ...for a limited time
  • A couple other people have stated similar thoughts below, but here's my issue with this: GotG2 is available in 4K on Vudu, and Disney lists Google specifically as a place where you can buy the 4K version. (https://www.disneystudioshelp.com/detail_UHDBD07__SUPPORT.html) However, I should point out that this was an example. I've seen several movies lately released in HD, only to have the UHD version released several weeks later. This may not be Google's fault, but it's something that they need to be working toward resolving (even if it means renegotiating contracts). With Apple killing them on UHD prices, Google can't afford to sit on issues like this.
  • Well buying a Disney movie outside of their club is ridiculous. You might as well get the DVD as you get a digital copy for free, in HD.
  • 100% agreed. I would say that Google needs to seriously get off their collective rear and provide an upgrade option, even if it means having to pay the $10 difference per film. What worries me though, considering Google's well established history of doing things half-way, is that if they actually allow you to upgrade, you would be able to do so only if you buy another copy at full cost. That would be ridiculous -- technology is lowering the studios costs, but they still look to gouge their customers. And on Android TV, you STILL do not have the the "Remove from Device" option, so then you'd wind up with the exceedingly annoying reminder of having two copies purchased *at full price* of every film you upgrade. Switching gears a bit... I would not hold your breath on Guardians of the Galaxy, nor any other Marvel, Disney, or Pixar film. Disney has not signed up to stream in 4K on Apple TV, at all, and that is in spite of the head of Disney -- Bob Iger -- sitting on Apple's board. Apple and Disney have a close relationship, and if Disney won't stream 4K on Apple TV, don't count on them allowing 4K streaming on any other platform anytime soon: http://fortune.com/2017/09/13/disney-apple-tv-4k-movies/
    http://televisions.reviewed.com/features/why-cant-i-watch-disney-movies-...
    https://9to5mac.com/2017/09/13/4k-movies-apple-tv-disney/ The suggestion seems to be that Disney is not thrilled about selling 4K at the same price as HD, but I suspect it has more to do with Disney's upcoming stand-alone streaming service. I would not be surprised if it turns out you can only stream Disney content in 4K exclusively on that service alone. I wish these studios would get off their high horses, release the content, and knock off the ridiculous device/platform/pricing restrictions already. Blows my mind that these people are in business yet make it so difficult to actually do business with them.
  • Even if Disney did decide to bring 4K to the table, the price it's sold at wouldn't matter too much because Disney Movies Anywhere makes buying anything but the Blu-ray combo pack less bang for your buck. You get two physic copies (DVD and Bluray) and a digital copy on several streaming platforms. If they put their TV shows on DMA I'd buy a lot more of them.
  • From what others have reported, buying the 4K-Blu-Ray version of GotG2 (Disney's first UHD title) resulted in the HD version being given in any account tied to DMA, not the 4K version. Until this changes, this actually reduces the value of DMA.
  • Apple updates all HD movies purchased to 4k if and when available, for free. No extra charge.
  • What about Rokus? The Youtube app on my Roku Ultra plays 4k . Haven't tried Google Play Movies yet.
  • Roku supports 4K YouTube, along with some 4k smart TVs.
  • Few things:
    1. Google doesn't dictate which devices will play UHD, the studios are, and for UHD content they want devices that supports the highest level of Widevine. Guess what? Chrome Browser doesn't support the highest level.
    2. UHD movies in Apple case in $20 are available only as a stream, not downloadable, but you cannot play YouTube 4K on Apple TV.
    3. Google is seriously behind Apple when it comes to content like TV shows and movies. Lets hope something will be changed and rather soon..
  • for point 2, that's only on apple TV specifically, and almost certainly because of storage. only 32GB on the base model apple TV would mean storing what, one movie at a time? It's not like you're storing your 4k content on roku or chromecast either, so honestly that's not a big deal at all.
  • Point 2 is correct and also incorrect. I can download those movies to my iPad Pro and get HDR, but the resolution is only 1080p.
  • Apple changed the game with free upgrades to 4k, Google (and everyone else) now needs to catch up. The bar is higher now, and Google needs to meet it. Simple as that.
  • Yeah. The new iPhones and the new Apple TV have some neat features, but the 4K upgrade is what really impressed me from the Apple event this year. I just really doubt that Google has the clout with the studios to make that kind of deal without eating a huge amount of money, though. iTunes is just SO much bigger than Google Play Movies in terms of sales volume.
  • Really, the price is a "game changer"? Ohhh, Apple lowered the price on something finally, lets all celebrate. Zzzzzzz.
  • If your going to have an article about 4K content you should also be talking about HDR also. I am way more interested in seeing where Google provides HDR content and if it is HDR10 or Dolby Vision compatible and if they support a wide color gamut. Articles like this make people think 4k is the only thing that is important when in reality it is HDR and a wider color spectrum that will make the most improvement with viewing content.
  • HDR is important, but because of all the standards competing on HDR it also makes it a bit of a cluster, especially when the aim of this article is to try and simplify what people can and can't do with 4K on Google platforms right now. It doesn't help that Google says it supports HDR but doesn't state which standard it uses.
  • Do me a favor Google, give me the option to upgrade my library to 4K quality. So if I have purchased a 1080p resloution movie and the 4K version is available let me pay 10-15 dollars to upgrade said movie. Also I would love a rent to buy option. After the rental is watched give an option to buy the movie for a price that is discounted based on the rental fee.
  • What about 4K Vizio TVs that have casting built in? I have VIZIO M70‑D3. Will casting to it play in UHD? I know it plays Netflix in 4K but that's really all I've tested
  • That's a tricky one as it will actually depend on what you are casting from. If the device you are casting from isn't 4K, the TV will not "upgrade" it to 4K for you.
  • Interesting. Seeing as the TV came with a tablet you are supposed to be able to cast that's what would use the majority of the time. I did end up recently just picking up a 4k Fire TV Box so I guess it's not a big deal. Thanks for the reply
  • Bluray also comes in 4k, so you technically didn't really graduate from Bluray. In fact the best way IMO to view 4k content is with a 4K bluray. That way you don't have to deal with pixellation or throughput. But the easiest solution for me is with my Chromecast Ultra. My TV also includes 4K Netflix and Amazon (both apps support HDR).
  • We don't have any 4K content in the UK yet on Google Play Movies. I was quite impressed with Apple's announcement on upgrading HD purchases. I'd consider switching but I have 200 plus films now on Play so I'm kind of stuck. Like others have said I really don't understand why anything is sold in SD still, who has SD displays and is modern enough to buy digital films?
  • I buy SD sometimes. I use it for buying TV shows that were filmed pre-HD. The earlier seasons of Good Eats are in 4:3, for goodness sake, HD isn't gonna make it look that much better. Same for some cartoons.
  • If it is for me to watch then HD or UHD. The kids get SD.
  • I have 2 4k tvs and the LG does a pretty good job of up scaling. So although there is not a ton of 4k available, even a upscaled stuff looks great.
  • I have a 4K Sony Android TV. I have purchased some of the 4K versions of the newer movies. But I did want to mention that when Google Movies first came out, I did see where my owned movies that had a 4K version were upgraded to the 4K. I doubled checked to make sure if wasn't just one or two, but all that I owned before the release of 4K that had the UHD were upgraded. The one thing that I am sad about is the news about the HDR, my TV has that and guess I won't get to use it. Also the fact that google movies outputs my movies as stereo to my sonos than the 5.1....... I am also hopeful that Apple making their 4K cost less will help lower the cost for everyone else!!! I'd be buying a lot more 4K movies for sure!!
  • You're saying that the movies you bought on Google that now have a UHD counterpart were upgraded to UHD in your library automatically and with no fee?
  • I've never entertained the idea of buying a digital 4k movie for the ridiculous price Google wants. A good 4k TV will upscale HD and it'll still look great. I sometimes can't see the difference between true 4k and upscaled 1080p.
  • I'm just glad that I bought all my movies in iTunes instead of Google Play because most of my titles have already been upgraded to 4K, at no additional charge to me. I picked up one of the Apple TV 4K boxes even though I already have an Nvidia Shield. One thing I like about the Apple TV over the shield (besides access to my iTunes movies) is that the Apple TV upscales everything. So now, even when I watch DirecTVNow via me Apple TV app, everything looks great.
  • I have a Samsung 4k TV, with Google play movies app installed, I'm pretty sure I can watch UHD movies on it? Please correct me if I'm mistaken, Tia.
  • You can't watch anything in 4k or HDR on your Samsung 4k TV with the TV's Google Play app installed. You can't even get beyond stereo sound on Google play with that app. If you aren't using a 7.1 surround sound AVR with your setup so that you can hear the more advanced codecs, and you are just using the speakers on the TV then you are missing most of the fun in owning a 4k TV.
  • Get rid of the SD option, the base should be HD now. Especially now the 4k is becoming more mainstream
  • I have a 4k TV, and when I watch 4k content, and especially when watching this content with Dolby Atmos sound, I can tell a huge difference in picture quality. Of course my TV is a recent model LG OLED 65" TV, so it's easy to see a difference on a screen this large. On my smaller TV upstairs I only get 1080p, and it looks spectacular on this TV. I doubt if I would be able to tell the difference though between 4k and 1080p on my smaller TV. Also, why would I watch anything on Google Play when the last time I checked I can't even get sound better than stereo from that service. I can get 4k and Dolby Atmos on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and Amazon prime, amongst others. All of the 4k I need right now. If it's broadcast in 4k, chances are I can watch it in 4k as long as it's not exclusively on Google Play, which I haven't yet found.
  • 1080p is just fine for me.
  • Google needs to get on the ball. Why don't they offer 4k playback (with HDR) from their Samsung TV app? Do I REALLY need to buy a Chromecast Ultra JUST for this? Or will I, more likely, just buy my movies elsewhere... Also, Amazon just lowered the price of their UHD movies to $20 to match Apple, let's hope this is a trend! I can buy a full Blu-Ray (with digital copy included) if I am going to pay $30! There is no way in hell I am paying the same price or MORE for a digital stream than a disc!
  • "we have graduated from Blu-ray to 4K." 4K Blu-ray exists & is of much higher quality than most 4K streams.
  • So am I correct in thinking that my LG TV with Google Movies is only playing back in 1080p? Even though my TV is 4k UHD/HDR?