by Jennifer Allen on
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The best way to get the most out of your 4K HDR TV is with some great Ultra HD Blu-rays. If you’d rather get started faster, here’s some streaming 4K content that you can try out ASAP.
We’ve talked before about how to stream 4K content to your TV. As we mentioned then, streaming isn’t going to deliver the best picture quality compared to Blu-rays—especially in scenes with rain, snow, or confetti—but it’s also a lot easier and cheaper to get. Your TV probably comes with a few 4K-capable streaming apps, 4K streaming sticks are cheaper than 4K Blu-ray players, and you can already find content on sites you may already be subscribed to like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube. There’s a lot of content out there, though, and not all of it is equal, so here are our recommendations, grouped by the streaming provider so you can dig right in.
For the last few years, Netflix has been releasing a steady stream of shows that tie into Marvel’s mega cinematic universe. No, they don’t cross over with that movie that’s making all the money in the world, but they do look amazing. Netflix has taken special care to update all of its Marvel shows to 4K HDR, including all the shows that were released before the site started pushing 4K HDR content.
Daredevil and Jessica Jones both feature two seasons of their titular characters engaging in super heroics on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, while Luke Cage (whose second season is coming next month) hangs out in Harlem. All three shows feature gritty fight scenes between dark yet colorful characters. HDR enhancements draw out the colors, where a smaller color gamut can look flat, and the full 4K resolution help you pick out more details when your hero is inevitably fighting their way through a hallway in a single cut. Since Netflix updated all of its Marvel shows, you can start from the beginning and work through days worth of content. Pro tip, though: You can probably skip Iron Fist.
Amazon doesn’t have quite as much high-profile content as other streaming services, but there are a few gems that are worth checking out. Chief among them has to be The Grand Tour. This show largely follows the format of the BBC’s Top Gear, and is hosted by the same three wise-cracking British men. In the show, the hosts race, test, and review the world’s best cars, and then blow a lot of the show’s budget on ridiculous stunts like playing Battleship with a crane and several Reva G-Wiz cars, or accidentally crashing a Remac Concept One S so badly they send one host to the hospital. Aside from the entertaining antics and insane stunts, the show is beautifully shot with some of the richest colors and detailed imagery in any 4K HDR show I’ve ever watched on my TV.
Amazon also has a couple other staples including Man in the High Castle, a show about a dystopian alternate universe where Nazis won World War II. Meanwhile, Manchester by the Sea is a drama film following a man after his brother’s death, as he tries to care for his teenage nephew. The film was nominated for six Oscars, including for Best Picture, making it the first film made for a streaming service to ever earn that nomination. Both properties feature gorgeous camera work that’s all the better in 4K HDR. It’s not as much pure eye candy as The Grand Tour, but if you’re looking for something more serious, Amazon has something for you, too.
It feels like cheating to mention more Netflix shows, but the company is leading the pack in quality television and virtually every one of their new shows is shot and edited in 4K HDR. Their latest hit show Stranger Things probably goes without saying, but the extra detail and color helps bring the faithful recreation of the 1980s to life in a way your childhood memories can’t. Sure, there are otherworldly monsters to render, but personally I find the every day scenery benefits more from 4K HDR than the special effects.
Then there’s two of Netflix’s most recent shows. Altered Carbon is a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi series set in a neo-noir dystopian future. The fuller color gamut of HDR is on display here with every neon sign. The story is slow (and rather violent) so it may not be for everyone, but if you just want to show off what your TV can do, it’s a great trial run.
Likewise, Lost in Space is the reboot of the 1960s show of the same name that no one really asked for, but we’re still happy we got. Visually, it’s two parts Interstellar, one very small part Avatar. The 4K shots help bring extraterrestrial landscapes to life in a way that makes them feel truly alien.
In general, we’d prefer to call out specific shows, but if all you want to demo your 4K HDR television with a quick streaming source, it’s hard to top the HDR Channel on YouTube. Rather than full length films or entire shows, you’ll find (mostly) short clips on this channel of everything from video games like the new God of War or Forza to gorgeous footage of beaches, or astronauts in space.
In terms of the pure value of testing your TV, this channel is a one-stop shop. There are a lot of aspects of your picture quality you can examine including detail level (a trait of 4K resolutions), contrast levels (one aspect of HDR that allows brighter brights and darker darks), and wider color gamuts (another aspect of HDR that lets your TV display more shades of colors). Scroll through the list of videos on this channel and you’ll find detailed video game textures, stark astronomical footage, and vibrant nature videos that let you see just what your new TV can do.
It feels criminal to talk about 4K HDR video and not mention Planet Earth II. This nature documentary was shot using some of the most advanced camera equipment and techniques in the world at the time it was made, including drones, high-speed cameras, and stabilizers to capture animals doing things that, in many cases, have never been seen before by human eyes.
Virtually every frame of this six-part documentary series is painted with a dizzying array of colors that take full advantage of the HDR color gamut. Vast flocks of birds, or close ups on the fur of animals is all the clearer for being shot and rendered in 4K. We also recommended Planet Earth II on Blu-ray, and frankly it will look better if you’re playing it from a disc. However, if you don’t have a Blu-ray player (or Xbox One S/X), you can still stream it from Netflix or Amazon Video and marvel at some of the most beautiful things this planet has to offer.
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