The state of 4K across Google Play and YouTube
In the pursuit of cutting-edge video content, we have graduated from Blu-ray to 4K.
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.
Google Play Movies
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Do you have a 4K TV? Do you watch UHD videos on it, from Google Play or elsewhere? Let us know in the comments!