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Ultra HD Content Options Arrive

As with any new home entertainment format, content is king, and the success of Ultra HD TV ultimately will reside in the industry’s ability to deliver enough native 4K material to consumers who purchased a new Ultra HD set.

Fortunately, a diverse group of interests have been hard at work bringing that content to homes via the Internet, satellite, cable and even disc-based conduits.

In the early going, the easiest way to access native 4K programming came from hard-drive-equipped media players pre-installed with 4K movies, or a variety of Internet streaming services, which use either apps on smart TVs or outboarded media players tied to a particular download or streaming service.

Both Sony and Samsung, for example, offer media players with installed UHD movie titles, and both are migrating to systems that supplement that capability with UHD title downloads.

Samsung now offers a second-generation UHD Video Pack for use with its 2014 UHD TVs. The pack is preinstalled with more native 4K movies and TV programs, and follows a first-generation version that sold for $400 and included a 1TB hard drive preloaded with eight titles, including four movies and four documentaries.

The Video Packs connect to Samsung UHD TVs via a USB 3.0 connection. Samsung has used Video Pack in special promotions, giving away a unit free with the purchase of select 2014 Samsung UHD 4K TVs.

Among the expanded offerings on the newer Video Pack are more than 30 4K documentaries, shorts, and music videos among other fare. The company said it expects to have 50 titles total available for purchase via download through the Smart Hub GUI by the end of the year.

Sony was the first to offer a 4K media player, which initially included a hard drive preinstalled with movies from Sony Pictures and other sources. Earlier in the summer, the company released its second-generation player, the FMP-X10 ($699), which the company preinstalls with movies and enables the use of over-the-top (OTT) streaming service providers, as well as downloads through the Sony 4K Unlimited download service.

At the 2014 CEDIA Expo, Sony revealed the FMP-X10 would now be compatible with other brands of Ultra HD TVs equipped with the necessary HDMI connections and HDCP2.2 copy protection.

Netflix is already providing UHD enthusiasts with streaming native 4K programs to select manufacturers’ smart TVs equipped with special Netflix 4K streaming apps and built-in HEVC decoding.

The first “Ultra HD 4K” Netflix offerings include popular TV series “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad,” with others promised to follow soon.

Viewing the enhanced Netflix 4K streams requires at least a 15Mbps connection, and perhaps more. The company has said it will eventually support 60 fps streams along with 10-bit color.

Receiving the service’s UHD signals will require a set with built-in HEVC (H.265) decoding. Sony, Samsung, LG and Vizio each announced 4K streaming “partnerships” with Netflix during International CES 2014.

Most others have included HEVC support in new 2014 models, but Netflix must authorize the use of its app to receive 4K Netflix signals.

Amazon Instant Video initially will be providing owners of UHD TVs from Samsung, Sony and others streaming 4K content using an Amazon Instant Video app, when the service launches in this fall. Preliminary Amazon UHD content suppliers will include Discovery Channel, Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

Amazon’s service is expected to carry originally produced programming now in production in 4K. Amazon’s service will use HEVC/H.265 encoding to compress 4K content.

Nanotech Entertainment recently revealed an agreement to put a streaming app for its UltraFlix streaming UHD video-on-demand (VOD) channel on 2014 Sony UHD TVs. The service is said to have a library or more than 300 hours of streaming 4K travel and nature documentaries, including 40 made-for-IMAX theatrical titles. The service also provides an assortment of action/ thriller, comedy, drama and family movies, extreme sports videos, concerts, TV shows and moving murals in addition to 100 hours of free content.

M-Go, a Technicolor and Dreamworks joint venture company, offers a streaming VOD service that is planning to soon expand to streaming 4K movies and TV shows. As this went to press, the company was expected to soon announce UHD carriage arrangements with a leading set maker.

DirecTV, the direct-to-home satellite TV provider, also soon will be making 4K content available through an app on Samsung 4K TVs.

The satellite service has said it will launch its own 4K VOD service before the end of the year.

Company CEO Michael White said that by early 2016 the direct-to-home satellite TV service should be able to stream live content in UHD. The company expects to launch two new satellites over the next 18 months to provide the necessary incremental capacity, and Direc- TV is working on securing native 4K content to transmit.

It’s expected that a new set-top receiver will be required to access the higher-resolution channels.

Comcast, the cable TV giant, like DirecTV, plans to stream 4K programming to Samsung UHD TVs, in this case through its subscriber-only Xfinity app. Comcast has demonstrated the 4K capabilities of its system, including support for HEVC encoded 4K footage shot by NBC Sports at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In addition, the company has said that subscribers should be able to get 4K programming via its new X1 set-top boxes sometime this year.

Sony is offering its Video Unlimited 4K movie download service, which launched in 2013 and now stocks 200-plus titles that are available for purchase ($30) or rental ($8). The service is intended for use with the company’s 4K media players, including the popular FMP-X10 and Sony UHD TVs.

YouTube has offered videos shot in 4K for playback on PCs for a while now, but the Google-owned company plans to make 4K content available via a streaming app for UHD TVs. The system is based on Google’s VP9 codec, which the company said requires less bandwidth than HEVC. Companies that have demonstrated YouTube 4K playback on their UHD sets, including LG, Panasonic and Sony, and Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba have said they will also have VP9 support in their new UHD TVs.