It’s strange that the phone you carry in your jean pocket most likely packs a higher resolution screen than the one you gawp at in your lounge while dropping your tea down your shirt. But the first “high definition” broadcast was back in Italia 90, the World Cup tournament shown by Italian TV station RAI. And really, HD TV now feels a bit, well, standard def.
So with four times the detail of Full HD and a resolution of 2160p, Ultra HD, or 4K, is the next step in entertainment enjoyment. With TVs now at a price where you can actually afford them, you'll presumably be wanting some actual shows to watch, rather than just stunningly impressive demo clips.
Luckily, the content providers are finally catching up, with Netflix, Amazon and even our very own Beeb now shooting natively in 4K. This means the best way to access the very latest 4K content is via streaming services. Netflix UK launched 4K streaming in May with House Of Cards; Amazon is up and running in the US and will hopefully follow here early next year.
So if you've gone out and splashed your savings on one of these (probably) massive televisions, we are here to guide you through the nascent mire that is the world of 4K streaming. You’ll need a 15Mbps download speed broadband pipe to keep up with the huge volume of info being pushed through – dial-up probably won't cut it – but these are all full-fat series to soak your eyeballs in…
If you’re one of the seven people left in the English-speaking world who have yet to discover the all-conquering delights of The Best Drama Series Of All Time™ (yes, we’ll let this slug it out with The Sopranos, The Wire, Robin Of Sherwood etc), this is the absolute greatest way to experience a staple-you-to-your-sofa, electric Bryan Cranston and career-launching Aaron Paul spin the yarn of chemistry teacher-cum-drugs-kingpin Walter White, also known as Heisenberg.
Diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, White decides that the best way to secure his family’s financial future is to start up his own small business using his ninja chemistry skills, so obviously starts cooking up batches of crystal meth. Thus begins truly one of most compelling story arcs ever committed to film (those other chaps above arguably had far less of a journey) and pin-sharp 4K is the only way to experience the highest rated show of all time according to those nice chaps at Guinness World Records. Watch here >
Bonus fact: When Netflix launches into a new territory, it buys the rights to that country’s most torrented show and launches with that.
House Of Cards
Kevin Spacey has been showered with gushy praise for his role as reptilian, monologue spitting South Carolina congressman Frank Underwood and his unstoppable rise up the Washington greasy pole of power. Having Hollywood heavyweight David Fincher direct the first two episodes and executive produce the whole shebang can’t have hurt, either.
All three series have been filmed in jaw-dropping 4K and it really shows: colours are beautifully rendered, the actors’ faces are almost creepily detailed and the pin sharp visuals are a never-go-back experience. It’s no surprise then, that the show’s been showered with 71 awards nominations to date.
Indeed, House Of Cards was the first original online only show to receive Emmy and Golden Globe nods. Its first series hoovered nine noms. If you want a showcase for the future of TV. In pretty much every sense. This is that thing. Watch here >
Bonus fact: Netflix used big data to launch House Of Cards. Their most-searched actor was Kevin Spacey, most searched for drama was political, and viewing habits delivered the optimum number of episodes.
Or “what Sopranos’ Silvio did next”. This is dictionary-definition cult viewing and stars Sopranos' alumni Steven Van Zandt as the strangely charming Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, a low-level New York mobster who is put into the witness protection programme after testifying against his former mafia bosses.
So far, so predictable. But having a strange obsession with Norwegian town Lilehammer after being transfixed by the Winter Olympics of 1994, Tagliano inveigles his relocation there. Cue fish out of water shenanigans as our man travels from feared mafia enforcer to luckless immigrant and his inevitable return to the success of his old ways via the introduction of Mob life into Norway. One fifth of the country’s population tuned into the first episode. Watch here >
Bonus fact: Van Zandt’s touring schedule with Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band held up filming of season two, with Zandt eventually replaced by Tom Morella. Springsteen is set to guest star in a season three episode.
This Canadian sci-fi romp sees tough as nails (and sassy, superhot) future cop Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) presiding over the execution of seven terrorists/rebels in 2077-era Vancouver.
They decided to avoid a visit from the Reaper by travelling back in time, but when they jump, which should have been six years becoming sixty, Cameron fortuitously (for the show) or not (for her, personally) gets caught in the schism and has to figure out how to catch the bad guys and get back to her correct time in a way that’s not the hard way – waiting patiently and reading the odd book here and there. Watch here >
Handily, Cameron was wearing her future-cop super-suit, bestowing super strength, bulletproof-ness and camouflage. Handy, eh? Plus there’s an intriguing sub-plot of how our lady’s perp-busting antics (and tech) influence the timeline of future events.
Bonus fact: The show's screenwriter Simon Barry announced that he had a seven to ten season arc in mind for Continuum. Producer Showtime was not so sure, commissioning the fourth and final, set to air next year.
YouTube 4K and Vimeo
Conventional television series aside, YouTube is the best source of 4K content on the web. It tends to be a bit flimsy and sometimes abstract: the Milky Way timelapse! A dog jumping in slow motion! A skateboarder doing a trick! But there are some just amazing 4K channels on the world’s biggest video sharing site.
Similarly Vimeo has over 7,000 videos currently tagged Ultra HD with sunrises and time lapses in general doing particularly well in snaffling up their bandwidth. Check out Slow Life and TimeScapes 4K for a flavour of what’s on offer.
Also GoPro has a great 4K channel, as you’d expect from a manufacturer of 4K extreme video cameras.