Seven 4K Ultra HD players
IF YOU HAVE AREIT 4K TV, THEN CHANCES ARE I COMES WITH A SUITE OF VIDEO STREAMING APPS PREINSTALLED ALREADY.
YOU DON’T NEED to invest in a separate media player to start pulling the 4K goodness down your internet pipe. But there are a few reasons why you may want to invest in a separate media player. If it’s not an Android TV, then you’ll only have access to the apps that are already installed – or, if it comes with some sort of app store, you’ll only be able to install a limited number of additional apps. Further, those apps typically aren’t as slick as the ones on external media players, and they aren’t updated anywhere near as frequently. If you’re looking for the best possible “lean back” experience, you’re more likely to find it in an external media player than on the TV itself. The user interfaces on TVs have come a long way in the last five years, but even now, the experience lags behind that of slickly-designed, feature-rich boxes like the Apple TV and Telstra TV. Of course, if want to play physical media like 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, you’ll have to plump on an external media player regardless. Just make sure you’re using an HDMI cable that can handle 4K. HDMI cables are differentiated by the amount of data they can carry, and while high-speed cables can handle up to 4K resolution, ‘standard’ HDMI cables can only go up to 720p/1080i resolution, while.
Apple TV 4K
YOU WON’T REGRET IT
OF ALL THE 4K-compatible media players we tested, the Apple TV 4K remains our firmfavourite. It’s not the cheapest box, nor is it the most full-featured. But it supports all of the major 4K streaming platforms (along with rent and buy options through iTunes), and the beautiful, well-designed user interface makes navigating through content on your TV a delightful experience. Voice control also works a treat. Pressing and holding on the dedicated Siri button on the remote, you can say something like “What are the 4K movies available?”, and it will swiftly produce them in a pop-up window. Another feature we really appreciate on the Apple TV 4K is the TV app.This serves as a hub for all of the installed content apps, and you can quickly jump to any movies or TV shows you’re currently watching using the handy ‘Up next’ section at the top. You can also search for a particular show or film within the TV app, and it’ll tell you where you can watch it. For The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, it’ll show that it’s available on SBS On Demand, iTunes and Stan.What it won’t tell you in the app, however, is what resolution the content plays out. Using the previous example, you’d only know the Stan version was in 4K once you clicked through to it. Annoyingly, the Apple TV 4K doesn’t come with an HDMI cable in the box – you’ll need to make sure you hook it up to your TV using a high-speed cable, otherwise you won’t get the benefit of the 4K resolution.
Specification - From 175$
Up to 4K Ultra HD resolution, 98 x 98 x 35mm, 425g, 32GB and 64 GB storage capacities, Bluetooth 4.0, IR transmitter, accelerometer and three-axis gyro, lightning connector charging remote, HDMI 2.0a and Gigabit Ethernet connectors, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO, A10X Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture.
Google Chromecast Ultra
PRICED TO KILL.
THE GOOGLE CHROMECAST Ultra offers a cheap and easy way to get 4K content onto your TV. It’s a puck-shaped media player that plugs directly into your TV using an integrated HDMI cable, and in a nod to the higher bandwidth requirements of 4K, the power adapter comes with an Ethernet port so you can connect it directly to your Wi-Fi router (although you can use a wireless connection if the router’s too far away). The Chromecast works a little differently to other media players in that it doesn’t have a remote control or its own on-screen interface. Instead, you load up 4K content through compatible apps on your smartphone (such as Netflix, Stan and YouTube), hit the ‘Cast’ button in the top corner, and then select the name of the Ultra (usually named after the device it’s streaming to, like ‘Living room TV’). But the content isn’t actually streaming from your smartphone – once you queue up the content, it’s delivered directly to the Ultra over the internet. Frankly, we prefer the Apple TV’s approach of a single interface and remote control – having to switch between apps on our phone to use different services, and navigate to the relevant app whenever we want to access playback controls is clumsy. The Chromecast Ultra supports most of the streaming and catchup TV platforms, and if you buy 4K movies on Google Play Movies & TV (which is more expensive than on iTunes), you can stream them to the Google Chromecast Ultra. For now, Amazon Prime Video doesn’t support Chromecast, but it’s widely reported to be coming soon.
Specification - 70$
Up to 4K Ultra HD resolution, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 1x2 MISO Wi-Fi, HDMI, micro-USB and Ethernet connectors, integrated HDMI cable.
BIGPOND CUSTOMERS ONLY.
IF YOU DON’T use Telstra Bigpond for your home internet service, you may as well stop reading, as the Telstra TV only works if it detects a Bigpond connection. But if you can clear that hurdle, there’s a lot to like in Telstra’s third generation media player. As well as supporting the major video streaming and catchup TV services, it works with Foxtel Now and Telstra TV Box Office, all of which are aggregated together into a ‘Telstra TV Recommends’ section that updates based on your viewing preferences. A digital TV tuner lets you tune into free-to-air channels and pause and rewind live TV – but you can’t record programs the way you can on Foxtel iQ. The voice command button on the remote control lets you search across multiple platforms for shows, movies and actors, and it’ll tell you which platforms it’s available on with a cheerful (and slightly cringeworthy) Aussie accent. But we’re not convinced it always has our best interests at heart. Searching for American Gods with the voice control brought us directly to Telstra TV Box Office to purchase the season for $22.99 or an episode for $2.99 – even though it’s also available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Further, it didn’t tell us that The Handmaid’s Tale season 1 was available for free on SBS OnDemand. If you’re looking for 4K content specifically, the Telstra TV comes up short. From what we could tell, Netflix was the only service that showed 4K films and shows - Stan and Amazon Prime content were limited to HD, and the Foxtel Now and Telstra Box Office services haven’t yet made the move to 4K.
Specification - 150$
Up to 4K Ultra HD resolution, free-to-air digital TV tuner, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet port, Wi-Fi and IR remote with voice control, microSD slot and USB port for external media input, screen mirroring with Miracast, included HDMI cable.
GREAT FOR FREE TO AIR FANS
THE FETCHMIGHTY is a great media player if you want to watch free-to-air TV on your own schedule (particularly sports, which doesn’t tend to be available through the catch-up TV services), and you can record up to six shows at once to its spacious 1TB hard drive. The Fetch Mighty also supports the two main streaming video platforms (Netflix and Stan), and comes with its own Movie and TV store where you can buy or rent new release content on an individual basis like on iTunes or Google Play. You can also purchase Foxtel-style channel packs that include channels like ESPN, BBC UKTV and Cartoon Network. But a 4K powerhouse it is not. While it does a good job of upscaling SD and HD content for a 4K television, the only 4K content it supports is on Netflix. Stan comes preloaded, but it’s limited to HD streaming through the Fetch Mighty box, and Amazon Prime Video isn’t supported at all. It’s a shame that the built-in Movie and TV Stores don’t support 4K, either, and free-to-air TV can only be recorded at a maximum of HD quality. Another thing to note with the Fetch Mighty is that it won’t automatically detect the resolution of your TV – and that means Netflix won’t play movies and TV shows in 4K out of the box. To change the output resolution of the Fetch TV Mighty, you’ll need to go to the Manage tab, scroll down to Settings, select Audio & Visual, and then move sideways over to Video and change the Display Resolution to 2160P@50Hz.
Specification - 310$
Supports up to 4K UHD resolution, 260 x 260 x 60mm, 1TB HDD, , 1GB Ethernet, Wi-FI enabled, 2x USB ports, 4x TV tuners, Bluetooth.
Xbox One S
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE.
NEVER MIND THAT it’s designed as a games console first, the Xbox One Smakes one heck of a 4K media player. It’s available for as little as $288 on Amazon, so it’s a touch more expensive than the Apple TV 4K 64GB – but it’s well worth the extra pocket change given it offers a built-in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, a 500GB HDD (which you can bump up to 1TB), support for USB hard drives, and 4K video streaming. The ability to play 4K discs alone makes the Xbox One S great value, as 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players typically start from three hundred bucks. This games console cum 4K powerhouse marries the ability to handle 4K physical media with the ability to stream in 4K across Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube – as well as buy and rent 4K movies through Microsoft’s online store (although the latter is more expensive than on iTunes). Technically, the Xbox One S can also play downloaded 4K videos, but we weren’t able to get this working on any of our test files. Some played sound only, while others showed video with no audio. This is a widely reported issue, and the consensus is that files need to be encoded with a very specific audio and video format to work on the Xbox. The other thing to bear in mind is that it comes with a games controller rather than a remote control. If you’ve never used an Xbox before, the button layout won’t be immediately intuitive, but you can always buy a separate media remote if you can’t get the hang of the bundled controller.
Specification - 155$
Supports up to 4K UHD resolution, 4K UHD Blue-ray play back 4K streaming, HDR, HDMI out, HDMI in, three USB 3.0, optical audio out, Ethernet, IR blaster, from 500GB of storage, 1.75GHz eight-core Jaguar CPU, 8GB DDR RAM.
Laser Android 4K Smart Media Player
GOOD FOR 4K DOWNLOADS.
THE LASER ANDROID 4K Smart Media Player looks great on paper. Cheaper than an Apple TV, it runs the Android operating system, which means you can install apps straight from the Google Play Store. It also comes with an interesting hybrid remote control that sports a QWERTY keyboard on the back, and it has a built-in ‘Airmouse’ for gesture-based navigation similar to the Nintendo Wii. And, most importantly, it supports 4K playback at up to 60 frames per second. But using it is frustrating. All of the apps are designed for touchscreen operation on a smartphone rather than for a remote control, and you’ll have to figure out how to operate the Airmouse function for swiping up and down the screen (good luck – the user manual isn’t much help). The remote control is also poorly-designed and doesn’t have backlit keys, making it virtually impossible to use in a dark room. The Laser’s one saving grace is its support for 4K. If you happen to have 4K content, this media player can play it. We chucked a 52.5GB 4K movie encoded in HEVC onto a USB drive formatted in exFAT, and it played seamlessly on the Laser media player – a feat that even our late 2013 MacBook Pro Intel Core i7 with 16GB RAM couldn’t pull off. Note: this 4K playback doesn’t extend to streaming platforms like Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime, which are capped at HD quality. As difficult as the Laser Android 4K Smart Media Player is to use, the fact it can play downloaded 4K video files in pretty much any file format makes it worth considering if you have ready access to that kind of content.
Specification - 115$
Up to 4K HDR output resolution, 110 x 90 x 25mm, 200g, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 3x USB ports, microSD card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, DLNA, 8GB flash storage, 2GB RAM, Android 6.0, 2GHz octo-core chipset.
LG 4K Blu-ray Player UBK90
NOT YOUR DAD’S DVD PLAYER.
THE LIKES OF Netflix and Stan may be the way of the future, but they’re not for everyone. Not only do you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to access these services (Netflix alone will set you back more than two hundred bucks a year), but they’ll also suck your internet connection dry. The alternative is 4K Blu-ray players like the LG UBK90. Rocking a black, rectangular slab design that looks much like your typical DVD player, LG’s entry-level 4K Blu-ray Player marries the old school aesthetic with support for the newest technologies like 4K Ultra HD discs, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos and Hi-Res 24-bit/192kHz audio output. If physical media is your preference, then the UBK90 will suit your needs to a tee. But we can’t say the same for internet content. Now, if the only streaming service you ever use is Netflix or YouTube, then you won’t find the UBK90 lacking, as it comes with both apps preinstalled, with the former supporting 4K streaming. Beyond that, though, you’re out of luck. Unlike the latest LG TVs, the UBK90 has a rudimentary menu system and doesn’t come with any form of app store for installing additional services. No Stan. No Amazon Prime. And no Hayu, if you’re a fan of sleazy reality TV. The UBK90 is also strictly entry level. While it supports the latest video and audio technologies, LG has had to cut quite a few corners on the hardware, which means no HDMI cable in the box, no backlighting on the remote control, and no screen or backlit keys on the face of the player.
Specification - 275$
Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, support for USB external hard drives, 4K Ultra HD streaming for Netflix.