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Apple Gives 4K Movies Digital Jumpstart

22 Sep, 2017 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Among the excitement surrounding Apple’s new iPhones and watch came a boost from the tech giant for 4K UHD. The company Sept. 12 announced iTunes’ first-ever availability of Hollywood movies in 4K resolution with high dynamic range (HDR).

The announcement coincided with rollout of the Apple TV 4K streaming media device, which hit retail Sept. 22, priced at $179 for 32GB ($199 for 64GB) and compatible with Dolby Vision. The device includes access to Netflix 4K content (122 titles), with Amazon Prime Video 4K content coming later this year. No mention was made of Hulu, which launched 4K functionality last December with original series “Chance,” “The Path,” “11.22.63” and “Shut Eye.”

To spark consumer interest, Apple is upgrading existing iTunes movie purchases to 4K at no additional cost. New 4K titles reportedly cost $20.

“Customers will love watching 4K HDR movies on iTunes,” Eddy Cue, SVP of Internet software and services, told attendees at the Sept. 12 “Apple Special Event.”

Apple TV 4K users can search for 4K content using the Apple TV app or Siri voice-activated app. The former is available this month domestically, as well as in Australia and Canada. Participating studios include Warner, Universal, Paramount, Fox, Sony and Lionsgate. Lone holdout Disney, which in August bowed its first 4K Blu-ray title, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is selling 4K fare through Walmart-owned Vudu.com, priced at $24.95.

Jeff Butts, a contributor to The Mac Observer, doesn’t believe Disney opted out of Apple TV 4K over price.

“I think this may have something to do with Disney launching its own independent streaming services for Marvel, Star Wars and other franchises in the near future,” he said.

Initial 4K movies on Apple TV include The Accountant, Alien: Covenant, Deadpool, Jupiter Ascending, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Legend of Tarzan, Life of Pi, Logan and Sully. Titles with Dolby Vision include Allied, Argo, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Creed, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Ghost in the Shell, Goodfellas, I Am Legend, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Kong: Skull Island, The Lego Batman Movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Magnificent Seven, Man of Steel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Me Before You, Pacific Rim, Pan, San Andreas, Star Trek, Star Trek Beyond, Storks, Suicide Squad, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Terminator Genisys, The Town, Unforgiven, War Dogs, Wonder Woman and xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

Whether iTunes jumpstarts 4K digital movie sales depends on how well Apple TV 4K performs, according to Butts. It’s existing set-top has been losing ground. Apple TV ranks fourth among streaming media devices, with more than 21 million users, according to eMarketer. By comparison, nearly 39 million people use a Roku device.

“Higher-priced devices, such as the Apple TV, have not been able to keep up with low-priced and readily available Roku devices, which can be found at Walmart for as low as $29.99,” said Glenn Hower, senior analyst with Parks Associates.

Indeed, Google’s Chromecast now holds an 18% share of the installed base, while Apple’s market share hovers around 15%.

SVOD heavyweights Netflix and Amazon, which each bowed 4K content in 2014, are still among the leading sub services offering 4K, but there are several services that provide transactional 4K.

Select Standalone Digital 4K Transactional Movie Services:

• FandangoNow 4K movies range from $25 to $30 for purchase and from $5 for rental. The service says 4K playback requires a Roku 4 device and/or connection to a compatible 4K UHD Smart TV.

• Google launched HDR support for Google Play Movies & TV in the U.S. and Canada in early July. Viewing 4K content ($20-$30; $5 rental) requires the Chromecast Ultra (or Roku Ultra) dongle connected to an HDR-capable 4K Smart TV.

“You can search for HDR on Google Play to see exactly which titles are available with HDR, such as Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them,” said spokesperson Joshua Cruz. “Our initial partners include Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. We’re hoping to expand the catalog in the coming months.”

• PlayStation Video store requires a PS4 Pro video game console to stream 4K content, with rentals priced at $8 and up to $35 for movie purchases.

• Last year, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment announced ULTRA, its 4K digital movie service, would be included on PCs using Intel’s seventh-generation Core processors in the first quarter of 2017. Fast-forward to the present and ULTRA 4K movies are now available for rent ($7.99). New releases are priced at $29.99 with HDR. Catalog fare is priced from $25.99.

• UltraFlix.com is available on Apple TV, Fire TV, Google Play, Windows 10, Roku 2, Roku 3 HD and Roku 4 devices. The app is available on 4K Smart TVs from Samsung, Sony, Vizio, HiSense and others.

UltraFlix 4K rentals, which range in price from $1.99 to $9.99, include movies from Paramount, MGM, Millennium, Magnolia and Warner; documentaries (priced from 99 cents) made for Imax theaters; TV series from A&E Networks; music concerts; and time-lapse motion art from independent producers.

• Walmart-owned Vudu.com features a slate of 123 movies in “Vudu UHD,” which it says feature 4K resolution, HDR, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. Recent releases include Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight and Baywatch. Titles range from $25 to $30, with rentals priced at $10.

Earlier this year at Apple’s worldwide developers confab in San Jose, Calif., Vudu announced it was working on an app for Apple TV, which could include 4K.

“We want to bring you the best possible app and Vudu experience, so we’re still tweaking and fine-tuning,” Vudu said in a statement at the time.


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