In case you haven’t noticed Google has done us a favor by upgrading previously purchased digital movies to 4k/HDR free of charge. The recent announcement comes about a year after Apple TV 4k launched with the same promise of free 4k upgrades. There are also some sidebars you should know about.
Free 4k Upgrades
As mentioned above Google is upgrading eligible digital movies to 4k, and this stands for both SD and HD resolution titles. The fact they are upgrading even standard definition titles to 4k gives the platform a slight advantage over Apple who only upgrades HD titles to 4k. HDR, as you may well know, is not available with all 4k titles but is provided when included in the 4k stream. Of course, Google will only provide a title in 4k (with or without HDR) if the studio or distributor provides it to them.
Google Play’s 4k movies were way overpriced, with some titles costing $29.99 — as much as Digital UHD was when first introduced. Here in the US, FandangoNow was the only other popular service that still had some UHD titles priced that high even a year after Apple TV 4k initiated a new standard for UHD pricing of premium 4k movies. Now, Google UHD movies cost about the same as apple, generally between $14.99 and $19.99.
Google Play is part of Disney’s Movies Anywhere platform, so if you’ve connected the two accounts using the same email address your Google Play library (or Movies Anywhere library) should have expanded to include more shared titles. It doesn’t mean, however, that if you purchased a title on iTunes it will always be automatically upgrade to 4k on Google. However, a purchase of The Darkest Minds from iTunes in 4k transferred perfectly to Google Play in 4k/HDR.
In addition to Sony 4k Bravia 4k TVs, Google recently expanded Ultra HD playback support to 4k Samsung Smart TVs and claims to be working on adding support for LG 4k TVs. Chromecast Ultra and Nvidia Shield also support UHD playback when connected to a 4K TV. See this list of supporting devices and requirements.
HDR is another story. High Dynamic Range is only supported on 2017 Samsung 4K Smart TVs and Chromecast Ultra when connected to compatible TVs. So, while a title has to be 4k to include the HDR metadata, it does’t necessarily mean the title will display HDR. It really depends on the TV, device or HDR format (HDR10, Dolby Vision, or both) supported.
Google Play App
It’s also worth mentioning the Google Play app installed on your Android or iOS device may not support or display 4k/HDR specs. That same FOX title mentioned earlier, The Darkest Minds, doesn’t show up as HD or 4k on the app for the newest iPhone app, even though other titles display a small “HD” icon to indicate 720p or 1080p resolution.