The best 4K HDR movies and shows to get the most out of the Apple TV 4K
It’s been a long time coming, but Apple is finally jumping aboard the 4K format with its new Apple TV 4K streaming box.
Along with support for the new resolution, the box also supports HDR, which is the technology that allows for a much greater contrast between dark and light parts of an image than ever before.
That means blacks are properly black rather than just a milky grey, and bright whites have real sparkle to them. The added depth this technology adds to images is really stunning.
But of course, any media player is only as good as the content you choose to watch on it, so we’ve duly put together a list of the movies and TV shows that we think best show off the technology that the new box is packing.
The following include a selection of content that you can buy from Apple directly via iTunes, as well as our picks of the best 4K/HDR content from Netflix. Since the Amazon Prime Video app isn’t available on the Apple TV 4K at launch, we’ve chosen to exclude it for the time being.
Mad Max: Fury Road (iTunes)
Few action movies manage to pack in more spectacle than Mad Max: Fury Road, which has made it a favorite for demonstrations of 4K / HDR technology.
But what makes the film especially compelling is its restrained use of CGI, which means the extra detail delivered by 4K just ends up delivering more fantastic production design, rather than exposing the cracks in some poorly done special effects.
Pay special attention to: the sandstorm scene, which has the kind of detail and contrast that 4K HDR TVs were made for.
Star Trek (iTunes)
JJ Abrahms’ 2009 reboot of the classic sci-fi franchise might have annoyed some fans by straying a little too far from what made the original TV series so special, but it’s a change that worked out great for AV enthusiasts with epic space battles aplenty.
It turns out the infinite blackness of space contrasted with the Enterprise’s Phase cannons is a match made in HDR heaven, and well worth experiencing again in the new format.
Pay special attention to: the scene where the Enterprise warps in to discover the wreckage of the Vulcan’s fleet is a visual treat, as we’re treated to the sight of the ship frantically trying to avoid thousands of pieces of debris.
The Lego Batman Movie (iTunes)
When you attend enough TV demonstrations, you get used to seeing the same clips from the same movies over and over again.
The Lego Batman Movie is one such film, and you can see why. The whole thing is packed full of detail, and the bright vibrant colors will push every TV to its max.
Pay special attention to: the scene where the Joker frees the Lego world’s worst villains from the Phantom Zone doesn’t just look great, it’s also absolutely hilarious.
Wonder Woman (iTunes)
Unfortunately Wonder Woman won’t be available to buy on iTunes until September 24, but we wanted to include it on this list for a couple of reasons.
First is the fact that it’s the first DC movie that’s genuinely quite good, but it’s also got a great look to it with its World War I setting, which is a step above the drab modern settings of other recent movies from the comic book publisher.
Pay special attention to: Wonder Woman’s battle in the veld village, where keen-eyed viewers might just spot TechRadar’s own playing a dead soldier at Gal Gadot’s feet. Seriously, we’re not kidding. He spent two weeks of his life lying in the dirt in the middle of February.
Few superhero films are as bleak as Logan, which charts Wolverine’s later years as a world-weary mutant who’s suffered one too many battles throughout his lifetime.
However, don’t expect this downbeat tone to result in a lack of spectacle. Logan has action sequences to rival the best the franchise has to offer, and their more real-world setting really benefits from the detailing of Ultra HD.
Pay special attention to: the landscapes of the film are especially impressive. From the dusty landscapes of Logan’s initial hideout, to the forest setting of the conclusion, all benefit from the colors and detail offered by 4K HDR.
Pacific Rim (iTunes)
A film about giant mechanised robots fighting alien invaders directed by the Guillermo del Toro was never going to look bland, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Pacific Rim is a feast for the eyes, with an amazing art style that couldn’t have come from anyone other than del Toro.
Pay special attention to: the scenes set inside the Jaegers (the giant mechanised robots that are used to defeat the incoming monsters), whose combination of bright neon lights against shadowy backdrops look phenomenal in HDR.
It’s not just the world of cinema that benefits from the next generation of TV tech. Netflix has also been quick to embrace the standards for its original programming, which these days is dominated (much like the world of cinema) by Marvel properties.
While the first series of Jessica Jones is regarded by many as being the best of the bunch, we’ve got a soft spot for Charlie Cox’s Daredevil, whose debut series is filled with some fantastic martial arts.
Pay special attention to: the extended fight scene at the end of the second episode. The lengthy tracking shot is beautiful, and excellently choreographed.
While GLOW occasionally throws a sucker-punch of ’80s neon, the show uses HDR in a far-more subtle way. This is because its makers have added an ‘80s sheen to make it period appropriate.
But HDR isn’t just about crispness of image, it’s about making things look more like real life and GLOW really does.
GLOW is one of the first things anywhere to use HDR to top up an image that’s been deliberately made to look retro and it really does work. The technology doesn’t brighten everything, it just makes the things in a scene that are meant to stand out truly ping.
Pay special attention to: the moment the wrestling gets started. You won't be able to get away from the 4K sweat and tears.
Chef's Table (Netflix)
If you haven’t yet watched Chef’s Table, you are in for a treat. It’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the belly. Each episode follows the story of a different world class restaurant, so you get a peek into the worlds, (and importantly the kitchens) of some of the world’s finest chefs.
The cinematography on this show far exceeds any expectations that you might have for a cookery show, so we are really excited to see the rich vibrant colors provided by open fires and steaming pots in 4K HDR.
Pay special attention to: In each episode the ‘plate reveals’ are a sumptuous treat, playing with light, color and contrast, perfect for your HDR TV to flex its muscles with.
The Defenders (Netflix)
The Defenders may not be the ultimate small-screen superhero team-up the world was hoping for, but where the plot sometimes falters the look of the show certainly doesn’t.
Pay special attention to: the way the color scheme subtly shifts between each defender's visual motif: Jessica Jones is blue, Daredevil red, Iron Fist is green and Luke Cage is yellow. In the early episodes, this shading is really noticeable and pretty damn cool.
This, coupled with the fantastic lighting, not only helps define the characters but it also makes the HDR footage truly pop. If only the plot was as clever...