Microsoft is offering more 4K films but there's still (much) work to be done

Xbox One X
Xbox One X (Image credit: Windows Central)

Last October, I took Microsoft to task over its 4K, Ultra-high Definition (UHD) movie selection, options, and availability in its Store and Movies & TV app for Windows 10 and Xbox.

Since then, I'm happy to see that Microsoft's 4K offerings have not only grown, but there are some things available on Movies & TV that are not available on competing services like Amazon Prime. But that may be the only good news, as regional restrictions, an inability to upgrade, and the lack of support for the Movies Anywhere service is still a significant hindrance.

Below, I rate some related, and important, aspects of Movies & TV and the Store.

4K UHD selection in the U.S.: A-

Even older content is now availble in 4K, which is amazing.

Even older content is now availble in 4K, which is amazing.

In October 2017, Microsoft had just under 30 titles that were 4K UHD in the U.S. Store. That number was low, but to be fair, 4K UHD digital content was still relatively new, and many of the major studios had not released much material.

Fast forward to June 2018, and there are now just over 200 movies in 4K UHD available for streaming, buying, renting and downloading. As far as I can tell, every new movie that a studio releases that also has a 4K option is being made available via Microsoft. That is awesome and the way it should be for consumers.

Offering the latest digital movies in 4K may seem like an obvious move, but take Marvel's Black Panther (2018), which is available in 4K for $24.99 from Microsoft. Amazon is only offering the digital version in SD or HD, not 4K UHD. The same goes for Apple who have no new Marvel movies in 4K period. That's odd, but it at least highlights how inconsistent this content can be across services.

There are many older flims, too, like The Great Gatsby (2013), E.T. (1982), or even the The Matrix (1999) available in 4K through Microsoft. Again, many of these are not available in 4K UHD on Amazon even in the U.S.

The real competitor, however, is not so much Amazon as VUDU. VUDU has an app for Windows 10 and Xbox, and its store often runs outstanding sales. They too have a massive collection of content in 4K UHD.

4K UHD selection outside the U.S.: C

Outside of the U.S., I'm told that Movies & TV's 4K UHD content is still non-existent, even in the U.K, where many of our writers are located. That's still a problem for Microsoft.

I was surprised to learn that in the U.K., Amazon does not have any digital movies for rent or purchase in 4K UHD either.

I thought VUDU might be a good option, as it's what I tend to use more often these days, but VUDU is a U.S.-only service too.

My tentative conclusion here is while Microsoft can do much better in other countries regarding 4K UHD digital film offerings, it is not exactly the exception to the rule. In an unscientific poll on Twitter nearly 50 percent of respondents said they do not have any options for buying digital 4K UHD content outside of the U.S. whether it is Apple iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon suggesting this isn't a Microsoft-only problem.

Movies Anywhere everywhere rating: F

In November, I wrote an article criticizing Microsoft for not being a part of the initial wave of the Movies Anywhere DRM system pushed by Disney.

For those unfamiliar, Movies Anywhere is an interoperable digital movie locker service. It;s available via Amazon, VUDU, Apple iTunes and Google Play. Since its initial launch in late 2017, FandangoNow – a service I did not even know existed – also joined the consortium.

The Movies Anywhere service works by letting you buy a movie on a service like Apple iTunes, but then stream that same film through Amazon Prime or Google Play. Your films effectively replicate on other platforms that are part of the Movies Anywhere ecosystem. For those who have large movie collections, the service is like a bank vault for your digital investment.

Internal reports from our sources suggest Microsoft wanted to join the initial wave, but it was Disney's call who joins the waves, and Microsoft was left out. A report in March quoted Microsoft PR as "in discussions with Movies Anywhere about bringing their service onboard."

Since then, there has been no new information.

The good news is that bringing Movies Anywhere to Microsoft Movies & TV might still happen – Microsoft was, after all, part of the original "Disney Movies Anywhere": before that service was rebooted for a rebrand in late 2017.

But until that ink dries, it is still to say you should buy movies through Movies & TV. Renting, however, is still highly recommended.

Odds and ends

There are over 200 4K UHD films now offered by Microsoft (U.S.).

There are over 200 4K UHD films now offered by Microsoft (U.S.).

Regarding discoverability, for 4K content, Microsoft is getting a bit better. The Microsoft Store has a separate category called "Movies in 4K UHD" where you can browse for just those films in that format.

Users can also search for "4K UHD" in the Store and get an even more extensive collection with some older titles, such as Scorsese's 1990 mob hit Goodfellas in glorious UHD.

While the menu selection still defaults to HD format, at least in the description the very first line is "This title is available in Ultra High Definition and HDR capable" to let users know that a 4K option is available. I'd still prefer to set my Store to default 4K, but at least this is a start.

Pricing is still expensive with most movies in 4K starting at $24.99 and going up to $29.99 – a substantial bump in cost over full HD. Often, those 4K versions also don't get drops in sales even when the HD and SD formats do. However, pricing is often set by the studios, not Microsoft, and competing streaming services aren't any different.

Microsoft (left) offers Black Panther (2018) in 4K, while Amazon (right) does not.

There is still no way to upgrade a previously purchased movie to 4K. I own quite a few, including The Matrix and Bladerunner in full HD, but there is no option for me to re-buy those films in 4K – even at full price – let alone an "upgrade" cost, which is a shame. I'm now stuck forever with full HD films even when a UHD option is right there.

At least for those in the U.S., Microsoft Movies & TV for renting, streaming, and even buying films in 4K UHD is quite good and improving. That's the good news. The bad news is missing services like Movies Anywhere, no 4K upgrade path, and regional restrictions still hamper the service.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.