Talking tech since 2003

A report on the Verge today reveals that Netflix is gearing up to start making 4K streaming  reality as early as next month. This news comes on the heels of last month’s reports that Netflix was merely in the testing phase for streaming the ultra-high definition video format, and to hear that some customers might actually get 4K streaming by January is pretty impressive.

For those scratching their heads at what, exactly, 4K is, it’s the next step up in visual resolution for video. Our own Brian Hough explained in the above-linked post that 4K offers visuals at a resolution of 4096 × 3072, while the cream of the current crop of high definition visuals is 1920 x 1080—also known as 1080p.

But just because Netflix is going to start offering 4K streaming next month doesn’t mean that your streaming resolution will suddenly get better across the board. In fact, the Verge post notes that 4K video will only be coming to a select few 4K-capable televisions, likely those with Netflix already installed. The post also notes that 4K could “eventually” make its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 home consoles, but, again, any improvement in visual fidelity is also contingent on owners actually having a television set that can handle that resolution.

And even that isn’t the end of the caveats. Streaming video in 4K means having content that’s shot in 4K. And while some filmmakers are making the switch now, it’ll still be a while before the rest of Hollywood jumps on the super-HD bandwagon. The post explains that Netflix’s exclusive Kevin Spacey vehicle House of Cards has been and will be shot in 4K, meaning that the lucky few with 4K-capable rigs will be able to see dramatic politics in all their micro-detailed glory.

But Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt believes that the company’s push to start streaming 4K now—and the service’s huge subscriber base—will help bring more demand for the format, and could potentially speed 4K’s adoption by productions:

“Since it’s going to take a while until there is a material catalogue in 4K, it’s important for us to get out front and begin to push it. Initially it’ll be a set of sample offerings, not a big part of the catalogue … I think we can be instrumental in beginning the shift of production towards 4K.”

So this is all great—but even after all that, it’s important to remember that the majority of internet providers can’t actually handle the ability to deliver 4K streaming. And a post on BGR from September points out that 4K requires about 15 MBPS—which is about double the average bandwidth capabilities currently found throughout the US by that post’s estimates. Meanwhile, Netflix itself says that even Google Fiber—currently the biggest and best Internet-pipe you can get in the US—averaged about 3.59 MBPS in November.

So what’s the upshot here? Mostly that 4K is coming soon…but it’ll still be a long, long while before you can actually see it on your TV.

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