If you satisfy your craving for 4K (Ultra HD) TV programs with Netflix, prepare to start paying more for it. Netflix is raising the price of its service from $8.99 to $11.99 for people who want 4K video.
This, according to an article posted onVariety, is because producing and acquiring 4K video content is more costly than HD content. Of course, that 4K content is now extremely limited. If you sign up for Netflix’s premium “Family Plan” for 4K, you can watch Breaking Bad (in case you haven’t already seen it twice), House of Cards, The Blacklist, and Hollywood blockbusters like Smurfs 2.
Is $3 more a reasonable amount to pay for the ability to watch 4K content, especially when there’s so little of it? That’s a difficult question. Back in the day, cable companies also charged more for HD service packages even when there was barely anything to watch (they still do, but now their package options are so complicated there’s no apple to apple way to compare). Back then, the difference between SD and HD was pretty dramatic. Not only did programming go from 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9, it also offered dramatically better picture and sound quality.
Is 4K streamed from the internet as dramatic a difference as 1080p streamed from the internet? Honestly, no. It is, maybe, if you have a very large screen (70 inches and up) but for the average 55-inch TV, the 1080p picture you get from a Netflix stream will be pretty close in quality to the 4K one, especially if you’re sitting the typical 10 feet away from your TV.
This isn’t to say that 4K or Ultra HD TVs and projectors aren’t good. In fact, some of them are quite excellent, and the resolution has something to do with that. But the content—not so much. I’ve been just as impressed, maybe even more impressed, with how well good Ultra HD TVs and projectors work with 1080p content as they do with 4K content. The pixel density, the smoothness, the ability to get up close (if you really want to) is also apparent with 1080p content when it goes through a good 4K scaling engine, which the top Ultra HD TVs include. That’s a lot more impressive than the highly compressed 4K pictures that gets streamed over the internet.
If you buy a 4K TV and elect to pay the extra $3 for 4K Netflix, you better be sure your broadband connection is strong enough to receive it. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2014 Netflix CEO Reed Hastings declared that an internet download speed of 15Mbps would be necessary to receive 4K streaming video. How many people are reliably getting that kind of service? According to the Netflix speed data numbers from September 2014, not a lot of people. In fact, even the top winner of the month, Verizon FIOS, wasn’t even close with an average primetime speed of 3.17 Mbps. Market giant Comcast came in 6th with 2.92 Mbps. Speeds like that will get you HD streaming, but not Ultra HD.
Currently, your 4K video choices are small. You can get Netflix, and Amazon streaming soon too. If you have a Sony TV, you can add the company’s FMP-X10 movie server (and soon you can get it for non-Sony TVs) but that only carries Sony content. If you buy a Samsung TV, you have the option to purchase a hard drive with some movies on it. The satellite TV companies plan to roll out some 4K video eventually. Broadcast and cable—probably nothing. A Blu-ray disc format for 4K is in the works, but still a ways off.
The Ultra HD TV market is still small, but it’s growing. The hardware dominance is all but inevitable as most TV manufacturers are moving more of their production lines over to 4K panels. The content side isn’t moving nearly as quickly, but the one place it is moving is in streaming. I suppose we should expect to pay a little more for that, but for that $3 a month, we should also expect a lot more than TV reruns and Smurf movies.
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