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Summary:

Most users don’t go over their ISP’s broadband caps – but this could change quickly once 4K movies are delivered to consumers online.

LGs 4K TV. Try to get that past your bandwidth cap.
photo: LG

Do you have broadband cap anxiety? Then better don’t buy a PS4 when it comes out later this year. Sony’s next generation gaming console will reportedly offer support for 4K video, and the company is looking to launch a 4K video download service to give consumers access to popular fare in the ultra-high-definition video format. There’s just one caveat: 4K downloads will weigh in at a whopping 100 GB a piece, according to a report from the Verge.

Granted, many details of Sony’s plans for 4K aren’t set in stone, in part because the company hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with details about the PS4. But Sony Electronics President and COO Phil Molyneux told the Verge’s Nilay Patel that a typical 4K movie will be “100 gigabytes and plus.”

Just a quick reminder for everyone about to bust out their calculators at home: Comcast’s current cap for most of its customers is 300 GB per month, which would get you just three 4K movies, and nothing else. AT&T’s Uverse cap is 250 GB per month. Both companies charge consumers that use more bandwidth $10 per 50 GB, which would bring the bandwidth costs of a single 4K movie after you’ve exhausted your cap to $20.

Of course, Sony may be able to somewhat reduce the size of its 4K movie downloads with advanced compression technologies — but you can only compress a video so much if your goal is to make it look great in 4K on a huge TV set. Throw in something like 3D, and you’re quickly going to hit the cap, no matter what.

Consider this, for example: Streaming a 1080p 3D movie from Netflix currently consumes 4.7 GB per hour. That’s a little more than 7 GB for a 90 minute flick. Now consider that 4K comes with four times as many pixels as 1080p, and some very basic back-of-the-envelope math would suggest that streaming 4K with a Netflix-like compression would lead to at least 28 GB of bandwidth consumption per movie.

So no matter how you look at it: 4K downloads and streams are going to push the envelope on broadband consumption — and could lead to many more consumers running afoul of their caps.

  1. John S. Wilson Friday, March 1, 2013

    Caps will change over time. 10 years ago I doubt caps were where they are now. So that’s not really a big issue. The biggest issue is how to deliver the content quickly enough to satisfy consumers, and I expect both compression and buffering to get better.

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    1. S. Eric Rhoads Friday, March 1, 2013

      Ten years ago there were basically no caps. Broadband was still a nascent product. There was little content available that seriously challenged connections.

      Caps are arbitrary creations to boost profit and favor certain products from ISPs. I doubt caps are going to quadruple in size in the next year to accommodate data intensive content such as 4K video.

      It isn’t only Sony’s 4K video offering that will be a problem, it will also be the content rich HD gaming products they will offering via their Gakai streaming service. That service could QUICKLY grind to a halt in the US due to restrictive bandwidth caps. While 4K video could realistically be compressed down to 20Gb w/ H265, gaming data will not be as easily compressed.

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      1. Major players like TW and Verizon don’t have such limits. The ISPs that do are indeed backwards, but they could cancel them instantly. Of course it seems many customers are perversely satisfied by paying to have their bandwidth rationed, so it’s hard to predict what will happen in a market filled with lunatics.

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  2. Caps are a very localized thing, US ,Canada but it’s a big world out there .
    Besides, you don’t need 4k for caps to be a problem for streaming video ,they already are at 1080p even with heavy compression.

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    1. S. Eric Rhoads Friday, March 1, 2013

      Less than 2-3 hours a day of Netflix viewing will bust most caps. Shame when the USPS delivery Blu-Rays is a cheaper and more efficient distribution system of data than your local ISP.

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  3. I believe that bandwidth will be metered just like electricity or water. And you’ll probably pay different rates for different levels of consumption, just like those utilities.

    But Janko, 4K isn’t really here yet (PS4 notwithstanding); don’t you think that HVEC/H.265 will shrink data streams enough that it won’t require that much more bandwidth?

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    1. why would you want a highly compressed 4k video? unless its optional to downgrade 4k its not a good thing to have. id rather download 100+ gig video than a 10-50gig i would rather less compression.

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      1. Alfred Poor Sunday, March 3, 2013

        erwfan, I have not seen 4K compressed with H.265 yet; have you? My understanding that it is about four times as effective as MPEG-2, which is used by ATSC to compress terrestrial broadcast 1080i. Many people believe that broadcast HD is far better than the signals used by most cable or satellite services.

        If the broadcast quality of 1080i is acceptable (which I believe it is for the vast majority of the US TV household market), then perhaps 4K H.265 can be done with less than double the bandwidth for an equivalent level of image degradation (i.e. slight).

        Sure, there are afficianados who want a raw image data stream, but that is not practical for mass distribution, nor does it lend itself to a user experience that will be acceptable to the average consumer.

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    2. “But Janko, 4K isn’t really here yet (PS4 notwithstanding);”

      Youtube already has 4k content and has had it for a while.

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  4. I Eat Cannibals Saturday, March 30, 2013

    http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/capping_the_nation_s_broadband_future

    Give it a look-see, all the talk about bandwidth metering is just hogwash. The rhetoric is focusing attention on the regulation of scarcity, when it isn’t the problem. The problem is ISPs creating income streams out of fabricated crises and justifying them with publicity campaigns. Wholesale costs for bandwidth are pennies to what end users are charged for so called ‘overages’.

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  5. In the developed world we never had caps..ever..

    100mbit is standard in most apartments which would give you about 45gb per hour. Now for streaming a not too compressed 4k video file this might be on the edge but I suppose 1gbit upgrades would become more popular if the need is there.

    The question is of course how the movie servers are going to handle the gigantic amount of data being sent, probably they will try to take advantage of your internet connection to send data from your computer to other buyers of the movie you are watching. Or they will just do like netflix and cheap out on the quality and send something that looks more like a proper 1080p video stream and call it 4k because of the amount of pixels in the file.

    http://lastlesson.info just had to share a good website about money with u guys…

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  6. T to the J Monday, May 6, 2013

    Your math is all wrong on bandwith… for one UHD is not really 4k. Second just because the resolution is greater then current does not mean that it is it has a 1 to 1 relationship regarding lines of resolution and gigabytes.. Third how much data is stored on a bluray vs how much data is streamed for the same movie. So what is a 1080p non-3d 2 hour movie going to produce via Netflix. Have you done the math from 480i to 480p to 720p to 1080i to 1080p. I mean accordign to your math the 1080p should be twice as large as 1080i right… since only 540 lines are being shown at once, so technically, you should see 720p resolution eat up more bandwith then 1080i. How drastic are the changes? How much does the audio quality play into this equation? I love how many people comment on the 4k TV yet have not actually seen the 4K panel next to a 1080p panel. I just got a 4k TV for passive 3D, and guess what… no blur… thats right… your blur was coming from 540i resolution. So 4k halved is stil greater then 1080p…. and I can say at 6 ft for a 65 inch TV it was awesom…. clear as day. No heavy clunky glasses. You don’t need 3D for everything, but it is a nice for somethings. Animated movies use 3D very well. So yeah, Blade Runner would not need it, but it may work well for Chicken Little…People keep saying 3D is just a passing phase…. really… think about…. how long has 3D become poplular in the movie theater. Here is a hint… many years before Avatar…. and Avatar itself even… hmmm.. did that come out last year? How old is that movie… and wow… it is failing so badly that we have seen a reduction in movies and sales as a result of 3D… wait what is that…. there has been a steady increase in both over the last 10 years. Soooo, why do we think 3D is going away again…. oh…. thats right because it is not spilling over into gaming console and PC games and video cards, what…? they are, and the amount of titles in 3D are larger today then they were 3 years ago…. If you can get rid of the ghosting and the blur… and the heavy glasses… and give the glasses away for free…I think many more people would accept 3D… as for the silly notion of people can’t place an 84 inch TV in their homes… that arguement is just being recycled from going from the tube TV to the flat screen. The one thing that has me so confused, is why the negativity….why wouldn’t you want to encourage and be more positive then this negativity.

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