Netflix bets big on 4K, strikes partnerships with four TV vendors

netflix 4k feature

Netflix wants to become one of the major suppliers of 4K Ultra HD content in the coming months, and the company struck partnerships with Sony, LG, Vizio and Samsung to make that happen.

Netflix showed off 4K video streaming with a trailer for the second season of House of Cards, which has been shot in the Ultra HD video format and will be available to devices supporting that format when the new season debuts in February. In fact, the trailer is already streaming in 4K on Netflix today – but there are no devices supporting playback available to consumers yet.

That is poised to change due to the partnership with the aforementioned TV manufacturers. They will all add hardware H.265 HEVC video decoding capabilities to their new TV sets, many of which should be available in the next few months. Netflix will also announce additional 4K content in the near future, Evers said, adding that it won’t charge consumers extra to watch movies or TV shows in Ultra HD.

The company’s 4K content will stream with a bit rate of 15.6 Mbps. Currently, Netflix’s best-looking content streams with as much as 7 Mbps. However, devices that support 4K will use H.265 HEVC for regular HD content as well, which will actually save bandwidth for that kind of content.

netflix 4k bitrate

Netflix is streaming Ultra HD with a bit rate of 15.6 Mbps.

Netflix isn’t the only company announcing 4K content at CES. Amazon also said that its Prime Instant subscribers will be able to access 4K videos, and the transactional VOD platform M-Go announced a 4K initiative as well. Even cable TV is jumping on the bandwagon: Comcast announced a 4K video streaming app for Samsung TVs Monday — but the pay TV operator didn’t reveal any plans for making 4K available through traditional cable boxes and TV networks.

This means that streaming could become how many viewers experience 4K first. “The internet is going to be the primary way of how people get Ultra HD 4K,” Evers agreed.

As the industry is moving towards 4K, 3D seems to be falling out of favor. Earlier on Monday, Vizio said that it won’t be making any 3D TV sets at all this year anymore. Netflix doesn’t seem to be quite ready to give up on 3D yet, but Evers told me that its priorities are clearly elsewhere these days. “We have no plans to discontinue 3D, we have some new titles coming online in the future, but we are devoting all budget and energy on higher quality content towards 4K and future color and frame rate enhancements,” he said.

At last year’s CES, Netflix also announced some first support for a limited number of 3D titles, but like others in the industry, it now seems less excited about the third dimension. Evers told me that demand for 3D just wasn’t very big on Netflix, and that Netflix may end support for the format in the future. He later clarified the company’s position, saying: “We have no plans to discontinue 3D, we have some new titles coming online in the future, but we are devoting all budget and energy on higher quality content towards 4K and future color and frame rate enhancements.”

Earlier on Monday, Vizio said that it won’t be making any 3D TV sets at all this year anymore.

This story was updated on 1/7/2014 to with a quote from Netflix clarifying the company’s plans for 3D.

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