Here’s the 4K content you’ve been waiting for: Streaming service M-GO announced Wednesday that it is making 70 4K titles available through Samsung TVs, with the goal to have 100 4K movies for rental and sale by the end of 2015. However, many of those titles will be upsampled, meaning that they were originally filmed as HD, and have been digitally processed to a 4K resolution. “It will take a while for content to come in large scale,” admitted M-GO COO Christophe Louvion during a recent briefing.
That’s very different from what you got to hear at CES earlier this year, where it sounded like 4K would be just around the corner and the next big thing that would both get people to buy new TVs and spend more on digital media. 2014 was supposed to be the year of 4K, with services like [company]Netflix[/company], [company]M-GO[/company] and [company]Amazon[/company] Prime Instant leading the way while traditional broadcasters were still trying to figure out how to get movies, shows and sports recorded in ultra-high definition to consumers.
One example: At CES, there was talk that Hollywood would release at least 25 of its big blockbusters in 4K this year. “In reality, it was more like half of it,” said Louvion. One of the problems with 4K is that it’s more expensive to produce and distribute movies in the format, while studios aren’t really convinced yet that they can make that much more money with the format. Louvion called it a chicken-and-egg problem: 4K TV sets have started to arrive in retail shelves, but without compelling content, there are not a lot of good reasons for consumers to upgrade. And without enough 4K TVs out there, it’s not easy to make money with 4K.
The other problem is that 4K is actually pretty hard. Not only do video services have to master bandwidth challenges and broadband caps, but delivering a consistent experience across devices from multiple vendors that may only support subsets of codecs is also challenging, Louvion explained. That’s why M-Go partnered initially just with Samsung to roll out 4K, and why it was important for the company to build its own solution. “We own our own stack, process our own videos,” Louvion said.
That makes M-Go one of the few services capable of rolling out 4K. Others include Netflix and Amazon, but even those big players have been slow to gain traction with their 4K offerings. Both companies touted 4K streaming at CES as well, and both are now offering limited catalogs of titles in ultra-high definition. Netflix started to distribute some of its own content, including House of Cards, in 4K, as well as a handful of other titles, including NBC’s The Blacklist. But don’t expect to be able to stream Netflix videos in 4K just because you have a compatible smart TV. The company recently began to charge consumers an extra $3 per month for 4K — which won’t exactly help the nascent format.
Amazon made a point this week of stating that its subscribers won’t have to pay extra for 4K. However, the company hasn’t made a single title available in 4K yet, and is only promising to make some of its own original content available in 4K before the end of the year. Amazon wants to ramp up its 4K catalog in 2015, and so do Netflix and M-Go — but will consumers bite, or is 4K the next 3-D, destined to be ignored by consumers who may think that HD is simply good enough?
There are of course some key differences between 3-D and 4K, and the glasses are just one of them. 3-D demands a different level of immersion from viewers, and requires filmmakers to think about depth in their creations. 4K on the other hand is really just about more pixels — and as such, seems pretty much inevitable, just like we have seen storage and processing power continue to grow.
What’s still missing isn’t just a large enough number of 4K TVs in people’s homes — it’s also a business model that makes sense for ultra-high definition content. The question isn’t if consumers want 4K, it’s how much they’re willing to pay for it. The fate of 4K in 2015 may just hinge on studios and video services finding the right answer to that question.
This article was updated at 8:49am with the correct number of 4K titles available on M-Go at launch.