House of Cards
Netflix will stream the second season of its Emmy award-winning political drama House of Cards in 4K Ultra HD.
The streaming service will be offering 4K programming through smart TV apps available on the next generation of 4K TVs, Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt tells Stuff. "We're not naming specific manufacturers, but we have several of the major TV vendors who are going to be producing 4K capable TVs – they'll be announcing them at CES," he says.
Don't expect to be running Netflix in 4K through your Xbox One or PS4, though. "The new game consoles may eventually be 4K-capable," says hunt, "but the ability to take 4K out of the box and drop it into a separate television is lacking some standards and HDMI 2.0, and it's just a little premature. So we probably will see that, but right now we're talking about 4K Netflix built into the smart TV."
UPDATE: So just how is Netflix planning to bring 4K to our screens? Find out here.
A winning hand?
A lack of 4K archive programming means that Netflix will be turning to its own Originals series to build up its library of Ultra HD content. "We're working specifically with David Fincher on House of Cards season 2, and that's all being shot and edited for 4K delivery," says Hunt. "There will be some additional pieces, but initially it'll be a set of sample offerings, not a big part of the catalogue."
"The trick here is that 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," says Hunt. "We're one of the few folk working all the way through from soup to nuts – we've got the original content production on one end, and we're working closely with the CE manufacturers on the other end, and we've got the whole delivery pipeline in between. So I think we can be instrumental in beginning the shift of production towards 4K."
4K: Big in 2014
Sony 4K TV
4K TVs – which feature screens with a resolution of 3840x2160 – are already available on our shores, for those with deep pockets – but there are notably few ways of watching native 4K on them. Sony's 4K media streamer has yet to make it to the UK, meaning that your only options are upscaled Blu-rays or shooting your own 4K video.
Netflix aims to change that – and the change will come quickly. "Unlike 3D, which required the glasses and the special viewing situation, Moore's Law means that it's almost inconceivable that 4K won't be cheap and inexpensive within a few years' time," says Hunt.
It's been the elephant in the room in every conversation about 4K so far. Very nice in theory, but what are you supposed to watch on it? Content, as the cliche goes, is king: without it, it doesn't matter how good your theoretical picture might be - it's just an ultra crisp pipe-dream.
As the next-gen consoles have so far failed to deliver on their much-hyped 4K gaming promise, it's down to content creators to create in 4K, and content providers to build an infrastructure that can support it. This is Netflix's greatest strength: not only does it make programmes, it transmits them too, and anyone with a subscription and a decent web connection (it'll be interesting to see just how decent) can receive them.
Netflix's move should also spur the competition into action. Sky, another content creator and provider, has successfully trailled live 4K football broadcasts, but the Sky box sat under your TV won't support them, so we can expect a Sky+4K to tip up eventually (don't expect one for at least another couple of years, mind you). Sky could also take a similar streaming route to Netflix - its Now TV streaming service already boasts impressive picture quality.
Lovefilm will also need to get its act together if it's to remain competitive; it already looks a little shabby next to Netflix, but fortunately, parent company Amazon announced yesterday that its original programming will be shot in 4K. The dark horse is YouTube, which already hosts 4K footage and is increasingly moving into exclusive shows itself.
However you look at it, it's no longer a case of if 4K goes mainstream - it's a case of when.
The future of 4K
Philips 4K TV
4K TV isn't just about cramming in the pixels, adds Hunt. "Ultra HD is really three things; more pixels, the 4K by 2K screens – but it's also the higher frame rate (HFR) and the richer colour space. The 2014 sets, by and large, are going to be more pixels – I think some may have high frame rate – but it's our intention to work with some next-round Originals to push some of those other dimensions as well. The HFR stuff, probably for 2015, and the colour space probably for 2015 or 2016. But we intend to be pushing the envelope and being a leader in all of these new technologies, towards the ultimate Ultra HD picture in due course."
Well, there's a reason we made Netflix our Cloud App of the Year.