How Netflix is going to bring 4K streaming to your TV

…well, assuming you own a 4K TV, that is
Netflix 4K

Netflix has revealed that it's bringing its political thriller House of Cards to the screen in 4K Ultra-HD.

But given that many users struggle to stream HD over broadband, how is Netflix going to stream TV programmes and films at a resolution of 3840x2160?

Stuff spoke to Neil Hunt, Netflix Chief Product Officer, to find out. "We're pushing forward with new encoding technology – we'll be using H.265, which is colloquially known as HEVC, instead of AVC H.264," he explains. "We think with that we're going to be delivering in the 10-16Mbps range – about 15Mbps is probably what we should think of."


HEVC – or High Efficiency Video Coding – is a new compression format that can purportedly provide similar quality to the current H.264 compression standard at half the bitrate. Or, in the case of 4K streaming, provide a higher-resolution picture without a substantial step up in bitrate.

Even if you don't have a 4K TV, you'll see a benefit, Hunt claims. "The benefits trickle down; we're pioneering HEVC, which is about twice as efficient as AVC. And so, when we start to see those HEVC decoders get real, and the encoders get more efficient, we're going to be able to recode all the HD content – and the standard-def content, for that matter – in HEVC," he explains. "So people with a 2 Mbps DSL will be able to receive a better picture than they do today."

With the cheapest 4K TVs costing in the thousands, it'll be a while before anyone but the inordinately wealthy get to see the benefits. Still, with 4K streaming looking increasingly feasible, at least we won't have to shell out on a new 4K Blu-ray collection.

We'll be checking out Netflix's 4K streaming tech at CES 2014 in January – stay tuned to find out more, and check out our CES 2014 news, predictions and trends here. 

House of Cards season 2