Netflix to stream season 2 of House of Cards in 4K

Faith Merino · December 19, 2013 · Short URL:

Too bad 4K TVs currently cost several thousand dollars. But not for long.

As if it wasn’t cruel enough to tease me with the trailer for season two of "House of Cards"—which doesn’t come out for another TWO MONTHS—now Netflix is rubbing salt in the wound by revealing that it will be streaming in 4K Ultra HD. Not that that really means anything to us plebeians for the time being, since 4K TVs are like, $4000 minimum…but it’s the principal, dammit!

Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt revealed late Wednesday that the rumors are true—Netflix will be streaming season two of its political thriller "House of Cards" in 4K via Smart TV apps on 4K TVs, and that the company is working with specific TV vendors to do so.

"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," said Hunt in an interview with Stuff.

The bad news: you won’t be able to stream Netflix in 4K through your Xbox or PlayStation 4. Yet. The game consoles won’t be able to support 4K streaming for now, but they might in the future.

Want some geek specs? As Hunt explained in the interview, Netflix is moving over to a new encoding technology—H.265 (also known as HEVC), instead of AVC H.264. The result: Netflix will deliver streaming in the 10-16Mbps range.

“About 15Mbps is probably what we should think of,” said Hunt.

HEVC is a compression format that can deliver the same quality as AVC, but at half the bitrate. So you can get a higher quality image without doubling your bitrate. While it’s questionable whether 4K pictures really beat out the quality of the best plasma TVs, 4K TVs (generally speaking) have four times as many pixels as standard TVs and supposedly offer a clearer resolution. So you will be able to see ALL of Robin Wright's crazy-ripped back and shoulder muscles in SOOPER HI DEF. 

But with their super high prices, it’s going to be a while before 4K TVs become the norm. But Hunt says even people with non-4K TVs will see a difference.

“The benefits trickle down,” said Hunt. “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. So people with a 2 Mbps DSL will be able to receive a better picture than they do today."

And word on the street is that 4K TVs will come down in price quickly as LCD TVs are easy to manufacture at 4K resolution. Panasonic predicts that by 2016, 40% of 60-inch-plus TVs will be 4K.

Earlier this week, Amazon announced its plans to shoot all of its upcoming original series and pilots in 4K. Amazon Studios is currently working on five new comedy and drama pilots for 2014, including series written by Eric Overmyer of "The Wire" and "Treme," and Chris Carter of "The X-Files."  


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