Netflix Launches 4K Video Trials

Without any fanfare, Netflix has added 4K Ultra HD video titles to its vast streaming library, making it the first major video provider to do so.

So far, Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX)'s selection includes just seven sample videos that the company regularly uses for internal streaming tests. But GigaOM reported that the initial titles are just a prologue to a much broader promotional push tentatively planned for 2014. In a statement, a Netflix spokesperson said it "hopes to launch Ultra HD next year."

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos promised in March that the company would add 4K video to its catalog "within a year or two." CEO Reed Hastings then moved up the timeline in the company's latest earnings report, saying that Netflix wants to be "one of the big suppliers of 4K next year." (See Netflix Sets Sights on 4K/UltraHD Streaming.)

The distribution news dovetails nicely with Netflix's production efforts. The streaming video company shot the first season of its Emmy-winning hit show, House of Cards, in 4K format. The timing suggests that Netflix's own original content could be among the first 4K video titles offered when the new service officially debuts next year.

Video providers like Netflix, meanwhile, aren't the only ones hoping that Ultra HD TV gains rapid adoption. Consumer electronics makers would like 4K video to take off so they can sell new, more advanced television sets. Internet and TV service providers, however, may be more wary because Ultra HD promises to consume much more of their bandwidth.

Netflix would like to solve the bandwidth demand, at least in part, by expanding its Open Connect content delivery network (CDN) infrastructure into last-mile broadband networks. So far, cable companies have largely been reluctant to participate in the expansion program. But Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Suddenlink Communications have recently joined, along with Google Fiber Inc. , in the US and numerous international providers have followed suit. It's also believed that Cox Communications Inc. is participating in Open Connect. (See Netflix ISP Shame Game Goes Global)

The new High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) compression standard, once it is widely deployed, should also help mitigate the bandwidth challenge. The codec, also known as H.265, promises to cut the amount of bandwidth needed for video streams by as much as 50 percent. (See Arris Rolls Out HEVC Encoder and Startup Plugs 4K Firepower for Cable.)

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading Cable

albreznick 11/6/2013 | 11:19:54 PM
Re: 4K and the network Me too, Sarah. We'll learn together. :) Mari and I will be wriuting a lot more about HEVC in the year to come, no doubt.
Sarah Thomas 11/5/2013 | 10:32:54 AM
Re: 4K and the network Thanks, Alan. Broadcom also reached out to talk about the trend. I've spoken with a few companies who are quite jazzed about 4K, including Qualcomm and Genband, but the network implications seems to be the limiting factor. Interested to learn more about HEVC.
albreznick 11/4/2013 | 8:52:59 PM
Re: 4K and the network I don't have the numbers at my fingertips, Sarah. But it is going to take a lot more bandwidth to carry 4K video, at least the way that operatorts would carry it now. that's why video providers are so excited about HEVC. That new protocol will make it cost-efficient to carry such bandwidth-intensive video again. I'l leave it to Mari or somebody else to supply the actual numbers.    
Sarah Thomas 11/4/2013 | 11:37:44 AM
4K and the network 4K video sounds pretty legit to me, much more so than 3D ever did. A lot of companies are talking about in mobile, too. Any insight into how much harder 4K video is on the network? I know they are working on optimizing it, but just how much more data does it consume than traditional mobile video (which is already quite bandwidth hungry)?
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