NetflixCEO Reed Hastings, during an interview at the Future of TV Conference in Denmark, has hinted that the company has been doing tests on 4K video and that delivering Ultra HD video in real-time over the internet may not take as much bandwidth as you’d think.
DSLReports has this:
“It’s around 15 megabits per second,” Hastings stated when asked about 4K streaming bandwidth needs. “It’s not too bad. If you’ve got a 50-megabit connection you’ll be fine.”
Obviously slower speeds will seen higher compression, and Netflix has yet to clarify what compression they’ll use. Unfortunately, there’s wide swaths of people in the United States that still only have access to DSL services that are slower than 6 Mbps. There’s also the rising issue of bandwidth caps and per byte overages — which certainly won’t play well with 4K video.
If you’ve ever wondered how Netflix squishes an HD stream into 6Mbps when HD DVD and Blu-ray start to fall apart at half again that, it’s pretty simple. Netflix is about casual watching, something you flip on during dinner, or have on while you write a term paper. It’s not about enthusiast level viewing. Netflix and other streaming and video compression companies have spent a fortune studying how the human brain perceivees images. Sure, you can count the pores on Robert Downey Jr’s nose, but when you compare it to the Blu-ray closely, you’re going to notice how much the fine details in the background suffer.
Similarly, the codecs will actually drop frames during slow moving scenes where it really isn’t going to be noticeable. Is this wrong? Of course not, but that’s why there’s going to always be a place for physical media until such a time as the 50mbps bandwidth that Mr. Hastings speaks becomes as commonplace as long distance service. An event that’s probably 20 years off under the best of circumstances. Until then, check out this great piece by our friends over at CNET that expands more on how “HD” isn’t always necessarily HD. Pretty soon, this same will apply to “Ultra HD.”