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Netflix 4K Ultra HD

John Archer

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Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD
  • Netflix 4K Ultra HD

Summary

What is Netflix Ultra HD 4K?

Netflix’s Ultra HD service is currently the only widely available source of premium 4K/UHD content in the UK – Amazon's Ultra HD content is US-only for now. You can track down a few other 4K bits and bobs on the Internet if you know what you’re doing, but despite the deluge of 4K screens now hitting our shores 4K content continues to lag behind. So in short, Netflix Ultra HD 4K is currently a very big deal for the next generation of television.

Sadly, after initially making its UHD content available at no extra charge, Netflix has recently introduced a separate UHD pricing tier. It’s a pretty hefty step-up by Netflix’s usually very aggressive standards, taking the rate from £5.99 a month to £8.99 a month – a 50 per cent hike.

Is it worth spending more to get 4K Netflix now? Read on to find out.

What do you need to get Netflix 4K?

Before looking at how Netflix’s 4K feeds shape up quality and content wise, let's look at what you need to enjoy them. First, it’s recommended that you have a broadband connection with at least 15Mb of speed. Netflix recommends higher speeds given that some services slow down during periods of high contention, but if you’ve got a stable 15Mb you should get to see Netflix’s 4K streams running at their best.

Strangely, we saw Netflix 4K streams apparently running on a barely 8Mbps feed at a recent Panasonic TV event, but this was too fleeting a glimpse to confirm that such speeds will consistently deliver a 3,840 x 2,160 streamed image. And even if they can, the picture quality you’d get at such a data rate will undoubtedly be compromised by the extra compression required to squeeze 4K through such a narrow pipe.

As well as a very fast broadband connection, you will also need not only a 4K-capable TV, but a 4K TV able to decode Netflix’s HEVC H.265 delivery system. Such decoding capabilities are far from universal in the current 4K TV market alas, so you need to be careful which set you buy if Netflix 4K is of any interest to you. Which it probably will be given the lack of other 4K content options around right now.

Sets we've tested that do support Netflix's 4K streams are: the Sony 65X9005B, the Sony 55X8505, the Sony 65S9005B, the Samsung UE65HU8500, the Samsung UE55HU8200, the Samsung UE48HU7500, the Samsung UE55HU8500, the Samsung UE65HU7500, the Samsung UE55HU7500, the Panasonic 55AX902, the LG 65UB980V, the LG 55UB950V, and, following a recent firmware update, the Panasonic 58AX802 and 50AX802.

What do you get for your money?

Besides 4K content, Netflix has tried to make this easier to swallow by also doubling the number of screens you can stream Netflix on simultaneously to four from the two you get at the £5.99 level. But the price hike still seems pretty sharp given that Netflix’s rampant success so far has been built on offering aggressively affordable and straightforward ‘one price gets all’ subscription deals.

It should be added here, though, that if you managed to log onto your Netflix account with a 4K TV before August 12th 2014 you will not have to start paying the new 4K surcharge until at least August 2016. This should be the case even if you didn’t actually play a 4K stream before August 12th.

But the the important question is what 4K content do you get? The answer? Not as much as we'd like. While it seems a bit churlish to moan about the only content provider that’s currently got any sort of 4K act together in the UK, it has to be said that Netflix hasn’t added nearly as much 4K content as we would have liked to its servers since launching its first 4K streams in April.

SEE ALSO: What is 4K and Ultra HD?

Netflix helpfully provides a ‘themed’ section devoted to its UHD content, but tracking this down reveals that there are only six native 4K shows. Two of these – Breaking Bad and House Of Cards – are at least high-profile shows containing multiple series of 4K episodes. The remaining four, though, are just single nature videos from Louie Scwartzberg’s Moving Art project to ‘help people fall in love with nature again’.

Featuring a mix of video and time-lapse photography, the four 25-minute Moving Art documentaries focus on Oceans, Deserts, Forests and Flowers. American Netflix subscribers can also watch The Blacklist in 4K, and a small selection of Sony films, but we’re still waiting for our first streamable 4K Hollywood movie.

It's a rather deflating start, then, so we can only hope that the quality of these 4K streams makes up for the small selection.

Netflix UHD/4K: Picture Quality

Despite being small so far, Netflix’s 4K offering provides a pretty telling snapshot of the current state of 4K play – both the good and the bad. We tested Netflix 4K for this review on an 85-inch 4K TV, so there really was no hiding place for any flaws in the 4K streams.

The good, without a shadow of doubt, is House of Cards. Both series of this show, from the first episode to the last, look mostly gorgeous. Detail levels are immense, for instance, clearly outstripping Netflix’s HD streams. This is especially apparent with exterior or bright shots, and the opening credits sequence looks so mouth-wateringly spectacular you might well find yourself rewinding it a few times just to see it again.

Skin, hair, clothing and other key parts of the picture are also full of HD-beating textures, and the sense of depth in large-scale shots across Washington is sensational.

Colours look fantastically natural too, thanks to the accuracy of blend the extra resolution can deliver and what’s clearly some superb 4K mastering from a digitally shot 5K source by the show’s creators.

House of Cards’ images aren’t perfect, though. Dark interiors tend to look softer than the bright exteriors, with more chance of visible compression artefacting (blocks and stripes) over background areas. Also, the image seems to soften up a little during camera pans or when there’s a lot of motion in the frame. But considering the route it’s taking to get into your living room, it does a remarkably good job of making you happy you invested in a 4K TV.

Moving on to Breaking Bad, first impressions aren’t actually that great. The picture looks markedly rougher and less polished than House of Cards, with more compression artefacts, a less nuanced, sometimes rather over-saturated looking colour palette, and a reduced sense of detail.

Interestingly, though, the further you move through Breaking Bad’s five seasons, the better the picture quality starts to look, so that by the last couple of seasons you feel much more like you’re watching a native 4K experience.

The reason for this, we imagine, is that unlike House of Cards – which, as noted earlier, was shot using Red 5K digital cameras – Breaking Bad was filmed on 35mm celluloid, a material which can come in different quality grades and that can also degrade over time. So it could be that as the show became successful a higher grade of film was used for the later series, or it could be that the older series’ stock had degraded by the time they got round to scanning it for the new 4K masters, and they didn’t have the time or money to do the remastering necessary to correct the ‘errors’.

SEE ALSO: Best 4K TVs 2014

Another issue that could be in play here is that shooting on 35mm film tends to deliver a naturally grainier finish – something that makers of gritty shows and films like Breaking Bad often like on an artistic level. Which is fine, of course, except that the more ‘noise’ there is in a source the harder it is for compression engines like the one used by Netflix to compress an image for digital distribution without creating compression artefacts.

One further factor could be that Breaking Bad tends to use brighter photography than House Of Cards, and it’s easier for compression systems to handle darker content. But maybe that one’s a bit of a stretch unless all Netflix’s other home-grown shows turn out to be filmed in particularly low light conditions!

Overall, Breaking Bad is still better to watch in 4K than HD – its gritty look is more effective than it is with HD despite the occasional problems it causes the compression engine, and there is palpably more detail to be seen. But its demonstration of 4K’s charms isn’t as ‘in your face’ and instantly impressive as House Of Cards.

Strangely the least impressive of Netflix 4K’s UK wares is the material you might have expected to look the best: the Moving Art nature documentaries. All four look much softer and less detailed than the two TV series, all four suffer with far more obvious compression artefacts, and all four exhibit colour definition far short of the level we’ve come to expect of good 4K, leading to a loss of resolution in very saturated areas of the image like trees, pastures and skies.

There even seem to be some colour errors at times – trailing tones and strange off-key ‘haloes’. At times pictures look more like a 1970s sit com or a low quality NTSC-to-PAL transcode than a pristine 4K image. Weird.

Netflix 4K Ultra HD: Sound Quality

We had no complaints with the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes of the two TV series. They sound as clear and dynamic as the soundtracks that accompany their HD versions, showing that the data demands of 4K video haven’t required anything nasty to be done to the audio tracks.

The four nature documentaries aren’t really worth mentioning here, as they’re basically just nice gentle music playing over the disappointing visuals.

One issue we noticed while testing the Netflix 4K feeds on a Samsung 85-inch TV, though, is that there were at times some pretty significant audio sync problems, leading to people’s lips moving out of time with the words they’re supposed to be speaking.

At the time of writing Samsung tells us it’s working to fix this issue within its TV, suggesting that it believes it’s an issue with its own HEVC decoders rather than Netflix’s streams. But if you’ve experienced similar issues with Sony, LG or Panasonic Netflix-capable TVs feel free to let us know in the comments section.

Netflix 4K Ultra HD: Streaming Performance

We were impressed with the stability of the 4K streams. We didn’t notice any noticeable reductions in the streaming quality caused by potential bottlenecks at Netflix’s server end. Admittedly, the broadband connection we were using had plenty of headroom above the 15Mb minimum Netflix reckons you need for a quality 4K experience, but it’s still reassuring to see that seemingly the only data streaming factor to worry about is the speed and, potentially, contention rates of your own broadband connection.

SEE ALSO: Best TV 2014 Round-up

Should I subscribe to Netflix’s 4K Ultra HD service?

Right now Netflix arguably doesn’t have enough 4K content available to UK subscribers to justify the extra £3 a month it’s asking over and above its HD subscription. Certainly it doesn’t make as much sense here right now as it does in the US where there’s markedly more content for the same premium subscription.

With this in mind you might be advised to wait and see what Amazon’s 4K Ultra HD streaming service has to offer when that goes live here. The Amazon 4K service just launched in the US offers decent amounts of content, so hopefully we’ll get something similar over here at some point.

On the other hand, with precisely zero other native 4K content around at the time of writing, anyone who’s splurged on a 4K TV may well find the lure of House Of Cards and Breaking Bad in 4K irresistible for £3 a month – especially if they haven’t watched either series at all before. After all, £3 a month still works out way cheaper over, say, a year than buying every series of each show on Blu-ray – and Blu-ray isn’t even 4K!

Plus, of course, although it’s taking longer to arrive than hoped there will be more 4K content coming to Netflix’s service in the coming weeks and months, and every film or TV show that drops will enhance the service’s value.

Verdict

Netflix’s 4K service in its current form is a perfect microcosm of everything that’s good and bad about 4K right now. Content levels are thin, in keeping with the general 4K drought. When the service looks its best – with House Of Cards – it provides a delicious reminder of just how much of a difference 4K can make to picture quality. Yet at its worst Netflix’s 4K content also reminds us of the myriad challenges involved in preserving 4K quality all the way from camera lens through to the TV in your living room.

In short, today’s Netflix 4K Ultra HD service is more ‘one to watch’ than an essential purchase. Though having said that such is our love for all (well, most) things 4K that it wouldn’t in truth take much more House Of Cards-quality content at all to arrive on the Netflix platform to get us reaching for our credit cards faster than you can say “4K rocks”.

Next, read our guide to Curved TV Pros and Cons

torjs99

December 15, 2014, 4:32 pm

When you use the term 'HD' do you mean netflix HD or blu ray?

Prem Desai

December 15, 2014, 5:41 pm

No Netflix 4k for me - their selection is just woeful.

Obviously everyone has different taste in movies which I understand but with their current selection, most times it's not what you want to watch but what is available that you may like.

BlackCountryBob

December 15, 2014, 6:59 pm

Is the new Marco Polo series in 4k?

mode11

December 15, 2014, 10:41 pm

It can't really be called a 'selection' - just House of Cards. Most people have already watched Breaking Bad, and aren't going to sit through 5 series' worth again, especially for what sounds more like upscaled HD than 4K.

Buying into UHD at this point seems ridiculous - I'd give it a year or two at least.

Zubeir

December 16, 2014, 10:12 am

Half hearted attempt at rolling out 4K without its true potential and quality. Sadly some people will not notice the poor compression/quality colour issues with streamed stuff and wont think any different. Blu Ray 4K will be hopefully the way to go to experience true 4K potential.

MattMe

December 16, 2014, 2:46 pm

Get some OLED in on the deal in a couple years too ;)

MattMe

December 16, 2014, 2:52 pm

In my opinion, after having looked around quite a few shops recently, even older films, if mastered well (and I'm talking as old as John Wayne films) 4K add a new sense of depth added to the image over HD TVs.
I'm guessing the difference with compressed HD/4K isn't as great due to some data being lost, which is a shame.
4k Blu-ray will be the way for people who want the visual clarity. Or if you have a screen large enough to make HD feeds seem blotchy, like the one used for this review, you'll probably benefit. For most people with average sized TVs streamed 4k probaly won't make that much difference.

Christian Skjerning

January 5, 2015, 4:40 pm

Well, since Marco polo got out in 4K, I will be upgrading my account for one month, and watch as much 4K material at Netflix, and then downgrade again until some more material gets on Netflix. It is very easy to switch your account back and forth as you please, and I guess that is the best strategy to do for the moment regarding their new prizing structure vs the material available, sigh :)

waltc4

January 19, 2015, 2:29 pm

When the source material is of significantly lower resolution than the 4k stream, it doesn't matter about 4k compression because the detail isn't there to start with--it's not compression loss, it's just lack of source detail. The "softening" effect comes from pixel interpolation native to the particular TV you are watching: if something was originally filmed at 1/4 the res of your TV the extra pixels added to the image by the TV are interpolated (estimated.) 4k doesn't "add detail"...;) Early days, yet...about where HDTV was in the US several years ago: much older-format video looked horrid @ 480P because of progressive-scan vs. interlace & aspect ratios. These days the 480P problems have pretty much been licked. IMO, if you are seeing blocks/bars occasionally when viewing @ 4k that is far more likely to be a streaming packet loss than it is a compression artifact--something that afflicts all digitally streamed TV these days, regardless of resolution. But I have to say that on my HDTV I rarely ever see any...!

ronburgundy80085

January 19, 2015, 3:04 pm

Just a point of note *Netflix requires a minimum 25 mbps for UHD content (not 15 mbps as state in the article): https://help.netflix.com/en/no...

Zwijn

March 6, 2015, 12:49 pm

You will need a 4k/ultra hd tv to display 4k. So you are going to buy a ultra hd screen, watch the ultra hd content, and then you sell it again?

Christian Skjerning

March 6, 2015, 1:41 pm

No.... I have a 4K tv, but when done watching Marco Polo and HOC S3 in 4k I will switch my subscription on Netflix back to medium range.

When netflix then add 4k content again I will change subscription back to 4K...

Somebody might think is overkill but it's 5$ in differ and a penny saved is a penny earned :) And it is extremly easy to switch.... (thx for that Netflix)

Christian Skjerning

March 6, 2015, 1:41 pm

YES it is

Epicurus_P

April 18, 2015, 1:10 am

Although I am on 14.6mbps and I always get 2160p streamed, so that's not 100% true.

Having said that, I am not bowled over by Netflix's 4K quality. I really cannot see a difference between 1080p Blu Ray and 4K Netflix at the moment.

Ardon

October 3, 2015, 2:51 am

It all comes down to internet speed.
A Full HD Bluray movie is about 35GB. With 4k being four times the information, your looking at about 100GB. Add to that HDR and a larger colour gammut, and Dolby Atmos, it's a huge amount to stream.

So the question is, can you download 100GB+ in the time it takes to watch a movie? (1 1/2 hours)

I doubt it.

You may technically be able to display 4k resolution, but you wouldn't be getting all the audio/visual information.

A Bluray disc would still be far superior in picture and audio quality.

Tamas Lipcsey

November 27, 2015, 5:04 pm

actually that is not true as 4k uses H265 compression (instead of h264) so the overall size is smaller. Most people are claiming they can watch 4k streaming on a 15Mb connection.

EDIT: although I do agree that a blu-ray disc may be superior to streaming 4k, especially in audio as netflix still uses only DD5.1 (compressed) vs. DTS-HD (uncompressed)

EVC

May 1, 2016, 9:03 pm

If I'm going to spend the money on ultra-quality audio\video components, 4K TV, Atmos sound systems, etc. I can grantee, I won't be using it to watch an over-compressed Internet video stream.

popeye2009

June 10, 2016, 11:58 am

Compression always effects the picture and sound quality. Listen to a MP3 at different compression's and compare this to a uncompressed 16 bit WAV. Listen to 20bit HDCD but actually is 18.5bit. Uncompressed is as real as you can hope from a recording. UHD is still a compromise from a live performance but is the new king if fed from disk direct to display. Sure 15mb high compression internet stream could keep the picture close to UHD but flaws are always introduced with compress. Most viewers will not notice and think they are getting true UHD for their money but its not. Also bandwidth of internet is congested in most neighborhoods in 2016 and resolution drop is far more common. So save the money and stream at HD. Watch Blueray or uhd from disk.

Todd Hazalastnaim

June 22, 2016, 5:04 am

Not always. An mp3 is a lossy compression so it loses information. FLAC file compression is a lossless way to compress data. When the data is unpacked it has all the information of the original. I think we have to ensure they are using lossless compression if we want good sound.

Tamas Lipcsey - DTS-HD is a compression format. It sounds great because it is a lossless compression.

Chris

July 8, 2016, 3:03 pm

Found the Comcast rep....

slim

October 8, 2016, 1:32 pm

Netflix 4K is grainy trash. I have an LG OLED65C and I never watch Netflix because it's as bad or worse than non-4K Directv. I'm sure the clueless masses are thrilled by it because it says "4K", but its junk.

And FWIW, I have a 300mbps cable connection, just for the fanboys who will cry foul.

Roland Bechtel

October 25, 2016, 4:36 pm

Make sure your settings are set to High. I had mine set at 480P.

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