4K streaming is now available for 'House of Cards' and select nature documentaries.
After previously announcing plans to support 4k streaming in 2014, Netflix has finally made good on its word. Season two of 'House of Cards' can now be streamed in full 4K resolution. Likewise, the company is also streaming a few nature documentaries in Ultra HD as well.
In order to watch Netflix in 4K, users will need to have a 2014 Ultra HD television that supports the H.265/HEVC codec. This includes the majority of recently released and upcoming 2014 4K displays from most of the major manufacturers. Unfortunately, previous Ultra HD models without an integrated H.265/HEVC decoder will not be able to play the 4K streams at this time.
The H.265 codec is an advanced compression format that allows for higher resolutions without the need for dramatically increased bitrates. Currently, Netflix is streaming its 4K content at about 15.6 Mbps. According to an eyes-on report from HDTVtest using the Netflix app on a Samsung UNH8500 Ultra HD TV, the 4K stream of 'House of Cards' does indeed yield noticeable improvements over the 1080p stream. With that said, even with the superior encoding technology, the site did notice some occasional compression artifacts, reinforcing some of the inherent limitations of streaming video.
In addition to Netflix, companies like Amazon, Comcast/Xfinity, and DirecTV have also announced plans for 4K streaming apps, but so far Netflix is the first to follow through. Owners of Sony 4K Ultra HD displays can also use the company's proprietary FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD Media Player to watch 4K content, and Samsung recently revealed its own similar device. Meanwhile, though the BDA has confirmed that a 4K Blu-ray spec is in development, firm details and a release timetable remain elusive.