That time I thought Netflix would never do 4K

This one is going to take you way back. And, it really goes to show the changes in technology that have happened while this blog has been publishing.

Back in 2013 I just didn’t believe it. Netflix said they would do 4K and I said, well, bullpucky. I wrote a whole editorial about how Netflix would never be able to do 4K quality with only 50-75 megabits per second internet. I also said that they would probably overcompress the signal but people wouldn’t care.

Those speeds were impossible then…

The thing is, most folks didn’t have 50 megabit internet at that point. A few did, but it wasn’t common. So saying that Netflix could do 4K with 50 megabit internet still wasn’t saying that it could be done in most homes.

Of course speeds increase all the time, and today that’s a pretty low bar for most people. Your average suburban dweller is told through their speed test apps that they get 500Mbps or more. Of course those speeds don’t hold up in real-world applications. In the real world, there’s just so much capacity per neighborhood and it’s pretty strained during the evening. But still, in 2021, it’s pretty possible to get a 50Mbps stream most of the time.

I was right about the overcompressing though

When Netflix 4K finally rolled out, changes in technology meant the could send you content with about a 20Mbps stream. That’s pretty amazing, but it also takes its toll on quality. Netflix 4K looks fine for what it is, because without an 80″ TV you just can’t really see a huge difference. In fact if Netflix tried as hard to get HD streams to look good, you probably wouldn’t see ANY difference.

Surprisingly there still isn’t a lot of content

The one thing I didn’t talk about back then was the lack of content. It’s still a problem almost a decade later and I really didn’t expect that. Netflix’s massive firehose of content is still mostly high definition, and they don’t even spotlight their 4K selections.

In fact, the one thing I never really expected back in 2013 was that 4K would be kind of a dud. I knew it would take a long time to roll out, but let’s be honest here. It has been a long time.

DIRECTV has the only live 4K experience most days. There are a few live 4K events on other services, sure. But not too many of them. The truth is, with so many people consuming content on smaller screens, 4K isn’t the draw that it was intended to be. So whether Netflix is using 50Mbps or 20Mbps or 2Mbps for its 4K streams… it doesn’t really matter. People enjoy it no matter what.

That’s the real lesson here. Make good content, worry less about the format and more about whether people connect to it. That’s a pretty good lesson for The Solid Signal Blog too, when you think about it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.