Why Netflix in Ultra HD will ruin TV

netflix 4k

Netflix has ruined television forever. Speaking as an unashamed hi-def snob who'd rather miss out on a show than have to watch it in grotty standard def, I've been champing at the bit to devour native 4K.

Unfortunately, having now been one of the first to watch Ultra HD streamed live from Netflix servers, my beloved Full HD just doesn't look that great any more.

The old acuity-meter has been irrevocably upgraded. Yes, 4K over the internet really is that good.

Unlike previous exposure I've had to Netflix 4K, this latest viewing experience hasn't been on a show floor, with all the inherent connection problems or fudges that might entail, nor in a lab or hotel demo suite. It was at home, feet up on a sofa, dunking biscuits as you do. In other words, as real world as it gets.

The set I've been using is Samsung's curved 65-inch UE65HU8500, connected by Ethernet to my home network. Incoming 4K HEVC-enabled screens from LG and Sony will also offer the same service.

Provided you have a fat enough pipe, mine was a 100Mbps fibre connection, you'll be able to get the 15.6Mbps 4K Netflix stream.

Actually, said 4K content took a while to find. The grand plan, as outlined to me by Netflix director of corporate communications Joris Evers, is for 4K content to have its own discovery bar, in between Because You Watched Howard the Duck and Incomprehensible Martial Arts Movies on the Netflix landing page.

At present though, probably because the service hasn't officially launched, these thumbnails aren't available. So instead I merely searched House of Cards.

Why Netflix in Ultra HD will ruin TV

Easy as 4K pie

"Big close ups of Spacey's jowls have dermatological clarity. He really needs to ease back on the slap."

The Netflix servers, recognising that I was viewing on an HEVC-capable 2160p display, automatically offered season two of the show in Ultra HD 4K.

We talk blithely of 4K content but to enjoy it live, on tap, is nothing short of revelatory. The sheer quality of what streamed forth blew my tiny freakin' mind.

If you think four times Full HD will manifest itself as a minor quality bump, then you're in for a huge surprise. House of Cards looks positively epic (appropriate given the cameras it was shot on).

The fine detail in every scene is sublime, from the location footage around Capitol Hill to the interiors.

Is that paint job on the wall meant to look so shabby, I found myself asking? Big close ups of Spacey's jowls have dermatological clarity. He really needs to ease back on the slap.

Native 4K TV content proves to be literally mesmerising. Immediately after watching this visual splendour, I went back to Full HD - and was both shocked and dismayed by the perceived quality collapse. 1080p was suddenly looking fuzzy. There it was, television ruined.

House of Cards S2 in 4K

Note the bend in the progress bar

4K is the future, but what about curves?

"4K naysayers who maintain viewers won't be able to see any differences are about to seem very foolish indeed."

Just how much, you may wonder, did the curvature of the Samsung's screen contribute to this splendiferous viewing experience?

One point repeatedly made by Samsung boffins is that the curve actually creates a panoramic effect that makes the screen appear wider and more immersive.

Conversely, I found the opposite to be true. The curving edges mildly contract the apparent width of the image, not expand it. The panoramic effect does happen, but only when you are very near to the screen and the image more or less fills your field of vision.

Try it for yourself with a sheet of A4 paper, the effect is easy to replicate. That said, sitting close to a 4K screen is actually a good thing, as you can perceive the detail better, however this won't be a practical solution for most users.

Although one show isn't enough to judge any technical standard on, especially this early in its development, fears that only packaged media will do justice to 4K are clearly unfounded.

What's more, 4K naysayers (yes, there are some) who maintain viewers won't be able to see any differences are about to seem very foolish indeed.

Depressed by the sludge that was HD, I took solace in YouTube's 4K channel (which also plays out just fine on the big bendy Samsung) where I gorged myself on snakes and puppy dogs.

Here the compression artefacts are all too visible, but that intoxicating detail is still there to be enjoyed. House of Cards season three can't come around soon enough.

Steve May
Home entertainment AV specialist

Steve has been writing about AV and home cinema since the dawn of time, or more accurately, since the glory days of VHS and Betamax. He has strong opinions on the latest TV technology, Hi-Fi and Blu-ray/media players, and likes nothing better than to crank up his ludicrously powerful home theatre system to binge-watch TV shows.