Netflix 4K launches with limited service for early 4K adopters

Netflix has started to offer 4K content to its customers despite the fact that many won’t be able to take advantage of the service due to the decoding method used.

Related: Netflix aims to one-up competitors with ‘Ultra-HD’ 4K video streams

The online streaming service confirmed to Multichannel News that a handful of programmes will be available and that includes the second series of House of Cards and “some nature documentaries”, both of which are now live.

Many earlier adopters of 4K TV sets will be flummoxed by the fact that the decoder needed to watch the content is only present in models bought in 2014 and there are currently few alternatives to overcome the problem.

Almost all 4K TV sets bought before 2014 don’t have the H.265/HEVC decoder required to watch Netflix in 4K and as such most 4K set owners won’t be able to access the service.

Compounding this is the fact that chief executive Reed Hastings admitted that an average speed of 15.6mbps is needed to stream the 4K content, which is more than the UK’s collective average download speed.

"Average broadband speeds in the UK are 7.6mbps. You would need to have at least double that speed to watch 4K reliably on a streamed basis," IHS broadband analyst Richard Broughton told the BBC. "Currently only 15 per cent to 20 per cent of households have the speeds necessary."

It was first reported in November 2013 that Netflix was working on supplying its users with 4K streaming capabilities and it admitted at the time that it will have to work hard “with the compression and decode capability” in order for it to work successfully. Part of the reason for choosing the newer decoder could be rooted in this and early 4K adopters will find themselves in a quandary as a result.