The first real dose of non-proprietary 4K content is now available.
Netflix confirmed Sunday that it has begun streaming 4K versions of its original series "House of Cards," as well as "some nature documentaries." The streaming giant's 4K plans were first revealed last year.
Netflix's 4K streams are only viewable on 2014 4K TVs that include a built-in H.265/HEVC decoder. That includes most of the major-brand 4K sets announced at CES, the earliest of which are starting to ship now.
Until now, the only way for owners of 4K TVs to view 4K content at home was via Sony's video player, which only works with Sony's 4K TVs, or YouTube, which offers a small selection of generally low-quality 4K clips. Samsung will also offer a similar proprietary video player that's only compatible with its 4K TVs.
People who invested in a 2013 4K TV -- against our advice -- cannot view the streams (although at least one 2013 set we know of, the Samsung UNF9000 with the addition of the SEK-2500V kit, is upgradeable to handle HEVC). The same goes for upcoming 4K streams from Amazon, Comcast, Fox, and others, which will roll out later this year.
CNET has not yet obtained a 2014 4K TV to review, so we can't test the quality of the stream firsthand. The UK reviews site HDTVTest did, however, and posted a report on its picture quality using the Netflix app and a 2014 Samsung UNH8500.
As we and others expected, Netflix's streaming 4K video, delivered at 15.6 Mbps, still showed signs of compression, and the test concluded "we still think that reference-level 1080p Blu-ray transfers like 'Oblivion' look cleaner especially during busier sequences." On the other hand, HDTVTest says it looked appreciably better than Netflix's previous best, its so-called SuperHD.
We look forward to testing it ourselves when we get the chance.