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Why 4K movies and download caps just won't work

Looking forward to getting Ultra HD movies at home sometime soon? Australians really shouldn't hold their breath.

Looking forward to getting Ultra HD movies at home sometime soon? Australians really shouldn't hold their breath.

4K: probably not coming to your lounge room anytime soon. (Credit: Sony)

As we saw back at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Ultra HD (or 4K if you're Sony) is still the word when talking about the future of TV.

But while no one is denying that the picture quality looks incredible, the big question is still about the sourcing of native Ultra HD content for the home user.

In the US, Sony actually ships a special HDD 4K media player — essentially, a custom-built PC — with its 4K Bravia TV. Red also has the Redray, a 1TB media server designed for Ultra HD playback. Neither of these are available in Australia, but it shows a start when it comes to getting 4K content out to the users.

The big issue is that most of the discussions about Ultra HD distribution don't include anything about physical media. Indeed, Red's Odemax distribution network is based on users (both homes and theatres) taking content from cloud servers. Sony, too, in the wake of the PS4 launch, has discussed a 4K video download service — with a small catch.

Speaking to The Verge, Sony's COO Phil Molyneux said that the company expects a 4K movie to run to "100GB and plus".

That means bandwidth, which is not something that Australia is exactly famed for.

At the moment, Australia sits 40th in the world for broadband speed, with an average of 4.3Mbps. That makes a 100GB download a fairly lengthy proposition.

More importantly, it puts people on download caps (which is still a lot of Australia) at a fairly large disadvantage. As recently as 18 months ago, the average Australian download cap was 45GB, less than half a 4K movie.

Streaming is of course an option with two issues. One is that currently, only 4.1 per cent of Australians get a speed of 10Mbps or higher, which is regarded as the minimum speed to successfully stream 720p movies.

Secondly, GigaOM ran some quick figures to estimate the bandwidth crunch from a 4K streaming movie. It noted that a 1080p 3D movie streamed via Netflix eats 4.7GB per hour. Based on that, a streamed 4K film using a similar compression algorithm for streaming would be 28GB, assuming you actually have the line speed to make it happen.

There's been very much a "build it and they will come" mentality from Ultra HD TV manufacturers — the idea that when Ultra HD TVs are out en masse, the market will self-adjust and start producing content. That's possible, but it's not answering how that content will get to the lounge room.

With all of this, it's little wonder that we at CNET Australia still feel that OLED will be the more exciting TV technology for the consumer — at least in the short term.