Netflix Embraces 4K and HDR, But Puts VR on Ice

Resolution and Enhanced Contrast and Color Are in, Immersive 3D Worlds Are Out

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Given its tradition of pushing video streaming boundaries, it’s always interesting when someone high up at Netflix talks to the press about where they see video streaming technology heading. This week the Netflix spokesman in question was Chris Jaffe, VP of User Interface Innovation.

And what he had to say will put a smile on the faces of anyone who’s just invested in a new 4K/UHD TV - especially if that 4K/UHD TV is also capable of playing high dynamic range (HDR) video. (If you’re not sure what HDR is, you can find a straightforward backgrounder here.)

If you’ve just invested in a Virtual Reality headset, on the other hand, Jaffe’s comments — made at the recent Mobile World Congress — will sound rather less heartwarming.

Game on for 4K

Where 4K is concerned, Jaffe proclaimed that Netflix expects to be in a position to offer a pretty impressive 600 hours of 4K video streams by the end of this year. Much of this will be TV shows created by Netflix’s own in-house studio, as the Hollywood studios still don’t seem keen on offering their movies out for 4K streaming.

But when you’re talking about a Netflix in-house show list that includes the likes of House of Cards, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Narcos, it’s fair to say Netflix’s 600 hours of 4K content will include plenty of stories as well as picture quality. As it needs to given that Netflix charges an extra subscription fee for its 4K content.

Jaffe was also keen to talk up the importance of HDR in Netflix’s imminent video plans. The company hasn’t yet started streaming in HDR, despite openly discussing its intention to roll out HDR well over a year ago.

But while Jaffe still wouldn’t be pinned down on an HDR launch date during his MWC speech (it’s still just being talked about as ‘later this year’), he reiterated Netflix’s belief that HDR is the next stage in picture quality, making pictures look “much more photo realistic.” He also confirmed previous hints from Netflix to the effect that its first HDR streams would be of the second season of Daredevil and the first season of Marco Polo

Is Netflix rolling out HDR next month?

With Daredevil Season 2 scheduled to go live on Netflix on March 18th, it’s tempting to see that as a possible Netflix HDR roll-out date. Especially as Amazon has been streaming HDR shows for many months now, putting pressure on Netflix to get a move on with its own HDR offering. But at the same time, if Netflix really was intending to introduce HDR as soon as the middle of March, you can’t help but think it would be talking about it already.

Given that Jaffe was speaking at this year’s Mobile World Congress, where the big technological winner appears to have been virtual reality, it’s no surprise that Jaffe was asked about Netflix’s take on the sudden explosion in VR awareness. And his response was rather more downbeat, if not outright dismissive.

“We think there’s a great opportunity for VR in gaming,” he said, “and the gaming space is going to be an interesting place for them to explore it. But we don’t see an opportunity right now in the near-term for Netflix and VR.”

Obviously, some VR fans will see a ray of hope in the words ‘right now’ in Jaffe’s statement. And it’s true, too, that Jaffe did add a couple of qualifying lines to his initially rather dismissive VR words: “We do want to watch how great storytellers use this technology, because at the end of the day, what you really see is when consumers really engage with great storytelling there's a great opportunity.”

But it’s clear that for the foreseeable future Netflix doesn’t quite see how VR’s storytelling potential might thrive outside of a gaming environment. More quotes from Jaffe on Netflix’s take on video technology can be found in this article from CNBC.