Comcast Joins 4K Race with Launch of Ultra HD VOD App for Samsung TVs

Comcast has launched a limited set of programming in Ultra HD, available on 2014 Samsung 4K TVs, becoming the latest distributor to stake out a beachhead in the next-generation video format.

Initially, Comcast Xfinity customers will be able to stream every episode of the current season of NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and USA Network’s “Covert Affairs” and “Suits” via the Internet to compatible Samsung Ultra HD TVs. In February, the cable company is set to debut NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” (pictured above) in the ultra-high-resolution format, and will expand with additional programming next year.

Others in the U.S. that have launched 4K Ultra HD video services include DirecTV, Netflix, Amazon.com, Sony and M-Go. The format provides a dazzlingly rich picture, with four times the resolution of 1080p HD and a broader color palette.

Today, not many American consumers have Ultra HD TVs: just 450,000 Ultra HD televisions are expected to ship in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Consumer Electronics Assn.

Indeed, Ultra HD will not move the needle in economic terms for content providers anytime soon, according to a report from Bernstein Research released Thursday.

“[W]e do not anticipate 4K to have any material impact on U.S. media companies,” the Wall Street firm said. “After being burned on 3D, and with questionable consumer interest in 4K, we expect U.S. media companies are going to ‘wait-and-see’ before making material investments in 4K content. That puts the onus for promotion and marketing squarely on the equipment manufacturers.”

But urgency exists among video providers like Netflix and Comcast, because they want to position themselves as leaders in 4K now to capture mind-share — ahead of what’s expected to be growing adoption of Ultra HD TVs. According to Bernstein’s analysis, 30% penetration of Ultra HD 4K will probably still take 3-5 years and even then may slow because “4K appeals only to consumers buying large TV sets.”

On Comcast, the Ultra HD content is available at no additional charge to customers with subscriptions to participating networks. In 2015 the MSO expects to roll out Ultra HD titles catalog across all of its Xfinity TV Go platforms and also will launch a new X1 set-top box that will deliver native 4K content, according to Matt Strauss, senior VP and g.m. of video services for Comcast Cable.

“Our top priority is providing our customers with the best entertainment experiences, so we are excited to give them the opportunity to be among the first to enjoy current seasons of some of the most popular TV shows in pristine Ultra HD,” Strauss said.

Separately, Amazon last week announced that Prime members will have access to Ultra HD versions of select movies, TV shows and Amazon Studios original series, including “Transparent,” “Alpha House,” “Mozart in the Jungle” and children’s series “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.” Other content on Prime Instant Video available in 4K includes BBC’s “Orphan Black,” along with seven new pilots from Amazon Studios — “Cocked,” “Down Dog,” “Mad Dogs,” “Man in the High Castle,” “Point of Honor,” “Salem Rogers” and “The New Yorker Presents” docuseries — when they debut in early 2015.

Netflix offers a smattering of Ultra HD content, including all 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards” season two, along with “Smurfs 2,” “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters 2.” But the SVOD leader now charges $12.99 per month for access to the 4K content, and Amazon pointedly noted that it offers 4K content at no additional charge to Prime members.

Comcast previously announced the 4K content pact with Samsung at the 2014 International CES in January.

In addition to the Xfinity app for Samsung UHD TVs, Xfinity TV customers with 2012 model Samsung Smart TVs or Android-powered Samsung Galaxy tablets can download the Xfinity TV app for VOD content.

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