Netflix will offer the second season of “House of Cards,” the Emmy-winning political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, in 4K Ultra HD on select Internet TVs — one of a handful of titles to launch in early 2014 in the high-res format.
The move is largely a marketing gimmick for Netflix to claim bragging rights. Hardly any of its subs will be equipped to watch “HoC” in 4K: TV makers will sell just 57,000 Ultra HD televisions in 2013, according to a CEA projection.
But Netflix points out that scarcity of native 4K content has stymied sales of Ultra HD televisions, and execs argue that it’s poised to help the ecosystem take off. In a similar move, Amazon announced this week that it will shoot all original series in 4K. The Ultra HD spec provides resolution four times that of full HD 1080p, as well as enhanced color and higher frame rates.
“We’re working specifically with [director] David Fincher on ‘House of Cards’ season 2, and that’s all being shot and edited for 4K delivery,” Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt said in an interview with Stuff magazine.
Second season of “House of Cards” is set to premiere Feb. 14, 2014, with all 13 episodes available at once worldwide. The first season of the political drama won three Emmy Awards: David Fincher for directing along with wins in casting and cinematography.
The video-streamer has deals with consumer-electronics companies to deliver Netflix in Ultra HD to connected TVs, which the company said will be revealed next month at the 2014 International CES trade show in Las Vegas. A Netflix rep said the 4K titles including “House of Cards” season 2 will be available when the new models of Ultra HD TVs ship in 2014.
To watch Netflix video in 4K, customers will not only need a brand-new Ultra HDTV but also a fairly robust broadband hookup. Netflix will use the H.265 compression standard, also referred to as High Efficiency Video Coding, for 4K video. HEVC is twice as efficient as the MPEG-4 H.264 Advanced Video Coding spec; still, Netflix will require an Internet connection of at least 15 megabits per second for 4K (the company expects to deliver 4K video encoded in HEVC in the 10-16 Mbps range).
With Ultra HD televisions, price has been another deal-breaker for consumers: For example, Sony Electronics’ 84-inch 4K TV is $25,000, although it also offers smaller-screen models starting at $3,000.
One big potential hurdle for Netflix’s 4K ambitions is how it will stream the higher-quality format without running into bandwidth limits. The company operates its own content-delivery network and co-locates CDN gear with some Internet service providers through its Open Connect program, but Netflix lacks direct connections with many large ISPs.
Netflix currently offers select titles in what it calls “Super HD,” comparable to Blu-ray Disc quality. Initially, those were available only to subs through ISPs that participated in Open Connect, but Netflix reversed that policy this fall. More than half of the titles on Netflix’s U.S. service are in regular HD; the company has not disclosed how many are available in Super HD.