Without much fanfare—thankfully, I guess—Netflix has begun experimenting with Ultra HD videos, anticipating the time that many of us will acquire 4K devices. That’s some advanced thinking about advanced video since, it would seem, 4K, or Ultra HD, is a ways from becoming a household word in all but just a handful of households.
According to Gigaom.com, Netflix add seven Ultra HD videos to its catalog to test it out. I only count six, all a variation of “El Fuente,” a seven-minute experimental film, each a variation for a video shown at differing numbers of frames per second.
During its recent earnings call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he want to be an early adopter of 4K (for 4,000 pixels, if you have been beating your head). He wants to be delivering it next year to the relatively few Ultra users out there. Ultra HD delivers a more realistic 2D experience with what manufacturers tout are more vivid colors with higher resolution, and “glasses-free” 3D viewing.
It’s always good to be first. I wonder, though, if Ultra will have a slow build. It sounds sort of like an add-on that is just some way to encourage consumers to trade up. And we’ve seen that particular movie before, not just in consumer electronics either.
“The Gillette Mach3 was the razor to own. Then the other guy came out with a three-blade razor,” wrote the fake CEO of Gillette in a 2004 commentary for The Onion. “Were we scared? Hell, no. Because we hit back with a little thing called the Mach3Turbo. That's three blades and an aloe strip. For moisture. But you know what happened next? Shut up, I'm telling you what happened—the bastards went to four blades.”
I’m just sayin.’
I think selling consumers on a better picture worked with HD. I’m not so sure an even betterer picture is so exciting.
The Consumer Electronics Association in July projected that 57,000 Ultra HD sets would be shipped in 2013, and 1 million by 2015. Which isn’t much, really.
People who follow consumer electronics note that there are a lot of obstacles. Like, for one, cable companies don’t want to deliver new set-top boxes to customers. And broadcasters aren’t jumping to upgrade their systems either. That’s why StudioDaily.com theorized a while ago that Netflix would be the first to jump in. Delivering Ultra over the Internet is about eating up bandwidth to the home; for Netflix it’s kind of a non-issue. That's likewise true for any online content provider. You could see how a real player in this Ultra game could be Amazon, which could create content in Ultra for Amazon Prime, and discount Ultra devices on its shopping site. That's kind of like how NBC's groundbreaking color telecasts sold lots of TVs for its then-owner RCA.
Still, Studio Daily reports, while Ultra TV is supposed to be a big hit in China, consumers in the U.S. could be less than enthused, and even if they are, new tech comes with its own penalties. If people like 4K, they may wait to replace equipment until the price goes down. That’s what happened with HDTVs. The later sales highs came only after some pretty severe sales lows. Bottom line: Netflix might be early out of the box with Ultra content, but, similar to that falling tree in the woods, who’ll be there to see it?