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How Do I Make Sure Netflix Streams in 4K?

BenQ
2020/01/20

We’ve all been there. You just upgrade to a 4K monitor or projector with much higher resolution than your previous one and you’re all excited to make the most of it. In our case, a 4K display with HDR that you really want to put to the new content test. Then you have a Netflix account and we know the company has been investing literally billions in exciting new shows and exclusive movies produced in native 4K ultra HD with HDR. Your new monitor or projector would be the perfect canvass for enjoying that.

But when you start watching something doesn’t feel right, or look as expected. You have a constant suspicion that Netflix only gives you 1080p or even less, and certainly no HDR. You feel like your new monitor or projector has been wasted. Don’t worry, it’s quite easy to list the steps needed to ascertain you’re getting the best possible streaming quality. We’ll go over all the major points. 

First, the Obvious – Your Netflix Plan and Display

Please don’t take it the wrong way, but a lot of people sign up for basic Netflix and then wonder why they’re not getting 4K. Note ONLY the premium plan supports ultra HD. The basic and intermediate options get a 1080p cap, so no 4K. For full 3840 x 2160, you need to sign up for the premium, highest-priced Netflix plan.

As for display, Netflix requires a minimal 60Hz refresh rate to depict 4K content. If you select a 4K multimedia monitor or other display for some reason run at 30Hz, the result would be no 4K for you. That shouldn’t be much of a concern as nearly all displays these days put out 60 frames per second or more. 

Not All Content Made Equal

While Netflix and other streaming services move increasingly to 4K, in terms of quantity a lot of content remains in 1080p or less. This applies most commonly to non-exclusive content. Whereas first party titles may be rendered in glorious 4K HDR, third party licensed content not directly owned by Netflix more frequently runs in regular 1080p SDR. So if the first thing you happen to watch isn’t in 4K, don’t panic. You may be watching something that’s not supposed to be 4K anyway. 

Bandwidth to Joy

Most likely you’re all good in this department. But just to be clear, your internet connection must have at least 25Mbps available to Netflix at all times to sustain 4K HDR streaming. That gives the service enough headroom to handle large data packets. So if you have a 200Mbps connection but you’re downloading large files and also gaming online while trying to watch Netflix, those 25Mbps may not be consistently available. If you really want to sit down and enjoy 4K content we recommend not overloading your internet connection unless you’re on 500Mbps or more.

On a related note, do remember Netflix and all other streaming platforms operate entirely via the cloud. They depend on server availability and have occasional periods of throttling or heavy loads, especially around important holidays. If the Netflix backbone has connectivity problems you may go as low as 288p even on the best display and with the fastest connection. Just be patient, it’ll pass.

Also, streaming quality may differ across sources. If your display is connected to a PC and a game console and both have the Netflix app installed, check which one gives you the best quality. Don’t try to stream Netflix directly from Chrome or any browser other than Microsoft Edge. The latter does support 4K UHD Netflix playback, but the best way is a dedicated app.  

App Settings to Consider

A quick one because there’s not much to say. Just make sure that in the Netflix app settings your streaming quality is set to high or auto. If for some reason it’s on any other setting, that means the app is trying to conserve bandwidth and won’t show 4K. By default it’ll be on auto, but going with high would be best. Checking takes a couple of seconds, so please remember to do that. 

The HDCP 2.2 Connection

The most technical factor to think about pertains to connection types. Assuming you have Netflix streaming from an external device that’s connected to your display, then whatever connection you use must support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 to get full 4K HDR. If you use DisplayPort, you should be on version 1.3 or later, ideally 1.4.

The HDCP part is trickier. High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, to give the full name, makes sure whatever you watch or stream hasn’t been illegally copied. Without HDCP 2.2 support covering your source, connection, and input display, you won’t get 4K. If your display only supports HDCP 1.4 then you’ll be limited to 1080p. If you have an entertainment setup, we urge you to ensure every step along the way has HDCP 2.2 compatibility.

We have a more detailed article about HDCP 2.2 if you wish to learn more. 

Feeling the Compression

Since Netflix content reaches you from remote servers and needs to go through an entire connection network to reach you, it has to be compressed along the way. Content then unpacks or decompresses when you click play. However, truth be told streamed 4K currently just can’t look quite as good as Blu-ray 4K or the USB-sourced demos you see in the TV section of your local store. Their 4K content is much more “local” than Netflix and has exponentially less compression and processing applied, so it’ll always look just a bit better. Keep your expectations realistic! 

Really Quite Easy

The article may make it sound like getting Netflix to run at 4K with HDR requires an entire ritual, but that’s just because we tried to highlight as many concerns as possible. You’re most likely ready to go if 4K streaming is something you value, but better be prepared just in case. BenQ has numerous 4K monitors and projectors all set to showcase the best version of Netflix, so maybe check them out. 

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