Oct 15, 2015
“If you come to a 4K in the road, take it.”
September and October have been busy with product announcements from leading manufacturers of streaming digital media players. But despite the surging popularity of 4K Ultra HD video, there is a mixed bag of support for the new high-resolution format. Some of the new streamers support it, but others conspicuously do not.
New Streaming Media Players
On September 9, Apple announced the long-awaited next generation of its Apple TV set-top box (starting at $149). Updates include a faster processor and voice-activated remote control, but no mention of 4K video, even though the company’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus phones, announced the same day, now include 4K video capture.
On September 17, Amazon unveiled its updated $100 Fire TV set-top box. It upgrades the Fire TV’s existing voice control capabilities to Alexa, Amazon’s voice-powered, cloud-based digital assistant that can answer voice queries with information displayed on the TV screen. The new Fire TV supports 4K video streaming from Amazon’s own Prime and Video services as well as from Netflix. Incidentally, the new Amazon Fire Stick, revealed at the same event, does not support 4K video.
On September 29, Google revealed its second-generation Chromecast, a small, affordable ($35) streaming player that plugs directly into a television’s HDMI port. The redesigned device gains a faster processor for improved performance, a number of new compatible TV apps, and an updated companion app for discovering and accessing content. None of that content, however, is 4K. Like Apple, Google also introduced two new phones during the same event, and both the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P can shoot 4K video.
Finally, on October 6, Roku announced its fourth-generation streamer, the $130 Roku 4. It supports 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, and the company boasts more 4K channels than any other streaming player, with content from Netflix, M?Go, Amazon Instant Video, ToonGoogles, Vudu, and YouTube. Roku also features a curated 4K Spotlight channel for instant access to 4K content, and a 4K category within the Roku Channel Store for easier access to 4K channels.
Consumer awareness and interest in 4K video is strong. 4K UltraHD television prices have fallen to where HD TVs were just a few years ago, and sales are surging. Many smartphones, action video cameras and digital cameras can now capture 4K video. In InfoTrends’ 2015 U.S. Mobile Imaging End-user Study, about 11% of mobile phone users reported that their phone can shoot 4K video. In addition, nearly one in four prospective buyers said that 4K capture would influence their next mobile phone purchase.
While commercial 4K content is not ubiquitous, it’s getting more plentiful all the time. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon as well as major motion picture studios such as Sony are leading the way in producing 4K programming. Yet Apple and Google, with products that span more of the consumer video ecosystem than Amazon and Roku, seem to have dropped the ball when it comes to 4K video playback. Hopefully, there are 4K video features embedded in the new Apple TV and Chromecast that can be unlocked by a firmware update in the near future, letting their customers complete the 4K link from capture to display.
More blogs from Alan Bullock