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"Super HD" now available to Netflix members; 4K coming next year

All subscribers to the Netflix service — regardless of their Internet service provider (ISP) — now have access to the highest quality HD streams available online, or virtually anywhere else for that matter.

Netflix said “Super HD” will improve the quality of its programming with a higher bit rate stream that applies less compression to 1080p images. The Super HD service was initially rolled out in January only through ISPs with a direct connection to Netflix.

Netflix has also made 3-D content accessible to all of its subscribers as well. Several outlets have reported that Netflix is hoping to add 4K streams to its service in the near future. Reed Hastings, the company’s CEO, said during a recent public appearance that Ultra HD streams could come to Netflix as early as next year, and that these may require up to 15Mb/s of bandwidth.

“Based on the performance data we’ve seen, and in response to member requests, we are now expanding availability to give all our members the ability to enjoy Netflix in the best possible quality,” said Joris Evers, director of corporate communications at Netflix, in announcing the Super HD upgrade. 

Netflix uses adaptive streaming to dynamically adjust the video quality based on the available bandwidth. This means that the ability to receive Super HD content depends on broadband quality and performance. Netflix members who subscribe to an ISP with a direct Netflix connection will get the best experience, the company said.

The company recommends that members have at least 7Mb/s of bandwidth available for best results, but the company also serves a less-demanding Super HD version that only requires around 5Mb/s of bandwidth. 3-D streams can require up to 12Mb/s of bandwidth.

Netflix subscribers can check on ISP performance by consulting the Netflix ISP Speed Index on its website. That index shows Google Fiber with the highest speed, 3.58Mb/s, while Clearwire came out on the bottom at 1.8Mb/s. Cablevision’s Optimum service came in at number two and Cox number three.

Netflix said it encouraged ISPs to adopt Netflix Open Connect, an optimized video content delivery network that is available at no cost to ISPs. Internet service providers, Netflix said, can do this either by free peering with the service at common Internet exchanges, or by putting free Netflix storage appliances in or near their network.

Netflix said major ISPs around the world have already connected to Open Connect, including Frontier, British Telecom, TDC, Clearwire, GVT, Telus, Bell Canada, Virgin, Cablevision, Google Fiber and Telmex.