Hands down, the most popular question I get asked is what Android TV boxes will play Netflix HD streams?
It turns out that it’s not that simple an answer, unfortunately.
But it should be.
I don’t know about you, but when I open up Netflix, or any app, I expect it to know what my HDTV’s resolution is. I also expect it to automatically size and play the video accordingly.
If I’ve got a 4K video and a 4K TV, it should play in 4K, right?
Sounds simple enough to me. But that’s not what happens most of the time, and here’s why.
Why can’t everything stream Netflix HD?
Netflix has a list of approved devices that it works with. They split it into seven groups, but we’re only interested in those that run Android, so we’ll trim that list down a little more.
If you think about it in very broad terms, Android devices fall into three categories: Streaming Media Players, Smartphones and Tablets, and Android TV. When I say Android TV, I mean devices running the actual Android TV operating system, like NVIDIA’s Shield, and TV’s from Sony, Sharp or Phillips.
That’s the way that big companies like Netflix and Google will think about everything that’s out there.
TV boxes should be a streaming media player, right?
They’re not. They actually fall outside of any of those three groups.
Netflix considers these Streaming Media Players to be only ones certified to play Netflix HD video:
- Apple TV
- Google Chromecast
- Amazon Fire TV
- Google Nexus Player
- NVIDIA Shield
There’s also initial reports from CNX-Software that the new WeTek Core will be able to play Netflix HD video, but not 4K as of yet.
If you’re looking for your favorite Android TV box on the Netflix HD Android TV list, don’t bother. Android TV boxes like the MINIX NEO U1 or Zidoo X1 don’t run the official Android TV OS, so Netflix doesn’t consider them in that category either.
They actually get lumped in to the tablet category, more often than not.
Problem 1: Unless a device is running the official Android TV OS, like the NVIDIA Shield or Nexus Player, it’s going to be lumped into the smartphone or tablet category by default.
Why is that bad?
Well, for starters, the best tablet screen at the time of this article, is the Sony Xperia Z4 with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. It’s not true 4K, but it is more than enough for 1080p. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that these devices all have to be certified to run at that resolution.
Problem 2: Google Certification
Let’s get the easier one out of the way first.
Back in 2010, Google bought a small company called Widevine in order to beef up its on-demand video services and prevent video piracy. Widevine had existing agreements with several companies, including Netflix and VUDU, which are still in place today.
In order to support 1080p HD resolution for video streaming apps like YouTube and Netflix, a manufacturer has got to be Google certified in one of the Widevine DRM (Digital Rights Management) levels.
I say this is the easier of the two certifications because much (but not all) of this is done at the chipset level, so the work is already taken care of by Amlogic or Rockchip. Manufacturers only have to enable it, in order to pass this criteria.
Problem 3: Netflix Certification
Here’s the hard one.
Much of Netflix’s certification process is hidden from view, but here’s what we know.
Devices have to pass certain hardware requirements, like resolution (obviously), color depth, and H.264\H.265 support. Even if a certain device meets all of these requirements, Netflix still has to get around to actually testing the device.
And that may take a while, if it ever happens at all.
Whether this is a issue of time or money, I don’t know. I suspect it’s a bit of both.
Netflix has a right to make sure that their 1080p HD and 4K video streams look good. After all, who would you blame if the picture looks like crap? There are tens of thousands of devices out there, and it takes a lot of time to test each one.
Manufacturers need to sell a minimum amount of devices in a particular region (i.e. United States) in order to get certified by Netflix. Without that certification, Netflix has no reason to treat them as anything other than a tablet.
It’s a classic “Chicken and the egg” story. Without selling these units, they won’t be able to get Netflix HD, but without Netflix HD, it will be very difficult to sell that many units.
I have another theory. Nobody will speak about it on record, so it’s just speculation right now. But it makes sense from a business perspective.
By limiting all of the other devices out there, Netflix has the ability to “steer” you into specific devices. The devices that are paying Netflix the most in licensing advertising fees.
Let’s be blunt: even the bigger Android TV box manufacturers like MINIX or RKM aren’t big enough, or pay enough in licensing fees more likely, to warrant the attention of the big guys – especially in markets that matter, like the US or Europe.
As you can see from the picture below, Netflix is just “not interested in working” with some of these manufacturers.
(source: Official MINIX forum)
So what does this mean for Android TV box owners?
Netflix can make this certification process as easy or as hard as they like. I can’t really blame them for that. They want to make sure that every video looks amazing.
What I do blame them for is deliberately choosing not to work with certain manufacturers and not explaining why. As Digital Trends recently said, “Netflix has little to say on the matter.”
If there’s a good reason, then let us know.
We buy the streaming devices.
We buy your service.
We deserve an answer.
So what devices can stream Netflix HD or UHD? Stick around to the end of this article and I’ll give you a list of what devices can stream Netflix 4K UHD video.
How to make Netflix 1080p HD or UHD
Not every title is available in HD, but here are a few steps to make sure you’re getting the most out of Netflix, no matter what device you’re on.
Check your browser
First of all, even on your PC, where many of us watch Netflix the most, you may not be getting the resolution you think you are.
Netflix’s support page lists the various major browsers and the maximum resolution they’ll support. I’ll list them below, because it’s definitely going to come as a shock to many people.
Resolution: Stream in HD if your Internet connection supports 5 megabits per second or more.
- Google Chrome up to 720p
- Internet Explorer up to 1080p
- Microsoft Edge up to 1080p
- Mozilla Firefox up to 720p
- Opera up to 720p
- Safari up to 1080p on Mac OS X 10.10.3 or later
Unless you’re using Internet Explorer, Edge or Safari, you’re not getting HD resolution when you watch Netflix on your PC!
How fast is your Internet connection?
The next biggest thing to worry about is your Internet connection to your device itself.
Netflix recommends you have at least a 5Mbps (Megabit per second) stream to support HD video.
- 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
- 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
- 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for SD quality (420p)
- 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality (720p or 1080p)
- 25 Megabits per second – Recommended for Ultra HD quality (4K UHD)
This doesn’t mean your overall Internet speed from your internet service provider (ISP).
More devices = more bandwidth
My internet connection, for example, is Brighthouse’s Lightning at 35 Mbps – or 35 Megabits per second. That’s the speed in to my home.
From there, it goes in to my router, which then sends it out to a wired PC and wirelessly to a Chromebook, three smartphones, two tablets, two Android Wear watches, two wireless printers, a Western Digital MyCloud NAS and a gaggle of streaming media devices.
All of these devices are accessing the network, talking to each other.
So how much of that 35 Mbps do you think is getting to my TV screen when I’m trying to watch Daredevil in 4K?
I admit, I’ve got more than my fair share of devices on my network. But, I hope this shows you just how easy it is to slow down your network speeds.
Make sure you’ve got an Internet connection that is fast enough to support all of your devices, and a router that won’t get bogged down directing all of that traffic.
Oh, and you need an HD or 4K Netflix subscription
You didn’t think all that extra resolution would be free, did you?
As of the beginning of 2016, Netflix had three plans for streaming video. The entry level cost is $7.99 per month, and that will get you Standard Definition (SD) video on one screen – tablet, phone or TV. From there, you can go to the 2 screen package which includes HD video for $8.99, or go all the way to the 4 screen plan which includes 4K UHD videos for $11.99.
Remember, not every video is available at these higher resolutions.
How much Netflix Ultra HD 4K streaming content is there anyway?
Most videos are available on Netflix 1080p HD, but it turns out there isn’t a lot available on Netflix 4K.
Netflix originals like House of Cards, Marco Polo and Daredevil are there. That’s expected. It’s surprising that popular shows like Orange is the New Black and Jessica Jones aren’t.
The only popular movies are Jerry McGuire and Hitch. That’s great if the year was 1996 or 2005, but it’s a little disappointing if you’re expecting more recent blockbusters like Avengers, Hunger Games or even Harry Potter.
All in all, Netflix UHD may not be all it’s cracked up to be right now.
Netflix Ultra HD 4K devices
What devices can actually stream Netflix in 4K?
The list is pretty small, unfortunately, and only two of them are Android based.
The NVIDIA Shield is easily the most powerful Android TV box on the market today and the best hope for Android TV succeeding as a platform. No pressure, right?
Thankfully, the Shield is up to the task with more memory, storage and pure graphics firepower than any of it’s competition. The Shield was designed as a gaming device, but it’s more than capable of streaming any 4K video you can throw at it.
The only other Android device on this list, the Amazon Fire TV was updated in Fall 2015 to include 4K playback capability. The original Fire TV already sported one of the slickest voice search features of any device we’ve tested, and it was improved in this version. The only knock against the FireTV is that Amazon will (predictably) steer you towards streaming content on their services ahead of everyone else’s.
Unlike the new Apple TV, Roku didn’t want to be left out of the 4K party. Roku has always been the easiest streaming device to use. The “Cable-TV like” interface makes for an easy transition for new cord-cutters.
However, the new Roku 4 doesn’t offer much else in the way of upgrades from the popular Roku 3 to justify the $30 price hike in MSRP. Unless you’re a Roku die-hard supporter, or new to streaming, the Fire TV offers similar performance for under $100.
You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten about TiVo. Over the past few years, DVR devices have become mostly an afterthought in the home entertainment sector. TiVo is trying to change that pairing 4K playback in their latest media hub – the Bolt.
The Bolt is mainly a Digital Video Recorder, so it’s not going to be a direct comparison to the other devices on this list. That’s a good thing, because the Bolt retails for $299, not including the TiVo subscription.
The BT DTRT-4000 is a set-top DVR available in the UK. Like the TiVo Bolt, it’s primary function isn’t for 4K streaming content on Netflix, so it’s going to be considerably more expensive that the other devices.
Still, if you’re on the other side of the Pond, the DTRT-4000 looks to be a pretty good unit.
With all of the choices in Android TV boxes, it’s disappointing that more devices can’t access Netflix HD and 4K streams.
At the moment, there’s not much that we can do as consumers, other than to vote with our wallets. If 4K and HD playback is important to you, make your voice heard. Contact Netflix support and let them know that you want Netflix HD on the devices you own.
- Netflix LiveChat: https://help.netflix.com/help#startChat
- Netflix Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/netflix
- Netflix Twitter: https://twitter.com/netflix
Have you found any workarounds to get Netflix HD on your favorite Android TV box? Let us know in the comments below!