*Updated December 2020
Without a doubt, the question I hear most often is whether Android TV boxes allow you to stream Netflix in full 4K.
If you have a 4K TV, can you buy a nice, new Android TV box that also has the ability to stream content in 4K? You would think the answer to this question would be a simple yes. But, unfortunately, it is not.
While you need a 4K Android TV box to stream popular services such as Netflix and Prime Video in 4K, your device has to be on an approved list of players. If it is not on the list, then you are going to be limited to 1080p HD. This is still a great resolution, but it’s not 4K.
When it comes to Android TV boxes, the fact is that your brand-name devices are likely to be able to stream 4K, but your more generic Android TV boxes, like the Pendoo T95 or the Transpeed, while fantastic boxes, aren’t likely to be on the list.
Let’s have a deeper look at what decides whether your Android TV box is going to make it onto Netflix’s list of approved devices. We will also provide some advice for getting the best Netflix resolution, regardless of what device you are watching on.
How Does Netflix Define Media Streaming Devices?
The first reason that Netflix 4K, and some other 4K streaming options, won’t work with just any device is that Netflix has defined a list of approved devices that it works with.
It includes a number of streaming media devices, several of which run the Android operating system.
Amazon Fire TV products are on the list because they have an agreement with Netflix.
The NVIDIA Shield TV streaming device is on there because it runs the official Android TV operating system software.
You might be thinking to yourself, well, so does my Android TV Box—but chances are that it doesn’t. Most Android TV boxes, like the MINIX NEO U1 or Zidoo X1, actually run a tweaked version of Android OS.
This means that Netflix does not recognize them as official Android TV devices, but rather lumps them in together with devices such as tablets. Netflix does not recognize tablets as having the capability of streaming 4K, so it only releases 1080p HD content to them.
For these individual Android TV boxes to get onto the approved list for 4K streaming, they need to meet some other criteria and also be tested by Netflix.
Criteria 2: Google Certification
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 4K 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.
Obtaining this certification is largely based on the chipset level of the box, which ensures that it is capable of streaming in 4K. Chips like the Amlogic or Rockchip have the right specs, and then it comes down to the manufacturer enabling their box to meet this criterion.
Criteria 2: Netflix Certification
This one is more difficult to define because, like the Google algorithm, no one really knows how it works. But there is speculation out there.
Devices probably need to meet certain hardware requirements, like resolution (obviously), color depth, and H.264\H.265 support, to even be considered.
Even if a certain device meets all of these requirements, Netflix still has to get around to actually testing the device, and this can be where the bottleneck is.
At the moment, Netflix is very slow, and perhaps even reluctant, to test and authorize new devices.
This is in part because manufacturers need to sell a minimum number 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 tablets.
It’s a classic “chicken and the egg” story. Without selling these units, they won’t be able to get Netflix 4K, but without Netflix 4K, it will be very difficult to sell that many units.
We’re hoping this is something they will find a solution to soon, as 4K is now considered standard, and the market is flooded with devices that aren’t authorized to stream it.
Why Would Netflix Want To Restrict Access To 4K?
Netflix has a right to make sure that their 4K content looks good. After all, who would you blame if the picture looks like crap? Your box or Netflix? Ensuring that their content looks amazing on your screen is central to their reputation and to the business strategy.
I also have another theory, though 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 toward specific devices—devices that are paying Netflix the most in licensing and advertising fees.
Let’s be blunt: Even the bigger Android TV box manufacturers like MINIX or RKM aren’t big enough, or don’t pay enough in licensing fees more likely, to warrant the attention of the big guys—especially in markets that matter, like the U.S. 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)
How To Optimize Netflix On Your Streaming Device
Whatever you are watching on, and whether you can get access to 4K or not, if you don’t set things up correctly, you might not be getting the resolution that you think you are. But there are a few simple things you can do to ensure you are getting the best picture available to you.
Check Your Browser
First of all, even on your PC, where many of us watch Netflix most often, 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: if your Internet connection supports five megabits per second or more.
- Google Chrome up to 720p on Windows, Mac, and Linux
- Google Chrome up to 1080p on Chrome OS
- Microsoft Edge up to 4K
- Internet Explorer up to 1080p
- Mozilla Firefox up to 720p
- Opera up to 720p
- Safari up to 1080p on MacOS 10.01 to 10.15
- Safari up to 4K on MacOS 11.0 or later
Unless you’re using Microsoft Edge or Safari, you aren’t getting 4K and you might not even be getting 1080p HD.
How Fast Is Your Internet Connection?
The next biggest thing to worry about is your Internet connection to the device itself.
- 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
- 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality
- 25 Megabits per second – Recommended for Ultra HD quality
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 to my home.
From there, it goes 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 something in 4K?
I’ll 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 for streaming TV that won’t get bogged down directing all of that traffic.
Oh, And You Need A 4K Netflix Subscription
You didn’t think all that extra resolution would be free, did you?
Did you know that, on a basic plan, you can only access SD content? You need a standard plan for 1080p, and you need a premium plan if you want to be able to stream 4K.
So, while all that marketing is telling you that you can get Netflix for just $8.99 per month, at the moment Premium plans, which let you watch 4K and allow you to stream to four screens at once, will set you back $17.99 per month.
But also remember that not all content is available in 4K, so there are some things that you will still need to watch at a lower resolution.
How Much Netflix 4K Content Is There Anyway?
Does Netflix have enough 4K content to make paying extra to access it worth it? Well, Netflix does currently have the largest 4K library, so if you want 4K content, it is a good place to start.
If you just want 4K content, you can also filter your searches to just return 4K results.
Most new Netflix Original programming is available in 4K, and of content made elsewhere, if it is available in 4K, Netflix is doing their best to deliver it at this resolution.
It is disappointing that basically as a result of bureaucracy and red tape, there is actually quite a limited number of Android TV boxes that authorize you to watch Netflix in 4K, despite having the technical capability to deliver it.
The problem is that, unless the box is running the original version of the Android TV OS, the individual box needs to be tested and approved by Netflix. A lot of manufacturers of great Android TV boxes don’t sell enough of each model to make it worthwhile to go to the trouble of doing that.
This basically means they are locked out. As a result, if you want an Android TV box that can get you 4K, you need to invest in a major brand box.
This includes the NVIDIA Shield, which is a fantastic box but also one of the most expensive on the market, and then anything in the Amazon Fire range, which runs its own variation of the Android operating system, which itself is locked down in other ways.
Also, don’t forget that you will need a more expensive Premium Netflix subscription to have access to 4K content.
Unfortunately, that is the state of play until Netflix changes its policy and decides to take active steps to make their 4K content more accessible.
If this is important to you, you can engage in the ongoing dialogue with Netflix to encourage them to embrace this change.
- Netflix LiveChat: https://help.netflix.com/help#startChat
- Netflix Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/netflix
- Netflix Twitter: https://twitter.com/netflix
How do you access Netflix in the highest possible definition? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.