OPINION: Amazon 4K isn’t all that OR a bag of chips

A week with Amazon Prime Video in 4K has convinced me that I’m not missing much. I’ve gotten very used to the really pristine video from my DIRECTV 4K Genie Mini Client, but I had an opportunity to test an Amazon Fire TV with 4K. Let me just say, what a letdown.

Amazon claims you can get passable 4K content with only 10mbps bandwidth, and it just isn’t true. In fact I was not even sure I was watching 4K. I had to resort to a line tester to see how much data was being consumed. Sure enough, the 4K feed was about 11Mbps, while the HD feed was about 2.5.

I tried watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in HD and in 4K. I would love to say that I couldn’t tell the difference. Even that would have been better than what I got. It actually seemed like the 4K feed had less sharpness and poorer detail than the HD feed. It’s probably just that the 4K TV made everything softer because it wasn’t getting the full 4K resolution so it upsampled a bit. But the bottom line is that neither feed came even close to my Blu-ray disc version of the same content.

We’re still pretty early in the history of 4K streaming, but I have to tell you, from my experience we still have pretty far to go. Usually I pick on Netflix for their 4K, which also suffers from some issues with sharpness and deep color gamut (even in the HDR mode) but Netflix seems absolutely heavenly compared to Amazon. Both pale compared to DIRECTV of course, but I already knew that.

That’s the point. All 4K isn’t created equal and just because you think you’re getting a 4K feed, you aren’t really getting top top quality. Everyone seems to agree that the future of 4K is online delivery, but it seems like it’s going to be a while before we get to that future.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying, if you want real 4K content, you have to check out the satellite-delivered quality of DIRECTV. Just judging by sheer bitrate alone (which isn’t really fair, compression should play a part) DIRECTV seems to have about 6 times the picture information of Amazon and those extra ones and zeros translate out to the sharpest possible picture. There’s just no substitute.

If I can, I’ll comment on this article in a year or two… maybe things will have gotten better. One thing for sure, they couldn’t get worse.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.