Back in early 2014, Google promised us 4K streaming. I wasn’t having a bit of it. The internet wasn’t ready for 4K back then and I’ll contend that it’s still not really ready for it now. Your average suburban cable company may tell you it offers 500Mbps service, but that’s not really true. You may get that number from speed tests. The servers that run the world of streaming video can’t serve good, pure 4K to everyone. The neighborhood switch can’t take that kind of speed either.
Has much really changed in six years?
Seems to me that the biggest difference in streaming in six years is that we take a base level of technology for granted. We may say we care that the thing we’re watching is 4K HDR but most folks don’t. They mostly care that it doesn’t look like a blurry mess, and it never buffers. Many streaming boxes actually make it impossible to know the bitrate or resolution they’re showing to you.
Personally I think that’s a good thing. I think we’re seeing the “democratization” of high-quality video. It’s long since moved away from the privileged few. You can walk into a club store and buy a gigantic television for $600. This TV will show you a picture that is literally 16 times better than the best TV you could buy for $20,000 a generation ago.
Which brings up the question…
“Will 4K ever really launch?” Yes it’s true that a lot of streaming content is released in what they call 4K. It’s 4K, but it’s compressed so much you can barely tell the difference unless you stream at 3 in the morning. I still contend that the only real, legitimate 4K is DIRECTV’s 4K implementation. It’s not as clean as 4K Blu-Ray but that technology is extremely rare today.
Of course there are always rumors swirling around of 4K over-the-air and I am not certain the quality will be any better than YouTube 4K. After all, you’re trying to fit a 4K signal in a space that was originally designed for a standard-definition black-and-white one. There are miracles you can do with compression technology but that one may be a little bit too far.
But I do think we are getting to that point where real 4K over streaming might be possible. AT&T’s 5G will bring a massive jump in speeds, so much so that a 100Mbps stream won’t be uncommon. When that happens, you’ll see higher quality 4K. I do believe that we’ll not only see 5G on our phones but in our homes as well. Fixed-Wireless 5G, as it’s called, puts an antenna on the roof instead of a fiber connection. Your home internet works better, faster and more reliably. I actually thought we’d have it by now but I do still think it’s coming.
This new technology will bring all sorts of benefits. The biggest is choice: you’ll be able to use your cable company for internet, or choose a reliable cellular connection. Finally you won’t have to deal with cut wires or long outages. Practically everyone in the country will finally have the opportunity to experience AT&T 5G and I think that will finally give us the 4K we’ve been waiting for.