REVEALED: Why you can’t have more than 1 4K stream at a time

It’s not just one reason, it’s every reason.

There isn’t a lot of 4K programming out there at the moment on DIRECTV, but there are three live channels plus the opportunity for downloaded pay-per-view content. That means if you were so inclined, you could potentially have four different 4K streams going at the same time. Except, you can’t.

Even if you have three C61K clients or smart TVs (which is the maximum number of clients that can be active at one time on an HR54 Genie DVR) only one of them can be showing 4K content. I’ll admit, it’s not a huge inconvenience today but you could imagine it turning into a massive bummer once there are dozens or hundreds of channels.

Problem is, there’s not just one thing that needs to be fixed in order to get 4K on every TV. It turns out the entire system needs to be rethought. DIRECTV’s current systems really are designed around HD, not 4K which requires a lot more information. Those changes will come, but it’s going to take a rethinking of everything from top to bottom, literally.

The top
4K takes a lot of space. A LOT of space. About 8 times the space of an HD signal. DIRECTV’s new satellites are designed to deal with that, but they use frequencies that most customers can’t get, yet. The new LNBs to receive those frequencies are just now becoming available.

Recording or buffering
The processor in the HR54 Genie DVR isn’t ready to record multiple 4K streams, and the tuners are ready to receive them. Plus, the hard drive seems mighty spacious with HD — you get about 200 hours’ worth — but with 4K you’d get about 25-30 hours, pretty paltry. So we’re going to need a bigger server.

Playback
The top-end limit for the current technology used between DIRECTV DVRs and clients (called MoCA) is about 175 megabits per second. That would be plenty for 4K, if the clients actually did the decoding. Remember, all the work is done at the server level and then everything is sent to the clients in a more-or-less ready-to-watch form. So all of a sudden you really need a lot, lot, LOT more bandwidth if you’re going to run multiple 4K streams.

So you see, there’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s going to take some new hardware. That hardware will come, but I doubt you’ll see it this year. Maybe next year, maybe not. Right now DIRECTV is the only company in the US with any 4K at all, so they have some time to work on things… especially when you realize they’re also the only company offering any 4K content. There will need to be a new DVR and a new communications protocol (MoCA 2.0 is fast enough) and people will need to get the new LNBs that will make it all possible.

One of the things people ask is why DIRECTV 4K takes up so much bandwidth. It actually compares relatively well to Netflix 4K in terms of bandwidth and looks considerably better. It could be that newer DVRs could use newer compression technology, but this would mean upgrades all around since it doesn’t seem likely that older DVRs would be upgradeable to new compression technology. They’re not general purpose PCs… the compression and decompression is built into hardware.

The thing you have to remember is that we’re still very early in this transition. There’s no such thing as being 100% futureproof, but you can still feel confident that if you have the HR54 and C61K, you’re going to have the best possible experience for the longest possible time.