Many modern computers with high resolution screens and good graphics cards are perfectly capable of displaying 4k content. In fact most recent computers are probably far more powerful than typical consoles or set-top boxes (like the Apple TV, the Amazon Fire TV stick, the Google Chromecast Ultra or many cable-firms' set top boxes).

Online move stores like the iTunes Store, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix now have a good selection of content in 4k. But none of them seem to allow 4k streaming to computers. This seems odd.

Is there a definitive reason why 4k streaming to computers is not currently allowed?

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    i don't know if this is the real reason but "A 4K stream uses about 7.2GB per hour." source. there's more to streaming than just the resolution of the destination, there's the network speed and what the terms of the contract is with an ISP who might charge for data or have a set limit on free data before you either pay for extra data or get dial-up speeds and logically a customer wont go with a streaming option if it's slow or cost them an arm and a leg on their ISP's bill – Memor-X Jun 17 '18 at 11:14
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    @Memor-X while this could be true for some ISPs, it is unlikely to be the explanation for most users not least because streaming to an approved device uses the same bandwidth and the same network as streaming to a computer in most cases. – matt_black Jun 17 '18 at 11:18
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    7.2GB/h is about 16 mbps; not a huge amount in this day & age, but maybe it's the assumption that a home compy isn't going to be tuned to optimise that, with a domestic router at default settings. Maybe it's harder to control the buffering. – Tetsujin Jun 17 '18 at 13:07
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    @Steve-O But the server and bandwidth costs for making content available on approved devices has already been spent (that's why we can get 4K on an Apple TV for example). There are no extra costs for streaming the same content to computers. and the issue isn't why is more content not available on 4K it is why is existing 4K content not available on computers. – matt_black Jun 17 '18 at 14:17
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    Seems more likely to be a question of copy control. You can configure a commercial device like a TiVo or smart TV or a Firestick to respect copyright flags and not allow the 4K signal to be easily captured and redistributed. That's a little more complicated when the hardware isn't a controlled part of the distribution chain. – jeffronicus Jun 17 '18 at 18:32

There's a few considerations here as noted in comments:

  • Bandwidth - it takes longer to stream 4K content and you need a fast (and stable) internet connection to give you a satisfactory viewing experience.
  • Cost - There's costs for the provider storing and buying the 4K content as well as the provider having to provide a 4K pricing tier to customers. This is less of a consideration for multi-platform services.
  • Demand - 4K TVs are becoming more common, but 4K computer/laptop screens aren't yet popular because you need a larger screen to see any kind of benefit over traditional HD. Streaming services most probably collect statistics for screen resolutions and it's fair to assume that if not many of those customers have 4K computer screen, it's not economically viable to invest in offering 4K content.

If Netflix is offering this, then other providers will be tracking demand and seeing if there's any profit here (or whether it's just a ploy by Netflix to attract customers).

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