4K Movie downloads can take hours according to DirecTV

by on March 31, 2016

Stephan Jukic – March 31, 2016

4K UHD content streaming may be instant but with the condition that you’d better have an internet connection fast enough to handle the bandwidth mass of 4K video and all its data. Likewise for the growing selection of 4K Blu-ray titles, instant gratification, but as long as you’ve forked over several hundred dollars for one of the new players from Samsung, Panasonic or Philips.

Thus, for those of you without a web connection of at least 20Mbps or a 4K Blu-ray player, one of the other main options for quite a decent selection of 4K UHD movies and other content is downloadable on-demand video.

That’s where the main problem of on-demand kicks in. It’s not quite so on-demand given how long titles in 4K ultra HD resolution can take to actually download to your set-top box or 4K ultra HD TV.

DirecTV has recently stated that it can take up to four hours to download just a single 4K movie title from their own collection of on-demand content and this itself is the speed you could expect if your connection isn’t too bad.

DirecTV has offered up about 25 to 30 different 4K movies in their On Demand menu for more than a year now but have only now decided to go public with the technical inconvenience behind downloading these movies, a technical problem that many users of the service are likely already quite aware of. Before the public announcement of the lag time in downloading one of their movies, DirecTV had only a description hidden way down in their website of what subscribers to the 4K on-demand service could expect:

“There are always at least three 4K movies (pre-loaded on the user’s DVR) to watch instantly…but all other 4K movies should be downloaded to your DVR playlist before you can watch them with the best experience. This may take approximately double the duration of the movie (italics ours) so we strongly recommend downloading your movie well in advance,”

Given average movie run-times of 2 hours or so, a normal film would take about 4 hours to download from the DirecTV service and this definitely isn’t the only headache involved.

There’s also the storage issue. Streaming movies in 4K from a site like Netflix are streamed one bit at a time to a user’s display with no need to actually save them anywhere. Downloaded movies don’t at all offer this benefit and according to examination by download signal professionals, even a download of a relatively short piece of 4K content like a 45 minute TV show in high quality from DirecTV could require as much as 50GB of space. Consequently, the video could also eat right into user’s monthly ISP data caps because those 50GB of storage space also mean 50GB of data use through the home internet connection.

That’s the load for a 45 minute TV show. If you want to download even a small part of the 30 or so 4K movies in the DirecTV On Demand menu, you’ll need some hefty storage and hefty bandwidth caps to pull it off.

DirecTV is also trialing live 4K streaming broadcasts of the Masters Tourney next week

DirecTV is also trialing live 4K streaming broadcasts of the Masters Tourney next week

Some ISPs like Comcast have started testing out larger bandwidth caps for their users. They cost more than an average connectivity plan but allow for up to 300GB of data during a month. In other words, given the above data figures for a 45 minute DirecTV title, a 4K TV owner using the on-demand 4K content service could download roughly 3 full 4K movies a month, and that is if they forego all of their other regular internet activity like music downloads and streaming media offerings.

In other words, On-Demand 4K content services from DirecTV and presumably others have brought forth some interesting technical questions for both consumer subscribers and the service providers themselves to sort through.

DirecTV is now scheduled to also air a live 4K channel for next week. The debut content for the channel will include select live UHD sportscast sequences from the 2016 Masters golf Tournament. The streamed live broadcasts will undoubtedly be compressed and likely to a greater degree than downloadable on-demand 4K content from the company.

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  • Chris
    March 31, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Ummmmm…you spelled blu-ray wrong.


    • Stephen
      March 31, 2016 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Chris, thanks for pointing out the error, odd little detail that was missed during editing but it has been corrected now.

      thanks again.


  • Lawrence
    April 1, 2016 at 6:55 am

    A cursory check shows its about 6Gig for a h.265 4K movie rip on torrent sites.
    Not unreasonable.

    You’d think DirectTV would use HEVC/H.265 compression in order to reduce file sizes. Running h.264 or lower codecs these days is silly for 4k.


    • Stephen
      April 1, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Hello Lawrence, you’re right about the gross discrepancy between H.265 compressed 4K titles and something like DirecTV’s movies. Perhaps they wanted to offer their consumers a much more detailed native 4K video experience with minimal compression. This does produce better video quality (4K streaming often looks little better than uncompressed 1080p from a quality source on a 4K TV but the hassles of immense file sizes simply aren’t worth it for download content.


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