Wondering why can’t you get Amazon and Netflix 4K streams on an Ultra HD PC or Mac?

by on December 10, 2014

by Stephan Jukic – December 10, 2014

If you’re one of those people who did happen to buy themselves an awesome 4K PC or maybe even the new iMac from Apple with a 5K Retina screen but don’t have an actual 4K TV on your hands, then maybe you’re also getting excited at the prospect of streaming Netflix shows or Amazon’s new 4K streaming service right to your machine as soon as you can subscribe to either company.

Unfortunately, if you think you can do this, you’d be wrong. It’s not that your PC is technically incapable of running the 4K streams of either provider, it’s that both companies seem to think that you’re still not worthy of their ultra HD streaming content.

Because of this, any attempt to find the latest 4K offerings from either Amazon or Netflix will give you nothing but Full HD results, even if your PC or Mac is spouting the absolute best in UHD display processing, connectivity features and even an absolutely superb internet connection that’s more than powerful enough for 4K.

The main reasons for this oversight are twofold, though getting the specific details from either Amazon or Netflix is a bit like pulling teeth.

The first of these reasons is the simple fact that both of these streaming services are only available to TVs which also happen to support the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) codec. Unfortunately, most, if not all, PCs don’t have HEVC support built into them, thus, right off the bat, this disqualifies even the most processor heavy 4K desktop computers from ever showing you a single directly streamed episode of “House of Cards” or anything from Amazon’s collection of UHD content.

However, since building HEVC support into a PC really isn’t all that hard for any manufacturer (after all, a TV is very little different from a PC these days anyhow), there is a much more fundamental reason why both companies refuse to stream to PCs or 5K iMacs. This is because of DRM security, at least according to a number of experts.

For example, in a recent discussion with Gordon Mah Ung of Macworld, Richard Doherty, research director at the technology analysis and marketing research company Envisioneering, explained that DRM security is the main reason why Amazon or Netflix can’t play on the 5K Mac or on any or 4K PC of any kind.

A lack of content security hardware like HDCP 2.2 prevents 4K PCs of all kinds from streaming Netflix/Amazon content

A lack of content security hardware like HDCP 2.2 prevents 4K PCs of all kinds from streaming Netflix/Amazon content

It’s not something against the platform itself according to Doherty, its simply the fact that, unlike TVs, PCs come with numerous outputs and are thus inherently insecure as platforms for accepting content whose usage and distribution rights are carefully controlled.

PCs could in effect be used to intercept streamed 4K content and then copy it for unauthorized distribution across numerous channels.

Ultra HD TVs, in contrast, almost always come with built-in DRM hardware like HDCP 2.2 that keeps the transmission signals of new content secure from illegal copying.

Eventually, it’s almost certain that 4K PCs will follow in the same path and come with their own HDCP hardware included, especially as their popularity as entertainment viewing platforms increases. But for now, if you want to stream the latest and “greatest” studio grade 4K entertainment in your home, you’ll have to fork over the cash for a full-blown 4K television with HEVC decoding.

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