'House Of Cards' In 4K Will Eat Broadband Caps Like Popcorn Shrimp

from the pricing-innovation dept

After years of pretending that broadband usage caps were necessary because of network congestion, the cable industry not all that long ago admitted that congestion had nothing to do with it. While the industry still pretends that usage caps on broadband networks are about their expression of “creativity” and “pricing innovation,” most people realize caps were always designed to milk yet more money out of an already profitable network (and make no mistake, unlimited, flat-rate pricing is profitable), while allowing gatekeepers to simultaneously cash in on and inhibit Internet video. Carriers are relentlessly trying to expand usage caps under the banner of “fairness,” and they’re aided by an uncompetitive broadband market.

Despite claims that imposing caps is about altruism or even helping grandmothers, most consumers understand that ISPs want them to pay more money for the same product at a time when network hardware and bandwidth costs are falling. Generally, ISPs that do impose caps insist that these caps will be flexible as modern usage evolves. That claim is about to get tested more seriously as next-generation game console downloads and 4K video slowly come to market.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings not that long ago stated the company’s planned 4K streams will need at least 15 Mbps but optimally 50 Mbps. Streaming a 1080p 3D movie from Netflix at the moment eats around 4 to 5 GB per hour, a total that could jump to closer to 20 to 30 GB per hour with 4K video. Similarly, Sony is cooking up a 4K video download service that could involve downloads as high as 100 GB per title. It’s a subject getting revisited with everybody binge-watching “House of Cards.” Tacking 4K video on to existing bandwidth consumption begins to get very bandwidth intensive when you’re talking about entire series at 4K resolution (how much modern compression codecs like Google’s VP9 or H.265 will help are very rough estimates):

“Streaming in 1080p on Netflix takes up 4.7GB/hour. So a regular one-hour episode of something debiting less than 5GB from your allotment is no big deal. However, with 4K, you’ve got quadruple the pixel count, so you’re burning through 18.8GB/hour. Even if you’re streaming with the new h.265 codec—which cuts the bit rate by about half, but still hasn’t found its way into many consumer products—you’re still looking at 7GB/hour.

But you’re not watching just one episode, are you? Of course not! You’re binging on House of Cards, watching the whole series if not in one weekend then certainly in one month. That’s 639 minutes of top-quality TV, which in 4K tallies up to 75GB if you’re using the latest and greatest codec, and nearly 200GB if not. That means, best case scenario, a quarter of your cap—a third, if you’re a U-Verse customer with a 250GB cap—spent on one television show. Throw in a normal month’s internet usage, and you’re toast.”

Gizmodo doesn’t note that many people’s bandwidth caps are even lower. CenturyLink, Suddenlink and AT&T lay claim to tens of millions of DSL users (which the companies don’t intend to upgrade anytime soon) who face 150 GB monthly caps on top of a significant flat monthly fee — plus sometimes the cost of a mandatory copper voice line and all the additional, annoying fees that entails. Those slower, 3-10 Mbps connections in reality cost very little to provision and provide, but there’s the rub: these customers are being aggressively beaten about the head and neck on price because of limited nationwide competition. Innovation and creative pricing, indeed.

ISPs have long defended low bandwidth caps by claiming that the majority of today’s users wouldn’t be impacted by them, knowing full well that the majority of tomorrow’s users would. That day is coming quicker than you’d think, and it’s worth watching whether ISPs are flexible on allotments, or if they keep existing allotments firmly in place to intentionally clothesline Internet video customers — especially those looking to cut the cord.

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Companies: netflix

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Comments on “'House Of Cards' In 4K Will Eat Broadband Caps Like Popcorn Shrimp”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

Please read:




The short version: Neflix is insisting on DRM to please Hollywood AND they’re insisting on streaming. If they would drop both and just let people download (slowly) for later viewing, this issue would largely evaporate.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

Laying the blame largely on Netflix for that seems to be somewhat misplaced, the DRM is likely not to please hollywood, but demanded by them, and you can bet they would go up in flames at the ‘download then watch’ idea, because it would ‘facilitate piracy by making it easier'(never mind that downloading films is already possible if someone cares to do so), something they would never accept.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

Your point is well-taken — but I suspect Netflix is now big enough to start dictating to Hollywood. They should: they should say “we’re doing this. Don’t like it? Okay. Screw you. We won’t carry ANYTHING you produce and you won’t make any money off it. And…if we don’t carry it, piracy will skyrocket. So either let us do it our way or we’ll let the pirates do it theirs.”

However: let’s note that with Netflix original content, the DRM is purely optional. Nobody makes them use it, and as well all know (or should know) DRM is only deployed by inferior people equipped with inferior minds. So why doesn’t Netflix get a clue?

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

Apple is bigger than Netflix and could do the same thing, and Netflix is still insignificant when negotiating terms with Hollywood compared to cable companies. Cable is in the pipeline to get EVERY movie Hollywood produces, while Netflix’s streaming choices are extremely restricted and still largely controlled by what Hollywood is willing to offer.

Also Netflix is also pretty new to this original content businsess, and they’ve been innovative enough at it without trying something technically that’s different from the system they’ve already developed and people are used to.

i.e. you have a point about DRM but are working really hard to use it to villify Netflix. There are other services that offer digital downloads like Amazon, so you can vote with your wallet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

Well-argued. I’m not really trying to vilify Netflix per se — and believe me, I have no love for monopolist ISPs like Comcast and Verizon. I’m just pointing out that Netflix could make some different technical choices that could mitigate the problem. There’s no reason why anybody has to stream entertainment like a movie in real time: it’s not a sporting event.

Personally, I’m not a customer of any of these: movies and TV shows aren’t really my thing, and per Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of them are crap anyway. So I don’t buy from Netflix or Amazon nor anybody else, and thus I have no dog in this fight — except for opposing DRM in any/all its idiotic forms.

onclewillie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

DirecTV already allows downloads of movies via their “On Demand” service. I live in a very rural area where 3mbs is my average download speed. It might take all night using my Internet connection but eventually I will get to view my HD movie. For 4K it might take the better part of a day (if not longer) but it is doable. DRM is not the problem for downloading it is what happens after you download.

Just like DirecTV, Roku and Apple TV should come with LOTS of memory that allows you to download the 4K movie and play once the download is completed. All that is needed is to make it all but impossible to extract the movie other for the intended purpose, watching it on your 4K TV. You won’t be able to keep the movie but if you are getting free from a streaming service you can always download it again.

Ideally everyone should have access to fiber optic service that would provide the needed speeds. For rural users this just ain’t going to happen. We have a company that wants to bring gigabyte FO and the local utility, Frontier, is opposing the move for much of my area. Frontier isn’t going to build us out they just want to mess with the interloper. Just makes you want to scream.

jski says:

Re: Netflix could fix this if they wanted to

People don’t want to D/L for viewing at a later time.That’s the whole reason Netflix got so big. There was dozens of D/L now and watch later services available , basically?every major studio had one. They all failed and gave way to Netflix because people don’t want to plan out their viewing schedule days or hours in advance.?

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Blu-Ray would have done that to DVDs if it had been priced anywhere near DVDs. Blu-Ray players are still ridiculously expensive compared to DVD players, and the discs themselves are priced at collector levels, not consumer levels. Even Netflix and Redbox charges more for Blu-Rays – it just became a reason to add a surcharge.

Although another big part was that upscaling DVD players actually look pretty decent considering the source material.

rycho (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If everyone had a cost-free choice of Blu-Ray or DVD, are you saying people would ignore Blu-Ray? I seriously doubt it. Not only is the picture quality significantly better, but sound quality is better, too.

If you start watching a movie at DVD quality and switch to Blu-Ray quality, you’d never want to use DVDs again, subject only to data caps or cost premiums.

Jake says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, of course not. But it wasn’t a zero-cost choice between VHS and DVD either, at least not in the first few years after the latter hit the market, and I remember them becoming ubiquitous a lot faster.

It probably helped that the price difference was less extreme, but they also brought a number of other benefits to the table in addition to the better picture quality; they took up much less space, you could play them on more devices, skipping ahead a particular point was a lot less fiddly and you could pad out the discs with bonus features.

By comparison, Blu-Ray doesn’t offer anything new and innovative except for higher picture quality… if the movie or TV show was filmed on HD or 4K-capable equipment, otherwise the improvement is at best marginal. (Seen any classic black-and-white movies reissued on Blu-Ray lately?)

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not to mention the actual physical reality that unless you have a greater than 100inch screen and are sitting less than 4 foot away (which makes it virtually unwatchable) the actual HUMAN EYEBALL cannot tell the freakin difference between 4K or 1080p.

4K is Only beneficial on specific monitors for the use in such things as scientific, medical, or engineering work (such as x-rays) and NOT for moving images at 60fps

The ONLY benefit that 4K allows is that 3D can now be rendered at full 1080P for both eyes . Otherwise it is marketing hype that is not based around the actual functionality or viewing ability of any human EVER!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yeah, it just doesn’t matter much in terms of what most people are perfectly happy with or care about. This is just the audiophile stuff in the visual realm. Sure, going high end is better quality, but it’s not really worth the hassle and expense to do it right for the majority of people who just want to watch a movie.

john ski says:

Re: Response to: Jake on Feb 21st, 2014 @ 4:50pm

VHS tapes were decades old and people had plenty of time to get value out of what they paid for them. DVDs also offered things you couldn’t get on VHS such as no rewinding and instant chapter skipping. Not to mention all the bonus footage and features you just didnt get on VHS.On top of this you had the increased picture quality. Now compare the blu rays to DVD and picture quality is the only advantage. DVDs we fair my new to a lot of people and they recently shelled out money converting to DVD from VHS, they are not ready to do that again so quickly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response to: Jake on Feb 21st, 2014 @ 4:50pm

There are things that were released on VHS that will never come out on DVD.
I have 2 DVD/VCR combo units. I still enjoy watching videotapes. There’s the nostalgia factor, for one thing. for another, I have hundreds of VHS tapes. I’m not going to throw out a perfectly good video collection. And many of these tapes, as I pointed out, contain content unavailable on DVD, much less Blu-Ray.

Anonymous Coward says:

I tried subscribing to a new, innovative company, called ‘Onlive’. They stream video games over the internet.

While playing these games thru Onlive, I was streaming game data at over 5 megabits a second, non-stop. I ate through my ‘usage cap’ in less than a week.

Guess what happened to Onlive. Yup, they went bankrupt.

4k movie streaming will never happen, unless it’s the ISPs doing the movie streaming directly to it’s customers. Otherwise, ISPs will require a cut of the profits, in the form of ‘sponsored data’ fees.

Broadband internet in South Korea is up to 50x faster than US broadband speeds, and costs about $28.50 a month.

Meanwhile in the US. We’re still in the stone ages, arguing about artificially low ‘usage caps’, record high subscription costs, and whether or not our infrastructure can handle 4k movie streaming.

We’re like the frick’n Slowsky turtles, and it’s our country who invented the internet! Talk about a slap to the face.

Let’s merge Comcast and Time Warner together. I’m sure that’ll help make things better. /sarcasm

We’re boned as a country. We’re so corrupt, that we can’t even compete with China on trade, or South Korea on broadband. That’s why we’re boned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bandwidth caps? What's that?

Can you say “disingenuous”? Sure you can.

“Bandwidth use is considered to be excessive when it significantly exceeds the usage characteristic of a typical residential user of the Service.”

“…reserves the right to suspend or terminate service in response to a customer’s excessive bandwidth use, without notice to the customer. “

Comcast cites 17 GB (median value – they don’t report the average) as typical. Cable-cutter that I am, I used to use 1-200 GB monthly, until Comcast put up the new 300 GB cap. Now, I target as close to 300 as I can get every month without going over. Wonder what “typical” and “excessive” mean to Bell Aliant.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s a GOOD thing. The reason I want 4k content to arrive and be everywhere is because it will FORCE ISPs to offer Gigabit Internet and unlimited data caps. They can’t keep this up for long, if the customers Internet becomes unusable, because then they will all have that much bigger motivation to switch to Google Fiber or a similar competitor when it arrives in their area, and NEVER LOOK BACK.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


No, I don’t think so.

Here is what will happen.

Comcast, having swallowed TWC and realizing that the FCC is wimpy, toothless, and weak, will imposed bandwidth caps on everything that’s not Comcast content.

Verizon, observing this, will do the same.

They will dare the feds to do something, and the feds, having been bought off as well as emasculated and infiltrated, won’t.

Netflix will die.

As will anything Netflix-like.

And Comcast and Verizon will sell the content they want the way they want when they want.

The end.

uldics says:

This will not be a problem, when human consumption limit will be reached. Eye has a limit of resolution and frames per second – we have reached that on mobiles already, soon also on TVs. Each persons time to watch a movie will be saturated as well soon. And there will be no meaning in making higher resolutions, files etc. But the network throughput will still rise. No worries!

hopponit (profile) says:


Just a small point to add in. Recently I was looking for a broadband plan to help an elderly friend. I looked up one of the “free” services that was mentioned. She is on SS and medicare but still working to make ends meet. The plan availible in our area is wireless and has a 3g cap. She wouldn’t be able to afford Netficks anyway, so the cap doesn’t much matter I guess. Still how well would you do with just a 3g cap? We run 3 PCs or more a day at my house and I’m not even sure how much we use. I don’t think that cap would last us much more than a day or two! Oh, by the way there is a big charge for going over the 3g cap!

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Paperback Revolution Repeats Itself In Video

In the nineteenth century, they had commercial lending book libraries, which operated pretty much the way Netflix operates. Of course, these libraries were eventually killed off by paperbacks. It became accepted that a book which might take someone a week to finish might cost about as much as a meal in a cheap restaurant, and that a used-book market would develop at still lower prices. Paperbacks were so cheap that the unavoidable complex procedures (*) of a lending library became counterproductive. With efficient video compression methods, you can get adequate image quality– in the same sense that a paperback is adequate– for about two hundred megabytes per hour. On that basis, of course, you can put a whole library of films on a single DVD, and you can put, say, ten DVD’s into a single case, and sell the whole business for ten dollars, the video version of a paperback. Naturally, Netflix does not like this idea, any more that Comcast does. But that is what is going to happen, either through the operation of piracy, or through the movie studios giving way and publishing “omnibus editions.” Certain discount booksellers, such as Edward R. Hamilton, are exquisitely well positioned to take advantage, however. They have long experience of selling big sets of whatever at realistic prices.

(*) If you are lending something, you have to keep records of who borrowed what.

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