Tech Transformers

Netflix is going big on 4K but no virtual reality

Netflix is ramping up the production of ultra-high definition 4K and so-called "high dynamic range" (HDR) content this year but the streaming service isn't jumping into virtual reality anytime soon.

Images shot in HDR essentially make the contrast between light and dark colors even more prominent so the white highlights are even brighter. The purpose is to make the image on screen look more realistic. 4K, meanwhile, is a relatively new picture technology used by television manufacturers that quadruples the number of pixels found in a full-HD picture.

Netflix will have 600 hours of 4K content on its platform by the end of the year and the company is also gearing up to launch HDR support. Season 1 of "Marco Polo" and season 2 of "Daredevil" will be the first shows available in HDR.

"Something that's a little bit more out there that we're really excited about is the notion of HDR or high dynamic range," Chris Jaffe, the vice president of user interface innovation at Netflix said during a media briefing at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Thursday.

"It's less about packing more pixels on the screen like the move from HD to ultra-HD 4K was, it's about extending the total range of those pixels ... what that means is there's a much more photo realistic image that you're watching which is much more representative of the total range that your eye can see when you're just looking around in real life."

Arjun Kharpal

Jaffe did not give a specific timeline but said HDR support will launch "later this year."

4K HDR TVs are the next big products that manufacturers are focusing on. Samsung and LG both launched 4K HDR products last year. But they are currently very expensive and there is a lack of HDR content. Samsung told CNBC last year it was working with movie studios and content creators to begin accelerating the drive towards HDR content. Netflix is likely to be a big part of that given its going to spend $5 billion on original programming and licensed content this year.

And Netflix is hoping that HDR TVs will come down in price but Jaffe admitted mass adoption is a few years off yet with 4K products likely to be the next big purchase for consumers.

"We think what you'll see over the next two years in terms of TV refresh is more 4K…HDR's longer," Jaffe said in response to a question posed by CNBC.

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Virtual reality (VR) is seen as the next big thing by many technology companies with Samsung unveiling the Gear 360 camera this week for people to easily create VR content. HTC has also been showing off its Vive VR headset at the MWC show.

But while virtual reality has been the big buzzword at MWC, Netflix is not planning to jump headfirst and it's unlikely we'll see "House of Cards" in a full 360 degree immersive way anytime soon.

"We think there's a great opportunity for VR in gaming and the gaming space is going to be an interesting place for them to explore it. We don't see an opportunity right now in the near-term for Netflix and VR, but we do want to watch how great story tellers use this technology, because at the end of the day, what you really see is when consumers really engage with great storytelling there's a great opportunity and that's what we really want to see," Jaffe said.

The streaming firm did launch an app for Samsung's Gear VR headset, but it's not planning to make any shows in virtual reality. Jaffe added that Netflix is just waiting to see if VR takes off with consumers.

"So we look at what people are going to do with VR and see what kind of consumer demand is generated from it, that would be something much later down the road, we would be evaluating it based on those dimensions," Jaffe told CNBC.