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What The Flix? Netflix 4K Streaming Requires Kaby Lake, Windows 10, Edge Browser

Microsoft announced via its blog that Netflix will stream four new "Gilmore Girls" episodes (sigh) in 4K. The company further noted that you must use Windows 10, the Edge browser, and 7th Generation Kaby Lake processors, as well as a premium subscription to unlock the emotional rollercoaster.

Of course, a desktop would have more than enough power to muscle its way through a 4K episode of "Gilmore Girls," but due to the wonders of vendor lock-in and DRM, you will be able to view the content only on a Kaby-Lake powered machine. Apparently, Netflix has bandwidth concerns, because it has effectively limited the four new (and exciting!) "Gilmore Girls" 4K episodes to one recommended device. The Microsoft blog post links to Microsoft's list of Windows 10 machines, but only one on the list (the Lenovo Yoga 910) sports a Kaby Lake processor and 4K display. 

Of course, we expect the desktop Kaby Lake launch to start soon, but the 4K streaming begins November 25, so we will all miss the 4K "Gilmore Girls" launch. Microsoft did not specify an exact reason why Netflix is limiting the 4K stream to the Kaby Lake products, but it is likely due to hardware-based DRM and HEVC decoding features. Although some GPUs could also theoretically support the stream, it doesn't appear to be on the menu as of yet.

Netflix also requires Windows 10 for 4K streaming; previous-generation operating systems will not work. It also requires the cringe-worthy Edge browser. Windows 10 isn't that onerous of a requirement, but the Edge browser accounts for only roughly 6% of the market (and declining). Therefore, even though it's by no means the most popular option, it is your only choice for 4K "Gilmore Girls." Microsoft did go out of its way to take a swipe at Chrome, which is the most popular browser in the world:

When streaming Netflix on Microsoft Edge you can get through at least one more full episode of Gilmore Girls than when streaming on Chrome on battery*** – and you know one episode can be the difference between Chris and Lorelai casually dating and being a married couple.

Of course, we wouldn't want to miss out on the current status of Chris and Lorelai's relationship, but the blog notes:

***Battery life varies significantly with settings and other factors.

In other words, your mileage may vary, and the battery claims may not even be a true statement. Microsoft has made plenty of fast and loose claims about Edge lately. I installed Windows 10 on a new rig I built this weekend, and when I installed Chrome, Windows notified me with a pop up that Edge detects and blocks 21% more socially engineered malware (the new pop-up actually made the news, too). It also took four or five attempts before Windows 10 would accept Chrome as my default browser. I digress.

Some of these moves aren't entirely unforeseen, as Microsoft also recently announced that it would not support Intel's Kaby Lake and AMD's Zen processors with pre-Windows 10 operating systems. We've reached out to both AMD and Intel on that topic to inquire why, and what features will not work on Windows 7 and 8. Both companies directed us to Microsoft, which refuses to comment beyond canned quotes that don't answer the questions.

Now, if you want to stream 4K video from Netflix, you have to break out the Kaby Lake and Windows 10 combo with some Edge browser sprinkled on top. Netflix hasn't announced 4K streaming support for Zen, but it almost certainly will (it had better). Just don't hold your breath for it to work with older processors.

It makes one wonder if there aren't some hidden forces in the background pulling strings to ensure that the average consumer has a reason to upgrade their computers. No support for new CPUs with old operating systems. No Netflix 4K streaming for the CPU stragglers and no Netflix 4K for the Chrome lovers.

Maybe we need to coin the term NetWintel (WintelFlix?).