Netflix: ‘Super HD’ For All

Netflix has opened the floodgates on “Super HD,” its library of 1080p and 3D  titles that previously were available only to subscribers  who obtained broadband service from ISPs that are members of Open Connect, Netflix’s private edge network caching platform.

“All Netflix members, regardless of their Internet service provider (ISP), now have access to the highest quality HD streams available on Netflix,” Netflix director of corporate communications Joris Evers wrote in a blog posted Thursday.

Super HD is offered only on certain devices: PlayStation 3, Apple TV with 1080p, Roku with 1080p, Nintendo Wii U,  Windows 8 App, TiVo Premiere DVR, and Blu-ray players, smart TVs, and streaming media players with existing Netflix 1080p support.

Netflix rolled out Super HD in January, limiting access to ISPs that were part of Open Connect, a system that leans on co-located, private edge caching appliances. U.S. members of Open Connect include Cablevision Systems, Cox Communications, RCN, Suddenlink and Google Fiber, which all tended to score highly on Netflix’s monthly ISP Speed Index, a tally of Netflix streaming quality.

Time Warner Cable has been especially critical of Open Connect over claims that the program unfairly holds back content in an attempt to get preferential treatment from ISPs.

Evers wrote that Netflix changed its Super HD policy based on performance data and in response to member requests. Netflix, he added, uses adaptive streaming for Super HD titles, meaning that the supported bit rate will fluctuate depending on the quality of the customers’ available bandwidth. Super HD streams require speeds of at least 5 Mbps, and 7 Mbps for the best available stream, according to Netflix.

“We continue to encourage ISPs to adopt Netflix Open Connect, our highly optimized video content delivery network,” Evers added. “Open Connect is available at no cost to ISPs and is designed to deliver the best possible Netflix experience by storing the TV shows and movies Netflix members want to watch as close to them as possible.”

Although Netflix offers Open Connect to ISPs for free, some providers are seeking alternative ways to improve the quality of over-the-top video while keeping transport costs in check. Mediacom, for example, just announced the deployment of a “transparent” video caching platform from Qwilt that uses special algorithms to determine the most popular content and place that content at the edge of the ISP’s network.

Mark Fisher, Qwilt’s vice president of marketing and business development, said transparent caching “unlocks capacity” and is generally more scalable than private caching systems. If an ISP lets one OTT video provider’s system in the door, they could be compelled to do the same for many others, he said.

Netflix sees it differently. "Netflix does not work directly with Qwilt and we don't understand why someone would pay for their caches when ours are provided free of charge," Evers said Friday in an emailed statement.