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Netflix 4K Streaming on Mac Requires Safari on Big Sur and a Mac With a T2 Chip

Netflix Help Center:

Mac computers support streaming in the following browser resolutions:

  • Google Chrome up to 720p
  • Mozilla Firefox up to 720p
  • Opera up to 720p
  • Safari up to 1080p on macOS 10.10 to 10.15
  • Safari up to 4K on macOS 11.0 or later

And:

Netflix is available in Ultra HD on Mac computers. To stream in Ultra HD, you will need:

  • A Mac computer with macOS 11.0 Big Sur installed.
  • The latest version of Safari browser
  • Select 2018 or later Mac computer with an Apple T2 Security chip
  • A 60Hz 4K capable display (with HDCP 2.2 connection if external display).

(Erratic use of bullet-point terminating periods, sic.)

I almost never watch Netflix on my Macs, personally, but I didn’t realize that non-Safari browsers are stuck with 720p. Not sure what the deal is with that. But the fact that 4K support is going to require MacOS 11 Big Sur and a T2-equipped Mac (or, surely, all future Apple Silicon-based Macs) is an anti-piracy measure. I think the T2 has an HEVC decoder built in, so all the video decoding happens at that level, making it harder for anyone to pirate. It basically makes the video decoding chain on Mac very much like the video decoding chain on iOS devices, where we’ve had 4K streaming from Netflix for years.

As a “march of progress” indicator, I find this fascinating. Until recently, efficiently decoding 4K video in real-time was computationally impossible. Now, Macs are doing it not with their CPUs or GPUs, but with this extra T2 subsystem that’s primarily there for security.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020