The upcoming version of Apple’s macOS operating system should also be able to watch Netflix content in 4K resolution and with HDR optimization. However, the vendor limits this to very limited hardware configurations.
Everything you need to play is in the upcoming macOS Big Sur. However, as you can see from the Netflix platform support document, the required data is only delivered to users who have an Apple T2 security chip installed on their computers. However, the problem behind this doesn’t even seem like a copy protection issue.
Netflix in 4K and HDR therefore only works on the following systems:
- iMac (2020)
- iMac Pro
- Mac Pro (2019)
- Mac Mini (2018)
- MacBook Air (2018 or later)
- MacBook Pro (2018 or later)
T2 as a co-processor
It is not clear why exactly the T2 chip is needed. Verge’s colleagues have asked Netflix but have not received an answer yet. And you can’t tell Apple about that either. Basically, some older Apple systems can play 4K content. Since the T2 is primarily a chip with additional security features, copy protection is of course suspected initially. However, in any case, the component does not offer more in this area than you get with other standards.
However, it may well be that Netflix is primarily interested in high quality. If users already want the best picture quality, it should also be reproduced without interference. T2 can act as a coprocessor and, in particular, also provides hardware support for the HEVC video codec. Other systems would have to fully render video using the processor and graphics unit, which with 4K HDR can lead to high loads and possibly image jumps.
Many older Macs won’t be able to watch Netflix in 4K this fall due to the lack of a chip.
Unfortunately, older iMacs and pre-2018 Macs that could theoretically play Netflix 4K content on their built-in displays or through an external 4K or 5K monitor won’t be able to. It’s unclear why the T2 security chip is needed: Netflix didn’t have an immediate response for us, and Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But if we had to guess, this T2 chip could handle 4K content better because it acts like a coprocessor. According to a marketing slide from Apple’s October 2018 event, the T2 chip has built-in video processing power, including support for the popular HEVC codec. On its website for its latest iMac, Apple says the T2 chip “makes HEVC video transcoding twice as fast as the previous generation.”
We’re not sure if Netflix uses HEVC for these high-definition streams, but if it does, perhaps the T2 chip plays a key role in bringing smooth 4K Netflix playback on Mac.
If you want to watch Netflix in 4K and have a compatible Mac after macOS Big Sur releases this fall, you’ll also need to subscribe to Netflix’s premium plan for $ 15.99 a month. And you can only watch Netflix 4K content with Safari, not other browsers, according to the Netflix support doc.