My 4K living room update (10 months later)

Published October 17, 2015
In December of last year (2012) I finally wrote up my 4K experience and the result wasn’t pretty.
During that time, content was only available from either the Samsung hard drive that came with the TV, or Netflix, Amazon and MGO apps on the Samsung TV.  Netflix would constantly crash, Amazon would constantly buffer (despite bandwidth being available) and the MGO app let me download the content but would never let me play it back.  Even if/when it worked at all, it meant my sound was going thru the TV speakers, not my 7.1 surround sound system.  I concluded then that it could not take off with consumers until some OTT box maker created a 4K decode chipset so a consumer could route through their home entertainment reeiver and have a higher quality app experience (the apps built for TV chasis get the least amount of development effort and have always had subpar performance on all TV platform…in my experience).
Well 10 days ago I finally received my new Amazon FireTV with 4K capabilities. 
While I surprised that Apple did NOT come out with the capability, I was not surprised at its very sharp picture and continued leverage of a content oriented UI (vs. Apple’s “app centric” approach — even with universal search).
I unboxed it 10 days ago right before a long trip to London, but found a problem immediately with the 4K playback tied up in the way HDCP 2.2 was handshaking between the FireTV, my Onkyo NR-636 Receiver, and the Samsung UH9000 series TV.  So I did a little reading last night in the Uber on the way back from LAX and Crutchfield of all sites gave me all of the information I needed.  It turns out that even though ALL of the manufacturers here have been smart and are providing update-able firmware to prepare for what is now HDCP 2.2 (prevents in-stream copying of 4K content), their user manuals were incredibly poor at describing the simple fact that of the 4 or 7 HDMI 2.0 ports they had only one (1) was HDCP 2.2 compliant.  Samsung (below) was forward thinking in their approach to the UHD television generation and created this single “smart” input device for the UHD range which is not only updatable via the internet automatically, it is a replaceable device (in the event a hardware update is required for something in the near future) in a way that does not require a new TV.  But, they are terse in their description of that they call “MHP” on their HDMI 4 port, which is turns out is the ONLY HDMI connection that will pass through HDCP 2.2.

Onkyo is a bit more straight forward in their documentation, but again only have a single port in (under HDMI port 3 for some reason) and an HDCP 2.2 compliant “out” HDMI port.   However, they are good enough to clearly document that even on the back of the receiver itself (and in all of their documentation on their own site and at Crutchfields).

So, making all of this work (after a bit of reading) requires:

  • Amazon FireTV (or other 4K device supporting Netflix UHD and Amazon UHD).
  • An Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver (or better — the NR636 is roughly $499 now).  I did update the firmeware for this, which gave me Dolby ATMOS and supposedly improved the HDCP 2.2 handshake.  The FireTV needs to be connected to HMDI 3 (STB/DVR).
  • The Samsung UH9000 series TV (the 8000 will do 4K only at 30 Hz).  The Samsung TV needs to have one end of the HDMI cable in HDMI port 4 (MHP) and the other in the Onkyo out (no other choice really).

From start to finish I probably had 30 minutes invested in the reading, 30 minutes invested in pulling cables in and out of ports, 30 minutes in updating the Onkyo firmware (via USB), and 30 minutes re-programming my Harmony Ultimate Home remote system (previously everything had been through HDMI port 1 on the TV, not 4, because I had no idea what the MHP reference from Samsung was on that port until I read the Crutchfield guide).

The downside for the industry here is rather obvious.  This just eliminated a huge chunk of consumers (too much effort required) and has eliminated my capability to get another 4K device (Blu-Ray, AppleTV, Roku, cable/telco provider or otherwise) since there is ONLY ONE PORT on the Onkyo and on the Samsung.  In fact, I could not find a model in the current Onkyo line-up that supports 2 inputs to the receiver that are HDCP 2.2 compliant (perhaps a physical way to prevent stream copies)–and Onkyo is definitely leading the industry in video switching.  This will definitely slow down 4K as consumers will be forced to choose their local cable/telco (assuming they ever get their crap together) vs. their favorite OTT solution.

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