An update to Safari in the macOS Big Sur developer release brings a long-absent, much-requested feature: support for 4K HDR streams from Netflix. Further, Apple TV is getting support for the VP9 video codec, meaning Apple TV 4K owners will finally be able to watch 4K YouTube videos in that device’s YouTube app.
Both changes address frustrations users have had in the Apple ecosystem when consuming video content. The Apple TV 4K is positioned as the world’s most capable consumer streaming box, but it didn’t support higher resolutions on one of the world’s most popular apps. And while there has been less demand for 4K HDR on Macs given that most Macs don’t have 4K or fully HDR screens, this is a welcome change for those who use external displays that do support those things.
There is one important caveat, though. 4K HDR Netflix streams are only supported on a few Macs. Only the 2018 or 2019 MacBook Pro models and the iMac Pro support HDR on the device’s own display (though again, the specs don’t meet the same HDR brightness standards that high-end TVs do). Those machines plus the 2018 Mac mini and the 2019 Mac Pro can do HDR on external displays.
Also, while the Apple TV YouTube app did get 4K capability, Big Sur’s Safari doesn’t appear to have been updated to get the same functionality on YouTube. That could change between now and Big Sur’s final release, though.
In theory, the addition of HDR support to Safari on Macs applies to more than just Netflix, but this is the first publicly known example. Twitter user Ishan Agarwal shared a screenshot proving the functionality is there. He made this discovery when he noticed the video he was watching on Netflix was playing in 4K and Dolby Vision, a popular HDR standard. 9to5Mac reported on the tweet, breaking the story to more people.
It’s worth noting that AirPlay 2 newly supports 4K in iOS 14 and Big Sur, so this appears to be part of a concerted 4K push by Apple across its platforms. Also, in a development that is only tangentially related, the Apple TV app on LG TVs now supports Dolby Atmos.
iOS 14, tvOS 14, and macOS Big Sur are still in a testing phase with developers, so some things could change before release, but this is where things stand now.