A lot of older Macs won’t be able to watch 4K Netflix this fall because of a missing chip

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macOS Big Sur, Apple’s upcoming release of its Mac operating system, will finally let you watch 4K HDR Netflix content, but it turns out it’ll only work on 2018 or later Macs with Apple’s T2 security chip, according to a new Netflix support document (via Apple Terminal).

That means the full list of Macs that can watch 4K content on Netflix, at least for now, is as follows:

  • iMac (2020)
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac Pro (2019)
  • Mac mini (2018)
  • MacBook Air (2018 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (2018 or later)

There’s an easy way to check whether your Mac has a T2 chip, as Apple points out on its website.

Disappointingly, older iMacs and pre-2018 Mac laptops that could theoretically play Netflix 4K content, whether on their built-in displays or via an 4K or 5K external monitor, won’t be able to. It’s not clear why the T2 security chip is required: Netflix didn’t have an immediate answer for us, and Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

But if we had to guess, that T2 chip might be able to better handle 4K content because it acts as a co-processor. The T2 chip has built-in video processing power including support for the popular HEVC codec, according to a marketing slide from Apple’s October 2018 event. On its website for the latest iMac, Apple says that the T2 chip “makes transcoding HEVC video up to twice as fast as the previous generation.”

We’re not sure if Netflix uses HEVC for these high-res streams, but if it does, perhaps the T2 chip is key in helping 4K Netflix play smoothly on Macs.

Image: Apple’s October 2018 event video (YouTube)

If you want to watch 4K Netflix and have a compatible Mac once macOS Big Sur comes out this fall, you’ll also need to subscribe to Netflix’s $15.99 per month Premium plan. And you can only watch 4K Netflix content using Safari, not other browsers, according to Netflix’s support doc.

Mac users aren’t the only ones with specific requirements for watching 4K Netflix, though: on Windows, you need to be on Windows 10, using Microsoft Edge or the Netflix app, with a 4K-capable display and a machine with a powerful enough CPU or GPU.

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