Today DC Entertainment announced that its streaming service DC Universe was becoming the comics-only DC Universe Infinite, and while I had the urge to give myself a wedgie just for subscribing to such a truly stupidly named service, the thing that really sent me into a nerd rage was the realization that I would no longer be able to watch Doom Patrol in 4K HDR.
HBO Max has been available for nearly four months and has released loads of fine content, including the second seasons of Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn and the new robo-drama Raised By Wolves, and let me watch all of Perry Mason, a gritty reboot full of sex, drugs, diversity, and dead babies whose initial pitch absolutely must have been 10 lines of coke and a guy saying, “What if we do to Perry Mason what Riverdale did to Archie but we actually show the boobies.” HBO Max has done all of these things!
In stupid, ugly, 1080p SDR.
I spend $15 a month to watch beautifully shot content on my expensive 4K OLED TV, and it streams to me at a lower quality than I get on the nerds-only DC Universe, which costs a full $8 less.
Back when HBO Max launched, Tony Goncalves, CEO of AT&T’s Otter Media division (which is the division in charge of HBO Max and somehow has the stupidest name in this entire affair) appeared on the Verge’s podcast and assured listeners 4K HDR and Atmos were definitely coming. Though when asked specifically about the lack of 4K at launch, he snottily told the Verge, “I’m not going to have a feature dialogue with you,” and noted that “it just comes down to a matter of priority and getting a product to market.”
That’s another way of saying: “We wanted to rush this product out and get as much money as possible and hope you don’t notice we’re not supplying the bare minimum in quality streaming as provided by every one of our competitors, including our own DC Universe service.”
Andy Forsell, product chief for HBO Max, was much nicer when speaking with CNET in May, saying that 4K HDR was “a super-high priority” for the HBO Max team.
I keep scratching my head at how high a priority it can be when DC Universe has been giving me Doom Patrol in 4K HDR since last year. In 2020, the grand majority of TV sets sold will be 4K. Nearly every other premium streaming service, including Disney+ and Netflix, already offer 4K streams. This shouldn’t just be a “super-high priority,” because the lack of 4K HDR streams on HBO Max is a glaring absence.
When reached for comment, an HBO Max spokesperson reiterated what Forsell said many months ago. “4K is on the HBO Max roadmap but we don’t have any details to share at this time,” the spokesperson said.
I know we’ve beaten the “what the fuck is AT&T even doing” drum a lot around here, but it’s an important question! There was a bloodbath at HBO after the AT&T acquisition, with the guy who gave us Game of Thrones stepping down and escaping to Apple TV+. HBO Max’s offering of content from media partners like Crunchyroll and Rooster Teeth has been sporadic and odd (it’s mulling a sale of Crunchyroll to Sony, presumably because there aren’t enough weebs in the C-suite); the service still isn’t on Roku or Amazon devices (which has resulted in some incredibly confusing branding), and the plan to squeeze out even more money with an ad-based HBO Max offering has run into licensing problems galore. The lack of 4K HDR, in light of DC Universe ending its video-streaming run, is obviously not the most significant cock-up in a long line of dick-trippings, but HBO Max’s wiener has definitely gotten winged by a shoe with a wooden sole.
More and more this feels like a product rushed to market and poorly conceived. And yeah, we’re all still subscribing to it. Hollywood has barely functioned since March, there’s no content, and distractions have never been more critical. Network TV is a barren wasteland, and we all need streaming services, with their never-ending trickle of diversion, to keep the covid-19 and isolation-induced funks at bay. Of course, we’re going to pay just to have a small measure of normalcy beamed down into our TV sets, even if that content is spooge-filled robots howling over pits.
Is it too much to ask that it be in ultra-high definition?