Netflix's new app is now the best way to watch TV

It may be the first update since 2013, but the new UI and upcoming tech advances will make it the best way to watch telly.

Video-streaming behemoth, Netflix, is the biggest player in the over-the-top media market, serving a frightening 65 million subscribers across the world.

And it’s only growing too.

With it’s own bespoke TV shows, smart, piracy-crushing pricing strategies and an early foray into movie distribution with the upcoming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel, subscriptions have grown by nearly 20% at the last reckoning.

But Netflix has only just updated its smart TV app, for the first time since 2013, rolling out to compatible devices over the next few days.

It is now though the best way to watch TV.

Before you splutter coffee over your screen allow me to explain…

The latest update

The new software is all about that continued viewing experience. It’s been designed to get you back into your favourite show quicker and slicker.

With the new TV app whichever title you choose will start, or resume playing, with an overlay on top of the video with key information about the show itself and what formats it’s available in.

“We’re letting the content speak for itself by providing a more immersive and cinematic experience that best represents the capabilities and expectations of today’s TVs,” says Netflix on its blog. “Video is a rich medium for storytelling and we’ve found bringing video playback into the content selection experience makes it easier to find something great to watch.”

4K Ultra HD

If you want to get the most out of your brand new 4K UHD television, then you’re going to need to get some content running natively on it in glorious 8.3million-pixel-o-vision.

Right now the only way to get Ultra HD Netflix is by running it through the Netflix TV app on your smart UHD telly.

There are conflicting reports out there about fudging UHD Netflix via the PC webapp to a 4K monitor, but we’ve tried various methods and nothing seems to work. Boot up your 4K TV though, with a healthy 25Mbps internet connection, and you’ll be quickly watching ultra-sharp TV shows with minimal effort.

It’s not just the latest shows, or even Netflix’s bespoke offerings, that are available in Ultra HD either - classic shows like Breaking Bad are waiting there to be enjoyed all over again.

High dynamic range

Arguably more important than the move to Ultra HD resolutions is the promise of high dynamic range (HDR) video.

Similar to the HDR still images you might have seen, HDR video is all about increasing the depth of both the darkest and lightest elements of a scene. Shadows, for example, should have more detail, which would make the latest trend in dark, gritty TV look less like watching CCTV footage…

Amazon Prime Instant Video has been first to stream HDR content exclusively to Samsung TVs, but Netflix also has shows primed, ready and waiting, to turn the tap on for a full HDR stream. It is also confident of being able to back-render existing shows in HDR to give classic content the same treatment.

TVs capable of displaying HDR are few and far between at the moment though.

Samsung’s flagship SUHD models are ready, with the big players like LG and Sony promising firmware updates for their TVs later in the year.

Once those televisions are ready to show it Netflix’s TV app will be the only place to get its HDR content onto a screen - it’s likely to be the same situation as with the Ultra HD content: TV app or nothing.

High frame rate

The step in improving the video experience in the TV app, once HDR has been nailed, is going to be improving the frame rate of Netflix’s content.

High frame rate (HFR) has only really been seen with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, where it was running at 48 frames per second (fps). Standard video, even high definition Blu-rays, are running at just 24fps.

At the inception of the moving picture, that was the lowest speed it was decided that frames on a strip of film could be pulled across a lightsource to give the illusion of movement.

We’ve come a long way since the days of celluloid and candlelight and yet we’re all still watching video at the same speed.

People complained about the HFR version of The Hobbit, saying it felt too real for a movie experience. On a TV though you’re not just after that cinematic experience and where Netflix has been deliberately targeting the switch to Ultra HD formats for show that will benefit the most (Marco Polo’s scenery and The Chef’s Table’s food porn) so it will likely do the same with HFR.

Again though it’s only really going to be something that can be accessed directly via the built-in TV application. The webapp is not going to be the first place you find high frame rate Netflix content.