Netflix is going to start certifying TVs for picture quality

Manufacturers will be pressured to meet standards of app behaviour, image brightness

Netflix displayed on a TV screen

(Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty)

With 53 million subscribers around the world, Netflix may very well be the most powerful force in television today—and it’s starting to flex that muscle, if its announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show last week are any indication.

Starting this spring, the streaming company will roll out “Netflix Recommended,” a set of standards that smart TV makers will have to qualify for.

Companies such as Sony, LG and Samsung will have to deliver better Netflix experiences—faster app launches, smoother pause and resume functions and so on—to get the stamp of approval.

TVs that fail to get the recommendation aren’t likely to sell.

The company is also pushing manufacturers to improve picture quality, first with 4K ultra-high-definition content and then with something called high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging.

Netflix is producing 60 original features and shows in 2015, with many being shot in 4K, according to chief product officer Neil Hunt.

If current growth rates hold, about 30% of North American households are likely to upgrade to 4K by the end of this year, with the 50% threshold likely to be met next year.

HDR, meanwhile, is an emerging standard that aims to improve pictures with brighter highlights.

Most TVs today produce between 100 and 300 nits, which is a measure of brightness. But a piece of glass glinting in the real world ranges into thousands of nits.

HDR TVs will be capable of 1,000 to 5,000 nits.

“It makes the thing seem much more alive, much more 3D, much more real,” Hunt said in an interview.

As with 4K, Netflix has an advantage over broadcasters in delivering HDR because it doesn’t have to completely revamp its distribution system. All the streaming company needs to deliver it is more internet bandwidth.

HDR will require about 20% more bandwidth, Hunt said, which means that a 4K HDR picture will need a stable connection of about 18 megabits per second. In terms of data usage, that would translate into about 9 gigabytes an hour.

HDR doesn’t necessarily require 4K, Hunt said, and can be done in regular high definition. In that case, the connection would need to be about nine megabits per second. Either way, the picture quality improvement will be noticeable.

“For most consumers, HDR is going to be a more visible difference than 4K,” Hunt said.

For the time being, HDR is an expensive technology, he added, and the standards are still being hammered out.

Netflix is instructing its directors to produce content that is HDR-ready so that it can be easily converted once the standards have been set, with historical fantasy Marco Polo being the first to do so.