Netflix: why is the picture so good?


Mis à jour le 26 February 2019.

You’ve probably noticed how remote controls sporting a red Netflix button are becoming more and more commonplace. The same goes for televisions labeled “Netflix recommended TV”. It’s hardly surprising as the movie and television show streaming service acquires millions of new subscribers every month. Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips and Loewe have all worked hard to integrate Netflix in their TVs. We have reached the point where the picture is, with an adequate Internet connection, just as good as that of a Blu-ray disc, sometimes even superior to that of an HDR UHD 4K Blu-ray disc.

The Sony KD-65ZF9 television, optimized for Netflix.

Are UHD 4K Blu-ray discs outdated?

Though the quality of a video on an Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray disc is the best quality currently available, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome to be able to enjoy it on a UHD TV. Firstly, you must choose a player with a powerful and properly calibrated video processor. Then, it’s necessary to use a high-quality HDMI cable so the audio and video signals aren’t deteriorated. Communication between the player’s HDMI controllers and the television must be perfect. If not, the image may skip during tracking shots for example. Moreover, manufacturers such as HD Fury have created HDMI converters that optimize the connection between the source and the display. Lastly, when it comes to 4K HDR10 content, the television is forced to adapt its performance, for better or for worse, to the contrast specifications of the video stream that it receives. In short, the displayed image often has room for improvement.

Sélection de TV et lecteurs Blu-ray HDR10+

Netflix vs Blu-ray

The integrated Netflix application in HD and UHD televisions allows all of these obstacles to be avoided. There’s no need for an HDMI cable, the app’s compatibility with the television’s video processor is optimized and, more importantly, the way that it works is revolutionary: with Netflix, the television doesn’t have to adapt to the source, as the source adapts to the television. Consequently, you always enjoy the best possible picture with your television.

Télécommande TV avec bouton Netflix
The Sony UBP-X800 Blu-ray player’s remote control with its dedicated Netflix button.

Netflix adapts to the TV

Because Netflix is an online service, the quality of your Internet connection determines the viewing quality. For HD and SD content, Netflix tests your connection and consequently assigns the best bitrate possible for your movie or TV show. There’s up to a dozen versions of the same video, each encoded with different data flows and technologies. If your connection is fast enough and if you have the appropriate Netflix subscription, you can enjoy a large catalog of 4K HDR content.

Sony KD-65AF9
The Sony KD-65AF9 OLED TV has a Netflix viewing mode.

Netflix: the Rolls-Royce of HDR?

As we stated earlier, HDR videos often cause compatibility issues between 4K Blu-ray players and TVs. An example is when you have a disc coded in HDR Dolby Vision but your television can only support HDR10. In this case, the player has to carry out a conversion during playback, with varying results. Netflix has fixed this problem: if your TV supports HDR10, you’ll watch your film or series in HDR10. If your 4K TV supports Dolby Vision, you’ll watch your content in Dolby Vision, with a perfect rendition of the original work.

Netflix Backlot

Netflix Backlot is the name of the communication tool used by Netflix with its content partners. In order to upload a film or TV series, each production studio must follow draconian requirements. Requirements that most likely have something to do with the image and sound quality the streaming service is able to offer its users.

Netflix requires 4K content to be provided in IMF format (Interoperable Master Packages), identical to the one used in cinemas. The quality is exceptional, as each image is individually compressed and lossless. HDR content must be in Dolby Vision format and include the metadata necessary to generate the different SDR versions (4K, 1080p, 720p, 480p) streamed to the user. The standard versions (SDR) therefore offer a picture with flawless colorimetry.

La sélection Dolby Vision

Netflix: audio mixed for at-home listening

Netflix uses the Dolby Digital (AC3) and Dolby Digital (DD+) formats for the audio tracks of its movies and series. The streaming service undertakes the conversion to these formats itself, using 24-bit/48kHz masters. In some cases, the tracks can be in Dolby Atmos (DD+ Atmos) format to enjoy a vertical sound with an A/V receiver or a compatible soundbar.

More interesting perhaps is the the fact that Netflix demands that its content providers send audio tracks mixed to a “target” volume of 79 dB compared to the 105 dB for a cinema mix. Consequently, the dynamic range is reduced, resulting in increased comfort. Netflix doesn’t just ensure stunning picture, but also high-quality sound adapted to home restrictions.

Dolby Atmos Le son home-cinéma en 3D

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