How Netflix is bringing cinema experience to Hong Kong homes, with sounds so real you’ll want to duck your head

Streaming service adds support for Dolby Vision, which tweaks brightness, colour and contrast scene by scene, and Dolby Atmos with its 3D sound effects, to offer an immersive movie experience from the comfort of your couch

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 9:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 7:09pm

As entertainment inexorably shifts online, the connected television – the traditional “box” with high-speed internet connection – has emerged as the unlikely victor in the brave new world of digital media consumption.

While a significant proportion of digital video consumption starts from mobile devices, the connected TV becomes the primary viewing device for 50 per cent of Netflix account holders in Hong Kong within six months of subscription, according to the popular video streaming service.

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Smart TVs are leading this charge, followed closely by media streaming devices such as Apple TVs, Chromecasts and game consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation devices.

The size and display resolution matter, says Netflix, which advises consumers to go for 65-inch (165cm) TVs for an immersive experience. Those short on space at home should also opt for a 4K display for adequate pixel quality when watching from the couch two metres away.

By combining with technologies such as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos we can finally tap into a cinematic experience in the living room, as demonstrated recently by Netflix in Singapore.

Dolby Vision offers the metadata to adjust TV brightness, colour and contrast automatically for each scene, optimised scene by scene. Dolby Atmos ditches sound channels and treats sounds as distinct objects that can be positioned or moved independently within a 3D space. The result is

startlingly realistic – the fury of a thunderstorm, the staccato of gunfire or booming explosions will make you want to duck your head.

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Content must be mastered in the right format, and the TV and sound system compatible, of course. Five floor-standing speakers and a stand-alone subwoofer are recommended to get the full effect, but Netflix says there are options for all budgets, including compact sound bars and headphones.

Netflix, which is ahead of the game in this field, already offers support for the latest audio-visual technologies for the home movie experience, including Ultra HD 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) content. Last year, it introduced support for Dolby Vision, with support for Dolby Atmos announced a few months ago.

Catching up, on a smaller scale, is Hulu, which recently announced two virtual-reality projects – The Driver and A Curious Mind – that can be viewed using Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Like Netflix, the streaming service has a catalogue of VR content that can be downloaded through the Hulu VR app.

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Netflix says it has worked hard to improve its user interface (UI).

“We are always testing things big and small. More than half of the things we test don’t work and never make it into the product,” says Chris Jaffe, vice-president of product innovation. “What it means for our members is that every feature is about truly making [Netflix] a better experience.”

“Things that don’t work are also valuable as a learning experience to us. When we do it again, we can focus our efforts on other things.”

The team works simultaneously on four different experiences, says Jaffe, because the TV, mobile, tablets, and web browser have their own requirements. For instance, mobile devices are primarily manipulated with a touch interface, while the TV has more limited usability options from the remote control.

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The team is also working on connected TV for kids, improving the UI, and creating content without traditional linear storytelling and allowing viewers to make interactive choices that can result in different outcomes.

“The kids experience looks and works differently; the content is curated differently,” says Jaffe.

“Kids are different from adults, and are very good at processing things visually. As such, we stripped away the text, allowing kids to connect in a very visual way. Personalisation technology is also being applied to show the top characters.

“They are not coming to Netflix to use technology. They are here to engage with these great characters and stories.”