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This is how Netflix is fixing the biggest problem with TVs

The Netflix labs in Los Gatos, California. Photo: Paul Sakuma.

TV manufacturers have spent years trying to one-up each other on picture quality and affordability, but consistently fell short in one key area: user experience.

TVs would take ages to turn on, then you’d have to go through several different menus before swapping to the HDMI setting and smart TV interfaces were painfully clunky.

Things are slowly changing, and with more people consuming media on smartphones and tablets, they’re expecting the same type of experience. Sony has embraced Android, LG has WebOS and Samsung has Tizen, an operating system it also uses on its smartphones.

But things weren’t moving enough for Netflix, so the streaming giant decided to use the influence of its 75 million users globally to help push developments. They launched the Netflix “Recommended TV” program last year, where TVs that meet its user experience criteria get a tick of approval and feature on its website.

At Netflix’s global HQ in Los Gatos, California, the streaming giant has several rooms dedicated to testing hundreds of devices that support Netflix to determine which ones offer the best experience.

To be added to the Netflix Recommended TV list, TVs have to meet 5 of 7 different criteria, mostly around speed.

The Netflix Recommended TV logo that will appear with TVs. Photo: Paul Sakuma.

The first two TVs to meet the 2016 criteria are LG’s new line with WebOS 3.0 and Sony’s 4K Android TVs. Business Insider had a look at them in Los Gatos last week and compared them to 2015’s flagship TVs. The difference is huge.

Most noticeably, the instant on and TV resume features made them feel more like a giant tablet waking up than turning on a TV. In less than 5 seconds, it went from off and into the last thing you were doing – in this case, the second episode of season 3 of House of Cards. The 2015 Sony TV next to it took nearly 40 seconds to achieve the same thing, from waiting for the TV to turn on, then navigating through menus to open the Netflix app.

Netflix launched the program in 2015, with dozens of TVs by the likes of Sony, LG, Samsung and Hisense making the list. The criteria has been tightened right up in 2016, resulting in every TV on last year’s list being dropped. The things people care about, like ease of navigation and speed haven’t changed, but standards have to reflect newer technology.

Importantly, Netflix says that it’s not judging TVs on picture quality, with neither the colour, refresh rate or resolution counting towards the rating. It’s simply the user experience.

Both the Sony and LG TVs are available in Australia. The Sony version features a dedicated Netflix button.

Harry Tucker traveled to Los Gatos as a guest of Netflix.

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