Netflix Overhauls Connected-TV Interfaces More 'Cinematic'

Update rolling out to Roku, Xbox 360, PlayStation and other devices over next two weeks

Netflix is launching a more image-oriented look for the streaming service on TVs across most devices — a redesign project two years in the making aimed at spurring users to watch more video.

The new menu design, created for big-screen HDTVs, features three key title images for each TV show or movie — which rotate in a carousel at the top of the screen — along with new descriptions and more detail on why Netflix suggested it.

“This is about Netflix getting out of the way and connecting users with the movie or TV show,” said Chris Jaffe, VP of product strategy, integration and design. 

Connected-TV devices represent the majority of viewing time for Netflix’s streaming service, but until now the interface for each device was developed separately and has looked slightly different. The company started from a blank slate to re-imagine the Netflix interface for TV, aiming for a simpler, cleaner and more visual design, according to Jaffe.

The new Netflix television experience launches on Netflix on Nov. 13 and will roll out to members on supported devices within two weeks. Devices that will support the new experience include PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox 360, Roku 3, newer smart TVs and recent Blu-ray players. Additional devices, including older Roku boxes, will be added in the the coming months.

The new interface will not be available on Apple TVs and Microsoft Xbox One, which dictate specific design elements for partner apps. It also will not be coming to Nintendo’s Wii console, which is a standard-definition device.

Previously, each device had its own Netflix experience, which meant features took longer to roll out across devices. The new TV design was led by Dantley Davis, the user interface design manager on Jaffe’s team.

When Jaffe first started contemplating what Netflix needed in a new TV interface, he went to Barnes & Noble and purchased every entertainment magazine on the racks to analyze how networks and studios communicated upcoming launches in their ads. His takeaway: Most of the information was visual, not textual, and that became the guiding principle for the new UI.

Netflix began testing the new design in focus groups across the U.S. starting in July 2012, continuing through the early part of this year. Some customers already have the new interface: Over the summer, Netflix updated several hundred thousand PlayStation 3 users with the new look, Jaffe said.

Based on user testing, Netflix has found that the new interface increases the amount of time users spend with the service, although Jaffe declined to provide figures.

One of the most time-consuming parts of implementing the new design was acquiring the images and metadata that feed into the new interface. Netflix uses one image from its content partners for title screens, but then adds two more images captured from the show or movie. That work was performed by Netflix’s Enhanced Content team, along with “an army of freelancers,” Jaffe said.

From a technical perspective, Netflix abandoned its previous approach that used the WebKit browser and HTML5 — because those were too resource-intensive for some lower-powered devices. The new UI is leaner, delivered with a language similar to JavaScript, and uses a proprietary image-compression algorithm to deliver images more efficiently, according to Jaffe.

Watch a video demo of the new interface:

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