For the new TVs, Sony and Netflix collaborated on a new display mode that the companies say make them the optimal way to view Netflix streaming content. The new Bravia Master series of 4K Ultra HD TVs have a “Netflix Calibrated Mode,” which Sony claims delivers picture quality equivalent to a master monitor in a movie production studio.
The Bravia Master A9F OLED display (available with 55- and 65-inch screens) and Z9F LED display (65- and 75-inch screens) models are slated to ship across North America in the fall of 2018, with pricing and retail availability yet to be announced.
“Unique among all our device partnerships, both Sony and Netflix share a deep immersion in the studio world,” Scott Mirer, VP of device partner ecosystem at Netflix, said at Sony’s launch event in New York. “Preserving creative intent is important not only to the storytellers, but also to viewers.”
The new Netflix Calibrated Mode is an option in Sony Electronics’ line of Bravia Master TVs only when users are in the Netflix app. Essentially, the feature instructs the TVs to not make any adjustments to the color, motion or contrast to Netflix’s streaming video. Those kinds of automatic calibrations are “usually valuable when you’re coming from content that was mastered for an inferior format,” like DVDs, according to Mirer. But for Netflix-encoded video, that can distort the way it was originally crafted to look; for example, by making a scene appear brighter than intended.
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Of course, that sounds a lot like what the TV industry’s high dynamic range (HDR) spec is designed for — to present sharper contrasts and a very large, fine-grained color palette, for the best fidelity possible to the original. But Mirer said Bravia Master’s Netflix Calibrated Mode is independent of HDR: The feature is designed the render the picture exactly as Netflix mastered (or remastered) the content and then encoded it.
“Designing televisions that better convey the creator’s intent — that’s our passion,” said Mike Fasulo, president/COO of Sony Electronics North America.
According to Mirer, one-third of smart TVs that enable access to Netflix support HDR. Netflix currently provides 400 hours of HDR content and 2,000 hours of content in 4K format.
How compelling consumers find the new Sony TV features compared with what’s already available from other HDR-capable TVs — and whether those are enough to sway their purchase decisions — is an open question. Some consumers might be skeptical that it’s more or less just a gimmick.
But Zack Estrin, executive producer of Netflix’s “Lost in Space” reboot, for one, is sold on the feature. At the Sony event, he told Variety that after seeing a demo of the Bravia Master series Netflix Calibrated Mode, he was instantly persuaded that he would purchase one. When the “Lost in Space” team saw their scenes reproduced on the Bravia Master TVs, “one of my VFX guys had a tear in his eye because it finally looked exactly how he intended it,” Estrin said.
In the U.S., Sony Electronics worked with Portrait Displays to use its CalMAN color-calibration software in the Bravia Master series.
For several years, Netflix has run a program to certify smart TVs, including those from Sony Electronics, that integrate the streaming service’s key features. Sony and Netflix have worked together since 2009, and their work on the new Bravia Master 4K TVs is a new front in their collaboration. The companies began talking about the Netflix Compatible Mode feature two years ago, and their engineering teams began collaborating last year, Mirer said.
For now, Netflix isn’t working with any other TV maker on a similar feature, nor does Sony have any partnership with another content provider for a visual-optimization mode.
Sony unveiled the new Bravia TVs at a press event Tuesday at Sony Hall in New York City’s Times Square.
Pictured above: Sony Electronics’ Bravia Master series A9F with Netflix’s “Lost in Space”