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4000 Reasons to Watch Netflix

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a largely predictable affair: everyone jumped on the “wearable tech” bandwagon but with limited innovation and a lot of Fitbit clones, the Oculus Rift headset wowed even more than last year but remains a prototype with a nebulous future, Valve’s Steamboxes have become a reality and they look like… PCs.

Meanwhile, as signalled last year, television manufacturers have thankfully dropped their push for 3D, accepting that most people do not really care about it in the living room environment (if at all). They are instead moving towards affordable 4K or “Ultra HD”. At four times the number of pixels in “Full HD” 1080p, this allows for substantially larger and more immersive screens whilst retaining visual fidelity when sitting at the same distance away. The problem is the immediately obvious lack of content: I think it is safe to assume that last year’s $1,750 REDRAY player will not be appearing in the average consumer home any time soon.

NetflixGreat as 4K TVs may look, content is what drives adoption. Broadcast content is years away, as is a new standard for home content that would be incompatible with current blu-ray players. This is where Netflix’s announcement could herald one of the biggest shake-ups from this year’s CES. It announced that future Netflix Original series (including the forthcoming second season of House of Cards) will be shot in 4K, and they will be remastering Breaking Bad in 4K. By the end of the week LG, Sony, Samsung and Vizio had all announced Netflix support on their new 4K TVs.

That essentially makes Netflix the de facto destination for 4K adopters, which should worry the rest of the content industry. The only serious competitor seems to be Amazon in the US, but in Europe they have done little to impress since their acquisition of LoveFilm and its streaming service. Given Netflix’s latest UI shifts towards a presenting a personalised channel of on-demand content, I can think of many worse companies to be at the head of the pack.

Arrested Redevelopment

Arrested DevelopmentWith Netflix, a service about whose value proposition I was sceptical, offering a free one month trial, effective timing seemed at least prudent, if not essential. I restrained myself as their first slice of original programming, House of Cards remade in America’s image, received high praise, because I knew the future held something altogether sweeter, a dysfunctional family whose tantalising promise I could not hope to resist: the Bluths. Following the now all-too-common mould of a not particularly successful TV show whose genius earns it a cult following once it is gone, an Arrested Development film was talked about for at least half a decade. Eventually its saviour proved to be Netflix, embarking on a “semi-original” programming endeavour.

Whilst the nostalgia hit was instantly appreciated, I felt the new season got off to a slightly rocky start due to its approach of focusing on a single family member in each episode. Not all characters are born equal and not all of them can carry an episode. With several years to catch up on, the less interwoven plotlines seemed reasonable but the result was also less of the sharp interaction between all of the family together. However, from around the halfway point, things picked up dramatically. Not only was it clear that the story threads were all still densely layered over the season as a whole, but once these strands were mostly laid, the focus could shift from the story to the characters and dialogue where the show excels. The meticulous detail, with numerous Easter eggs and subtle jokes littering the sets, shines through as the highlight. Whether its future ultimately lies in Ron Howard’s intended film or a further series, things are finally looking up for the Bluths. And for all those who binged on the new season a little too fast, I recommend taking my approach and filling the void with Archer (also on Netflix) as I have for the past few years.

House of CardsHouse of Cards, a tough sell for fans of the BBC original, is exquisite. Translating the political thriller to modern American politics works seamlessly and Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is ruthlessly compelling, his drawl somehow increasing his sense of Machiavellian menace. The production values are excellent and if this is the level of programming Netflix are able to produce on a consistent basis, I’m inclined to keep this subscription up.

The Netflix brand of freedom suggests you should be able to devour TV however you like, so every episode of its shows are made available at once and the viewer can choose to dip in and out or to binge, and its apps run on virtually every entertainment device. I initially approached it via Xbox 360 but, although I am a Gold subscriber of Xbox Live, this restriction proved a serious flaw. With my Internet connection flaking briefly in a manner that did not affect the buffered stream, it did sign me out of Xbox Live and immediately cease playback. By comparison the PS3 add-on sailed effortlessly through such blips. Better yet, the mobile apps detected that I was signed in on another device and allowed me to browse, search and select shows on a mobile or tablet before streaming them to the PS3.

With two high-quality shows in the first half of the year, if Netflix can manage a third that attracts my attention it would justify the monthly fee even without access to a range of older shows and films. And I can always spend the rest of my trial period catching up on Justified whilst I decide…

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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