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In the latest salvo of the war for video streaming supremacy, Netflix just announced a big update to the design of its TV app, adding a sidebar to the left to help you navigate, and increasing the size of the trailers to take up more screen space. The company says that this update is rolling out internationally, as we speak.

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Netflix doubles down on auto-playing videos

While Netflix's auto-playing videos may remain a thorn in the side of anyone trying to actually focus on reading the description for a piece of content -- and the "trailers" for the third-party videos consist of a disconnected montage of sequences without dialog and backed by royalty-free music that may not even appear in the show or film -- the company asserts that auto-playing shortens the time that a person spends in the app before deciding on something to stream.

We'll have to take their word for it, since there's still no option to disable the potentially distracting feature. But you can at least hit the mute button before you begin browsing. Alternatively, you can browse Netflix on your Android or iPhone, where the trailers remain corralled to the section of the app that's dedicated to original content.

Then when you've found what you want to watch, you can cast it to your TV with a Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, or directly to a version of Netflix running natively on the TV itself. At that point, you can handle playback with your streaming device's remote control, or with the on-screen buttons in the mobile app. (In the case of the Chromecast, there is no remote, though it may respond to play and pause buttons on your TV's remote instead.)

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New sections for movies and episodic content

A gray sidebar can now pop up on your left, making the Netflix TV app feel a lot more like the mobile app. From top to bottom, we get Search, Home, Series, Movies, My List, then New. In the lower left corner, there are also shortcuts to the settings menus, and to exit the TV app.

Giving movies and shows separate sections is actually a pretty big shift for Netflix. Customarily, it has sorted content according to genres and subgenres, making no distinction between length or format. This meant that it could take longer to sort through your options if you didn't have enough time to sit through a whole movie, or if you didn't want to commit to an entire series or season. The Series section may prove to be a better way for Netflix to surface its original content, which has been overwhelmingly episodic.

The "New" section

Historically, Netflix also hasn't been eager to show users the raw feed of videos as they come in, choosing instead to surface the things that it thinks an individual user would be interested in.

As the service has grown internationally, Netflix can hardly be faulted, since an increasing amount of its content is filling smaller regional niches. For example, the original Rake is a courtroom comedy-drama set in Sydney, Australia, so people unfamiliar with the country and its legal system may not be able to identify with it.

But too much automatic sorting can make things frustrating for people who want to explore the full breadth of a streaming service's incoming content. So a "New" section that truly lets them surf without filtering hocus-pocus may be just the ticket. For those of us who prefer more guidance, we can just ignore the New section and continue to rely on Netflix's suggestions, which are based on what we've watched there in the past.

The takeaways

  1. Netflix has updated its TV app to include a sidebar with shortcuts to a movie section, TV series section, and a feed of all the new content as it comes in.
  2. This update is rolling out internationally, but it may take time for the new look to show up on your device.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.