Stream On: Taking a Look at the Netflix Streaming Video Service

Netflix StreamingIf you watch any television at all, you’ve no doubt seen the Netflix ads in which they promote their streaming video service.  As long as you have one of the company’s “unlimited” DVD or Blu-ray rental memberships, you have access to a library of around 17,000 movies, TV shows and concerts to watch on demand at no additional cost, and with no limits on the amount of streaming programming.  The cheapest plan available is $8.99 a month, which also entitles you to rent 1 DVD at a time under the usual Netflix terms (you keep it as long as you like, and when you return it they send you another one).  If you want more pricing info on other plans, go to the Netflix website and check it out yourself.  

So other than a Netflix membership, what do you need to use the service?  You can watch it on your computer (both Windows and Mac are supported. Linux is not, at least as far as I can tell), on a Playstation 3 (a special free DVD from Netflix is required), on an Xbox 360 with the “gold tier” package, and some Blu-ray players that have built in Netflix compatibility.   The Wii is supposed to be getting Netflix capability soon, although at present it looks like it won’t be able to stream in HD.  And if you really want to throw away a hundred bucks, you can buy a set-top box that does nothing but play Netflix movies.    Since I happened to have all the necessary prerequisites (a Netflix subscription, a Playstation 3, a high speed internet connection, and a 1080 p high def TV), I figured I’d check it out.


Content – 3 out of 5

It should come as no surprise that the main thing lacking on the streaming service is major new releases.  In fact, some studios are even starting to impose a 28 day window on when Netflix and other low cost disc rental services like Redbox can offer their titles for rent on DVD and Blu Ray.  The hope is that consumers will buy more DVDs and Blu-rays, or at the least pay higher prices to rent from the remaining brick and mortar stores or order higher priced “On Demand” movies through cable and other outlets. 

But there are some fairly big recent releases available.  Just as an example, Obsessed, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Traitor, and Wall-E are all on the service.  And the selection of recent independent and foreign films is even better.  Schlock fans can also rejoice, with lots of recent horror, sci-fi, and exploitation films like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and the recent It’s Alive remake available.  If you’re looking for old favorites or a classic (or not so classic) older movie you’ve just never gotten around to seeing, you’ll fare even better. 

Television is well represented, too, with all but the most recent season of most popular shows available.  In addition to network programs like Lost, 30 Rock, and The Office, Netflix also has most Showtime original series available to stream.  Sadly the same is not true for HBO programs, so you’ll still need to use your rent-by-mail queue if you want to see True Blood.  You’re still not going to find everything you want, but by the time you get done putting the 50th or 60th title in your queue, you probably won’t care. 


Image Quality – It Depends

First, the good news.  A large portion of the Netflix streaming library is available in 1080p high definition video.  The bad news is, it may not matter to you.  The simple fact is, to watch high def video over the internet without too many annoying glitches, you need enough bandwidth to handle it.  If you only have a 3mbps DSL connection, you’re probably going to have to settle for standard def.  If your playback device is not connected to the internet directly and you are using a network, make sure your router can handle high speeds. 

My set-up involves a cable modem with 10mbps and a wireless router that could stand to be a little stronger.  The result is that, when everything is working optimally, I get true HD video and it looks great.  Most of the time, however, my signal isn’t quite strong enough and the playback reverts to SD.  The SD playback looks okay, but as can happen when watching SD video on a 1080p TV, sometimes there are issues with pixilation and blurriness.  I have the same issues when streaming high quality avi and mpeg files from my hard drive to the TV.   My guess is a better router would solve these problems.


Audio – 2 out of 5

The reason I’m rating the audio so low is that Netflix currently only streams in stereo.  Otherwise the sound quality is fine.  But if you’ve got a home theater with surround sound, chances are you want to watch content that takes advantage of that as much as reasonably possible.  It’s not a deal breaker for me, but I can see how it would be for some.


Additional Issues

90% of the time, playing something using the Netflix streaming service works fine.  That said, there have been occasional glitches.  One episode of a TV show played with the sound slightly out of synch with the video.  Why?  I have no idea.  When I first started using the service, about every other title I played would freeze at some point and have to rebuffer.  The last couple of weeks, it’s only happened once or twice, so apparently something has been tweaked (nothing different on my end). 


Overall Rating – 2 ½ out of 5

The bottom line is, this is still a fairly new product.  And as with any new product, there are going to be bugs.  For me, the good (instant access to a lot of content at no additional cost over what I was paying already for the standard rent-by-mail service Netflix offers) outweighs the bad (occasional hiccups and reduced audio and video quality).  No doubt others will be less forgiving.  Hopefully I’ve provided enough information that you can figure out which camp you fall into.


To read more by Bob, visit his movie and music review blog at



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1 Response to “Stream On: Taking a Look at the Netflix Streaming Video Service”

  1. Brian White

    This is a very informative read! Thanks again for the research and time devoted to this article Bob! Much appreciated!

    All my answers about the streaming service were answered and my decision not to use it was solidified in the Audio paragraph. Being the snob I am with the Blu-ray format, the lack of 5.1 surround sound is a complete deal breaker for me. I will happily stick with my Blu-ray collection until things change in the future.

    Like they say in GI Joe…”Knowing is half the battle.” And now I know!